You can see for yourself over at Brandon Smith’s blog
June 11, 2015
December 20, 2010
One of the books I bought whilst on the Isle of Lewis was this new biography of Spurgeon. As lovers of CHS will know, biographies of him were two-a-penny in the years after his death, and varied greatly in quality. In modern times, there is nothing that compares to reading his autobiography, complied by his wife and secretary, of course, but in terms of readability, brevity and insight, there has been no modern biography of Spurgeon which compares to that excellent volume produced by the late Arnold Dallimore – “Spurgeon – A New Biography”
I will confess that I read Peter Morden‘s book before I left Stornoway, and enjoyed it immensely. That was, of course, several months ago, so I will not go in to huge detail in this review, but will give you a ‘feel’ for the book and the contents.
My first question on perusing it was ‘So, why do we need another biography – what is new about this one’? It should be stated that the book accompanies a film, and contains several photographs of the actor who played Spurgeon in it. There’s more information and a few reviews of the film here. But I am a book person, not a film person, so, to the book. What does it do that is new, or worthwhile?
It is well illustrated and beautifully laid out. It is most readable, and it covers the main events of Spurgeon’s life clearly. I will admit that tt was far better than I expected it to be, as it is a production of a member of the Spurgeon’s College staff, and I know that there are differences between the college of today and the original college of Spurgeon’s time. The dramatic, acted photos actually do add something to the book for the modern reader (with short attention span and need for illustrations!) and there are a good number of colour images of artefacts. What is most innovative and undoubtedly the winning thing about the book is that the author’s self-confessed aim is to ‘make connections between Spurgeon and our own lives’. In pursuit of this, each chapter closes with a ‘Digging deeper’ section, to add detail and make suggestions, and a most helpful ‘Engage’ section, which makes thought-provoking and unflinching applications to our own lives. For example, the chapter on Spurgeon’s upbringing encourages us to ponder the importance of raising godly children, and especially praying for them.
As well as covering the major events of Spurgeon’s life, his conversion, his two pastorates, the building of the Tabernacle, his books and writings, his family life, the orphanages and the Pastors’ College, chapters are set aside to examine Spurgeon, the man. One reflects on his passion for holiness, and another on ‘the Inner Man’. These specific chapters add to the value of the whole. There is no hero-worship in this book, but many challenges to us, perhaps especially to those who jostle for the mantle of ‘heirs of Spurgeon’ – to ask ourselves whether we truly do reflect the man we seek to emulate. (Whether we should seek to emulate him and to what extent is another question and not what I am considering here!)
I was intrigued to see how the author would handle the ‘Down-grade controversy’. If you are unfamiliar, do follow the link, but in essence this was the time at which Spurgeon left the Baptist Union because some ministers and churches were promoting liberal theology. This biography is the production of a current Baptist Union minister in the pay of a Baptist Union college. Therefore I was generally suprised and pleased to read the balanced way in which the controversy is covered here. A couple of quotes: ‘Those who thought that the pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle was making something out of nothing were wrong… Spurgeon was absolutely right (I believe) to say that these things matter. His decision to resign was one that many close to him regretted. But they did not regret his decision to speak out, and neither should we’. I think you can read between the lines and see that Peter Morden does not endorse Spurgeon’s resignation (if he did, I don’t think he would be in the Union today) but that he entirely agrees with Spurgeon on the issues he raised. For that we can be thankful – but this reviewer is in no doubt that Spurgeon was correct, not only in his beliefs, but in his actions. Uncomfortable though it may be for the evangelical wing of the Baptist Union today, history has proven Spurgeon correct. Dr Morden rightly concludes his consideration of the downgrade with the words ‘Are we in danger of downgrading essential Christian truth? If so, we need to hear the call of the Spurgeons to ‘stand firmly on the Rock’.
I suppose we then ask the question ‘What counts as essential Christian truth?’ Well beyond the scope of this little review, I think. Do I have gripes about the book? Yes, in all its attempts to connect to modern day life, it does Spurgeon’s College a favour, but says nothing whatsoever of the Metropolitan Tabernacle today – not even a photo. The same could be said of the chapel in which Spurgeon was converted. A few more ‘then and now’ photos would have helped, along with a little more information. Another whinge is the ducking of the issue of the training of women for ministry, which is relegated to a footnote where it is noted that Spurgeon’s college now does just that. A little courage in dealing with the issue might have been commendable, but perhaps would not have been politically expedient.
Do I recommend the book? Yes, I do, as a thought provoking book for people new to Spurgeon, and the more experienced. I still would commend Dallimore’s biography for the first-time reader above any other. If you know much about Spurgeon you won’t gain much factual information from this new book, but you will see some images of artefacts you might not have done, and you will certainly be made to think things through and make some application to your own life that you might not otherwise have done. A least, I hope you will. I fear that given the connection with Spurgeon’s College, this book will be largely ignored by the conservative independent wing of British Baptist churches today. I think that would be a shame. Get yourself a copy – I intend to buy the author’s next book on Spurgeon, which is his PhD thesis on Spurgeon’s spirituality. I don’t think it is available yet, but if it is an expansion of what I have seen in the biography, I am very much looking forward to it!
