It's a grey, bleak day in Elephant and Castle, and though I half thought there might be dancing in the aisles and cries of Alleluia, it turns out that the service I attend is perfectly suited to the weather. This is the Metropolitan Tabernacle, a venerable old puritan institution, set out from among the shabby high rises that surround it by an imposing Greek revival portico. South London had been a centre of Baptist ministry since the 17th century, but that ministry reached its zenith in the 19th, when Charles Spurgeon was the pastor, packing thousands and thousands of worshippers in every Sunday.
Braving the rain and wind this morning are a cross-section of Londoners, all clutching their bibles, soberly but not formally dressed. The hall itself, a large, two storey room, with light wooden pews and a stage, fills up gradually through the course of the service and by the end there are about of us.
At the front stands Dr Peter Masters, pastor and author of numerous books, who's had his job for nearly 40 years. His voice, shaky at times, betrays his age.
But then his delivery requires no rousing swoops of intonation. That would be distracting.
We start with a hymn. The singing is subdued, not joyful, and the tune pedestrian. Afterwards Masters delivers the first scripture reading, from Psalm : "He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth: he toucheth the hills, and they smoke.
Next, the offering. Attendants come up to the end of each pew with a velvet pouch, which is passed down the line.
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There is no great show of giving. It's all done very quickly, and some members of the congregation don't bother putting anything in at all. The lights dim, and Masters leads us in prayer.
This is where some fervour creeps into to proceedings, though it's measured, careful, unsmiling fervour. There is "ugliness and vileness" in our sinful human hearts. Masters then embarks on a detailed commentary of the verses he's already read out. It's a fashionable theme — one it's not difficult to approve of, broadly speaking — the dangers of materialism, the corrupting influence of money.
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Wealth is the enemy of spirituality. They are distractions, and lead us away from fulfilment. They offer the possibility of satisfaction, when true satisfaction lies elsewhere. Surely this ought to comfort those of you who, by reason of feebleness, are made to feel as if you were inferior members of the body.
The Metropolitan Tabernacle : its history and work
After months searching for salvation, he stepped into a Methodist chapel on a bitterly cold day. Because of the bad weather, the regular pastor was absent, so a shaky lay preacher led the service.
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Spurgeon looked, and never stopped looking. Almost as soon as he was saved, he began preaching. While still a young man, he was invited to take a dying Baptist church in London.
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Although he was so nervous before sermons that he often threw up, God blessed him with abundant crowds. After enlarging their chapel twice, the Baptists decided to build the Metropolitan Tabernacle. This structure opened in and seated six thousand. Individuals who could not attend the Tabernacle could read his printed sermons. Spurgeon preached at the Tabernacle for thirty years.