He Smoked Cigars and Drank Alcoholic Beverages

I was browsing through the church library Sunday morning and my daughter wandered in wanting to know what I was looking for. I was looking for biographies. I started pointing out some of the books I had already read, when I came across Arnold Dallimore’s biography of Charles Spurgeon. I remembered only one particular thing about that biography and I opened it up to the appropriate section and read it to my daughter. I got a few chuckles out of it, as I had when I originally read it.

Dallimore wrote approximately 178 pages of hagiography before coming to the point of levying some criticisms against Spurgeon. It’s spectacular:

This picture of Spurgeon as a man of unusual holiness is entirely true. Accordingly the statement we must now make will to many seem inconsistent. Nevertheless, it also is true, and we must make it. It is that Spurgeon both smoked cigars and drank alcoholic beverages.

When his smoking began is not known, but in Spurgeon’s time the practice was believed to be beneficial to one’s health. Robert Hall, the famous preacher of the St. Andrew’s Street Baptist Church, Cambridge, had been ordered by his physician to become a smoker, and since Spurgeon lived at Cambridge and attended that church in his teens, he was undoubtedly familiar with this event. Moreover, there were no qualms whatsoever about the practice in the minds of many ministers in the Church of England and the Church of Scotland and in the churches of France and Holland.

Of course, Spurgeon made not the slightest attempt to hide his practice. One press reporter described him as he drove to the Tabernacle each morning, and his account closed with the words ‘enjoying his morning cigar.’ While out on a jaunt with his students one morning, when several of them had lighted pipes or cigars Spurgeon said, ‘Aren’t you ashamed to be smoking so early!’ And they immediately put out their fire. Then he produced a cigar and lit it, and both he and they laughed at his little joke, but his point was that he was in no way ashamed of the practice. It must be emphasized he saw nothing wrong in his smoking and that he did it openly.

But he received a sudden shock.

In 1874, Dr. George F. Pentecost, a Baptist pastor from America, visited the Tabernacle, and Spurgeon had him sit on the platform for the evening service. Spurgeon preached strongly and plainly upon the necessity of giving up sin, in order to success in prayer, and he spoke against the seemingly unimportant little habits many Christians practice that keep them from true fellowship with God.

After concluding his sermon he asked Dr. Pentecost to speak, suggesting especially that he apply the principle he himself had declared.

It is probable Dr. Pentecost did not know that Spurgeon smoked. At any rate, he applied Spurgeon’s principle by telling of his own experience in giving up cigars. He said, ‘One thing I liked exceedingly – the best cigar that could be bought,’ yet he felt the Habit was wrong in the life of a Christian and he strove to overcome it. The habit, however, proved so strong that he found himself enslaved, till after much struggling he took his cigar box before the Lord, cried desperately for help, and was given a complete victory. He told, with much praise to God, how he had been enabled to defeat the habit. Throughout his words Ran the idea that smoking was not only an enslaving habit, but that the Christian must look on it as sin.

We must assume that if ever in his lifetime Spurgeon was embarrassed it was now! He arose and stated:

‘Well, dear friends, you know that some men can do to the glory of God what to other men would be a sin. And, not withstanding what brother Pentecost has said, I intend to smoke a good cigar to the glory of God before I go to bed tonight.

‘If anybody can show me in the Bible the command, Thou shalt not smoke, I am ready to keep it, but I haven’t found it yet. I find Ten Commandments, and it is as much as I can do to keep them; and I have no desire to make them eleven or twelve. The fact is, I have been speaking to you about real sin, and not about listening to mere quibbles and scruples…”Whatsoever is not of faith is sin,” and that is the real point of what my brother Pentecost has been saying. Why, a man may think it is a sin to have his boots blacked. Well then, let him give it up and have them whitewashed. I wish to say I am not ashamed of anything whatever that I do, and I don’t feel that smoking makes me ashamed, and therefore I mean to smoke to the glory of God.’