July 15, 2010
From notes of a sermon delivered on a Lord’s Day evening in 1856, at New Park Street. Notes taken by Pastor T.W. Medhurst.
John 14.6 – ‘Jesus saith unto him, I am the way… no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me’
“There seems to be growing up amongst us an idea that a man is of a persecuting spirit of he does not think that the one who flatly contradicts him is as right as himself. If we do as some wish, we shall in time reach that blessed state of charity which had been attained by the courtiers of the Sultan, who, when he said at mid-day, “It is midnight,” replied, “Yes, sire, there is the moon, and there are the stars.” Today, we are expected not to protest against Popery, lest we should be considered bigots; we must subscribe to all that men teach, if only they are sincere. Suppose a man, travelling due North, was sincere in thinking that he would get to the South, do you think his sincerity would bring him to the desired destination? If a man was sincere in thinking that prussic acid was a wholesome food, would the poison do him no injury? If a man starved himself while he sincerely believed himself to be feasting, how long would it take him to get fat? You say “these things are contrary to the laws of nature.” Just so, and the laws of God’s gospel are as fixed and true as are the laws of nature. If you are honest and sincere in keeping to the road of ruin, you will reach the natural end of that road, eternal destruction. Sincerity in believing a lie does not change that lie to the truth. There is only one way to heaven; there is only one Saviour, Jesus Christ is exclusively “the way.” This excludes all by-paths, all cross-roads, and all short cuts. Scripture knows nothing of the new theory, that we may be all right though we are in direct opposition to the Word of God.”
Cross-posted to the pastorsnew blog also. This will form part of new books forthcoming from DayOne publications.
March 15, 2010
Here’s a bit of fun. Bought for £3.50 off ebay, it appears to be a lantern slide from a slideshow about Spurgeon’s life. It is numbered ‘1’ on the rear and labelled ‘Life of CH Spurgeon’. I wonder where the rest of the slides went? Looks like 1930s-1950s. I will have to think of some way of displaying it, a pretty thing in its own way, nicely coloured.
June 19, 2009
Mind you, he’s far better off in heaven than still being alive. How grieved would he be at the state of our country today?
Anyway, happy birthday, CHS. See you soon!
November 18, 2006
On October 11, 1856, the London Illustrated Times ran an article on Pastor CH Spurgeon. At the time, he was 22 years of age, and, perhaps, not quite the household name he later became. About a year ago, I bid a few pounds on ebay for an image of CH Spurgeon (left) from the same newspaper. To my delight, the page contained the entire article. I am going to reproduce it for you here. Perhaps you will be suprised by it – possibly amazed – but I’m sure if you have read any of the major biographies such as Dallimore or Holden Pike – you will have noted the comments about what the press wrote about CHS – much of it was very unkind. It is instructive to read this article, and I will offer a few comments at the end – I am sure that you will have many of your own.
The Rev. Charles H. Spurgeon.
Mr Spurgeon was born in Kelvedon, in Essex, says “The Patriot;” but another informant says that Colchester was his birth-place. He came into the world on the 19th June, 1834; he is, therefore, rather over twenty-two years of age: – a young man to make such a noise in the religious world. His father, Mr John Spurgeon, was, and is now, for aught we know to the contrary, a clerk in the office of Mr. Mann, a merchant at Colchester, and preaches on the Sunday at the Independent Chapel at Tollesbury. His son Charles, the popular preacher, was educated at the School of Mr. Henry Lewis of Colchester; subsequently, he went to the Agricultural College at Maidstone for a year; afterwards, as a teacher, to a school at Newmarket; and from thence, as usher, to Mr Leedham of Cambridge. At school, he showed no remarkable signs of talent, and when he left, could not devote much time to study, as, in addition to his duties of usher, he very soon had preaching engagements. His first settlement as a dissenting minister was at Waterbeach, Cambridge, where he was very popular, and it was from this time that he was allured to New Park Street Baptist Chapel by the deacons and managers, who were in want of a popular man to fill their deserted pews. Every Sunday did they look over their “beggarly account of empty boxes”, and sigh at the remembrance of old times, until at length the bruit of this young man’s fame reached them. The style of his preaching was very different to the old sobrieties of Dr. Rippon and his successors, and, moreover, he was “o’er young” to undertake a “London charge;” but, after due consideration had, the invitation was sent, and the tyro “came, saw and conquered.” Indeed, it is now a question whether his success is not too great for the deacons and managers; for it is not unlikely that Mr Spurgeon may soon contemplate a higher flight, and aspire to some still larger place of worship, and leave the Park Street deacons in worse case than they were before.
