"'I have made thee a watchman.' Ezek. iii. 17. Here we read a true account of the making of a minister. God alone can do it. Two things are absolutely requisite to make a man a preacher, viz.--(1) Special gifts--such as perception of truth, simplicity, aptness to impart instruction, some degree of eloquence, and intense earnestness. (2) Special call. Every man who is rightly in the ministry must have been moved thereto of the Holy Ghost. He must feel an irresistible desire to spend his whole life in his Master's cause. No college, no bishop, no human ordination, can make a man a minister; but he who can feel, as did Bunyan, Whitefield, Berridge, or Rowland Hill, the strugglings of an impassioned longing to win the souls of men, may hear in the air the voice of God saying, 'Son of man, I have made thee a watchman.' "--C. H. S.
"No College at that time appeared to me to be suitable for the class of men that the providence and grace of God drew around me. . . . It must be frankly admitted that my views of the gospel and of the mode of training preachers were, and are, somewhat peculiar. I may have been uncharitable in my judgment, but I thought the Calvinism of the theology usually taught to be very doubtful, and the fervour of the generality of the students to be far behind their literary attainments. It seemed to me that preachers of the grand old truths of the gospel, ministers suitable for the masses, were more likely to be found in an institution where preaching and divinity would be the main objects, and not degrees and other insignia of human learning."--C. H. S.
A New School of the Prophets
WHEN, in early days, God's Holy Spirit had gone forth with my ministry at New Park Street, several zealous young men were brought to a knowledge of the truth; and among them some whose preaching in the street was blessed of God to the conversion of souls. Knowing that these men had capacities for usefulness, but laboured under the serious disadvantage of having no education, and were, moreover, in such circumstances that they would not be likely to obtain admission into any of our Colleges, it entered into my heart to provide them with a course of elementary instruction, which might, at least, correct their inaccuracies of speech, and put them in the way of obtaining information by reading. One young man of especial promise seemed to be thrust in my way by Providence, so that I must commence with him at once, and, not long after, the very man of all others the most suitable to assist in carrying out my design was brought before me. The Rev. George Rogers, of Camberwell, had been waiting and ripening for the office and work of a tutor, and while the idea of educating young men was simmering in my brain, he was on the lookout for some such service. We met, and entered into a fellowship which every succeeding year has strengthened.
With a solitary student, our labour of love commenced. Funds were forthcoming for the support of this one brother, but, at the time, it seemed to me to be a very weighty enterprise and a great responsibility. With a limited income, it was no easy thing for a young minister to guarantee £50 a year. This, however, was a small matter ere long, for other brethren, who required the same aid, and were equally worthy, came forward to ask for similar instruction, and we could not deny them. The single student, in 1856, grew into eight ere long; and then into twenty; and, anon, the number rose to nearly one hundred men. Faith trembled when tried with the weight of the support of one man, but the Lord has strengthened her by exercise, so that she has rejoiced under the load when multiplied a hundred-fold.
The work did not begin with any scheme---it grew out of necessity. It was no choice with him who first moved in it, he simply acted because he was acted upon by a higher power. He had no idea whereunto the matter would grow, nor did he contemplate the institution of any far-reaching and wide-spread agency. To meet the present need, and follow the immediate movement of Providence, was all that was intended, and no idea of the future presented itself at the commencement. It seems to be God's plan that works of usefulness should develop themselves in obedience to a living force within, rather than by scheme and plan from without.
When the Pastors' College was fairly moulded into shape, we had before us but one object, and that was, the glory of God by the preaching of the gospel. To preach with acceptance, men, lacking in education, need to be instructed; and therefore our Institution set itself further to instruct those whom God had evidently called to preach the gospel, but who laboured under early disadvantages. We never dreamed of making men preachers, but we desired to help those whom God had already called to be such. Hence, we laid down, as a basis, the condition that a man must, during about two years, have been engaged in preaching, and must have had some seals to his ministry, before we could entertain his application. No matter how talented or promising he might appear to be, the College could not act upon mere hopes, but must have evident marks of a Divine call, so far as human judgment can discover them. This became a main point with us, for we wanted, not men whom our tutors could make into scholars, but men whom the Lord had ordained to be preachers.
