Heligoland Travelogue (extract)- Vintage Spurgeon

“The church externally looks as though it required some one to take pity upon it; it stands much in need of a frequent replenishment of the box for repairs, which is placed at the gate, with a reminder that the spire points to heaven, and that it would be well to keep in order the house where men meet to worship God. Inside it is quaint enough, the gallery front being enriched with paintings by Van Daub, or some other rustic notability. The font, like nearly all ancient specimens, is large enough for immersion; the ancient candlesticks upon the altar are the gift of Gustavus Vasa; the seats are adorned upon their backs with the names of the owners of the pew behind, painted in all the colours of the rainbow: from the ceiling hangs a ship with three masts, in full sail, a votive offering from a grateful mariner; and, as for the pulpit, it is right glorious to behold: so huge is the screen in which it is set, and so elaborate is the whole concern, that the minister looks like a fly in amber, or a miniature portrait in oil, set in a frame of mahogany, six feet deep all round.

We suppose the natives go to church in winter, but we can bear personal witness that they do not overcrowd the edifice in summer; there was enough to form a quorum, truly, and the minister was not quite reduced to Sydney Smith’s small assembly, which he addressed as “Dearly beloved Roger;” but the worshippers were few and far between. It was sadly odd to see the young men when they entered, put their hats over their noses and stare about to see who was there; all the while, we suppose, professing to be seeking a blessing in silent prayer. Query: Is not that putting the hat over the eyes one of the present ensigns of hypocrisy which genuine believers should utterly renounce? “Ma, why does Mr. Black always smell his hat when he comes into church?” was the very natural question of a youngster not yet trained in the fashions of Phariseeism. Where there is least of the kernel there is usually most of the shell.

Lutheran worship is plain and unpretentious, and would have reminded us of the conforming Puritans, if the specimen before us had not been rather too grotesque. We sung more than twenty verses to the same tune (if a tune at all), accompanied by the organ and some boys, one of the boys having a voice which, for screeching power, excelled all the curlews and sea mews in the universe; this was an accident, and to be borne with, but the sermon was an evil not to be remembered without sorrowful indignation. By-the-way, the minister gave us a specimen or two of intoning, solo singing, nasal whining, or whatever may be the proper name of the noise which is now so popular among the High Church brethren; whether he was praying or singing we do not know, but upon the whole, we should say it was a successful attempt, if he intended it to be funny; if he aimed at solemnity, it was as dead a failure as if he had read us one of “Ingoldsby’s Legends.” Not that there was any lack of solemnity in the gentleman’s face, and hands, and prayer-book, and gown, and bands, and bowing, and lifting of the eyes and hands, of this there was enough leaven to leaven a thousand German miles of clergy, but it was the masquerading solemnity which, takes in the superstitious and ignorant, but makes manly minds revolt into laughter or scorn.

When will preachers lay aside attempts to look devout? Why can they not serve God in truth, and not give themselves holy airs and make sanctimonious faces? When men take bitter physic, they screw up their physiognomies as much as to say, “We don’t like it;” but no one has to set his countenance in order when he takes a draught of the clear crystal, and is refreshed thereby; it is because men do not enjoy religion that they make pious faces, and try to be anything but themselves. All faults of manner, however, are pardonable; but the matter of the sermon was beyond all bearing from a Lutheran. The theme was the young man whom Jesus loved, who claimed to have kept the commandments from his youth, but could not bear the crucial test of giving up all to follow Jesus; and the strain of the preacher was to the effect that many go a long way in religion, and stop short somewhere; but that if we would be saved we must go still further; we must be perfect—we could be perfect, and that was the way of salvation. Nothing about the sin-cleansing blood of Jesus, or the power of the Holy Spirit, or the value of precious faith, but much crying up of the creature and his perfection. Alas! for a people doomed to hear such unscriptural teaching. Well may they stay away from church when such husks are poured from the pulpit. Happy they who sit under a ministry which deals with gospel truth honestly and with heavenly unction; let such be very grateful, and do their utmost to help every earnest effort to educate sound preachers, praying that the Master may send forth many such into his harvest.

We wished heartily that Martin Luther could have risen from the dead, and come into that church, he would not have heard the priest read half his sermon before he would have shouted to him to come down, and then the burly old reformer might have repeated his memorable protest upon the article of justification:—
    “I, Martin Luther, an unworthy preacher of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, thus profess and thus believe: that this article, THAT FAITH ALONE WITHOUT WORKS, CAN JUSTIFY BEFORE GOD, shall never be overthrown neither by the emperor, nor by the Turk, nor by the Tartar, nor by the Persian, nor by the Pope, with all his cardinals, bishops, sacrificers, monks, nuns, kings, princes, powers of the world, nor yet by all the devils in hell. This article shall stand fast whether they will or no. This is the true gospel. Jesus Christ redeemed us from our sins, and he only. This most firm and certain truth is the voice of Scripture, though the world and all the devils rage and roar. If Christ alone take away our sins, we cannot do this with our works: and as it is impossible to embrace Christ but by faith, it is, therefore, equally impossible to apprehend him by works. If, then, faith alone must apprehend Christ, before works can follow, the conclusion is infragable, that faith alone apprehends him, before and without the consideration of works; and this is our justification and deliverance from sin. Then, and not till then, good works follow faith, as its necessary and inseparable fruit. This is the doctrine I teach; and this the Holy Spirit and church of the faithful have delivered. In this will I abide. Amen.”

extract ‘Heligoland’ 1867 The Sword and Trowel

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