Mr Spurgeon’s popularity is unprecedented; at all events, there has been nothing like it since the days of Wesley and Whitfield. Park Street Chapel cannot hold half the people that pant to hear him, and even Exeter Hall is too small. Indeed, it is reported on good authority that his friends mean to hire the Concert-room at the Surrey Gardens, and firmly believe that he will fill that. Nor is his popularity confined to London; in Scotland he was very much followed; and lately, we ourselves saw, on a weekday, in a remote agricultural district, long lines of people all converging to one point, and on inquiring of one of the party where they were going received for an answer “We’re a gooing to hear Master Spudgin, sir.”
This is a ticklish subject, for of all people we have met with in our career, the Spurgeonites are the most belligerent and fierce. They are as jealous for the reputation of their idol, as a Roman Catholic priest is for the authenticity of his “true Cross;” and only hint to one of them that you are not an enthusiastic admirer, and they “flare up” in a moment, as when a spark
“Lights on a heap of nitrous powder.”
Still we must venture – premising, by way of deprecation of their wrath, if we should not quite agree with his worshippers – that as we are not of his professed followers, so we are not his enemy – we belong to no religious faction. First, then, let it be remembered that ennui, as it is called in fashionable life, is to members of the religious world very distressing on a Sunday. During the week, most of them are actively engaged in business, time flies fast enough; but on the Sunday, dulness and wearisomeness reign. They may not read newspapers, or what are called secular books – no business must be attended to – even walking or riding for pleasure is considered to be of questionable propriety; and the places of worship to which they resort, some twice and some three times, are generally the most awfully dull places in the world.
It may be said, “Why do they not break through these customs? – read what they please? – walk and ride where they choose? – and go where they like, or stop at home when they are so minded?” But those who ask these questions little know the quiet tyranny that reigns in the religious world. What would the minister say if Stubbs were not regularly in his pew? What would the “deacons” say if he were known to “break the Sabbath” by reading “secular books,” or walking out as “worldly people” do? In short, what would Mrs Grundy say? Now, this being the case, it is easily seen that anyone who brings a little liveliness, novelty, or strangeness into this dull scene must be a God-send. And this Mr Spurgeon has done; and we are persuaded that this in the main is the cause of his popularity. Go to most of the “places of worship” and you will find that the dullness is intolerable. Execrable singing, wearisome long prayers, and sermons as soporific as opium; but in Park Street, if there is nothing more, there is at least liveliness, and, for the present, novelty.
We have been several times to Mr Spurgeon’s chapel, and for the life of us we can discover little more than this to account for the crowds that follow him. In the man himself, and in his preaching, there is really nothing remarkable, excepting his oddities. His doctrine is not new; on the contrary, it is nothing more than old Calvinism revived in its most uncompromising form. He is not an orator, scholar, nor man of genius; and he is the very worst reasoner we ever heard. But he is lively – says strange, odd, daring things, which keep the attention brisk, amuse the hearers, and give them something to talk about. Some have compared him to a great preacher of the last century, and say that he is a “second Whitfield;” but this is rubbish. Whitfield was a fervid orator, a man of genius, a scholar and a polished gentleman; but Mr Spurgeon is neither of these. This is, in our view, one great cause of his popularity; and this view is confirmed by observing who they are that form the staple of his congregations. Whitfield and Wesley gathered together thousands who never were accustomed to go to chapel or church – miners, sailors, craftsmen, and labourers of all sorts. But it is not so with Mr Spurgeon. His congregations are made up, not of those “outcasts” who “go nowhere” but of the middle-class regular chapel-goers, who, weared with the dulness of their own places of worship, come here for excitement. Outside of the “religious world”, Mr Spurgeon has been little heard of. Even the echo of his name has not been heard in the higher classes, and amongst the lower he is quite
as little known.
It is true that we hear much of his success, but we must take all that we hear cum grano salis at present. If he has made the drunkard sober, debauchees chaste, or rogues honest, then he has been successful; but if he has only increased the number of fierce and intolerant belligerants for a creed, they had better been as they were. “They’re worse for mending.” We have too many of them already.
WILL HIS POPULARITY LAST?
We more than doubt it. It stands on no firm basis. Thousands who go now to hear him only go through curiosity. Men are very much like sheep; one goes through a hedge, then another, and another; at last the stream gathers crescit cundo, and the whole flock rushes madly forward. This has been a good deal the case with Mr Spurgeon’s congregation, but the current will soon turn and leave him; and to those who have gone from a slightly different, if not better motive, it is hardly likely that he will retain them long. He must bid high if he does – offering them every Sunday a stronger dram than they had the last. Some short time ago we went to see the hippopotamus in the Regent’s Park, and there we moralised upon the vanity of popular favour. When that poor brute first came to the Gardens, thousands rushed to see him, and for the convenience of the crowd seats, rising one above another, were erected; but now all this is past and gone. The reason is – there really was nothing specially attractive in the poor brute. His neighbour the giraffe was infinitely more graceful – the elephant was far more clever, and in his own element the otter and seal were much more agile and interesting; but he was strange, odd-looking, and novel; and so crowds and crowds hurried to see him, and for a time he was simply the most popular animal in all London. But, of course, this novelty soon wore away, his appearance became as familiar as the street monkeys, and as he had no new tricks to offer, his popularity rapidly declined. Now, Mr Spurgeon is the hippopotamus of the religious world – there have been and are many preachers far superior to him in every respect, but he is at present strange, odd, something new.
