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by C. H. Spurgeon
From the May 1869 Sword and Trowel


IN A CANADIAN paper we observe an advertisement of Ear-muffs, which are recommended to all who would not have their ears frostbitten. What sort of things these must be we have tried to imagine, but have so badly succeeded that we half hope some generous Canadian reader will make us a present of a pair, that we may no longer puzzle our brains about them. The climate must surely be sufficiently cool where men's auricles stand in such danger of mortal refrigeration. We half congratulate ourselves in the midst of London's fogs and constant droppings of rain, that at least we are not likely to lose a "piece of an ear," bitten off by the teeth of frost. Our good friends of the New Dominion we should think would hardly choose to be photographed while wearing such doubtful adornments as ear-muffs must be, and yet their heads are probably not put more out of shape by them than are those of our own fair friends in this tight little island by the muffs which they now wear on the summits of their craniums; besides, they have a substantial reason for the lateral extensions in the desire to save their ears, which cannot be urged for the perpendicular developments of our own community, which are neither of use nor ornament.
    What reason, upon the earth or above it, can make the editor of the Sword and Trowel put pen to paper on such a trivial subject? Why, there are one or two excuses for our trifling. The first is the idea that ear-muffs might be of some service to those individuals who have itching ears, which can only hear while an excitement attends the ministry of some fresh popular favorite. After a few months, or even weeks, the flying camp who crowd the meeting-house of Mr. Newcomer find his sermons growing flat, stale, and unprofitable, their ears are frostbitten, and they raise the murmur that they cannot hear the preacher. Away they fly, like a flock of starlings, to light on some other field where their lingering will be about as temporary. Poor souls! their ears are delicate; they need constant change, and a temperature of the conservatory order, or they become dull of hearing. The least decline in the heat of enthusiasm surrounding a newly-discovered luminary they feel at once; the preaching which could for any reasonable time content them must be like Nebuchadnezzar's furnace, heated seven times hotter; and even then their ears would freeze from a constitutional tendency supreme and unconquerable. Here, then, is a discovery for them. Here is an invention which, if it does not make both their ears to tingle, will at least make them comfortable in those precious organs. Such fine ears for pulpit music would be satisfactorily protected by ear-muffs, and their preservation is so vitally important in the critical department of ministerial eloquence, that the largest expense should not be spared. When ears are so remarkable for accurate taste and Athenian love of novelty, it is of the utmost moment to keep them well warned, for what would the church do if it should lose such infallible oracles as to the excellence, the improvement, or the decline of the gospel ministry? Diogenes, that cruel cynic, would probably hint that some ears are long enough already, without muffs appended, but such severity is foreign to our gentler nature, although even we are compelled to admit that in some rare cases, when a man has been charmed and wearied by half-a-dozen ministers in turn, there may be room for the suspicion that the hearer was a little fickle, and probably more nice than wise. Our spiritual ramblers, whose ears are not so much avenues to their hearts as passages to their superfine brains, will, we hope, thank us for the tender consideration which has led us to inform them of the little invention so suited to conserve their remarkably discerning conchoidal cartilages; we may not win equal gratitude if we quote, with some slight turn, the words of a standard author who says, "The critic, as he is currently termed, who is discerning in nothing but faults, and is evermore craving after novelties, may care little to be told that this is the mark of unamiable and vacillating dispositions; but he might not feel equally easy were he convinced that he thus gives the most absolute proofs of ignorance, want of taste, and absence of stability."
    We have in our eye another class of persons to whom ear-muffs should seem to be utterly unnecessary, for they appear to possess them as a gift of nature. Their ear is muffed and muffled up to such an extent, that no mode of earnest speech has any real or even apparent effect upon them. In vain we cry—

"Friends, Britons, countrymen, lend us your ears;"

they sit gazing upon us like so many statues, and no appeals arouse them. A poet has told us that in the ear, lest sounds should pierce too violently.

They are delay'd with turns and windings oft;
For, should the voice directly strike the brain,
It would astonish and confuse it much;
Therefore these plaits and folds the sound restrain,
That it the organ may more gently touch."

