Listening through Charles H. Spurgeon's autobiography, I've been amazed at the utter, unsparing, out-for-blood, bare-knuckled brutality of the criticism that CHS received, from the very start. Quoting it all would make for a massive post — a series of massive posts — but let's have a taste of one very early critic.
The critic wrote letters to the editor of a magazine called The Earthen Vessel under the pseudonym "Job," though he was likely one James Wells.
"Who?" you ask.
"Exactly," I reply.
Job/Wells writes in a very lofty, condescending, elitist tone. He sniffs that Spurgeon is pedestrian and derivative, damns him by some faint and sneering praise, then says this (emphases added):
And yet further than all this, Mr. Spurgeon was, so says the Vessel, brought to know the Lord when he was only fifteen years old. Heaven grant it may prove to be so, — for the young man’s sake, and for that of others also! But I have — most solemnly have — my doubts as to the Divine reality of his conversion. I do not say — it is not for me to say — that he is not a regenerated man; but this I do know, that there are conversions which are not of God; and whatever convictions a man may have, whatever may be the agonies of his mind as to the possibility of his salvation, whatever terror anyone may experience, and however sincere they may be, and whatever deliverance they may have by dreams or visions, or by natural conscience, or the letter or even apparent power of the Word, yet, if they cannot stand, in their spirit and ministry, the test of the law of truth, and the testimony of God, there is no true light in them; for a person may be intellectually enlightened, he may taste of the Heavenly gift, and be made partaker of the Holy Ghost, professionally, and taste of the good Word of God (Hebrews vi.), and yet not be regenerated, and therefore not beyond the danger of falling away, even from that portion of truth which such do hold (Spurgeon's Autobiography)In other words? He doubts Spurgeon was really converted.
But he's far from done.
...that no man who knows his own heart, who knows what the daily cross means, and who knows the difference between the form and the power, the name and the life itself, the semblance and the substance, the difference between the sounding brass or the tinkling cymbal and the voice of the turtle, pouring the plaintive, but healing notes of Calvary into the solitary and weary soul; — he who walks in this path, could not hear with profit the ministry of Mr. Spurgeon.Now, this was written at the very start of Spurgeon's ministry (1855). But crushing, thundering, unsparing, merciless pummellings and vicious attacks attended him all the way. If you ever think anything Phil or Frank or I have said about anyone is harsh, you'd read these and gasp. I do!
...[Following a series of gravely-delivered broadsides] I would make every allowance for his youth; but while I make this allowance, I am, nevertheless, thoroughly disposed to believe that we have a fair sample of what he will be even unto the end [IOW Spurgeon will never amount to much]
Now, step back. It's 150 years later, more or less. Spurgeon's personal ministry on earth is done. But is his ministry done? Hardly. Spurgeon is still read from pole to pole. People find Christ and love Him better for Spurgeon's sermons. His preaching reproduces itself in countless ministries, spoken and written. Phil quotes him every week at Pyro, and every week he sounds as if he were writing today, with allowances for style.
Did he know he'd have such a lasting impact? No. He couldn't have.
But what I'm focusing on at the moment is that his critics were absolutely certain they were right. His contemporary critics damned Spurgeon for being — you won't believe me, but I'm just reporting what I've heard and read — shallow, stupid, unreflecting, derivative, ham-fisted, theatrical, corny, egocentric, arrogant, impudent, coarse, and inarticulate.
That's right. Spurgeon.
And where are most of these critics? Forgotten, and deservedly so.
But this is a common theme in biographies of great men. Their contemporaries largely didn't think much of them. Many of them died sad, sometimes impoverished, probably seeing themselves as failures. Yet history judges differently.
This simply adds more fodder to what I considered at length over at Pyro: what makes pastoring perhaps the hardest, most trying employment there is.