HIS APPEARANCE, MANNERS, STYLE &c.
We had intended to give a description of Mr Spurgeon’s personal appearance, but there is no occasion, as the portrait from Cox’s photograph will do that better than we can by words. Suffice it to say, that there is nothing about his head than indicates intellectual power, but everything to justify the opinion that we have formed after hearing him preach several times and read some dozen of his sermons. In all his productions there is one decidedly and unmistakeable proof that the author is not a man of an enlarged and cultivated mind. The audacious presumption with which he dogmatises on the profoundest mysteries, rushing in “where angels fear to tread,” is quite decisive on that point. Every great man is reverent and modest in the presence of great mysteries; but Mr Spurgeon, on subjects that have perplexed and wearied the greatest thinkers of all time, never doubts, never hesistates, nor even condescends to reason.
“I am not here to argue,” we heard him say, “but to proclaim the truth,” that “truth” involving such questions as “fate, fore-knowledge, and free-will.” As if he should say, “I am Sir Oracle; when I ope my mouth, let no dog bark.”
Nor does he hestitate what to do with his opponents. He consigns them to perdition without mercy. “Arminianism,” the creed of Wesley, and a whole host of pious and learned men, “will sink back to its birth-place in the pit.” And in one of his sermons he draws a picture of a whole parish howling after a poor parson in hell because he had preached the efficacy of good works. “You advised me,” he makes one of the parishoners say “to do such and such good works. I went and did them, and I am damned”
Mr Spurgeon’s manner in the pulpit is not to be commended. His manner of praying is to our mind shocking. Most ministers when they pray, kneel down and cover their faces; but Mr Spurgeon stands up, stretches his hands out above his head, and fixing his eyes upon the ceiling, as if he saw someone up there to whom he was speaking, halloos at the top of his voice in the most irreverent and familiar manner. That this is all affectation we cannot doubt for a moment, for it is quite impossible to suppose that a man’s devotional feelings would impel him to assume this ridiculous attitude. Mr Spurgeon’s prayers are to us the most offensive part of the service. “Fantastic tricks” in speaking we can forgive – but “fantastic tricks before High Heaven” in prayer!! Of his manner when preaching there is little to be said; there is the usual amount of gesticulation – sometimes appropriate, and oftentimes not.
His sermons sometimes remind us of “Billy Dawson,” the noted Methodist Yorkshire farmer, and sometimes of William Huntingdon, the famous antinomian; but he is not equal to either of them in natural ability. The chief characteristic of his preaching, and that which alone makes it attractive, is his coarse, vulgar metaphors. A little while ago, in addressing certain imaginary persons, who affected to think that they could give but little light in the world, he told them “that God would stick them in a saveall, for he loved to burn up His small pieces of candle.” Sometimes he attempts the dramatic style, introducing upon the stage God, Jesus, Gabriel and himself. Now and then he says a good thing, and displays a touch of humour. For example, in a printed sermon, he says “There are some who find unneccessary and absurd fault with the things of this world, and call jewels ‘gaudy toys’ and gold ‘sordid dust’. I have often admired some of my friends when I have heard then talking about gold as ‘sordid dust,’ for I have wondered why they did not give it to the dustman the next time he came round. If they were to do that, I would not mind going round myself for once with the bell.”
But we must stop – we have said enough. There is one excuse for Mr Spurgeon: he is very young – only twenty-two. When he shall be a few years older, he will probably learn that “there are more things in heaven and earth than were dreamt of in his philosophy,” and be less dogmatic and bigoted; and if we mistake not, will wish that much of his strange career and earlier utterances may be forgotten; especially if he shall be made to feel, as he will be, the fickleness of human applause.
Well, there you go. Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing? Holden Pike quotes from this very news article in his biography of Spurgeon as summative of the type of criticism he received. Of course there were very much more favourable notices given, and many directly contradict this author (who is unknown) – particularly with regard to the young man’s oratory, and ‘genius’.
This article is notable for ‘what happened next’. Just over a week later, when the Surrey Gardens Music Hall was engaged for Spurgeon’s ministry as predicted, a tragic ‘prank’ was played when someone shouted ‘fire’, and seven were killed in the rush to escape. We have just passed the 150th anniversary of this sad event.
