More than Conquerors –In Temptation!

Written by, H. C. G. Moule
Taken and adapted from the, British Monthly, January, 1902

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But in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
–Romans 8:37

We may speak of “more than conquest” in view of some of the outward terrors and fears of the Christian in a time of persecution…

…but we may quote his words of Paul as being equally applicable to our immediate subject, the temptations of the more ordinary path of the believer. For the whole deep secret of victory, for all Christians always, lies where St. Paul says it lies for the persecuted saints. It comes “through Him that loved us.” And He can give “more than conquest,” where He gives conquest at all.

But what does it mean to be “more than conqueror”?

It means to reap positive benefit from the battle. A fight may be fought, and in a sense may be won, yet so as to bring no positive result, or little. The victor may just “retain the field,” but no more; he may find the enemy even more daring on the morrow. But a fight may be fought, and much more than the fight be won. A kingdom may be laid at the conqueror’s feet. And more; in the fight, as it is reviewed, the secrets of future and fuller victories may lie disclosed,
ready for use.

How may victory in temptation prove more than victory? How may we come out “more than conquerors”?

By our going on from that particular victory more conscious of the certainty of our failure apart from Christ. By our looking back and seeing how, the next time, the release and deliverance may be made yet more complete, by our summoning in the Lord more instantly and more simply. By a deeper insight into that far-reaching word, ”The trial of your faith is precious” –1 Peter 1:7, not only the faith, but the trial of the faith. Let us ponder that fact, and then the next trial, perhaps some mortification to our self-esteem, or self-importance, will find us more truly “hidden, in Him,” from the old “occasion of falling.” We shall be “more than conquerors” if we come out and go on more conscious of the preciousness of the Word of God, and of the blessedness of Prayer; if we have learned, at the feet of our Liberator, more hatred of what He hates, more longing to be conformed to His fair, blessed Likeness.

Above all, we shall be “more than conquerors” if we have so truly overcome by Him, and Him alone, that He, more than ever, shall be to us “a stone most precious.” He has proved Himself our Victory. And so we look in His face again, conscious afresh of His unspeakable reality. And behold, it is “the King,” not only in His strength but “in His beauty”; “all our salvation, and all our desire”: “the Beloved”; “Christ which is our Life.”

And they who meet temptation, be what it may, so seeing Christ, shall indeed put their feet upon the neck of the enemy.

“Will you tell me your secret?” said an honored friend of mine, as he left a house where the loving host had shone with a singular “beauty of holiness” in his eyes. ”Will you tell me your secret of peace and victory, which seems never to fail?” “There is no mystery in my case,” said the other.” If God enables me at all to glorify Him, it is through the simple means of keeping close to the Lord Jesus Christ. 

And to bring us, and to keep us, close to Him, is the work of that ever-blessed Spirit, “which they that believe on Him receive.”

Three Great Words of Jesus

The “Three Great Words of Jesus” were taken from the “British Monthly,” 1904.
Written by William Robertson Nicoll.

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The most careless reader of the Gospels…

…cannot miss the significance of such great events in the life of Jesus as the Baptism, the Transfiguration, and the Agony. Everyone knows them as the cardinal points in the story of the evangelists; everyone must have sought in them a key to our Lord’s purpose and work. But there are outstanding moments in His life of a more incidental kind,moments which have an interest all their own, because we see in them the sudden emotions of the Savior’s soul. At such times there is an abrupt and, if we may reverently say so, an unusual and startling grandeur in His words ; the thrill with which He saw and spoke of certain things vibrates across all the centuries, and we seem to know Him for an instant with peculiar reality.

One of these high moments was that in which He encountered the centurion, at whose faith He marveled. Unbelief excited His wonder, but it depressed Him and restrained His power; He could do no mighty works in presence of it, and it froze in a manner both His heart and His speech. But the unexpected faith of the centurion was a wonder which moved and exalted Jesus. As He looked upon the Gentile, whose faith had surpassed that of Israel,the air seemed to become clear and transparent around Him; the future broke in upon the present; the magnificent vision rose upon His mind of multitudes coming like this foreign soldier from the East and the West and the North and the South, and sitting down with the fathers of Israel in the Kingdom of God. The word in which He foretold this issue of His work is one of the most sublime and, w-hen we realize the access of feeling under which it was uttered, one of the most moving in the Gospel; it gives us a glimpse into the soul of Jesus of priceless worth. If anything is characteristic of Him, it is this,that He sees in a single instance not merely the possibilities of the individual soul, but something prophetic of God’s kingdom, and that His heart leaps up to hail the glorious outlook.