During a considerable portion of his life Spurgeon also used alcoholic drinks as a beverage.

In his day, drinking-water was difficult to obtain, and in order to avoid contamination most people used beer and ale at their meals. This had been human custom since time immemorial, and there can be little doubt that Spurgeon had been introduced to it as a boy in the homes of his grandfather and his father and that he had grown up accustomed to the practice. In turn, he had not long been in London when we find him using such drinks as beer, wine, and brandy, though in very moderate amounts. And this practice, like that of smoking, he did not in any way attempt to deny or hide.

In these two practices we see that Spurgeon was very human – a man of his times. Moreover, he was not alone in the indulgence. For instance, though John Wesley totally opposed the drinking of tea, hence the term’ tee-totaler,’ he was something of an authority on the taste of ale. Charles Wesley also indulged, and the picture seems rather incongruous when we see the grand old Methodist warrior during the last years of his life listing his expenditures for drinks for the guests attending his son’s musical concerts. Whitefield’s practice was similar; we find him writing, ‘Give my thanks to that friendly brewer for the keg of rum he sent us.’

I reported these matters regarding Spurgeon with much reluctance. They seemed sadly regrettable in the life of so righteous a man,yet in the name of either Christian honesty or scholarly accuracy they could not be omitted.

-Arnold Dallimore, Spurgeon: A New Biography (Banner of Truth, 1985), pp. 179-183

The Ten Predicaments

Therefore Peter Martyr did well resemble the Decalogue to the ten Predicaments, that, as there is nothing that has a being in nature, but what may be reduced to one of those ten; so neither is there any Christian duty, but what is comprehended in one of these, that is, consequentially, or reductively.

-Anthony Burges, A Vindication of the Moral Law, Kindle Loc. 161.

Everything boils down to the 10. This idea lines up nicely with Samuel Bolton’s contention that all of the Levitical laws serve as appendices to the 10 Commandments.

Some Forgotten Name

Five percent. I felt obliged to say something, but no one was there, and I didn’t know what I was supposed to say anyway. Placing my hand on my neck, feeling the pulse there, I stood for some minutes on the verge of moving or speaking or sitting or something. Then the impulse passed, and I was on the other side of it, feeling as if I’d forgotten something, some name or object or emotion I’d meant to take note of but had carelessly allowed to slip by.

-Lucy Grealy, Autobiography of a Face, p. 68

Lucy Grealy describes her response to finding out that the survival rate for her form of cancer was only 5%. Who was it she needed to talk to, and what name had she forgotten?

Chesterton on Following Advice and Being Different

I think I owe my success to having listened respectfully and rather bashfully to the very best advice, given by all the best journalists who had achieved the best sort of success in journalism; and then going away and doing the exact opposite. . .

I have a notion that the real advice I could give to a young journalist is simply this: to write an article for the Sporting Times and one for the Church Times and put them in the wrong envelopes…What is really the matter with almost every paper, is that it is much too full of things suitable to the paper.

– G.K. Chesterton, The Autobiography of G.K. Chesterton

This quote now hangs on my office wall.


Identity and Meaning

This singularity of meaning – I was my face, I was ugliness- though sometimes unbearable, also offered a possible point of escape. It became the launching pad from which to lift off, the one immediately recognizable place to point when asked what was wrong with my life. Everything led to it, everything receded from it – my face as personal vanishing point.

-Lucy Grealy, Autobiography of a Face, p. 7

Lucy Grealy was diagnosed with cancer of the jaw (Ewing’s Sarcoma) when she was 9. The book recounts how her face became her identity.

She leaves me wondering what my own source of meaning, and personal vanishing point, is. Her case is perhaps more tragic in a sense that yours or mine. Of course I don’t know your situation. But I can’t help but wonder for us, What is it that we point to as the source of all our problems? What is it that gives us reason to vanish from the world?