The next sermon delivered there was November 23rd, 1856, when Spurgeon, who had slowly recovered from great anguish after the tragedy, preached on Romans 5.6 – ‘But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us’. It is a fantastic sermon, and gives the lie to the body of text above!
The author of the article claims to belong to ‘no religious faction’. I’d say he probably did – a rather large faction of Anglicans who attended church out of social custom to be entertained with the latest textual theories and developing liberalism – even modernism, one might say. In fact, there is a hint even of post modernism in what the author says – in objecting so strongly to Spurgeon’s remark “I am not here to argue … but to proclaim the truth”, he effectively challenges the existence of objective truth at all!
Amusing to note as an aside is his remark on Spurgeon’s head shape. I don’t know if phrenology was particularly fashionable at the time, but I believe it was (if Sherlock Holmes is anything to go by!). Apparently, the appearance of ones head could ‘indicate intellectual power’ !!
Also amusing is his effusive praise of Whit(e)field – his praise for the preaching of a man he had NEVER HEARD. No doubt had he lived in those days he would have joined the general condemnation for such outrageous and irreligious open air preaching!
Spurgeon did, of course, aspire to some larger place of worship – but he didn’t leave the New Park Street deacons behind – he took them with him! His autobiography records that they did try to keep a church going at New Park Street, but in due course it was sold and used commercially.
Another overriding theme in the article is the author’s inability to attribute to Spurgeon, or those around him, the pursuit of anything but personal fame and full church collection boxes. It surely says more about the heart of the author himself than about his subject. We also wonder what place this man has given to the Holy Spirit in what he has observed? No place whatsoever – because all fame and ‘success'; must be explained away by ‘natural’ phenomena. The author no doubt considered himself a ‘christian’ gentleman – but the signs of life are sadly lacking!
We also do wonder what ‘more’ there could possibly have been in ‘heaven and earth’ that could have expanded the view of Spurgeon as his life progressed – he already had a sure and certain view of this world, as given by God in his Word.
Perhaps the author had cause to change his mind in future years as the Lord blessed, and as people of ALL classes and conditions were converted in their thousands. But for such an insincere reporter, who spent the times of prayer at New Park Street staring at Spurgeon rather than bowing his own head before almighty God… we have to quote his own words:
“We more than doubt it.”
July 12, 2006
Amzi Clarence Dixon (1854-1925) was a mighty man of God, and much used by God in the salvation of souls.
I have mentioned A.C. Dixon in previous posts, and discovered a considerable discrepancy in how his tenure at the Metropolitan Tabernacle (1911-1919) has been viewed. I must emphasise from the beginning – this post isn’t about insulting A.C.Dixon (brief bio here). However, the facts must be faced, and it seems to me that there is a great deal of ignorance about the tradition the Metropolitan Tabernacle stands in. It is a Calvinistic Particular Baptist Church – not a General Baptist church. It has in essence always been so, despite the views of one or two of its Pastors – one of whom was A.C. Dixon.
It seems that the same people who don’t understand these things, don’t understand CH Spurgeon either. Everyone loves to claim Spurgeon for their ‘side’, but abundant evidence is at hand to show his true theological colours. People who love all their theology in little neat boxes have a nightmare with some of his pronouncements – but all he ever did was faithfully present the scriptures. For the waverers, here is Spurgeon’s Defence of Calvinism.
Back on topic, the divergence of views is strongest when we consider the resignation of A.C. Dixon. There is, by the way, no disputing the fact that A.C. Dixon resigned. He was not deposed – but, as we all know, there is such a thing as ‘constructive dismissal’.
Here is what I noted in my post about reading through ‘Spurgeon and Son’ by Craig Skinner:
Skinner claims that AC Dixon resigned, and was not ‘dismissed’. That puts him in direct conflict with the published views of the current pastor of the Tabernacle, Dr Peter Masters. I will get to the bottom of this one. It may take a while, but I’ll dig the dirt, I promise. Skinner says nothing of the pastor who succeeded AC Dixon, Harry Tydeman Chilvers – an entirely different man – a Calvinist to the core. I wonder why?
Before I go further, let me clarify a couple of points. Dr Masters, of course, concedes that Dixon did resign. He just views the whole situation as akin to a constructive dismissal. Also, some of my recollections about what is in Sword and Trowel were actually from seminary lectures.
And one other thing – my second comment, I believe, is a key to the whole matter.
Jeff, a theological student from the USA, asked me for some more information, which I tried to give in the comments section below a previous post – but I said I would investigate the matter a little more.
What does Craig Skinner claim in ‘Spurgeon and Son’ ?
Here are his claims from the text of page 198 with some comments from his footnotes under each one:
1. ‘His [Dixon’s] resignation in 1919 took the officers by suprise and led to a petition for reconsideration’…’The minutes indicate this quite clearly’
2. ‘The church operated in a spiritual condition of unrivaled blessing’
3. ‘No record exists of the tension which some have imagined’…’Murray’s claim that Dixon was the subject of great dissention cannot be supported from the Tabernacle minutes’…’In my discussion with some in present Tabernacle membership, I found it a common misunderstanding that Dixon was forced to resign because of American excesses’
On Saturday, I discussed this matter – and this book – with the current Pastor, Dr Peter Masters, who met Craig Skinner when he was researching the book (c 1984).
