Charles H. Spurgeon began pastoring the Metropolitan Tabernacle of London, England, in 1854 at age 20, and was the senior pastor until his death in 1892. His superlative preaching drew massive crowds, and the church grew from “a handful” to a membership of over 5,300.
The church was cautious and wise in receiving members. Many applied for baptism and membership, and the church wanted to be as sure as possible that the individuals were saved. A group of elders and deacons assisted Spurgeon in counseling prospective members.
They looked for certain evidences of salvation. They looked for undivided trust in the blood of Christ and in the grace of God with zero confidence in one’s goodness or works. They looked for a changed mindset, a change of direction, a change in the individual’s loves. They looked for a change in attitude toward the wicked things of the world, and they looked for a change in attitude toward the church and faithfulness thereto. “Their new Christian instinct should be seen--to assembly together whenever possible.”
The thing that stands out was that they were patient. They were not in a hurry to pronounce individuals saved and to baptize them. It was the opposite of the methodology I call “quick prayerism.” They wanted things to be clear. They wanted to have confidence in the individual’s profession and testimony. If they counseled someone and things were not clear, they tried to help the individual by assigning him or her to get further counsel, to read certain selections from the Bible or certain sermons, or to attend a certain Bible class.
By being cautious, they were not keeping anyone from Christ. They never discouraged anyone from trusting Christ as Saviour. In fact, that’s exactly what they constantly urged the people to do. That’s what they wanted to see. They weren’t keeping people from Christ; they were simply trying to ascertain if they did indeed know Christ savingly, which is God’s own standard and requirement for baptism and church membership. See Acts 2:41-42.
As in our day, there was a lot of confusion about salvation in London in the last half of the 19th century. There was Romanism with its sacramental gospel and priestcraft. There was Anglicanism with its sacramentalism and nominalism and theological liberalism. There was Quakerism with its heresy of “inner light.” There was humanistic skepticism. There was Darwinism. There were the budding cults. There was Methodism with its infant baptism and confusion about security in Christ and perfectionism.
As today, Metropolitan Tabernacle in Spurgeon’s day was Calvinistic in theology, but Spurgeon preached a “whosoever will” gospel, called all sinners to Christ, and was very aggressive in evangelism. For this he was sharply criticized by those who have been called “hyper-Calvinists.” For ourselves, we aren’t any kind of Calvinist, believing that John Calvin was an unsound and misguided theologian who, by his own testimony, leaned heavily on Augustine, an even more misguided theologian. Calvin was a persecutor of Baptists, and we don’t understand why any Baptist would want to name his name or have anything to do with him.
God’s election is in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the gospel is to be preached to every creature (Mark 16:15). We don’t believe that God is playing games with sinners (e.g., by commanding that all sinners hear the good news of salvation while knowing that only the sovereignly elect can actually be saved). Whatever we believe about election, and there is a Bible doctrine of election, the same Bible teaches that God wants every sinner to be saved and that Christ “gave himself a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:3-6), and any sinner therefore can be saved. This is God’s sovereign will, and that is the “sovereign grace” that I believe in. Preaching the gospel is not merely fishing for the elect. The gospel is the instrument of election. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).
There are other areas in which we would disagree with Charles Spurgeon, but we appreciate the man and his boldness for Christ, his extremely fruitful ministry that has brought much glory to God. We have learned a lot from him and look forward to meeting him in Glory.
Following is an account from WONDERS OF GRACE: ORIGINAL TESTIMONIES OF CONVERTS DURING SPURGEON’S EARLY YEARS, compiled by Hannah Wyncoll, copyright 2016 by Wakeman Trust. It contains 138 select testimonies of salvations from the early part of Spurgeon’s ministry at Metropolitan.
“On a weeknight evening each week church elders would see enquirers at the Tabernacle. For each one they would write an account of their spiritual journey. Often the discernment they exercised can be seen in the advice given, and in further visits over weeks or months until they were sure that the enquirer was truly saved.
“The core of the testimony would need to show that the person was relying only on the blood of Christ for salvation. They would also be asked if they understood the need for the imputed righteousness of Christ. They would talk about the doctrines of grace and whether the would-be member was looking only to Christ rather than their own merit. If the applicant was not quite clear on some things, the elders might give further questions to be answered, Bible passages to be read and prayed over, or as one elder put it, he ‘prescribed her some pills of precious promise with a little draught of sympathetic experience to wash them down.’ They might be given the Baptist Confession of Faith to study, or be directed to attend one of the Bible classes to help them further. ...
