A. J. Gordon (1836-1895) was one of the pre-eminent Baptist pastors in America in his day, zealous for evangelism and missions, and a prolific author of pre-millennial sentiments. His analysis of his great English contemporary, Charles H. Spurgeon, is noteworthy.
“To have the ear of the people is a great thing, and much to be coveted by the minister of the gospel, if only it be certain that God has the minister’s ear. If it be not so, and the preacher has thousands hanging on his lips, who himself does not hang on God’s lips with the daily cry, ‘Speak Lord, for thy servant heareth,’ it may be a calamity. In other words, popularity without piety—the magnetism which draws the people, without the communion which draws daily supplies of truth and inspiration from God—is not to be envied.
There are some preachers, who have had an immense following in this generation, the secret of whose success would seem to lie in their skill in compounding emollients for itching ears. ‘Make men think well of themselves if you would have them think well of you,’ is Lord Chesterfield’s receipt [recipe] for popularity. But it happens that the gospel, if faithfully preached, tends to make men think meanly of themselves; and therefore it is not unlikely to make them dislike the servant of Christ who has told them the truth.
If, however, we can find a minister who is pungent while he is popular, who pierces the heart with conviction while he nails the ear with persuasion, we shall have to confess that God is with him in truth. The highest tribute ever paid to Whitefield’s power, we fancy was that of [Benjamin] Franklin, who, in a bewildered way, confessed that he could not understand why such crowds should rush after a preacher who was always accusing them of being as bad by nature as the beasts.
We hold that no pulpit can be steady and secure in its position which has not repulsions as well as attractions, which does not declare God’s wrath against sin while it proclaims His love toward the sinner. What a testimony to the fidelity of apostolic preaching it is, that in the same Scripture in which it is said that ‘believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women,’ it is also written, ‘and of the rest durst no man join himself to them!’
Among the popular preachers of this generation Mr. Spurgeon has been singularly distinguished for his plain and pungent declaration of the whole gospel, in its severe as well as its tender and winning aspects. His pulpit has sounded its message to the ends of the earth; but the ends of the earth have not been told that the old gospel of regeneration is effete, and must now give place to some gospel of evolution, or that the ancient theology has fallen into such a sad plight, that if tolerated at all, it must be as the old faith in a new light. And in the success which has attended his ministry, a grateful demonstration has been given, that the old faith is perfectly adequate to the wants of the world, needing only to be reproduced in new lives. We should call Mr. Spurgeon the Nineteenth-century Puritan, if not in his austerity of life, certainly in the substance and style of his preaching. This is crisp, direct, smiting. It is not so unadorned as to render the truth which it conveys dull or repulsive, nor so rhetorical as to render the truth obscure, as a rich melody is sometimes covered over and suffocated in a musician’s variations. As we listen we become interested, and as we become interested, we are searched and convicted.
Here is the high merit of his preaching; it is evidently shaped to attract men to God, rather than to the servant of God; it is manifestly the utterance of one who, like plain John Woolman the Quaker, is ‘jealous over himself, lest he should say anything to make his testimony agreeable to that mind on the people which is not in pure obedience to the cross of Christ.’ Some preach the Cross in anything but a crucified style,—inlaying it with such charms of a carnal imagination, that the offence is nullified, and it becomes the symbol of divine indifference and toleration, rather than the sign of God’s anger against sin, while it is the revelation of His infinite love to the sinner. Our preacher has constantly declared the doctrines of the Cross, with rare fidelity, sharp distinctness, and exemplary boldness. The Coming and the Kingdom of Christ have also had their proper place in his scheme of doctrine. If the old preachers used to insist on the two R’s, as containing the sum of pulpit teaching,—Ruin and Redemption,—we need, in this generation, with equal emphasis to demand fidelity to the two C’s,—the Cross and the Coming of Christ.
We say this because the new theology is doing its best to make away with the latter doctrine. It would reduce the second advent of Christ to some past historical or vaguely present event, obscuring it in the dust and tumult of Titus’s siege of Jerusalem, or diffusing it into the glittering generalities of modern progress. We are not prepared to accept a complaisant satisfaction with nineteenth-century progress, as an adequate substitute for ‘that blessed hope, the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;’ or to admit Swedenborgian elimination taking place at every man’s death, into the place once held by the doctrine of a literal bodily resurrection occurring at the second advent of Christ. And we are especially grateful to the London preacher for his clear, ringing utterances of these points,—for his unequivocal advocacy of Christ’s Premillennial Coming and the First Resurrection.
But these are only a few things for which we are beholden to that eminent ministry. Being asked to write an introduction to the new and enlarged edition of this excellent volume, we commend the life it delineates, and the work which it portrays, to all friends of a sound gospel, and to all lovers of good and true men. How great is the debt which we all owe to the pulpit of the Metropolitan Tabernacle of London. In an age that is running greedily after theological novelties, the steady, conservative anchoring power of that pulpit has been felt wherever the English language is spoken, and wherever in any tongue the gospel is preached. The book gives a graphic description of the preacher and his mission. May he be long spared to the pulpit, that the pulpit may long be spared to the truth.”
A. J. Gordon, “Introduction,” The Life and Labors of Charles H. Spurgeon by Geo. C. Needham (1884), pp. vii-ix (All capitalization, spelling and italics in original).
Doug Kutilek is the editor of www.kjvonly.org, which opposes KJVOism. He has been researching and writing in the area of Bible texts and versions for more than 35 years. He has a BA in Bible from Baptist Bible College (Springfield, MO), an MA in Hebrew Bible from Hebrew Union College and a ThM in Bible exposition from Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). His writings have appeared in numerous publications.