Despairing views of men and races are often based upon their circumstances, but this great word of Jesus reminds us that circumstances are not omnipotent. Underneath their constant pressure, let it be as malign as it may, as malign as that of paganism in the first century, the soul of man still lives “a soul made originally in God’s image” still in blind dark, striving-seeking God, and capable when it finds Him of immense devotion. The finding does not depend upon outward advantages, and when Jesus meets with faith in unexpected places, it is an unanticipated joy, and uplift seven His speech to a more poetic and prophetic tone. It is a great thing,and it acts with great power upon Him. It evokes the keenest and most triumphant emotion. And though one cannot exactly speak of Jesus as an example in this respect ” for we cannot attempt to copy what can only come into being spontaneously “He is nevertheless a test.

A true Christian will be more deeply moved, he will feel that he is in contact with a far more divine and hopeful reality, when he remembers, for instance, the two boys who carried Livingstone’s body from Bangweolo to Zanzibar, than when he considers the most reckless exploits of fortune-seeking adventurers in Africa. The faithful hands that did that last service for the dead are a prophecy of the future of the dark continent worth more to Christian eyes than any prospectus or report ever issued. Possibly Christ still marvels that He finds in Livingstonia and in Madagascar what He fails to find among us” a deeper penitence,a stronger faith,a more passion and longing for purity of heart, and more self-denying love. Certainly nothing can be more alien to Him than the temper which sneers at the results of missions, but has no knowledge and no conception of what faith can be even to the most degraded of men. There are prophecies of heaven among the heathen, there are black men in whose hearts there is that which unveils to Christ the universality and glory of His Kingdom, and draws from His lips the loftiest words He ever spoke. Who can afford to be on the other side from Him ?

It was another such moment in the life of Jesus when, as He sat by the treasury watching the people cast in their gifts, there came a poor widow who cast in two mites. They were all her living. Her offering was not an act of generosity only it was an act of the most heroic faith. The woman left herself with nothing but God. Trust like this in the Heavenly Father was dear to the Savior’s heart, and He could not refrain from calling the attention of His disciples to it. He had been depressed by the want of faith in those who represented Israel officially; the temple in which He sat, and in which He had just been pronouncing woes on the hypocrisy of Scribes and Pharisees, must have seemed to Him the citadel of all that was irreligious and hopeless in His people. Yet even here faith not only lived but flourished, and, applying the measure of God to what the world passed by as an act too small for consideration, Jesus declared that the poor woman had cast in more than all the worshipers. There was more in her act that spoke of God, more that signified reliance upon Him, more that attested His gracious presence and fatherly providence in the world, than in all the liberal offerings of superfluity; and therefore Jesus rejoiced in it with great joy. Faith like this may be most within reach of the poor.

A man who has money in the funds does not so easily trust in God; almost inevitably he trusts in the empire. But the poor, who have nothing behind them but God, when they are generous at all, are generous on another scale, and at another risk. The help they give to each other has often been remarked, and probably it is the best help which can be given; the sacrifices they have made for the Kingdom of God have never been adequately appreciated. The self-denials of poor people, who at real cost, in small places, have maintained the Christian Church, with its worship and all its ministries, are even yet perpetually disregarded; yet, if the warm praise which Jesus bestowed on the widow means anything, can we doubt that the hardly won savings of laboring men and women, freely given in country chapels, have been a greater joy and hope to Him than most benefactions of pious founders, than all the restorations of cathedrals by millionaire distillers and brewers?

