Friday, December 12, 2008

Criticism of pastors in the light of eternity

Pathetic title, I know, as it could stand over a hundred totally different essays. But such it is, and here we go:

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.

...[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, 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!

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.


JackW said...

This has no relationship to your last post on Rick Warren ... right?

Age 15? ... I have something in common with ... wow!

DJP said...

I really wasn't thinking of that until I put it up and saw them together. I'm going through that autobiography pretty solidly, because I'm just really loving it. It's so good, I'm not listening to my usual talk radio shows on my drive. Hearing how folks just SHREDDED Spurgeon, in such somber, sententious tones, and looking back with the benefit of a century and a half of history - as i said, I alternate gasping and laughing.

But yeah, Spurgeon and Warren. One did not play to his day, and preaches on. The other does, and will likely be soon forgotten.

NoLongerBlind said...

Not exactly your thrust, but I find the criticism interesting, in that CHS's conversion was brought into question.
Imagine if a "critic" today were to write the same type of piece disparaging Joel O., or Doug P., or _______(insert false teacher of choice); it would most certainly be met with charges of judgementalism and unloving, etc.

How times have changed.....

DJP said...

Very true. Particularly if you take even a few moments to read about Spurgeon's conversion in its root, matter, and fruits. It was very solid, very rooted, very thorough, very Christ-centered, and bore immediate, consistent and increasing fruit.

NoLongerBlind said...


Definitely a model for "Imitate me, as I imitate Christ".

Also, fodder for self-examination -- how does my life measure up to my profession?

But, I digress from the point of the post......

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Building on JackW's comment... Joel Osteen, Tony Campolo, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, Bishop John Spong, Brian MacLaren, Jim Wallis, et al have taken a tremendous amount of criticism too! So they might all take heart from biographies like Spurgeon's and continue to power on.


(jus' kidding).

Anyways, I'm thinking that "W"'s presidency will be partially rehabilitated as time goes on and the historians (mainly conservatives) can assess his legacy.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid the Marxist leanings of President Bush recently regarding the banking and auto industries may leave him with few fiscally conservatives in his corner. I think he's done a great deal of good for the pro-life cause and in the fight against Islamic terrorists. Economically, however, his polices of late are reminding me more of Jimmy Carter.

Rachael Starke said...

"what makes pastoring perhaps the hardest, most trying employment there is."
No kidding! After I gave my testimony at church a few weeks back, I fell into a true depression for the next two days over how poorly I'd done - too much about me and not enough about Jesus, or so it seemed at the time (God graciously offered up enough in the next few days to indicated that hadn't been the case, for which I was thankful).

It made me astonished at how God gives men this overwhelming desire to do that kind of thing every. week. .

And very thankful that I'm off the hook, given my gender and
all. :)

Truth Unites... and Divides said...


I agree with you. "W" was cowed by the liberal meanstream media (and to be fair, it's very hard not to be). His "compassionate conservativism" translated to irresponsible fiscal policies, but mitigating that criticism, the GOP congressmen and women in the House and Senate were also remiss during his tenure.

"W" got so much criticism. Can you imagine how much more he would have gotten if he was more of a partisan polemic than he is perceived now by the hypermilitant left? They already think he's an extremist! And that Obama is a moderate!

DJP said...

Let's talk politics on the politics meta's, and Spurgeon on the Spurgeon meta's. I had a similar thought, and do think history will be kinder to W than his contemporaries. But that is a feeble point of comparison between his very mixed tenure as President, and Spurgeon's wondrous preaching of the Gospel.

candy said...

I wonder if Spurgeon's critics were influenced by Finney. Their view of a fruitful life would differ from the outward appearance that Spurgeon presented. Legalistic Christians tend to work from a whole different perspective that seems to rely on the outward appearance quite a bit. Just thinking out loud.

Dan B. said...

I read his Morning reading as a devotional every morning. I don't know where in his ministry that these were written, but the depth of thought that every reading has, being only two or three paragraphs of thought--it's quite astounding. The passion that he wrote and preached with comes through every time you read him. More Christians would be better served (myself included) to have a passion and knowledge of the Gospel as he did.

DJP said...

I quite agree. Those little devotions have often warmed, cheered, fed and blessed me.

Carl said...

I really, really liked this article, Dan. Good job. May I have permission to reprint it in its entirety on my blog with appropriate credit and link? It makes excellent points on different levels and I'd like to feature it on my humble little blog. That way maybe one or two others might see it (that's how much attention my blog garners in the vast blogosphere).

DJP said...

Sure, Carl.

Carl said...

Thank you Dan. I have tried to reproduce it as faithfully as I could reproducing the boldface and italics and links as best I could. I also added just a couple of things for clarity's sake (briefly explaining with links who Phil and Frank are within the article -- I hope you don't mind). Your article got me thinking on several issues, a couple of which I ramble on about on my blog so just as Charles Spurgeon's writings made an impact on others, so do yours believe it or not. And since this particular article really got me thinking about various things, I figured that maybe it would get someone thinking who happens to be visiting my blog (as far out in left field as that sounds -- someone actually visiting my blog -- heh).

Anyway, thank you for granting me permission to reproduce your article in its entirety. I honestly think it's one of your better ones and I hope more people read it.