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formality remains inflexible to the last gasp in its ancient seats, where once a week a few pedestrians, in threadbare dignity, and a still smaller few powdered and puffing aristocrats, mounted in coaches of tarnished splendor, fantastically embellished by flunkeys in livery, scatter their pomposity in solitary quadrangles, on whose cushioned seats, in high-backed exclusiveness, they drowsily “ assist ” obsequious parsons, whose “livings," on Sundays at least, are in the midst of a most sparse population. But, before the first cobweb is brushed from private velvet by the pew unlockers of antiquated churches, the vast area of compact seats in this chapel at New Park street is besieged by eager and oft-recurring crowds. Says a visitor: “Proceed thither, as the writer did on Sabbath evening, the 23d of September, and you will find all the avenues to the chapel thronged with people, although it may be half an hour before the time for the commencement of the service. If you should chance to be admitted by the side door, you will find the building already three-parts filled, and feel some compassion for those who are waiting for admission, but are certain not to get in. At twenty minutes past six the front doors are opened, and a rush commences; but it is speedily over, for the chapel is full ; not only the seats, but every inch of standing room being occupied, and the gates have to be closed, with several hundred people outside., Mr. Spurgeon then ascends the pulpit, and reads the hymn which is to be sung, prefacing it, if the circumstances admit, with some striking remark, which at once arrests the attention of his audience. The special Sunday evening alluded to here, he began : “We will sing a battle hymn to-night, friends, to stir our spirits,' and then went on :
• Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follower of the Lamb;
Or blush to speak his name?'
Sure I must fight if I would reign,' &c. “The hymn concluded, which was sung by the entire audience, and with proper spirit; although, as might be expected, with little scientific ability, the occupant of the pulpit read the following passages of Holy Writ, and gave utterance to the accompanying popular exposition.”
The singing may not have been performed with the exquisitely insipid elegance which characterizes the majority of our quartette choirs, whose extraordinary “ execution ” is a poor compensation for the death of all the vital power and moral profit of sacred song. Good singing is more divine than poor preaching, and the former is expressed only in the sympathetic tones of an entire congregation, however diversified ; just as the latter is sure to drizzle down from pulpit heights with most stultifying effect, when the whole soul of the speaker, if he has one, is forced to employ only a few feeble muscles about the front teeth, instead of a simultaneous utterance through the whole body, mind, and heart. What do those thousands of earnest, honest, and eager worshippers care for incomprehensible demi-semiquavers of operatic fancies at one end of the sanctuary? They feel that, when secular days with their exhausting toils are past, Heaven vouchsafes to them, creatures of an immortality, as well as unto beasts of the field and birds of the air, the privilege of making melodious the blessed day of rest; and they come before the Lord with singing, that they may breathe forth their own notes of gladness — inartificial it may be, but sincere nevertheless.
The preliminary exposition is not less profound, nor lacking in practicalness, because of its popular form. We have perused many specimens of such, and can easily conceive the sublime aspect presented by that sea of upturned faces, and the thrilling interest with which each rousing or subduing sentence is heard, as it stings the obdurate with aphoristic pungency, or, with melting pathos, soothes gentler souls. In such circumstances, there is no disposition to scan fine combinations of words, nor does the aroused listener pause to estimate the relative value of more material grandeurs. Chaste architecture and choice melody are by no means incompatible with efficient ministrations at God's altar; but there is great danger lest the ambition which covets adventitious attractions around evangelical worship, should gradually become content to see the blandishments of art exhibited, rather than cause the naked truth to be enforced. And especially is such danger imminent in this country, where monumental falsehood abounds in the edifices we dedicate to the true God. In storehouses for traffic and the vehicles of commerce we are original, and in the van of nations, because our endeavors are really earnest in that direction; but in church-building, especially in large towns, we are merely imitative, and earth groans under absurd abortions, being burdened. Every petty organization professing primitive humility, has its special symbol of structural pride, usually built in the “ Ionic style,” with classical colonnades, surmounted by feudal towers, and blank walls relieved with inextricable labyrinths of suggestive arcades and long-drawn aisles. The chief aspiration appears to aim at an immense perspective back of the pulpit, where fresco daubs are tortured into unmitigated mendacity, at least sixty yards long in appearance, and which seems designed to illustrate the correctness of outline and justness of tone which characterize the learned length of much modern preaching. Worse still, if it be possible, is the vitiating influence of our ignorant and ridiculous attempts at “ Gothic” building. Buttresses of painted brick, foliated spaces of dirty plaster, canopies of crumbling stucco, and white-pine turrets grinning on the exterior; and pillars, arches, groinings inside, without the shadow of one true foliation or accurate moulding, from sham pavements to embossed roofs, all shams as well, painted to imitate stones the most solid and woods the most rare, are not only tolerated, but ignorantly admired, by our upper circles ; so that you often meet entire churches, of the first importance, covered all over, without and within, with nothing but structural falsehoods, an aggregate of base and degrading ecclesiological lies. We have no space in this connection to treat the miserable influence of perverted and prostituted architecture as it deserves, but will only add the following suggestion. Go through the entire Christian world, and you will find that the moral power of any given congregation will be nearly in an inverse ratio to the amount of counterfeited art in the place of their assembling; and that the stupidity of their preacher will bear an exact proportion to the soft thickness and florid ostentation of the pulpit decorations.