Another of the lofty words of Jesus had also its impulse in the unexpected act of a woman’s devotion. There is no lovelier story in the Gospel than that of the anointing at Bethany. The feast in Simon’s house can hardly have been a very festive occasion. The end was too near, the shadow of death was
falling too sensibly over the company. The soul of Jesus was never more alone ; there is no point in the Gospel history at which the disciples seem to have been less at one with Him. They were not alienated, but they did not understand the situation in the least ; and though they were not without love, it was not for the moment intelligent enough to yield Him sympathy. But at this very moment Mary came with the alabaster box of ointment of spikenard, very precious, and broke the box, and poured it on His head. The passionate, loving action needed no words for its interpretation; it was the appropriate expression of an emotion for which words were too weak. And it is characteristic of Jesus that this strong expression of emotion evoked a sublime response from Him. It moved Him as He had been moved by the great and unexpected faith of the centurion. A moment before, He might almost have despaired of His work; now, if we may say so, He felt that its success was assured. Love which could command devotion in human souls like that which revealed itself in the anointing at Bethany might well be confident of the future.

Upon the instant, therefore, the future was unveiled; Jesus saw the Gospel, in prophetic vision, preached in all the world, and wherever it was preached the anointing at Bethany was told for a memorial of Mary. Perfect love never met a more perfect reward. And divine as it is, nothing brings our Lord nearer to us, nothing makes Him more truly human, than this susceptibility so,to speak,to strong and sudden emotions in which a world that is ordinarily more or less latent comes into quick and vivid consciousness. It is not the temperament of the poet which explains this, though probably poetry crystallizes under just such impacts as these. There is more than poetry here. There is faith, the assurance of a divine presence and a divine purpose in the earth, liable, no doubt, to be disheartened by much, but capable also of heavenly visions, and with a power of sublime prophetic speech, when it meets that to which it is spiritually akin.

In Loving Memory of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the “Silver Bell” of the English Pulpit

Taken from the “British Monthly,” 1903.
Written by William Robertson Nicoll.

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THERE is a touching passage…

…in George Eliot’s great story “Janet’s Repentance.” She tells how Janet looked on Mr. Tryan at first, little thinking that she would follow him to his grave. “That second time Janet Dempster was not looking on in scorn and merriment; her eyes were worn with grief and watching, and she was following her beloved friend and pastor to the grave.”

When Mr. Spurgeon appeared in London, this is how the most distinguished organ of the Church of England spoke about him: “We have just now an opportunity of testing the contrast. There has lately appeared in London a young man named Spurgeon. He or his friends for him, give out that he is a second Whitefield. They speak of him as a ‘concentrated embodiment of the most unusual and lovely ornaments of our pious parents, as one possessed of a capacious and elastic and telegraphic mind’; and as we hear, there can be no question of his popularity in certain so-called religious circles. He is followed by thousands. “Exeter Hall cannot nearly contain,” it is said, “the herds who throng to his preaching.”

From accounts that reach us there has been little like the excitement during the present century. All this parson’s sermons are taken down in shorthand, and are printed in more than one series. we have looked through several, and they certainly give rise to curious and serious reflections upon the state of society and the results of the march of intellect and education here in London which in the middle of the nineteenth century finds this sort of thing to its taste.”

The years went on, nearly forty years, and when Mr. Spurgeon was in his last illness archbishops and bishops vied with one another in expressing their concern. The great newspapers that support the Church of England recognized in him one of the most powerful and beneficent figures who had ever appeared in London. The West End evening papers put the latest news of him in the most prominent place on their bills. He fell like a tower, and no one was found so base as to say one word against this manly, godly, devoted life, and his unparalleled ministry.

Nearly ten years have passed since “Mr. Spurgeon’s death, and now we are left with his memory, and with the great collection of his sermons that is ever being added to. Is his influence declining? It might very well have declined, for he was almost the greatest of our orators, and an orator’s power is cut short by death. His sermons, however, were independent of his oratory. They are as great to the reader as they were to the listener.

The reader, it is true, cannot listen to that marvelous voice, clear as a silver bell, and winning as a woman’s, which held the mighty congregations enthralled. On the other hand, he has the advantage of being able to pause on passages of reading, of turning back again and yet again. We do not know more refreshing, awakening, suggestive, warning, and comforting pages in religious literature than those of the “Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit.”

