Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Prince and the Pauper

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was a godly, courageous and faithful servant of Jesus Christ. He was born in 1834 and died in 1892, and became the most famous and influential pastor of his century. Today he takes a place among the most powerful preachers in the history of the church. Spurgeon is often referred to as “the Prince of Preachers.” Each week in London 5,000 people would gather to hear his sermons. In an age before microphones and sound equipment, he once preached to a crowd of 20,000 people. A newspaper in London wrote of Spurgeon that he had “a voice of marvelous power, penetration, and variety of tone. He had resources, readily drawn upon, of pathos and a certain kind of humor; and he could vivify his sermons by all manner of telling...illustrations.”

How did this mighty preacher come to saving faith in Jesus Christ? Later in his life, Spurgeon took delight in telling the story. It was January 6, 1850 and he was 16 years old. Though he was knowledgeable of the Bible, he had not been born again. He was despairing and desperate to find some comfort for his soul. That Sunday because of heavy snow he couldn’t reach the church he planned to attend and instead wound up at a small Primitive Methodist church.

There were only 15 people present and, because of the weather, there was no preacher. So an uneducated and—by Spurgeon’s own estimation—not-very-bright member of the congregation was forced to give an impromptu sermon. Spurgeon remembered the man as "thin-looking," and either a tailor or shoemaker. He was not impressive in appearance, nor in his delivery of his sermon. According to Spurgeon, he didn’t even pronounce his words correctly as he read Isaiah 45:22, which said, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” I’ll let you hear the rest of the story in Spurgeon’s own words:

“Blessed be God for that poor local preacher. He read his text. It was as much as he could do. He was an ignorant man, he could not say much; he was obliged to keep to his text. Thank God for that. He began, 'Look, that is not hard work. You need not lift your hand, you do not want to lift your finger. Look, a fool can do it. It does not need a wise man to look. A child can do that....Look unto Me. Do not look to yourselves, but look to Me, that is Christ….Look unto Me; I am sweating great drops of blood for you; look unto Me, I am scourged and spit upon; I am nailed to the cross, I die, I am buried, I rise and ascend, I am pleading before the Father’s throne, and all this for you.'

Now that simple way of putting the Gospel had enlisted my attention, and a ray of light had poured into my heart.

Stooping down, he looked under the gallery and said: 'Young man, you are very miserable.' So I was, but I had not been accustomed to be addressed in that way. 'Ah,' said he, 'and you will always be miserable if you don’t do as my text tells you; and that is, Look unto Christ.' And then he called out, with all his might, 'Young man, look; in God’s name look, and look now. Look! Look! Look! You have nothing to do but look and live.'

I did look, blessed be God! I know I looked then and there; and he who but that minute ago had been near despair, had the fullness of joy and hope. The cloud was gone, the darkness rolled away, and in that moment I saw the sun. I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard the word Look, I could almost have looked my eyes away. I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith that looks alone to Him.”
And so the young Charles Spurgeon was gloriously saved and reborn as he looked with faith on Christ. What a wonderful example of divine irony! God saved the mighty preacher by the means of a simple and unimpressive sermon delivered by an unschooled and untalented man whose name has long since been forgotten. God saved the Prince of Preachers through the preaching of an intellectual pauper. The story gives me hope every time I stand behind the pulpit.

(The quotes from the London newspaper, as well as the quote from Spurgeon’s sermon that included the story of his conversion, are drawn from the small but useful biography of Spurgeon by Ernest W. Bacon entitled Spurgeon, Heir of the Puritans, Arlington Heights, IL, Christian Liberty Press.)

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