“The Sword and the Trowel of 1865 says that elders look for four things:
Tenderness of conscience
Attachment to the means of grace
Desire to come out of the world
Deep interest in the unconverted.
“If satisfied, an interviewing elder would give a card, with the number matching the report, for the enquirer to see C.H. Spurgeon...
“Spurgeon would spend several hours every Tuesday afternoon seeing many such people, taking a brief interval to compare notes with his elders. He would then appoint an elder or deacon to visit to ensure the applicant was living a consistent, godly life at home. Attendance at as many meetings as possible on Sundays and during the week was seen as a sign of true Christian life. Many were in service and had very little free time away from their work, but their new Christian instinct should be seen--to assembly together whenever possible. ...
“[A] theme which shines out distinctly in the vast majority of records is the forsaking of worldliness at conversion. All is changed for the convert. Worldly pleasures are given up and the life devoted to Christ and his people from that time on. Pursuits such as the penny theater, public houses, music parties, the use of popular songs, and gambling are spoken of repeatedly as holding no pleasure for the new believer. The markedly different life of believers is often mentioned as instrumental in bringing others to enquire into Christian things. The change was not limited to church attendance, but extended to all areas of life” (Wonders of Grace: Original Testimonies of Converts During Spurgeon’s Early Years, 2016).
This type of conversion experience with accompanying change of life is exactly what we see in every example of salvation in the New Testament, with zero exceptions.
Following is one of the 138 testimonies in Wonders of Grace as written down by Thomas Moor, the counseling elder:
John Charles Samuel
This man until eight months ago was an infidel and blasphemer, a tavern lounger, and mocker of religion and religious people, a hater of Baptists more than any other denomination, and of the people of New Park Street [former name of Spurgeon’s church] more than any other Baptist. No name seems to have been too bad either for them or their pastor.
He does not appear to have been favoured in his parentage, for his father was a confirmed gin drinker and died raving mad from its effects. His mother, who is still alive, is both a gin drinker and blasphemer, so also are his brother and sister. This is bad enough but not all, for he has a wife and six children whom he was making as much like himself as he possibly could. He never attended a place of worship for 26 years until about eight months ago, and this is the account he gives of the way he was first induced to attend and the result--
I have, said he, a friend who has been a regular attendant at New Park Street for three or four years, and though an unconverted man, he is a great admirer of Mr Spurgeon and often speaks about him. We had been having a pint of ale together one Thursday when he began to talk a good deal about Mr Spurgeon, until holding my glass up and looking through the liquor that was in it, I said carelessly, ‘Well, it’s no use, I suppose I must go and hear him,’ not intending to do so and not thinking any more about the remark.
A short time afterwards my friend said to me, ‘Did you mean what you said just now?’ ‘Said what?’ I answered, for I had forgotten it. ‘Why, that you would go and hear Mr Spurgeon.’ ‘Oh well,’ I said, ‘I don’t think it will do me any harm.’ But I felt sorry that I had given the promise, and the idea of going to New Park Street in the evening made me uncomfortable all the afternoon.
A short time before the usual hour to leave off work, a job came in that required my immediate attention. At this I rejoiced, for here was a legitimate way to get off my engagement, but my friend asked how long the job would take. ‘Quite an hour,’ I answered. ‘Well,’ said he, ‘if one can do it in an hour, two can do it in half an hour.’ So he set to, and it was done in that time, leaving me, much to my sorrow, no excuse whatever for not keeping my promise. I started with him to New Park Street, thinking as I was going along that if I could get an opportunity, I would give him the slip by running down some passage or bye place, but he seemed to suspect as much for he stuck close to me all the way there.
I went in. Service soon commenced, and I must say I greatly admired the form of worship and especially the exposition of Scripture before prayer. But I would not bend down my head in prayer as others did because I was not at all interested in it myself. This peculiar position differing from all others around me made me feel uncomfortable. I liked the sermon, and thought I would go and hear Mr Spurgeon again so, at the invitation of my friend, I went to the Music Hall the following Sunday. This made me desire to hear him again, but as I was ashamed to tell my friend this, I determined to go alone in the evening to New Park Street. I did go, but preferred going into the School room.
