Life + Culture
Raising Spurgeon from the Dead
On October 21, 1928, the spirit of Charles Spurgeon was raised from the dead. Or so the clairvoyant claimed.
In a series of séances supervised by Canadian surgeon and paranormal researcher Thomas Glen Hamilton, the “entity” of the late Victorian evangelist made his presence known several times to a group of hand-clasped gatherers. According to Hamilton’s published report, Spurgeon even requested a hymn to be sung.
Three years later, Spurgeon again “returned” to preach a sermon on revival. His text — exegeted from beyond the grave — was Isaiah 52:10: “All the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” In a pitch-dark room on April 26, 1931, the entranced medium blindly scribbled the words, “The main instrumental cause of a great revival must be the bold, faithful, fearless preaching of the truth of the Divine Spirit from the Lord our God.”
As it turned out, Spurgeon had uttered the same words before in his 1858 sermon “The Great Revival,” a message he preached only months after the Surrey Garden Music Hall disaster. Indeed, Spurgeon’s spirit had been raised from the dead that year — not by a spiritualist, but by the Holy Spirit who restored his ministry two weeks after he was “taken home more dead than alive.” Spurgeon later reflected on his recovery, “Like a flash of lightning from the sky, my soul returned unto me. . . . I leaped for joy of heart.”
The trajectory of Spurgeon’s ministry would follow a turbulent flight plan. At times it peaked; at times it plummeted. “I am much tossed up and down,” he said, “and although my joy is greater than the most of men, my depression of spirit is such as few can have an idea of.”
Anvil of Affliction
Yet Spurgeon praised God for the sinking of his spirit. In the midst of internal and external turmoil, he believed that God used the anvil of affliction to hammer his people into holiness. “Affliction is the best bit of furniture in my house,” he said. “It is the best book in a minister's library.” He also confessed, “There is no greater mercy that I know of on earth than good health except it be sickness; and that has often been a greater mercy to me than health.”
Spurgeon never suffered from having never suffered. As Paul wrote, we “glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3–4). For Spurgeon and for every believer, hope is the sweet extract of affliction. It is the anticipation of God making good on his promise to “wipe every tear from [our] eyes” (Revelation 21:4). Hope does not derive from incantations or spiritual gimmicks, but instead in the unbending belief in the supremacy of the Christ who announced, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25).
Genuine Joy Is a Gift
Ironically, the point of Spurgeon’s 1858 sermon — memorized by the medium — was that true revival cannot be conjured up by clever tactics, innovative inventions, heart-warming hymns, or even by the preaching of great sermons. “Do not imagine,” Spurgeon later said, “when you hear of a sermon being made useful, that it was the sermon itself that did the work.” Revival cannot be summoned; it must be sent. From first to last, spiritual awakening is the work of God upon the heart — designed, manufactured, and delivered by the one who specializes in resurrection.
For Spurgeon, genuine joy is found in the reality of the risen Savior:
Because He lives, I shall live also, and I spring to my legs again and fight with my depressions of spirit and my down castings, and get the victory through it; and so may you do, and so you must, for there is no other way of escaping from it. In your most depressed seasons you are to get joy and peace through believing.
Spurgeon’s most depressed season came in 1887 in the Downgrade Controversy when betrayal, abandonment, depression, and illness beset him. According to his wife, this controversy directly resulted in Spurgeon’s premature death at the age of 57.
Yet even in the darkest hour, Spurgeon saw a light flickering in the future. Even in the storm, Spurgeon foresaw the day when the winds of controversy would still and God would revive his legacy for distant generations. “I am quite willing to be eaten by dogs for the next fifty years,” Spurgeon said, “but the more distant future shall vindicate me.”
Spurgeon Still Speaks
Spurgeon’s vindication was not to be found in the séances of the 1920s and 30s. Though stranger resurrections have happened (like the summoning of Samuel’s spirit in 1 Samuel 28), Spurgeon spoke against the “pretended communion” with spirits that was becoming popular in late-Victorianism. “If men were not such idiots as to doubt God, they would never sink so low as to believe in spiritualism.”
Instead, Spurgeon’s vindication is being realized more fully in America, more than one century after the preacher uttered his farewell prophecy. England might have buried him, one biographer has noted, but America will keep him alive. If the medium had kept quoting Spurgeon, she would have discovered the following words:
My soul has been made exceedingly full of happiness, by the tidings of a great revival of religion throughout the United States. . . .
You will be told by any one who is conversant with the present state of America, that wherever you go there are the most remarkable signs that religion is progressing with majestic abides. The great revival, as it is now called, has become the common market talk of merchants; it is the theme of every newspaper. Even the secular press remark it, for it has become so astonishing that all ranks and classes of men seem to have been affected by it . . . .
I feel in my heart that God would be pleased to send throughout this country a revival like that which has just commenced in America, and which, we trust, will long continue there.
In the end, Hamilton’s synopsis of Spurgeon proved true, though in a different way. “He does a great work helping those who are passing through.” Spurgeon’s spirit has returned. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, his writings are being used by God to bring awakening and revival to younger generations of gospel-centered evangelicals who are discovering that, like Abel who “still speaks, even though he is dead” (Hebrews 11:4), Charles Spurgeon still has something to say.
Joy’s Greatest Cause
From beyond the grave, Spurgeon speaks. He speaks against the man-made concoctions that humans often conjure and turns our attention instead to the greatest cause for joy in the Christian’s life — knowing how the story will end.
The story of redemption ends where it began — only better — with creation re-created through the revival, restoration, and resurrection of God’s holy people. The story ends, not with the tricks of a clairvoyant, but with the triumph of the risen Christ.
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