01 April 2008

Gleanings from 1894 Sword and Trowel: At the Pastors' College

I’ll never forget my first visit to The Master’s Seminary, over which John MacArthur presides as president. I sat in a theology class taught by George Zemek and took in with sheer delight God’s word expressed so fully, so completely, so passionately.

What would it be like to spend time at the Pastors’ College, where Spurgeon presided as President? One of the former students, Pastor W. D. McKinney, gave this account; remembrances flavoured by the recent and bittersweet loss of President Spurgeon:

All through the week, there was, usually, plenty of hard work for the students. English Literature and Mental Philosophy were taught by the laborious Fergusson. Those who were in his classes had to work, or woe be to them! Gracey, mildly yet firmly, led his men through Greek, Latin, and Elisha Cole’s Divine Sovereignty, till their brows throbbed, and their backs ached. He smiled on the industrious and quietly marked the laggards. Then Mr. Rogers, in the general classroom, conducted us to the fountain-head of Theology. The march was over the old highway of logical and Scriptural reasoning; but, often, “the old man eloquent” would cheer our drooping spirits by rare bursts of matchless oratory. The Vice-President drilled us in Charnock on the Attributes, and then made us grub Hebrew roots till we were as weary as the Israelites in the brickfields of Egypt.

Friday afternoon came at last. The old, familiar clock pointed to three; the door opened on the stroke of the hour, the beloved President appeared, and walked up to the desk, while hands clapped, feet stamped, and voices cheered, till he had to hold up his hand, and say, “Now, gentlemen, do you not think that is enough? The floor is weak, the ceiling is not very high, and I am sure, you need all the strength you have for your labours.”

In those days, the President was in his prime. His step was firm, his eyes bright, his hair raven-black, his voice full of music, pathos, and merriment. Before him were gathered a hundred men from all parts of the United Kingdom, and not a few from beyond the seas. They were brought together by the magic of his name, and the attraction of his personal influence. His fame has gone out into all lands. His sermons were published in almost all languages. Many sitting before him were his own sons in the faith. Among his students he was at his ease, as a father in the midst of his own family. The brethren loved him, and he loved them.

Soon, the floods of his pent up wisdom poured forth; the flashes of his inimitable wit lit up every face, and his pathos brought tears to all eyes. It was an epoch in student-life to hear him deliver his Lectures to my Students. What wide discourse he gave us on the subject of preaching! How gently he corrected faults, and encouraged genuine diffidence! What withering sarcasm for all fops and pretenders! Then came those wonderful imitations of the dear brethren’s peculiar mannerisms,—one with the hot dumplings in his mouth, trying to speak; another, sweeping his hand up and down from nose to knee; a third, with his hands under his coat-tails, making the figure of a water-wagtail. Then the one with his thumbs in the armholes of his waistcoat showing the “penguin” style of oratory. By this means, he held the mirror before us so that we could see our faults, yet all the while we were almost convulsed with laughter. He administered the medicine with effervescing draughts.

After this, came the wise advice, so kind, so grave, so gracious, so fatherly; then the prayer that lifted us to the mercy-seat, where we caught glimpses of glory, and talked face to face with the Master Himself. Afterwards, the giving-out of the appointments for the next Lord’s-day took place. The dear President read from the letters in his hand, while we listened in expectation. “Here is one from an important church in a large city. They want a brother who must be eloquent, learned, polite, and very pious. Gentlemen, you are all endowed with these qualifications, how can I make a selection? Here, Small, you can go, for you are about the smallest of the lot, and we must keep our large men for the little places; they will be sure to fill them.

“Another brother is wanted for Ireland. There they have killed one already, and made two invalids. Here, Smith, you look tough; start off for the bogs, ‘Come back with your shield, or on it.’

“An extra good brother is called for from Scotland. He must be sound in the faith, and able to live on a pound a week. My thin brother Snooks, will you try ‘the land o’ cakes and heather’? Yes, I knew you needed less than any man in the College; you lived on eighteenpence one week, before you entered. If you get any thinner, come back at once for some English beef and plum-pudding.

“Gentlemen, here is another letter from the ancient church of Puddleton. It has had sixteen men in weekly (weakly) succession. Remember that it is a ‘hyper’ church, and wants at least sixteen ounces to the pound. Who will volunteer? Black is the man. Go, my brother, but be wise as a serpent, and harmless as a dove. In the meantime, hold on with both your hands; when they fail, catch hold with your teeth; if they give out, hang on with your eyebrows.

After the letters were disposed of, and the class dismissed for tea, then came the men who wanted advice. Some were in trouble, others in joy; and the President listened patiently to all their tales; anon he would laugh, and then he would weep. At last he is through, “weary in the work, but not weary of it.” His cheery voice gradually dies away as he ascends the stairs to his “Sanctum.” We did not grieve as we parted from him, for we knew that, God willing, on the next Friday afternoon, we should once more see his bright, genial face and hear his wit and wisdom again.

The present students listen in vain for the tones of that wonderful voice in the class-room; they hear only its echoes. He has gone up in the “the unseen holy,” where he awaits his sons in the faith.

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