After I had sat a little while, I thought I would not stop and got up to go out, and as I got to the door, I said to myself, ‘Well, I will just sit down behind this door and no one will see me.’ I listened attentively to all. In the sermon Mr Spurgeon introduced a character he called Mr Slyboots--one who, he said, did not mind going to a Music Hall on Sunday morning to hear a sermon, but was ashamed to be seen in chapel, or if he did come would slink in and sit down behind the door. I felt that was me, so determined to go more boldly next time, and my friend, who has a sitting, enabled me to get a seat. I can’t explain it but somehow or other Mr Spurgeon in his preaching took a view of me altogether, coming so closely and personally with his remarks.
The first Thursday after my determination to come more boldly (at least I think it was the first Thursday) I was rather late and stood in the aisle, the rest of the congregation being seated. Mr Spurgeon commenced his sermon and spoke very much about infidelity, exploring the infidel’s motives, character and all concerning him. He looked at me a good deal as if he knew I was an infidel. I felt he was preaching only to me, and thinking that the fact of my standing when the others were sitting had something to do with it, I determined never to stand in the aisle again. So next Thursday, being late from work, I went in and sat in a pew, but it was just the same. He seemed to know the thoughts that were passing through my mind. The sermon was again for me.
Thus it was until that sermon from ‘The ungodly are not so.’ Mr Spurgeon said those words over several times during his discourse--‘the ungodly are not so.’ I felt deeply, then it was I trembled and wept, and a good many more besides me did the same. After this I became very miserable. My infidelity had all vanished. I was willing to believe all I had previously denied, but I thought--how can I force myself to believe simply because I want to believe? Then it was that the sermon on the barrel of meal greatly encouraged me. But I did not know the way of salvation to my comfort until I heard the sermon from the text, ‘Before, whom Christ is evidently set forth crucified among you,’ and on Christmas Day when Mr Spurgeon preached from the text, ‘Unto us a son is given,’ Having put the question to each of us--‘Has the Son been given to you?’ I felt I could say yes! And since then I have gradually been getting more light and knowledge.
For more on this theme see The Discipling Church: The Church That Will Stand until Christ Comes, chapter 4 - “A Discipling Church Begins with Caution about Salvation,” and chapter 5 - “A Discipling Church Guards the Door to Membership.”
THE DISCIPLING CHURCH: THE CHURCH THAT WILL STAND UNTIL CHRIST COMES. ISBN 978-1-58318-227-7. New for March 2017. This church manual aims to establish churches on a solid biblical foundation of a regenerate church membership, one mind in doctrine and practice, serious discipleship, thorough-going discipline, and a large vision for world evangelism. We examine the New Testament pattern of a discipling church, and we trace the history of Baptist churches over the past 200 years to document the apostasy away from the biblical pattern to a mixed multitude philosophy. We also document the history of “sinner’s prayer” evangelism which has affected the reality of a regenerate church membership. The book deals with biblical salvation with evidence, care in receiving church members, the church’s essential first love for Christ, the right kind of church leaders, the right kind of preaching, training church members to be Bible students, the many facets of church discipline, building strong families, youth ministry, training preachers, charity, reproof, educating the church for spiritual protection, maintaining standards for workers, the church’s prayer life, the church’s separation, spiritual revival, the church’s music, and many other things. The last chapter documents some of the cultural factors that have weakened churches over the past 100 years, including the theological liberalism, public school system, materialism and working mothers, the rock & roll pop culture, pop psychology, the feminist movement, New Evangelicalism, television, and the Internet. There is also a list of recommended materials for a discipling church. Dr. Don Jasmin, editor of The Fundamentalist Digest, says, “The book The Discipling Church is well named. It is loaded with Scriptural exposition, Scriptural explanation, and Scriptural edification. This spiritually rich volume covers almost every phase of a genuine Biblically discipling church. Every pastor should procure this spiritually enriching treasury, one which a preacher will readily consult for valuable assistance and counsel in seeking to maintain a Scripturally balanced N. T. ministry.” 550 pages. Available in print and eBook editions from Way of Life Literature, www.wayoflife.org
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