Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Young Spurgeon: how the bow was so well-bent

Phil Johnson has an excellent essay on the great Charles H. Spurgeon's -- and yes, I probably can't say his name without affixing "the great" -- youth and conversion. It's quite a read, and striking on many levels. Perhaps the most remarkable to our minds is how this relative child came under so great a conviction of sin, and how he remained there for years. In our day, we'd have had him repeat the sinner's prayer, sign a tract, pointed him to 1 John 5:13, and told him to snap out of it and start witnessing.

But Spurgeon was slow-roasted, and it had a great effect on him, to the greater glory of God. His years under conviction bore fruit in decades of God-honoring preaching that packs the same punch and power over a century later.

It is impossible not to see how his later preaching was formed by his experience in searching for hope and help. Every wonder why Spurgeon's sermons did not tend to be more "practical," or why every last one of them seemingly included a call to saving faith, no matter what the text? I think this is our answer, as Johnson quotes Spurgeon's own words:
While under concern of soul, I resolved that I would attend all the places of worship in the town where I lived, in order that I might find out the way of salvation. I was willing to do anything, and be anything, if God would only forgive my sin. I set off, determined to go round to all the chapels, and I did go to every place of worship; but for a long time I went in vain. I do not, however, blame the ministers. One man preached Divine Sovereignty; I could hear him with pleasure, but what was that sublime truth to a poor sinner who wished to know what he must do to be saved? There was another admirable man who always preached about the law; but what was the use of ploughing up ground that needed to be sown? Another was a practical preacher. I heard him, but it was very much like a commanding officer teaching the manoeuvres of war to a set of men without feet. What could I do? All his exhortations were lost on me. I knew it, was said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved;" but I did not know what it was to believe on Christ. These good men all preached truths suited to many in their congregations who were spiritually-minded people; but what I wanted to know was,—"How can I get my sins forgiven?"—and they never told me that. I desired to hear how a poor sinner, under a sense of sin, might find peace with God; and when I went, I heard a sermon on "Be not deceived, God is not mocked," which cut me up still worse; but did not bring me into rest. I went again, another day, and the text was something about the glories of the righteous; nothing for poor me! I was like a dog under the table, not allowed to eat of the children's food. I went time after time, and I can honestly say that I do not know that I ever went without prayer to God, and I am sure there was not a more attentive hearer than myself in all the place, for I panted and longed to understand how I might be saved.
All this makes me think a bit of my own experience as an impatient child, "growing" carrots and potatoes. They didn't grow much. I wanted to see them, so I plucked them up -- potatoes the size of stuffed olives, and tiny carrots scarcely larger than a root. I wonder sometimes if we have such small souls in the professing church today because our impatient approach to evangelism presses for instant, shallow, and premature "decisions," rather than preaching Law and Gospel, pointing sinners to Christ, and respecting the Spirit of God's own timing in the work of conversion.

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