In 1860, the Christian Watchman and Reflector, a Boston Baptist newspaper, secured Charles Spurgeon as an exclusive correspondent. Over that year, Spurgeon wrote 15 letters to the paper. They are being available now for the first time in 150 years. An index of the letters and several background articles can be found here: Charles Spurgeon in the Christian Watchman & Reflector | Index
Here is the complete text of his second letter:
(original pdf here) | (formatted pdf here)
LETTER FROM REV. C.H. SPURGEON
Revival in Ireland—Witnesses to its Genuineness—Work of Grace in Mr. Spurgeon’s congregation—Danger of Neglecting our own souls in our care for others—The Present as compared with the Past—The Fathers of our Religious Literature and the Men of our Day—Calamity and its Lessons—Perseverance of the Saints—Old Fashioned Theology—Spurious Progress—Dangers which beset Americans—Our need of Caution.
TO THE EDITORS OF THE CHRISTIAN WATCHMAN AND REFLECTOR:
You desire to hear something from me touching the revivals in Ireland. I am not able to bear any witness with regard to them, except at second-hand, and, therefore, must refer you to the innumerable letters which have been written upon the subject by correspondents who have travelled through the country. Such letters have doubtless appeared in the Watchman. As to the genuine character of-the work, there is but one opinion, for even Mr. Gilfillan has retracted his evil sentence. I only wish that his repentance may extend to many other naughty words which he has written and spoken. The Presbyterian church is certainly no hot-bed of excitement, and the fact of, the great prevalence of revivals in that worthy body in the north of Ireland is an irresistible argument against the charge that they are the flashes of fanatic fury. I must confess my intense affection for very much in the Presbyterian body; were its members but able to understand the very simple precept of baptism, they might, I think, challenge the most severe Biblical scrutiny. There is one fault, at least, from which they are quite clear, namely the evil of wild, disorderly zeal, and hence when they feel the kindling of an extraordinary flame, I am quite satisfied that it is no strange fire which burns upon the altar. Their doctrine is solidly Calvinistic, and their ministers are, for the most part, mature and well taught men. They are not a people whose passions outrun their understanding, and they are too well accustomed to try the spirits, to be easily deceived. Three good brethren were at first taken by surprise, and were somewhat afraid of the new Pentecost, but to a man, they now rejoice in the work as bring gracious and Divine. From a very extensive acquaintance with the children of God who have witnessed this memorable work, I gather the unanimous opinion that while there is much scum and froth upon the surface, which all must deplore, there is, nevertheless, a potent, deep, irresistible current of good, which none but a determined unbeliever will dare to deny. The fruits are too manifest and too numerous to be a matter of question and dispute. I would here quote a portion of a letter by Rev. W. Arthur, who has been an attentive eye-witness of the whole matter, and who is too sensible a man to be easily duped, although I do not doubt that his great earnestness for the conversion of men makes him exceedingly quicksighted with regard to every favorable sign of a gracious work. I select this extract because it gives tangible facts, and manifests moral effects which I cannot be gainsayed:
As to all other things connected with the revival I found much difference of opinion ; but as to the moral results none, except that some would ask—Will this reformation last? Many Roman Catholics spoke of it with dread and aversion, but all took it as a settled point, that the love of whisky, and the habit of cursing the Pope and “Papishes” had got such a check as never was known in Ireland. In the electoral district of Kells, where it first began, I was told on the spot by Mr. Robert Brown, of Greenfield, that last year they had twenty-six paupers in the union, and this year only four. He also said that he had, a few days before, asked a policeman if he was “of any use at all now?” and the reply was that they had sometimes to “march on” a prisoner. In Ballymena a carman told me that whereas before the revival “A decent man couldn’t walk the streets of a Saturday (the market) night, for fellows drunk and cursing ;” now, on the last Saturday, he could count only four men, and on the Saturday before, five, the worse for whisky. The very day before he spoke to me he had pointed out to a gentleman whom he was driving, and who, he said, “knew them as well as he did,” two of the worst women of the streets, “going to the fields to earn their bread honestly by work.” In Belfast, a friend of mine, who had sent his servant for change, received this answer: “I can’t get it, sir; at the public-house where I always used to get it, they say since the revival came they don’t get any.” No topic of conversation seemed more common, in the second and third lass carriages, than the wonderful change in the country. “Do you really believe,” I asked a woman from Ahoghill, “that the revival has made any change for the better?” She replied, “I’ve lived there ten years, and it is no more like the place it was than this is like Africa.” A policeman in Sandyrow, Belfast, , the hot-bed of mischief, told me that now there is not a quieter place in the world. The way the 12th of July passed over astonished the most sanguine; and to any one who knows the people, it must appear, beyond comparison, the moat striking effect produced upon national manners, in our day, in these islands, by the sudden influence of religion. I saw people coming away in streams from a fair (at Craigbilly,) where before they would have been reeling by dozens, and I could only discover one man who walked unsteadily. I attended a prayer-meeting in a public house. I heard masters tell of the changes in their men, boys of that in their comrades, women of that in their brothers; heard gentleman, doctors, merchants, shopkeepers, tailors, butchers, weavers, stone-breakers, dwell with great wonder on the improvement going on amongst their neighbors. I knew the pejople, and believed my own eyes, but I came to London to learn that it was all a conspiracy of friends, strangers, and appearances to deceive one.
Thus far, then, we have reason to rejoice that the Lord’s arm is not shortened, and that poor, benighted Ireland is at least in one of her provinces, illuminated by the Holy Spirit’s light.