To look at his points one by one:
1. He offers no proof beyond a bald assertion. His one, small quote from the minutes is, to be frank, simply a polite ‘Victorian’ summary of only the very strong points of Dixon’s ministry by the treasurer of the Church. How were things really going for Dixon? What do the minutes really show? They show a Pastor who could not carry a motion through the church meeting for some time before he resigned – a Pastor who was clearly NOT supported by his people, and whose innovations were being rejected. They actually show a considerable coolness towards Dixon from the church officers.
2. Other assessments of Dixon’s ministry can be found, Dr Masters himself notes that Dixon ‘hived off’ the ministries of the church – the Orphanages (which eventually became the Spurgeons charity of today) and the Pastor’s College (which has moved some way from the positions of its founder, judge for yourself.)
Dixon practiced in his ministry certain things that Spurgeon tolerated, but not things which he himself would have practiced – indeed, did not practice. To assert that Spurgeon had ‘altar calls’ is unsupported in the evidence. Indeed, Dr Masters himself notes that when A.T. Pierson preached at the Tabernacle some years after he had moved on, he tried an ‘invitation’ and everyone stood up – they clearly had no idea what he was doing.
Arnold Dallimore writes this about Dixon’s ministry:
At the suggestion of Dr. Pierson the Tabernacle then called another American, Dr. A.C. Dixon. Dr. Dixon’s methods were quite different from those of Spurgeon. He installed a piano and formed a choir, and under his rather sensational type of ministry there were numerous professions of faith, but the church showed a decline in attendance and zeal. Moreover, it was while he was at the Tabernacle that the First World War took place, taking many men into the services and disturbing the work of the church. In 1919 Dixon left the Tabernacle, and it was a very different church from what it had been under C.H. Spurgeon. Quoted from “Spurgeon a new Biography” By Arnold Dallimore. (Page 242).
‘Unrivaled blessing’ ? Sounds just a touch exaggerated to me.
3. Here Skinner scores a hit. He is right to criticise Iain Murray’s views in ‘The Forgotten Spurgeon’, and to point out the over-emphasis Mr Murray places upon the carpings of a few vocal members – notably Charles Nobel. Dr Masters would only say that Nobel was a ‘noted eccentric’. There was no great squabble or ‘Tabernacle Tempest’ – the church knew her own position and held her identity clearly, in my opinion. No great strife can be proven from the minutes of the church. But next Mr Skinner misses completely. What he fails to take account of is that in the 1970s, there were living members who were there when it happened. Members who spoke to Dr Masters and others before they went to be with the Lord. How can he say that the members of the Tabernacle ‘misunderstand’ their own church history when they themselves are a part of it ? This seems like a rather lofty statement from a detached academic pen.
The Tabernacle has a lively ‘oral tradition’ – there were even members in the early 1970s with vague childhood recollections of C.H. Spurgeon himself! The ‘faithful few’ – those very elderly saints who never let go their hope that one day the Tabernacle would be restored – they knew what had happened with A.C. Dixon – and they knew just why his successor was appointed…Harry Tydeman Chilvers.
In the words of Arnold Dallimore:
Dixon was followed by H. Tydeman Chilvers. Mr Chilvers was a more Spurgeonic type of man, and although under his ministry an organ was installed in the church, he endeavored to bring the work back to the simplicity and the calvinistic doctrine of former days. He also took a strong stand against liberalism and worldliness, and under his ministry, which lasted till 1935, the attendance was increased, and the church became generally strengthened.
Out goes A.C. Dixon – and who replaces him? A staunch, calvinistic, particular baptist Pastor from East Anglia who ‘turned the clock back’!
How obvious does it have to be? I believe that Skinner ignores Tydeman Chilvers because the coming of this man undermines his hagiography of Dixon. Had the Tabernacle really forgotten the faith of its former pastors, Keach, Gill, Rippon, Spurgeon? No. It had certainly made the mistake of looking for a ‘big name’ to follow other ‘big names’ – and from a distance it had chosen a man of stature and published import – a man who defended the inspiration and authority of scriptures – a man with an enormous passion for souls… but a ‘Spurgeonic’ man? – In passion for souls, no doubt.
But in doctrine and in practice? I think not.
Did he jump or was he pushed? In simple terms, he jumped. But his doctrines and practices were not supported by his people, as much as they might have loved him personally, and neither were his doctrines and practices missed in the happy years from 1920-1935.
