God of Ages Past

God of Ages Past

Spurgeon kept the baptismal pool filled — even when no baptisms were scheduled (81). His people would always have the mission set before them. May our pools be figuratively filled with importunate prayers, compassionate tears, and joyful proclamations of the excellencies of our glorious Christ. May we be fully awake, fully alive, sowing much. And let us look to the God of our ancestors to answer us from heaven.

Over 38 years of pastoral ministry at New Park Street Chapel (later to become The Metropolitan Tabernacle), Charles Spurgeon and the church added nearly 14,000 people into membership. Of that number, how many would you guess were brought into the church through baptism — as new souls won to the Savior?

I would have guessed up to 3,500. Most, I would have reasoned, transferred from other churches to hear the generation’s greatest preacher. Further, 3,500 people baptized — on average 92 a year, nearly 2 per week for 38 years — seems like a downpour of blessing compared to the trickle of conversions I am accustomed to.

In his wonderful book Spurgeon the Pastor, Geoffrey Chang gives us the answer. “Spurgeon took in 13,797 people into membership. Of that number 10,063 (73%) were taken into membership through baptism,” the rest through transfer (20%) and by profession (7%) (110). Meaning, “most of the membership of the Tabernacle was made up of those who were converted through the ministry of the church” (112).

In one generation, over 10,000 brought into one local church through baptism. Can you imagine?

“Burning Disgrace”

The astonishment deepens when Chang documents how Spurgeon detested lax standards of baptism and membership. Meaning, the church did not baptize on a whim. Those ten thousand did not raise a hand in one moment of passion and wade into the pool a few minutes later. Spurgeon refused to boast of “unhatched chickens” (112). Rather, the church remained serious about regenerate membership, with a process on the front end that towers over many churches today.

Above all, Chang writes of Spurgeon, “he wanted to see people brought into the church from the world” (111). His hunger to see God save souls was contagious. He could not conceive of the church of Jesus Christ not winning her Master’s spoils.

I should reckon it to be a burning disgrace if it could be said, “The large church under that man’s pastoral care is composed of members whom he has stolen away from other Christian churches.” No, but I value beyond all price the godless, the careless, who are brought out from the world into communion with Christ. (111)

How many pastors and churches today think this way? Or, most convicting to me, how many believe this way? How many really believe God can build our churches primarily through baptism? I struggle to. How many really believe we can see a revival of a neighborhood, town, city, or nation with that old rugged gospel? I struggle to. How many really plead for God to move mightily among us as of old? I struggle to.

Great Awakenings

Stories like these stir a restlessness in me.

I read of God’s work in other lands and times, and wonder at such little resemblance to my own experience. They lived in an epic, it seems. I turn the pages of Scripture to read of my forebears “who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight” (Hebrews 11:33–35). What would they read flipping through the pages of my life?

Continuing on, I read of a mighty gospel “turning the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). In special epochs — distant epochs — I read of major cities casting their idols into the fire (Acts 19:18–19), and of conviction for sin shattering hearts by the hundreds and thousands (Acts 2:37–41). I read of Great Awakenings on our own shores, as many looked up from their snake-bitten condition to Christ and were healed.

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