For ministers and teachers they are simply indispensable. The preacher who does not possess some volumes of the “Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit” –the more the better –who does not read them to kindle his own soul, is poorly furnished for his work. It is by those who speak in the spirit of Spurgeon that England will be raised from its religious lethargy. Better part with all commentaries, German and otherwise, and be content with the Bible of Spurgeon, than neglect this signal trumpet-voice.

If we have a preference, it is for the sermons preached in the sixties, [1860’s] and for the morning sermons above the evening. One ardent admirer of Spurgeon whom we knew long ago said to us, that in the morning sermon the first page was nearly always more nobly phrased than in the evening sermon. Yet after these years we are not so sure. There is a ripe and tender humanity in the discourses of the last ten years which is very endearing. I have spent an afternoon and evening in reading through a whole volume of the sermons, and I shall set down my fresh impressions.

1.    In the first place, Mr. Spurgeon is always wooing the soul. What was said of Richard Cameron, the Lion of the Covenant, is true of him: “He had a bias towards the proposing of Christ.” All his preaching is persuading. He is always pleading, warning, wrestling; he is bent upon the soul’s salvation. There is so much preaching nowadays and in all days which completely lacks tliis element. The preacher sets himself to defend some theory or to destroy it, but there his work is done. He never gets into close contact with the hearer. “I have a message from God to thee” is the note of the true preacher. Mr. Spurgeon takes hold of his hearers, urges them, implores them, threatens them, promises them, and cannot bear to let them go until he has blessed them. Never were any sermons preached more full of that zeal for souls which should be the first characteristic of a true minister. It is very difficult to reach and maintain this height. Every one knows that before he can plead effectively they must be under the influence of strong feeling.

Pleading in the true sense is not natural to human nature. But when a man pleads for a woman’s love, when a man is face to face with his errings on and trying to draw him away from the brink of ruin, when a friend implores a friend to refrain from some madness that will wreck him, we are in the element in which the seeker for souls must move, and in that element Mr. Spurgeon lived and moved and had his being.

It is, perhaps, in this way that he will be most useful to preachers. As we have said, it is not natural for any one to plead, and in addition the preacher has temptations that draw him away from pleading. He can never plead well unless he is in deep and passionate earnestness, and he cannot be sure of the mood. On the other hand, he may argue well, he may picture well, he may expound well, in the lower, easier frame. Besides, pleading is apt to spoil the peroration or the artistic close. All care for such considerations Mr. Spurgeon had expelled from his mind. Every time he spoke he was wooing souls impressed not only by the urgency of their need, but also by the great provision for that need in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.

If before going to the pulpit, preachers would read some of Mr. Spurgeon’s sermons, they would find it far easier to feel and manifest that concern for souls without which the preacher cannot hope to achieve anything permanent.

2.   I am impressed also with the fact that Mr. Spurgeon above all other preachers, preached the Word. So many preach from the Gospels or the Epistles, or the New Testament, or favorite parts of the Old Testament. Take a volume of the ” Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit,” or, better still, look at the exhaustive index to the sermons published by Messrs. Passmore and Alalaxter, and you will see how Mr. Spurgeon ranges over the whole Bible. I take up a volume at random, that for 1892, containing sixty sermons, and I find that they are taken from Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Nehemiah, Job, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Zechariah, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, Hebrews, and James.

He rightly divided the Word of Truth. Nor did he read into his texts –at least,he read no more into them than Christ and the Apostles did. He interpreted the Old Testament from their standpoint. If they were wrong, he was wrong; if they were right,he was right. At present in many pulpits the Old Testament has fallen into almost complete disuse, or at least many parts of it are neglected. There was no part of it where Mr. Spurgeon could not find the Bread of Life. For him the two Testaments interpreted one another. This gave an astonishing freshness to his preaching. For the multitude of Christians in all ages the Bible must be its own commentary. Scripture must be interpreted by Scripture. Any views that prevent such an interpretation are stamped with falsehood.