In my own church, for more than five years, we have had all the fruits of a revival without its excessive excitement. The number of converts seems to be as constant as if some Divine law regulated and controlled their influx. Each week brings its quota, until we have no room to accommodate the church at the communion table, and are obliged to meet in two bodies that all may find a place. The daily prayer-meeting, at seven in the morning, has been maintained without cessation for two years. All through the winter mornings of fog, with which this city of Gog and Magog abounds, the brethren have never failed to be present, although to do so they have had long distances to walk. Our Monday evening meetings for prayer are as well attended as the evening lectures, and the people plead with prevailing earnestness, and expect the blessing with joyous hope. We know what it is to walk in the full light of love and joy; never were a people more happy than we are. At some future time, when there are no other out-door facts to write upon, I mean to tell you of our eldership, of our catechumen classes, our theological seminary for young ministers, and other institutions, which I know will interest you, because of your love to our common Lord and Master.
There is a great danger lest in looking abroad at the work of God, we should neglect our own souls. When we are gazing with curiosity at the phenomena of revivals, and the machinery of progress, we may very easily forget to cultivate the growth of grace within. The want of the times is neither length of profession, nor breadth of effort, but depth of real vital godliness. The religion of the Puritanic age was certainly more contracted than that of the present day, but did it not far excel ours in depth and force? We have broken down the banks which confined the stream, we have flooded large tracts of country with nominal Christianity, but is not the excessive shallowness of our grace a proof that while there is more surface, there is not more substance? How few are the men who, by earnest prayer, continual meditation, and close fellowship, have attained to eminence as fathers of the church in these latter days! Once the valiant men of Israel could scarcely be numbered, but where are now the eighties of the Lord of Hosts? The stars were once crowded together in glittering constellations, but now we may search the entire heavens to find a star of the first magnitude. I look upon my shelves, and run my eye along the works of Owen, Howe, Bunyan, Baxter, Ambrose, Burgess, Brooks, Preston. Gurnall, Sibbs, Ness, Mayer, Jenkyn, Manton, Charnock, Durham, and scores of others; and I only wish that I knew of one living man whose name is worthy to be mentioned with theirs. Does not this arise from the hurry of our engagements, and our desire to be achieving a name among men? We point, and grain, and varnish, and thus hope to make the world believe that we are real. O, that we looked more prayerfully to the essence and substance of the matter. We might then flash and glitter less, but our true light would be far more bright and clear. I would have you, my dear friends, ever panting to know the vitality and mystery of true religion. Take care to be much alone with yourself, and still more alone with God. Then may you go forth and labor with both your hands and all your heart, nor shall your soul lose its rest amidst all your engagements, if the grace of God shall thus dwell in you richly.
During the terrific gales of this week a ship returning from Australia with much gold and many passengers has been driven upon our coast, and nearly every soul on board has been lost. Here were weary laborers returning from a foreign shore to their old fatherland, rich with treasure, and they are wrecked in sight of shore. According to the Arminian theory this will probably be our portion In spiritual things, but we have a happier prospect when we turn to that glorious article of our faith, the final perseverance of the saints. Well may we tremble, for if left to ourselves we shall soon make shipwreck of faith, but equally well may we rejoice, for Jesus is with us, and will surely land us in safety. So long as He is secure, we are in no hopeless danger, for thus the record runs: “Because I live, ye shall live also.” The Arminian teaches that he may fall away and perish. It is possibly true of the man who can believe such an error, but our faith lays hold upon the promise, and is not afraid of any failure in its fulfillment; “I give unto my sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hands.”
My closing remarks are suggested by the tendency to novel doctrine, latitudinarian sentiment, which is visible in the sermons and speeches of some of your notable divines. I pray you be upon your watchtower, lest the good word of life be, by slow degrees, worn down to the taste of the depraved nature of man, under the extraordinary pretense of advancing it up to the standing of the times; as if the truth of Jesus was not the same yesterday, to-day and forever, and fitted for every age and every clime.
I am persuaded that the longer we live, the more thoroughly shall we see the futility of any scheme of doctrine claiming for itself an adaptation to the times, which old-fashioned theology does not pretend to possess. A glittering exterior of liberality is a poor exchange for sterling truth and Divine approbation. In our days of childhood we were often enough dazzled by appearances, but in our manhood let us put away this childish infirmity. To advance in theology beyond the written Word is to go back. To laugh at ancient orthodoxy as narrow and antiquated, and to offer in its place fine phrases about the march of intellect, is to pull down a fortress of granite, and erect in its stead a bastion of ice, which the first day of summer shall dissolve.
You have in your midst men of unrivalled genius, who are applauded by uncircumcised lips, as men of large minds and liberal hearts, but the saints of God ran only speak of them with trembling, as ministers of whom they stand in doubt, fearing that they are rather betrayers of the gospel than champions for Christ. May you be kept from receiving error even when endorsed by the names of philanthropists and men of brilliant parts. Remember that nothing is really good which is contrary to the Word, and although there may be a show of progress in a church which is cursed by an unsound ministry, that progress is delusive and worthless. Every time the church is in a hurry to reach her end by shortcuts and byroads, she has always wasted her energies, and has had more trouble to retrace her steps than all her advances in the rough but right road have ever cost her. Better to lie becalmed, than sail with full speed towards a quicksand. Better to bear the charge of bigotry, than open our doors to the soul-destroying errors which court our hospitality. Let us be upon our watchtower, and may the churches of America see to it that they be not deceived by the devil in the garb of an angel of light.
Yours most truly,
Clapham, London, Jan. 1859
(Photo by Álvaro Serrano on Unsplash)