Fellow Baptist blogger Terry Lange wrote this to me:
Don’t stop now…. A lot of us do not know much about the Tabernacle after Spurgeon died and Masters become pastor. There is a lot of history there that some of us (me and others) would like to hear about…Especially the history of the building itself. I have been told that the front is the original but the building itself is not the original building but the second or third rebuild and that the seating capacity is much less than that of Spurgeon’s day! So, carry on and indulge us !
Only too glad to do so, Terry! One point though in answer to your statement in bold – Peter Masters hasn’t been Pastor since Spurgeon died in 1893. He is aged, but not quite that old! (I know you know that but it was too funny to pass up!)What I would say is that most of the detail in the list below comes straight from Sword and Trowel 2003 no 2. This is just a very brief précis of a few things which I reproduce for common interest with some more modern details to finish.
Here is the list of Pastors of the Tabernacle (obviously meeting in different buildings before Spurgeon). I have placed those Pastors who cannot be considered ‘in line’ with the Calvinistic Baptist heritage of the church in green as per the Sword and Trowel article.
William Rider c1653-c1665 (12 yrs) – may have died in the Plague. Believers met in houses.
Benjamin Keach 1668-1704 (36 yrs). Was persecuted, built first chapel. Guiding participant in production of the 1689 confession.
Benjamin Stinton 1704-1718 (14 yrs)
Dr John Gill 1720-1771 (51 yrs). A well-known scholar (said by many to be a hyper-calvinist but was a great supporter of Whitefield’s preachings in the area) Built Carter Lane chapel, nr Tower Bridge, in 1757.
Dr John Rippon 1773-1836 (63 years). Carter Lane chapel demolished in 1830, New Park Street Chapel built to replace it, just south of Southwark Bridge. This had 1,200 seats.Dr
Joseph Angus 1837-1839 (2 yrs). Went on to lead the main Baptist College of the day for 40 yrs.
James Smith 1841-1850 (8 ½ yrs). From Cheltenham he came, and to Cheltenham he returned. I hope to post about his work in Cheltenham (where I live) another time. Author of the well known Daily Remembrancer.
William Walters 1851-1853 (2 yrs)
Charles Haddon Spurgeon 1854-1892 (38 yrs). We all know about him! Metropolitan Tabernacle opened in 1861 and congregations exceeded 5,500 with 2,500 children in the Sunday Schools, not including missions.
Thomas Spurgeon 1893-1908 (15 yrs) Quote: ‘A stalwart for the faith, but rather open to the shallower methods coming in’.
Archibald G Brown 1908-1911 (3 yrs) Quote: ‘had stood with Spurgeon in the Downgrade Controversy, but who had become surprisingly open to shallow methods’.
Dr Amzi Clarence Dixon 1911-1919 (8 years) Quote: ‘ who effected a pronounced shift from the past, causing great unhappiness in the congregation’. Dr Dixon is identified by the article as a man whose theology was markedly different from the Calvinistic and Particular Baptist tradition.
Harry Tydeman Chilvers 1919-1935 (15 ½ yrs) Quote: ‘A Strict Baptist Pastor from Ipswich, called to restore the theological distinctives of the church…congregations of around 1,500…nearly 2,000 children in all Sunday Schools’
Dr W Graham Scroggie 1938-1943 (5 yrs) Cared for the church through the war, and bombed out three times personally, including once being buried in rubble. Most men went to fight and all Sunday School children evacuated. Quote ‘A most gracious evangelical pastor, but not at all in our theological tradition’.
WG Channon 1944-1949 (5 yrs) Quote: ‘A Baptist Union evangelical, weak doctrinally and in method’. About 3-400 people returned to the church after the war – a marked fall-off in numbers when you look at the 1,500 in 1935.
Gerald B Griffiths 1951-1954 identified as a man of ‘ideal views’, but ‘called elsewhere’.At the end of 1955 under the influence of a moderator the Tabernacle sadly rejoined the Baptist Union.
Eric W Hayden 1956-1962 (6 yrs) Quote: ‘Baptist Union evangelical, but way off track (at the time) in theology and method’
Dennis Pascoe 1963-1969 (6 yrs) Quote: ‘older Baptist Union evangelical; a conspicuously kindly spiritual shepherd, but felt he was bound to be the sympathetic helmsman of an ageing and shrinking congregation bound for inevitable closure’
Dr Peter Masters 1970-date. The congregation left the Baptist Union again in 1971. The Sword and Trowel claims ‘now entirely aligned with the position of Spurgeon, except that we keep an organ (the first being introduced in 1930).’
So, there is the list of Pastors. Dr Masters makes some interesting comments about the history of the church, especially from the Second World War onwards. Many ‘stalwarts’ who returned after the war found the church very different – Dr Scroggie being quite Arminian and strong on Keswick ‘holiness’ teaching. Many of these believers left and went to other places where there was sound expository preaching. One such place was Westminster Chapel, under the ministry of Dr D Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Indeed, a young Tabernacle deacon, named Henry C Todd, crossed the river to sit under Dr Lloyd-Jones, and later became his church secretary. At the end of his life, in the 1970s, Henry Todd returned to the Tabernacle as the pendulum swung the other way again. The sad decline of Westminster Chapel into the charismatic extremes of today was begun even then. (See the Rev Iain Murray’s comments upon RT Kendall’s ministry here).
