I recently came across this story in one of Charles Spurgeon’s books titled “Eccentric Preachers.” It addresses the attention that listeners often give to the outer form and style of a speaker rather than the substance of what is said. Spurgeon determines that such criticism is based on one’s distance from the Prime Meridian. I say its more likely one’s distance from the 1950’s.
He first clarifies his use of “eccentric,”
“I am free to admit that the word has come to mean singular, odd, whimsical, and so forth; but by going a little deeper into its etymology, we discover that it simply means that the circle in which an eccentric man moves is not quite coincident with that which is followed by the majority: he does not tread the regular ring, but deviates more or less as he sees fit.”
His story is simultaneously humorous and sad. It demonstrates that externally-focused criticisms are not limited to our time:
“The following incident, which happened to myself, will show the power of race and climate in producing the charge of eccentricity. A Dutchman, who from the very orderly style of his handwriting, and the precision of his phrases, should be a very exemplary individual, once wrote me a sternly admonitory letter.
“From having read my printed discourses with much pleasure he had come to consider me as a godly minister, and, therefore, being in London, he had availed himself of the opportunity to hear me. This, however, he deeply regretted, as he had now lost the power to read my sermons with pleasure any more.
“What, think you, had I said or done to deprive me of the good opinion of so excellent a Hollander? I will relieve your mind by saying that he considered that I preached exceedingly well, and he did not charge me with any extravagances of action, but it was my personal appearance which shocked him. I wore a beard, which was bad enough, but worse than this, he observed upon my lip a moustache!
“Now this guilty thing is really so insignificant an affair that he might have overlooked such an unobtrusive offender. But, no, he said that I wore a moustache like a carnal, worldly-minded man! Think of that. Instead of being all shaven and shorn like the holy man whom he was accustomed to hear, and wearing a starched ruffed collar all round my neck, about a quarter of a yard deep, I was so depraved as to wear no ruff, and abjure the razor. His great guy of a minister, with ruff and bands and gown, and a woman’s chin was not eccentric, but because I allowed my hair to grow as nature meant it should, I was eccentric and frivolous and carnal and worldly-minded, and all sorts of bad things.
“You see, what is eccentric in Holland is not eccentric in England, and vice versa. Much of the eccentric business is a matter of longitude and latitude, and to be quite correct one would need to take his bearings, and carry with him a book of costumes and customs, graduated according to the distance from the first meridian.”
“Let us, if we are ministers, do that which we believe to be most likely to be useful, and pay little heed to the judgments of our contemporaries. If we act wisely we can afford to wait; our reward is in a higher approbation than that of men; but even if it were not, we can afford to wait. The sweeping censures of hurried critics will one day be blown away like the chaff of the threshing-floor, and the great heart of the church of God will beat true to her real champions, and clear their reputations from the tarnish of prejudice and slander.
The eccentricity of one century is the heroism of another; and what is in one age cast out as folly may be in the next revered as a wisdom which lived before its time. Well said the apostle, “With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self.”