Back at It

This past Saturday I finally had the letters M.Div attached to my name. It took me ten years to get there. I even went back to college in the meantime and started a new career. It’s been a busy 10 months since I resumed my studies and most of my reading has consisted of academic-theological stuff and most of my writing has consisted of exegesis and research papers.

If you want to keep up with my preaching, most of my sermons are being posted HERE. I’m presently working through the book of Ecclesiastes. If you dig through my recent sermons, you’ll probably hear me quote Lucy Grealy several times.

I’m going to get back to blogging through books. I’ve missed it. I’m starting off the summer with two books that are very different from one another:

  1. Autobiography of a Face,by Lucy Grealy. Lucy Grealy suffered from a rare form of cancer (in her jaw) from the age of 9. This led to a life of addiction that ended with a drug overdose at age 39. The book describes how her face, and the trauma of cancer, came to define her existence.
  2. A Vindication of the Moral Law, by Anthony Burges. Burges was a Seventeenth Century Puritan minister and member of the Westminster Assembly (which produced the Westminster Confession of Faith, Catechisms, etc.). This book is considered a classic in scholarly Reformed circles that deal with the relationship of law to gospel.

Checking In and Blog Records

The blog has remained relatively silent recently. Yes, I’m aware of this. I am finishing up my last semester at seminary, working, preaching, etc. I’m also working on my writing craft at the moment. I’m planning to submit some short stories for publication eventually, but not until after I graduate in May.

As the blog has been semi-dormant, the traffic on the site has actually increased substantially. In the past two weeks, the blog has seen three days at near-record levels of traffic (one of those days tying the highest traffic ever, the others coming within five hits of the record). The average traffic on non-record setting days has been up a good bit as well. January and March were the biggest months traffic-wise in the history of the blog. It’s always seemed like a pattern that the less I write, the more traffic the blog gets.

Anyway, I have quite a bit of stuff sitting in the queue that will need some work before I can post it. We’ll get there eventually, d.v.

The Mark of Hell

Milton’s devils, by their grandeur and high poetry, have done great harm, and his angels owe too much to Homer and Raphael. But the really pernicious image is Goethe’s Mephistopheles. It is Faust, not he, who really exhibits the ruthless, sleepless, unsmiling concentration upon self which is the mark of hell. The humorous, civilized, sensible, adaptable Mephistopheles has helped to strengthen the illusion that evil is liberating.

-C.S. Lewis, from the original preface to The Screwtape Letters

And that’s as good a definition of pride as I’ve seen: “…the ruthless, sleepless, unsmiling concentration upon self…”

How to Shut Up

I had a teacher in 6th grade that banned the phrase, “Shut up.” She called it the S word. The penalty was a trip to the croakery. Listen to find out what that means.

In Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 Solomon breaks the rule and tells us to shut up. Solomon looks at mankind and says the dreaded S word. Shut up and listen. Shut up and obey. Our mouths are constantly writing checks our bodies can’t cash. Jesus pays our debt. The gospel re-frames the meaning of “shut your mouth.”

You can listen to the latest sermon in my series on Ecclesiastes by clicking HERE.

Under the Bleachers

A lot of people sit back in life and have their overview, compared to my underview, where I scout, under the bleachers, for what life has dropped.

-Barry Hannah, Boomerang

I picked up this book at the library. I’m growing to appreciate Barry Hannah. For starters, he grew up in the town in which I’ve lived for the past 10 years. But that’s not important. He’s a compelling writer, that’s what’s important. He once wrote an interesting introduction to the Gospel of Mark, by the way.

Hannah was great at observation. Almost great writers are. Why was he so great? He lived life under the bleachers, looking for what life drops – the non-significant events, the pain, the ugliness, the trash, the dregs.

I’ve likened Solomon’s observations in Ecclesiastes – life ‘under the sun’ – to Hannah’s idea of life ‘under the bleachers.’ You have to open your eyes to see it. You have to get under the bleachers and live life there. You have to at least imagine life without God in the world. If you were converted as an adult (like me, at 19), then that shouldn’t be too difficult. Don’t forget the underview.