Anyway, enough plagiarising. What happened since 1970? The church returned to being what Spurgeon had made it – a working church. A church where everyone had something to do for the Lord – a church where outreach became the practice rather than the special event. Changes were made – like having a specific evangelistic service each Sunday night. The Sunday School, so large under Spurgeon, was relaunched. On Sunday 13th November 2005, the Tabernacle opened its fourth Sunday School, in Nunhead, south east London. These days the children turn up in their hundreds in many minibuses and private cars. There is so much going on at the church it is worth just visiting the website to read up on it – no point me rehearsing it all.
On to the more practical questions posed by Terry. What of the original building?In the entrance vestibule of the church are two stones set in the wall which record the physical history of the church building.
The original Tabernacle was opened in 1861 and accommodated over 5,500 people somehow. I think building regulations were a little more lax in those days – but even then it was considered a very safe modern structure, especially after the Surrey Gardens Music Hall disaster.
In 1898 the Tabernacle was burned out due to a fire in a kitchen flue when 400 ministers were attending a conference. The second Tabernacle was opened in 1900, with a capacity of 3,800 – it was a similar model to the original one.In May 1941 our dear friends the Luftwaffe dropped an incendiary bomb on the building. Eyewitnesses said it was like a ‘big birthday cake’ – once again the Tabernacle burned to the ground.
Both times, however, two things remained – one was the front Portico (hence the birthday cake effect!), and the other, to a large extent, the layout and stonework of the basement.Now we come to the ‘interesting’ modern bit. Built mostly from War Compensation money, the third Tabernacle was opened in 1957. The architect had tried to build what he called ‘A Baptist Cathedral’. Say what? He clearly had no concept of, and nor was he enlightened about, non-conformist places of worship!
Anyway, his odd vision gave rise to what we have today, albeit heavily modified. (One visitor to a wedding asked me if it was an ex-synagogue!) I don’t know of any interior pictures of the post 1957 Tab online, but only in books. One strikingly unusual feature for a nonconformist ‘pewed’ church was that the third Tabernacle had, and still has, a central aisle. These were never found in nonconformist churches – two side aisles being preferred as distinctive from the ceremonial processional central aisles of conformist tradition.
Other interesting features were choir stalls (maybe more common in the USA today, but again, in context, almost unheard of), and a choir vestry. The whole point of the building was to be a huge meeting place – there were about 2,000 seats with pews packed in tightly, and a gallery all around except along the front wall. Apparently the building was full for the re-opening service, but virtually never again apart from one or two international fundamental Baptist congresses in the 60s/70s (unsure exactly when). As the congregation rapidly shrank, the building must have been the most incredibly huge, forbidding shell.
At the front, behind the pulpit and way above it on the front wall, was a glass-sided baptistry with stairs on either side. My Father was baptised in it in 1971 (he was an Anglican before he went to the Tabernacle) and I can only imagine what that was like! The architect had thoughtfully built in huge post-baptism changing rooms with sloping floors for water drainage.
Also on the front wall was a huge dove, dive-bombing down towards the pulpit. I don’t think that lasted long post-1970! Today, the Tabernacle has been extensively amended, and is continuously updated. A few years ago the front was restored by stonemasons to resemble its original colour when first built. The local council has also installed some external lighting free of charge as part of its local regeneration plans.
Internally, a wall was built in 1979/80 which divided the main sanctuary almost in half, and cut the seating capacity to about 900 at a squeeze, with the pews being more spaced out, and a platform with conventional pulpit and baptistery being installed in it. Behind this wall, today, there is a bookshop on the main church floor level, and above that, offices, book storage and Sunday School classrooms – which have sprung up all around the church building – in unused corridors, large rooms being split in two, etc. In fact, someone with a memory of the church building 20 years ago would find it confusing how so many rooms have been remodulated and shifted around!
Being built in the 1950s didn’t really do the church building many favours. Some parts are just plain ugly, but much has been restyled and softened over the years. My favourite update of Spurgeon’s Tabernacle? The air conditioning system!
Joking aside, the Tabernacle today, with is many ministries and large attendance, is testimony to God’s goodness. In 1971 when my parents first walked in as a young courting couple, they sat amongst about 30 people, average age 70 or so (imagine that in a 2000 seat building!). When they asked about other young people, they were pointed to one young man who was in his early 20s. That was 35 years ago – and yet I still read things on American websites about how the Tabernacle is dead and buried based upon someone’s visit in the 1960s or 70s. Not so. Let the message go out loud and clear – the candlestick remains.You can see a sort of virtual tour of the modern day Tabernacle here.