Firmly fixing this landmark, we proceeded to sweep away every hindrance to the admission of fit men. We determined never to refuse a man on account of absolute poverty, but rather to provide him with needful lodging, board, and raiment, that he might not be hindered on that account. We also placed the literary qualifications of admission so low that even brethren who could not read have been able to enter, and have been among the most useful of our students in after days. A man of real ability as a speaker, of deep piety, and genuine faith, may be, by force of birth and circumstances, deprived of educational advantages, and yet, when helped a little, he may develop into a mighty worker for Christ; it would be a serious loss to the Church to deny such a man instruction because it was his misfortune to miss it in his youth. Our College began by inviting men of God to her bosom, whether they were poor and illiterate, or wealthy and educated. We sought for earnest preachers, not for readers of sermons, or makers of philosophical essays. "Have you won souls for Jesus?" was and is our leading enquiry of all applicants. "If so, come thou with us, and we will do thee good." If the brother has any pecuniary means, we feel that he should bear his own charges, and many have done so; but if he cannot contribute a sixpence, he is equally welcome, and is received upon the same footing in all respects. If we can but find men who love Jesus, and love the people, and will seek to bring Jesus and the people together, the College will receive two hundred of such as readily as one, and trust in God for their food; but if men of learning and wealth should come, the College will not accept them unless they prove their calling by power to deliver the truth, and by the blessing of God upon their labours. Our men seek no Collegiate degrees, or classical honours--though many of them could readily attain them; but to preach efficiently, to get at the hearts of the masses, to evangelize the poor--this is the College ambition, this and nothing else.
We endeavour to teach the Scriptures, but, as everybody else claims to do the same, and we wish to be known and read of all men, we say distinctly that the theology of the Pastors' College is Puritanic. We know nothing of the new ologies; we stand by the old ways. The improvements brought forth by what is called "modern thought" we regard with suspicion, and believe them to be, at best, dilutions of the truth, and most of them old, rusted heresies, tinkered up again and sent abroad with a new face put upon them; to repeat the mischief which they wrought in ages past. We are old-fashioned enough to prefer Manton to Maurice, Charnock to Robertson, and Owen to Voysey. Both our experience and our reading of the Scriptures confirm us in the belief of the unfashionable doctrines of grace; and among us, upon those grand fundamentals, there is no uncertain sound. Young minds are not to be cast into one rigid mould, neither can maturity of doctrine be expected of beginners in the ministry; as a rule, our men have not only gone out from us clear and sound in the faith, but, with very few exceptions, they have continued so. Some few have ascended into Hyper-Calvinism, and, on the other hand, one or two have wandered into Arminian sentiments, but even these have remained earnestly Evangelical, while the bulk of the brethren abide in the faith in which their Alma Mater nourished them. The general acceptance of our students in Scotland is one remarkable proof that they stand by the old Calvinistic evangelical doctrines. The Presbyterian Churches of Rotterdam and Amsterdam, which are frequently supplied by our students, and are resolutely orthodox, have again and again sent us pleasing testimony that our men carry to them the old theology of the Westminster Assembly's Confession. Let wiseacres say what they will, there is more truth in that venerable Confession than could be found in ten thousand volumes of the school of affected culture and pretentious thoughtfulness. Want of knowing what the old theology is, is in most cases the reason for ridiculing it. Believing that the Puritanic school embodied more of gospel truth in it than any other since the days of the apostles, we continue in the same line of things, and, by God's help, hope to have a share in that revival of Evangelical doctrine which is as sure to come as the Lord Himself. Those who think otherwise can go elsewhere; but, for our own part, we shall never consent to leave the doctrinal teaching of the Institution vague and undefined, after the manner of the bigoted liberalism of the present day. The College motto is Et Teneo Et Teneor, "I hold and am held". We labour to hold forth the cross of Christ with a bold hand among the sons of men, because that cross holds us fast by its attractive power. Our desire is, that every man may hold the truth, and be held by it; especially the truth of Christ crucified.