All very true, no doubt, but for some people it would surely be a grand thing if the turns and windings could be dispensed with for once, and if the word could go right straight down upon the brain like a pistol-shot, for there seems no other human chance for the great truths which we deliver to them. Why, the men are half asleep when we speak, in broken accents, of the love which on Calvary proved itself stronger than death! They are stolid when our souls, in awful vehemence, thunder and lighten, and pour forth showers of tears over their perishing souls! Deaf adders are as desirable an audience. Adamant itself softens as soon as they. Have they no souls, or have they gone to grass, like Babel's king in his derangement, when he became as the cattle and the fowls of the air? Why, in some ears even the wind awakens emotions—

"There is in souls a sympathy with sounds,
And as the wind is pitched the ear is pleased,
With melting airs or martial, brisk or grave;
Some chord, in unison with what we hear,
Is touched within us, and the heart replies;"—

yet our glad tidings, which are no wind from the wilderness, or wandering blasts from the mountains of vanity, pass in and out of these dull ears, and find the mind asleep, and like the sluggard in the Proverbs, disinclined to be awakened. Their heart is waxen gross, their ears are dull of hearing, and the celestial message comes to them like those "undescribed sounds" which Keats speaks of—

"That come a-swooning over hollow grounds,
And wither drearily on barren moors."

    Another class of hearers who cannot be blamed for inattention, are armed with mental ear-muffs, which effectually prevent the entrance of the truth. They listen to commend our style, and applaud our boldness, but the bearing of the truth upon their own case is not a matter for inquiry with them. It is beyond measure saddening to a preacher to know that he is viewed as an artiste, and is being peered at through mental opera glasses; his person, voice, gestures, idioms and mannerisms, being all noted down, while the message which he delivers is disregarded. What folly to throw away the priceless gem, and preserve the mere setting on account of its peculiar workmanship! To preserve the rind, and cast the fruit upon the dunghill! A very curious scene occurred some years ago in a Methodist chapel, exactly illustrative of our meaning. The village was famous for drunkenness, and the schoolmaster was one of the most guilty. Mr. Collins was the preacher, and during sermon the old dominie diligently and ostentatiously took notes of the discourse. At last, in a state of semi-intoxication, he leaped up, and began loudly to applaud. "Friend," said the preacher, "it saddens me to see your gray hairs thus publicly shamed; leave off this drinking, or it will surely drown your soul in perdition." "Hear him," cried the pedagogue! "What a gift he has! What language! What composition!" "Repent," was the reply, "and forsake your sins, lest they prove your eternal ruin." To which the drunken Critic responded with enthusiasm, "Choice words! So suitable! I assure all of you that I am a judge of composition, and I declare that it is wonderful." In distress, the preacher cried out, "Old man, be still, and listen, with prayer that God in his mercy may not suffer your heart to be for ever hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." "Ay, jewel," said the old man, determined to have the last word, "you are modest, but it was, I tell you, weel put together, very weel—very weel indeed!" Every rebuke was capped by a compliment, and the useless dialogue came to an end. Not often so publicly, but yet with equal pertinacity, our hearers applaud the sermons which condemn them, and find gratification in that which will increase their everlasting wretchedness. Like the sheep in Landseer's "Peace" picture, they thrust their heads into the cannon's month to reach a mouthful of herbage; they view the sword of the Lord as if it were a presentation weapon, about to be given to some hero by the Corporation at Guildhall; they gaze on the plains of heaven with the eye of connoisseurs; they speak of hell as a Dantesque imagining, and treat the unparalleled wonder of Calvary as if it were a fine artistic spectacle. Alas! for the poor preacher, when these are the stony materials out of which he seeks to raise up children unto Abraham.
    We began this brief page with comedy, but we have arrived at tragedy, and our heart fails us as we think of the thousands whose ears seem closed with a Satanic wax. Alas! how constantly is Ear-gate barricaded! Immanuel alone can carry it by storm, and find a highway to the citadel of the heart. "Who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?" May he speak whose voice awakened echoes even in the grave, and may the dead hear the voice of the Lord, for they that hear shall live. "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." "Incline your ear and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live."

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