Having thus briefly glanced at Mr. Spurgeon's biography, and the scene of his stated labors, let us proceed to notice more particularly the elements of his professional influence. If we mistake not, he is pre-eminently intelligent, independent, and honest in purpose, as a servant of Jesus Christ; and, so long as he remains such, no degree of success, however great, ought to be regarded as being either wonderful or dangerous.
In the first place, Mr. Spurgeon is an intelligent man. His personal influence implies this, and his published works prove it. Fools abound, it is true ; but it is hard to find a whole community of them, even in London or New York. Religious people may not always acquire the most ponderous erudition ; but such knowledge as they do possess, is of a sort the least likely to be imposed upon by a charlatan. The heart of a humble disciple of Jesus is more sagacious than the head of any unsanctified philosopher; it will sooner revolt from plausible imbecility, and most tenaciously cleave to the supreme excellence it adores. Heaven vouchsafed the effulgence of lofty science for the guidance which benighted Magi required; but the more ethereal wisdom of lowly shepherds at the same time poured light upon their unfaltering feet, and recognized angelic tidings from the sublimest skies.
Mr. Spurgeon began the assiduous study of books at an early period, and evidently has ever since been a comprehensive reader of whatever he deems of practical use. But he did not heap books so high about his boyhood as to exclude nature from a loving and ennobling view. Every realm of elegance and grandeur has been laid under contribution to enlarge and embellish his intellect. Hence the richness and variety of illustration which so much enhance the beauty and force of his public discourse. In body and mind, he appears redolent of health ; and this has resulted mainly from habitual intercourse with natural charms. His studies at Colchester, and in the Agricultural College at Maidstone, doubtless did much to feed his ardent love of learning, and, especially, to enlarge his knowledge of natural science. As usher in the school at Newmarket, and afterwards, while acquitting himself of like functions at Cambridge, he accumulated no small amount of literary treasure; but his best acquisitions were secured in the early and accurate knowledge of human nature, which, through juvenile discipline in diversified life, Providence caused him to possess. He was no pet of indulgent fortune, familiarized with golden spoons, and fondled in the lap of effeminate ease. Nor was he cautiously secluded in the hot-house of supercilious pedantry, to eat and sleep out a regular course of hic, hæc, hoc, with the plus excellence of sines and cosines, under the auspices of some erudite ignoramus, whose potency for turning the world upside down himself, and whose aptness to teach others how such work is done, consists mainly in a diminutive quantity of antique roots in a perfumed head, a pair of green spectacles on a pimpled nose, and two lily hands buried near dyspeptic bowels. Nor was our “ candidate for holy orders” blessed with the three years of consummate sermonizing, which usually succeeds the seven years of classical perfectness. Instead of all this, the young athlete was dashing at every barrier to liberal culture, exploring every source of sound wisdom, and fitting to each faculty and limb the rugged but flexible armor best suited to the varied necessities of a practical life.