On January 6, 1850, a 15-year-old young man wandered into the Primitive Methodist Chapel of Colchester. A snowstorm prevented him from attending church with his father. Apparently, the snow was so severe that the pastor of this little Methodist chapel didn't even show up that day! That young man huslted inside still carrying his burden of sin that he did not realize was soon to be lifted. "At last, a very thin-looking man, a shoemaker, or tailor, or something of that sort, went up into the pulpit to preach." This man preached the text of Isaiah 45:22 and exhorted this teenager, one Charles Haddon Spurgeon, to look to Christ and be saved. This 'sermon' lasted all of about 10 minutes, but see how Spurgeon recounts the impact of what this man said to him that morning:
lifting up his hands, [the man] shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist could do, "Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothin' to do but to look and live." I saw at once the way of salvation. I know not what else he said,—I did not take much notice of it,—I was so possessed with that one thought. Like as when the brazen serpent was lifted up, the people only looked and were healed, so it was with me. I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, "Look!" what a charming word it seemed to me! Oh! I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away. There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to Him. Oh, that somebody had told me this before, "Trust Christ, and you shall be saved." Yet it was, no doubt, all wisely ordered, and now I can say,— "Ever since by faith I saw the stream Thy flowing wounds supply, Redeeming love has been my theme, And shall be till I die."
It's probable you've heard this conversion story before as it has been written about many times and was spoken of in Spurgeon's own sermons and works quite frequently. But as I consider this wonderful story once again, I think of 4 important lessons we can take away from it to apply to our own lives and ministries today:
The Persistence of Godly Impressions
While it is true that Spurgeon attributes his conversion to a single moment in time, January 6, 1850, it is also true that he gives credit to godly impressions that happened long before then to bring him to that point of repentance and faith on that cold snowy morning. Particularly, he gives credit to his mother's impact on his early years. She would pray for him, instruct him in the Scriptures, and implore he and his siblings to rest their souls upon Jesus.
What an encouragement this is to parents and others who are faithfully and persistently sharing the gospel with others! Persistence pays off. No, we may not always witness the fruit of our labors but we can believe that it is important to impress upon those around us the truth of the gospel and implore them to seek the mercy of Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. Perhaps you've done this 9,999 times. But who knows whether or not the 10,000th time will be the time the sinner turns to Jesus?
Truly we believe in the necessity of God's gracious calling upon a sinner's life but we also know God works through means. And years of being called to repentance and faith by his own mother prepared Spurgeon for that day when the gospel light finally broke through. Keep pressing on! Be persistent in godly impressions upon those around you. It matters.
The Providence of Great Inconvenience
I believe in the meticulous providence of God. That not a single snowflake falls but under His sovereign will and guidance. A snowstorm! How inconvenient! What work had to be stopped that day! How many souls were prevented from attending their desired place of worship that Sunday! And yet, through this great inconvenience, the greatest baptist preacher in the history of Christianity, was brought to faith in Christ.
The point? Let us be ever ready to see God's hand in the everyday things in our lives. From the snowstorms to the flat tires. Have you considered whether or not you might not be placed in a certain situation for 'such a time as this (Esther 4:14)'? This poor 'shoemaker' (as Spurgeon called him) didn't wake up on that Sunday prepared to give a sermon, and yet he rose to the occasion and exhorted his hearers to look to Christ and be saved. Wow. You don't know what today holds, what the weekend holds, what next month holds. But will you be ready to rise to the occasion as God gives opportunity and in particular be ready to point sinners to Jesus?
God knows no inconveniences, only plans. What might you do with the extra time you have to spend at the mechanic? Or the late day at work? Or the long line at Walmart because they only have 2 checkers working today? Let us see God's hand in these things trustusth His providence.
The Power of God-breathed Instruction
Imagine it's not 1850, but January 6, 2016. Spurgeon is snowed out of his normal place of worship and wanders into an American church (I know, long journey across the Atlantic!). What does he hear? 5 steps to be a better you? A few jokes, a couple of pointed illustrations, and then some good advice? Perhaps the atmosphere is "better" structured with music and comfortable seating. Perhaps the speaking is "better" - eloquent, and more polished.
But the truth is, the power of God doesn't rest in any of these things. God's power rests in His own God-breathed instruction - in His Word. The Bible. Genesis to Revelation. This primitive methodist wasn't sure what to do that morning, so he did all he knew: open the bible and spoke directly from its life-giving streams. There was no sermon preparation. No catchy title. No alliterated points. It was just the exhortation of God's own holy word.
I obviously think study is important, and I'm a fan of alliteration sometimes (as you can tell!), but let us be reminded that these things aren't where God's power is found in calling sinners to repentance. Seminary has its place. But any Believer can call a person to repentance by simply using God's own God-breathed instruction. It's the Bible, folks. Read it. Know it. Use it more in everyday conversations. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. Creative gospel presentations have their place. But so does simply quoting what the bible says. Opening it up at work or over lunch or coffee and showing the truth of the gospel. What training do you need to open the bible and read it? You can do this with your children. You can do this with your coworkers. You can do this with anyone who will listen! Yes, you! You can do it because the power doesn't rest in you, but in God's Word.
Apologetics has its place, and I get excited too about archeological discoveries that back up the Bible. But at the end of the day, scientific facts don't change sinners' hearts. It is the Holy Spirit through the Word of God. So, stay faithful. Stay in the Book. Keep trusting that God will use it.
The Priority of Gospel Invitation
If we haven't invited sinners to close with Christ, we haven't preached the gospel. We have a wonderful example in this conversion narrative of a true gospel invitation. This primitive methodist exhorted his hearers to look to Christ and be saved!
He did not play 15 verses of Just As I Am. He did not have anyone close their eyes and raise their hands. He did not have anyone sign a card or even come up front. He simply invited, pleaded, and commanded his listeners to look to Christ and be saved!
There are actually ministers today that believe if you don't have an 'altar call' you haven't really extended an invitation. Spurgeon would disagree. The gospel invitation isn't inviting someone to an altar but inviting them to close with Christ. The danger of an 'altar call' is organizing your whole service to build up to this 'main event.' I've actually read and heard of well-known pastors making this point. But when this happens, emotional manipulation often becomes rampant. None of us have control over who makes decisions. But we do have control over faithfully sharing Scripture and issuing heartfelt exhortations from it.
What if instead of making services about the altar, the priority of the gospel invitation was attached to the exhortation from Scripture? If instead of building up to a crescendo of an 'altar call', we invited people right then to close with Christ in faith? My main point here is to not rely on the right mood or music to call sinners to repentance. Do so in your gospel exhortations! Tell them, plead with them, command them to repent and believe the gospel. To look to Christ and be saved! You can exhort that person God has put on your heart right now. You can ask them to trust Jesus today. You can text them or call them or stop by and see them. They don't need an altar. They need Jesus.
As the world continued to turn on that cold snowy January day, God was ordering each moment to graciously save Charles Haddon Spurgeon. A wretched sinner who deserved only hell and wrath, was brought to Christ as God issued His effectual call through the proclamation of His own word. Spurgeon would sadly pass away only 42 years later at the young age of 57. But any person the least bit knowledgeable of his life would say that his short life was a life well lived. He was a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season. And with a man like Spurgeon, that season isn't over yet. His life is still bearing fruit. There are still many great things we can learn from him today, including these 4 important lessons from his conversion.
To God be the glory.
Editor's Note: This originally published on Nelson's blog.