James Garfield's Observations of Charles Spurgeon

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The following is an observation of the noted English Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, by General James Garfield, later to become the short-lived 20th US President (he was shot by a disappointed office seeker shortly after his inaguration in 1867). Anyway, this article was originally a journal entry from a trip Garfield took to London. It was published in the 1883 volume of Century Magazine, and is quoted in "Charles H. Spurgeon: His Faith and Works," H.L. Wayland, Copyright 1892 by the American Baptist Publication Society.

A couple definitions before we get started:
"poesy" -- poetry
"lusus naturae" -- freak of nature

I did not intend to listen to Spurgeon as to some lusus naturae, but to try to discover what manner of man he was, and what was the secret of his power .... At half-past eleven Spurgeon came in, and at once offered a short, simple earnest prayer, and read and helped the whole congregation to sing Watts' stirring hymn:

  There is a land of pure delight.

For the first time in my life I felt some sympathy with the doctrine that would reject instrumental music from church worship. There must have been five thousand voices joining in the hymn. The whole building was filled and overflowed with the strong volume of song. The music made itself felt as a living, throbbing presence, that entered your nerves, brain, heart, and filled and swept you away in its resistless current.

After the singing, he read a chapter of Job, and then a contrasted passage from Paul, both relating to life and death. He accompanied his reading with familiar and sensible, sometimes expositional, comments; then followed another hymn, a longer prayer, a short hymn, and then the sermon from a text in the chapter he had read in Job 14:14, "All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come." He evidently proceeded upon the assumption that the Bible, all the Bible, in its very words, phrases, and sentences, is the word of God; and that a microscopic examination of it will reveal ever-opening beauties and blessings. All the while, he impresses you with that, and also with the living fullness and abundance of his faith in the presence of God and the personal accountability of all to him. An unusual fullness of belief in these respects seems to me to lie at the foundation of his power. Intellectually he is marked by his ability to hold with great tenacity, and pursue with great persistency any line of thought he chooses. He makes the most careful and painstaking study of the subject in hand. No doubt fully as much of his success depends upon his labor, as upon his force of intellect. He has chosen the doctrines and the literature of the Bible as his field, and does not allow himself to be drawn aside. He rarely wanders into the fields of poesy, except to find the stirring hymns which may serve to illustrate his theme. He uses Bible texts and incidents with great readiness and appropriateness, and directs all his power, not toward his sermon, but toward his hearers. His arrangement is clear, logical, and perfectly comprehensible; and at the end of each main division of the sermon, he makes a personal application of the truth developed, to his hearers, and asks God to bless it. His manner is exceedingly simple and unaffected. He does not appear to be aware that he is doing a great thing, and I could see no indication that his success has turned his head.

He has the word-painting power quite at his command, but uses it sparingly. I could see those nervous motions of the hands and feet which all forcible speakers make when preparing to speak; and also in the speaking, the sympathy between his body and his thoughts which controlled his gestures, and produced those little touches of theatrical power, which are so effective in a speaker....

Every good man ought to be thankful for the work Spurgeon is doing. I could not but contrast this worship with that I saw a few days ago at Westminster Abbey. In that proud old mausoleum of kings, venerable with years and royal price, the great organ rolled out its deep tones, and sobbed and thundered its grand music, mingled with the intoning of the hired singers. Before the assembly of rich and titled worshipers, sat a choir of twenty persons. The choir boys in their white robes had just been fighting among the tombs and monuments of the nave just before the service began. However devout and effective their worship may be, it is very costly, and must be confined, to a great extent, to the higher classes. I felt that Spurgeon had opened an asylum where the great untitled, the poor and destitute of this great city, could come and find their sorrows met with sympathy; their lowliness and longings for a better life touched by a large heart and an undoubted faith. God bless Spurgeon! He is helping to work out the problem of religious and civil liberty for England, in a way he knows not of.

“God often bestows temporal prosperities on the wicked, to show how lightly he esteems what the world is so dazzled with; but crosses he reserves for his own, whom he would humble under his Almighty hand, and make them the objects of his delight.”