I note another characteristic, perhaps the most striking of all. Preachers nowadays as a rule avoid great subjects. They are afraid of great texts. They prefer some quaint unexpected text, and a subject which may be illustrated from literature and the common experiences of human life. I do not deny for a moment that there is a great place for such sermons. If a preacher can put himself on common ground with the thoughts of the hearer during the week, he has a much better chance of being listened to and remembered. Nevertheless, there are some preachers who do not need this, and of such was Mr. Spurgeon. He moved among the last awful secrets of the Christian redemption like a child at home. It was not merely that he was a great and trained theologian –he was that in the most eminent degree from the commencement of his London ministry. He had thoroughly mastered great theological system –mastered ‘it in all its bearings –and was never carried away by the exaggerating of separate aspects of the Faith. He saw the truth in all its breadth and in its manifold connections.

He did not, for an example, preach Christ in us apart from the truth Christ for us. Neither did he preach Christ for us and forget to speak of Christ in us. But with him theology was a matter of experience. He never taught it in dry dogmatic propositions. The greatest and profoundest faiths he had passed through the fires of life. He could sing about them as well as preach about them. Ministers may ask themselves (and this is a very good test) Can I preach from the words “Accepted in the Beloved,” or “Not having mine own righteous”? The preacher to whom those texts suggest nothing does not know the burning heart of Christianity. But if he is carried away into the depth of these texts, and is able to preach on them from living experience, he has an unction from the Holy One, and is greatest when he speaks of the stories of spiritual experiences.

When he deals with the ordinary griefs of life, especially with bereavement, he is less helpful than in other places, for he himself perhaps never quite understood the agony of loss. On the other hand, he knew as few have known what it was to be in the valley of spiritual humiliation. I wish it were possible that his expositions on the Psalms could be published separately; they are quite alone, so far as I know, in our literature. Mr. Spurgeon cast his plumbline marvelously far.

There are three villainies of actual plagiarism –yea, four… Plagiarism in the Pulpit.

Taken from the British Monthly, December, 1903.
Written by Claudius Clear

cartoon-preacher2Sir, “A hot discussion on pulpit plagiarism is going on in America.”

The minister of a leading church delivered a sermon not his own, and was detected. He was popular with his congregation, and some of them defend him in an eccentric way. Thus a leading member says, “As long as he gives us such sermons as that we do not care where he gets them.” Another member speaks of “our able, and we might well say ‘inspired, pastor.’ The preacher himself explains that he has an extraordinary memory, and that when he gave the sermon he was persuaded that he had composed it himself.

He confesses himself “technically to blame,” and affirms that “in a broad way he is not,” because of his mysterious memory. It turns out, however, that in former years he did the same thing –repeated as his own a discourse by Lyman Abbott. The upshot will probably be that the majority of his congregation will sustain him. But the incident will be remembered against him to the last,and whenever he says something unusually good people will wonder where he found it.

There are doubtless some difficulties about the whole question of plagiarism. The charge is sometimes brought with reckless cruelty and injustice. It is quite possible unconsciously to use sentences and phrases that are not one’s own. They linger in the mind, and are not transformed in the period of habitation, as such things usually are. Again and again honest men have preached and printed without quotation marks sentences, and perhaps even paragraphs, which they owe to another, but which they believe belong to themselves.

More often the mind, working upon the materials with which memory supplies it, brings them out in another form, and then all is well. Again, it is difficult to say whether it may not be legitimate to use outlines. I think it is, if the filling up is the preachers own. An ordinary man may, and should, owe much to his reading; but if he has exerted himself in putting the results of that reading into his own style, there is no fault to find. It is in this way that original minds help others which are not original. The very worst preachers one has ever heard could never be accused of plagiarism, for the simple reason that all they said was common property and not worth saying again. Let the preacher read carefully, and apply his mind to the results of his reading, and there will be no trouble.

Generally speaking, a preacher should be as original as a writer. A student of leading articles will see that the weaker derive much from the stronger; but so long as a man may fearlessly put his work in print, he is not to be accused of plagiarism. I will add that those who may detect the young preacher using too much the labours of others will be wise if they hold their tongues. It is very conceivable that, without any conscious dishonesty, the young man may be following too slavishly a model he extravagantly admires. Perhaps it might be friendly to give a gentle hint” and if ever there is justification for anonymous letter writing it is in such a case; but to carry the discovery out into the streets, and thereby put a certain indelible mark on a whole career, is cruel and wicked. Yet I have known it done. I have known the discoverer rub his hands with glee and gloat over the sufferings of his victim.