There were many interesting incidents associated with the earliest days of the Pastors' College, or which occurred even before it was actually in existence. When Medhurst began to preach in the street, some of the very precise friends, who were at that time members at New Park Street, were greatly shocked at his want of education, so they complained to me about it, and said that I ought to stop him, for, if I did not, disgrace would be brought upon the cause. Accordingly, I had a talk with the earnest young brother, and, while he did not deny that his English was imperfect, and that he might have made mistakes in other respects, yet he said, "I must preach, sir; and I shall preach unless you cut off my head." I went to our friends, and told them what he had said, and they took it in all seriousness. "Oh!" they exclaimed, "you can't cut of Mr. Medhurst's head, so you must let him go on preaching." I quite agreed with them, and I added, "As our young brother is evidently bent on serving the Lord with all his might, I must do what I can to get him an education that will fit him for the ministry ."
The next one to come to me in trouble was Medhurst himself. One day with a very sad countenance, he said to me, "I have been preaching for three months, and I don't know of a single soul having been converted." Meaning to catch him by guile, and at the same time to teach him a lesson he would never forget, I asked, "Do you expect the Lord to save souls every time you open your mouth?" "Oh, no, sir!" he replied. "Then," I said, "that is just the reason why you have not had conversions: 'According to your faith be it unto you.'"
During the time Medhurst was studying at Bexley Heath, he used to conduct services in the open air. On one occasion, when I went there to preach, I was much amused, after the service, by overhearing the remarks of two good souls who were manifestly very much attached to the young student. "Well," enquired the first, "how did you like Mr. Spurgeon?" "Oh!" answered her companion, "very well but I should have enjoyed the service more if he hadn't imitated our dear Mr. Medhurst so much."
There was another explanation, which did not seem to have occurred to the old lady, and, in after days, when relating the story to other students, I pointed out how serious the consequences might be if any of them imitated me!
At a later date, when I visited Kingston-on-Thames, after Medhurst had become pastor of the church there, I wanted to find out what the people thought of him, so I spoke of him with apparent coolness to an estimable lady of his congregation. In a very few moments, she began to speak quite warmly in his favour. She said, "You must not say anything against him, sir; if you do, it is because you do not know him." "Oh!" I replied, "I knew him long before you did; he is not much, is he?" "Well," she answered, "I must speak well of him, for he has been a blessing to my family and servants." I went out into the street, and saw some men and women standing about, so I said to them, "I must take your minister away." "If you do," they exclaimed, "we will follow you all over the world to get him back; you surely will not be so unkind as to take away a man who has done so much good to our souls?" After collecting the testimony of fifteen or sixteen persons, I said, "If the man gets such witnesses as these to the power of his ministry, I will gladly let him go on where he is; for it is clear that the Lord has called him into His service."
Medhurst himself told me of an incident that occurred to him in connection with one young man whom I had accepted for training, because I could see that he might do good service after proper tuition. So extraordinarily ignorant was he of his Bible that, upon hearing Medhurst mention the story of Nebuchadnezzar's being driven out from men, until his nails grew like birds' claws, and his hair like eagles' feathers, he said to the preacher, at the close of the sermon, "That was a queer story you told the people, certainly; where did you fish that up!" "Why!" replied our friend, "have you never read your Bible? Can you not find it in the Book of Daniel!" The young man had read a great many other books, but he had never read his Bible through, yet he was going to be a teacher of it! I fear that such ignorance is very current in many persons; they do not know what is in the Bible: they could tell you what is in The Churchman's Magazine, or The Wesleyan Magazine, or The Baptist Magazine, or The Evangelical Magazine, but there is one old magazine, a magazine of arms, a magazine of wealth, that they have forgotten to read--that old-fashioned Book called the Bible. I remember saying, of a later student, that if he had been as well acquainted with his Bible as he was with The Baptist Handbook, he would have made a good minister; and he was not the only one to whom such a remark might have been applied.
There was one of the early students, who gave me great cause to fear concerning his future, when he began his petition at the Monday night prayer-meeting thus: "O Thou that art encinctured with an auriferous zodiac!" This was, of course, a grandiloquent paraphrase of Revelation i.13. Alas! my fears proved to be only too well founded; after he left the College, he went from the Baptists to the Congregationalists, then became a play-writer and play-actor; and where he is now, I do not know. For many years I had the sad privilege of helping to support his godly wife, whom he had deserted. I thank God that, among so many hundreds of men, so few have caused me such sorrow of heart as he did.