“And I, even I only, am left,” cried the prophet Elijah (1 Kgs 9:15, ESV). Twenty-eight centuries later, Charles Spurgeon likewise lamented his own country. His plight, however, was the lack of Puritan influence in English churches. Often considered the last of the Puritans, Spurgeon once said, “For my part, I think that, nowadays, we are not Puritanic enough” and “I should be glad if we were as worthy to be called Puritans as were the men of the days of Dr. John Owen” (MTP 47:134).
Spurgeon had tremendous regard for John Owen, “the most profound divine who ever lived” (MTP 46:499). Perhaps one reason Spurgeon was drawn to him was because of the many similarities between the two men: both were Englishmen, born to Nonconforming families, grew up as pastor’s kids, were school tutors as young men, began pastoring in a small church, and shared a dislike for Presbyterian polity in favor of congregationalism. Yet, the most peculiar similarity is their common conversion under the preaching of rural, uneducated men.
A snowstorm descended upon the small town of Colchester, England, on January 6th, 1850. Piercing winds howled and sharp snow pelted against the face of the young fifteen-year-old. No longer able to weather the storm, he turned off the main road onto Artillery street and found shelter in a tiny Primitive Methodist chapel. It was Sunday.
Crossing over the threshold, the young man shook off the snow from his coat, wiped his boots, and sat down. Looking around, he noticed there were only about a dozen people in the chapel. He had heard of the strange Primitive Methodists and their reputation for loud singing, but that didn’t matter to him. If they told him how he might be saved, he couldn’t care less how much they might make his head ache, as long as his heart would cease its aching.
The minister was snowed up that morning. Luckily for the congregation, a deacon took it upon himself to deliver the sermon. An uneducated shoemaker from the countryside, he climbed up into the pulpit and opened his Bible. Fumbling over the words in his broad Essex accent, he read, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth” (Isa 45:22, KJV). After about ten minutes, near the end of his improvised sermon, he fixed his eyes on the inquisitive visitor who had stumbled in from the snowstorm and said, “Young man, you look very miserable. Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothin’ to do but to look and live.”
God used these words to pierce the soul of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. At once, the burden fell from his back. As he walked out of that tiny chapel, his head might’ve been aching, but his heart was certainly not. He left neither a better nor a smarter man, but a forgiven man.
Though he had studied the formidable Puritan giants at Oxford, John Owen felt his soul longing for more that morning. His cousin accompanied him to Aldermanbury to hear the famous Presbyterian minister, Edmund Calamy, preach at St. Mary’s Church in London. Owen and his cousin were well aware of Calamy’s reputation and were eager to hear him preach when they took their seats in the creaky pews of the old church. They soon were let down, being informed that Calamy was absent. In his place, a country preacher would give the sermon.
Upon hearing this, Owen’s cousin urged him to leave and go down the street to St. Michael’s, where somebody more prominent preached. However, something providentially glued Owen to his seat. The preacher’s text was Matthew 8:26, “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?” During the sermon, Owen’s doubts about his eternal state slowly crumbled. For the first time in his life, his longing soul felt the blessing of full assurance. That morning, his comfort was not found in great learning, but in God’s gracious adoption of sinners into his family, a doctrine Owen would cherish the rest of his life.
The Preacher and the Message
God used a shoemaker to save the Prince of Preachers and a farmer to save the Prince of the English Divines. These conversions illustrate that God’s saving power lies not in the eloquence of the preacher, but in the gospel. It matters not what the messenger looks like if the message he carries is from the King.
Therefore, whether you are a rural pastor, or an itinerant evangelist, or a humble deacon, as long as you have the gospel on your lips, you herald a royal message that cannot fail. Boast not in your own prominence, but in the Lord’s preeminence. And who knows, it may just be that the next Spurgeon or Owen will sit under your preaching.
“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human beingmight boast in the presence of God. And because of himyou are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” 1 Corinthians 1:26–31