Those who are tempted to plagiarism should not, perhaps, read much in modern sermons. The sermons that suit the fashion and temper of the hour are seductive to the mind that aspires after originality without the power of attaining it. Thus Phillips Brooks’s sermons have been the undoing of some preachers. They appeal so emphatically to the temper of the hour, alike in their affirmations and their silences; they seem so simple,so natural,and so clear, while yet they follow a path of their own, and are full of surprises of the best kind, that it is hard not to covet them.

On the other hand, from very old writers it is impossible to plagiarise, no matter how extensively they may be employed. So it is good counsel for the young preacher to read great old books of divinity. He will never put the thoughts he finds there into the words of the writer. The mere process of translation makes these thoughts his own. Thus one has made many sermons out of James Hervey’s “Theron and Aspasio.” The keeping of a book for extracts and illustrations, which may be woven into a sermon afterwards, is also perfectly legitimate. There are very few original minds, very few that can kindle their own fires, and there is a vital difference between the plagiarist and the man who is plainly indebted at every turn to the suggestions of others.

The practice of plagiarism is more extensive than may generally be supposed. I have known a canon of the Church of England preach in a great cathedral a sermon written and published by a famous Nonconformist. The sermon was reported, and got into print, and it was through the intervention of the author that the fraud was not exposed. The audacity with which some preachers in prominent pulpits reproduce the most startling and unforgettable thoughts and expressions of other preachers is truly astounding. In one case out of a thousand the matter comes to light. In many cases the thief is detected, but nothing is said in public. Very often there is no discovery.

But even when exposure does not come, there is a moral injury inflicted on the nature that stoops habitually to unworthiness.

Says an American writer: “There are three villanies of actual plagiarism –yea, four: the plagiarist is a living lie; the people are imposed upon; honest men are kept down by plagiarists who are preferred before them; and the man from whom the plagiarist steals, should he repeat his sermon later, is liable to be charged with plagiarizing his own work from the thief.”

A minister in New England used to preach very ordinary sermons, but once every two months or so he would deliver discourses of astonishing power. People used to wait for his great times, and he told them that when he was absorbed by a high theme, it was with him day and night till it culminated, when he preached upon it. During the period of spiritual incubation he had to do the best he could with such themes as he took up from week to week. This was accepted as truth. When the man came to die, an awful darkness was upon his mind. He said that he had lived a hypocritical life; he had stolen the sermons which had brought him so much fame. “I found an old English book that nobody seemed ever to have heard of, and in a time of weakness I committed one of the discourses to memory and preached it. The effect was so great that I seemed to be dragged on to preach another. I made myself believe that I was telling a half-truth when I told the people that I was possessed of a great theme, and it took several weeks to think it out. It did take me that length of time to commit these great sermons to memory. But this was blameworthy self-deception; I cannot die in peace unless you will promise to say at my funeral service that at last I saw myself as I was.” Dr. Buckley, of the Christian Advocate, tells us that at his funeral the circumstances were briefly and sadly stated.

Let every preacher remember that he is far more effective in delivering his own matter, the matter he has got by hard study and by the experience of life, than by delivering sermons which do not fit him.

No doubt an effect may be produced by reading or reciting what has been stolen from others, but it is not the right effect. There is a standing incongruity between the man and his matter. A sermon is strong in proportion as it is the living expression of a true soul. In writing about pulpit plagiarism there is always a danger of being uncharitable, and a very real danger of discouraging the wise and diligent use of books. It may be a far greater sin to take no pains in preparation than to use somewhat too easily the work of other men.

But the preacher, in the end, will be morally and spiritually influential in proportion to his own moral and spiritual health, and the unsophisticated conscience protests in unmistakable voice against pretension and robbery.

I am, sir,yours, etc.,

Claudius Clear