Thursday, July 10, 2008

God's Appointments for Spurgeon and Owen

One of the greatest Christian preachers of all time and one of the greatest Christian theologians of all time have similar conversion experiences. Read below about these two men. First, let us read of Charles Spurgeon from his autobiography:
I sometimes think I might have been in darkness and despair until now had it not been for the goodness of God in sending a snowstorm, one Sunday morning, while I was going to a certain place of worship. When I could go no further, I turned down a side street, and came to a little Primitive Methodist Chapel. In that chapel there may have been a dozen or fifteen people. I had heard of the Primitive Methodists, how they sang so loudly that they made people’s heads ache; but that did not matter to me. I wanted to know how I might be saved, and if they could tell me that, I did not care how much they made my head ache. The minister did not come that morning; he was snowed up, I suppose. At last, a very thin-looking man, a shoemaker, or tailor, or something of that sort, went up into the pulpit to preach. Now, it is well that preachers should be instructed; but this man was really stupid. He was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had little else to say. The text was,—


He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter. There was, I thought, a glimpse of hope for me in that text. The preacher began thus—”My dear friends, this is a very simple text indeed. It says, ‘Look.’ Now lookin’ don’t take a deal of pains. It ain’t liftin’ your foot or your finger; it is just, ‘Look.’ Well, a man needn’t go to College to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man needn’t be worth a thousand a year to be able to look. Anyone can look; even a child can look. But then the text says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Ay!” said he, in broad Essex, “many on ye are lookin’ to yourselves, but it’s no use lookin’ there. You’ll never find any comfort in yourselves. Some look to God the Father. No, look to Him by-and-by. Jesus Christ says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Some on ye say, ‘We must wait for the Spirit’s workin’’ You have no business with that just now. Look to Christ. The text says, ‘Look unto Me.’ “Then the good man followed up his text in this way:—”Look unto Me; I am sweatin’ great drops of blood. Look unto Me; I am hangin’ on the cross. Look unto Me; I am dead and buried. Look unto Me; I rise again. Look unto Me; I as-cend to Heaven. Look unto Me; I am sittin’ at the Father’s right hand. O poor sinner, look unto Me! look unto Me!” When he had gone to about that length, and managed to spin out ten minutes or so, he was at the end of his tether. Then he looked at me under the gallery, and I daresay, with so few present, he knew me to be a stranger. Just fixing his eyes on me, as if he knew all my heart, he said, “Young man, you look very miserable.” Well, I did; but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made from the pulpit on my personal appearance before. However, it was a good blow, struck right home. He continued, “and you always will be miserable—miserable in life, and miserable in death,—if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.” Then, lifting up his hands, he 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 at 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.

Now read of what some consider the conversion, or at least the time he came to assurance, of John Owen as told by John Piper:

Owen was a convinced Calvinist with large doctrinal knowledge, but he lacked the sense of the reality of his own salvation. That sense of personal reality in all that he wrote was going to make all the difference in the world for Owen in the years to come. So what happened one Sunday in 1642 is very important.

When Owen was 26 years old he went with his cousin to hear the famous Presbyterian, Edmund Calamy at St. Mary's Church Aldermanbury. But it turned out Calamy could not preach and a country preacher took his place. Owen's cousin wanted to leave. But something held Owen to his seat. The simple preacher took as his text Matthew 8:26, "Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?" It was God's appointed word and appointed time for Owen's awakening. His doubts and fears and worries as to whether he was truly born anew by the Holy Spirit were gone. He felt himself liberated and adopted as a Son of God. When you read the penetrating practical works of Owen on the work of the Spirit and the nature of true communion with God it is hard to doubt the reality of what God did on this Sunday in 1642.

Indeed, two remarkable and similar stories of the conversions/assurance of these men who went on to do much for the Gospel and the Kingdom of God. Two interesting points can be made:

  1. Notice the sovereignty of God in both of these lives. Both were seeking another person's sermon, but God had other plans. For both men, as Piper says above, "it was God's appointed word and appointed time" for each one. Salvation is of the Lord. He will grant it in His time, place, and according to the preaching of His appointed Word. He had planned the weather and even the appointments of other men to put Spurgeon and Owen in the right place to hear his appointed Word.

  2. Next, we notice that both men were brought to this salvation through the preaching of men whose names we do not know today. Spurgeon says that all the preacher could do was continue repeating the his text and even called his stupid. The preacher to Owen was called a "simple" preacher and a "country" preacher. God choose the instrument on that appointed day and hour. It was perhaps not one they would have guested, but the one who had the appointed word for them.
What are we to make of this? God is sovereign. He will bring His people to Himself again in His time and place according to His Word. He will also use those which the world may call foolish (1 Corinthians 1:27). Our times are in His hand, whether we believe it or not. We should also realize that even when we feel we have blown it in witnessing to others, God can take that faithfulness and save sinners. This does not give us an excuse for not giving the Gospel rightly, but in our failures and weaknesses in sharing at times, it shows once again that salvation is of the Lord. May we even be called stupid if God will use us in the salvation of sinners. If you are a believer, think about all the things God did in your entire before-Christian life to put you in that appointed time and place under the appointed preaching of His Word where He saved you and give thanks.

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