Few names are more familiar in the ear of the general public than that of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. It may, therefore, prove of some interest and importance to trace the facts and incidents in his life until they unfold themselves in one of the most ample, energetic, and influential channels of Christian influence known to our times.
C. H. Spurgeon was born at the village of Kelvedon, in Essex, 19th June 1834. His father was John Spurgeon, the second son of the Rev. James Spurgeon, who, giving up business, acted as pastor of several Independent churches in succession. His mother was the youngest sister of Charles Parker Jervis, Esq., of Colchester, and a woman of sincere and remarkable piety. While still very young, he was placed under the guardianship of Ann Spurgeon, his father's sister, at his grandfather's residence at Stambourne, in Essex. Here he developed rapidly, and showed a precocious delight in books and pictures. At six years of age he showed a decided love for reading, and the seven years which he spent under his grandfather's roof were years which served to develop his nature both mentally and morally. Like many children, he would frequently pose his elders with unanswerable questions, which showed the presence of an inquisitive mind. Reading one day of the 'bottomless pit' of the Revelation, he said 'Grandpa, what can this mean?' 'Pooh, pooh, child, go on.' He persevered in reading this chapter until he had an opportunity of putting his question again in even more difficult form, 'If the pit aforesaid had no bottom, where would all those people fall to who dropped out at its lower end?'
He returned to Colchester, whence his father had removed from Kelvedon, and entered a school conducted by Mr. Henry Lewis. At this school he continued four years, took prizes, and made considerable progress in any branch of knowledge which he cared to take up.
When ten years of age, and while spending the vacation at his grandfather's at Stambourne, the Rev. Richard Knill of Chester took particular notice of him, and laying his hand on his head said, 'I do not know how it is; but I feel a solemn presentiment this child will preach the gospel to thousands, and God will bless him to many souls.'
Mr. Spurgeon's father, in speaking of the early training of his family to a friend, said: ' I had been from home a great deal trying to build up weak congregations, and felt that I was neglecting the religious training of my own children, while I toiled for the good of others. I returned home with these feelings. I opened the door, and was surprised to find none of the children about the hall. Going quietly up the stairs, I heard my wife's voice. She was engaged in prayer with the children. I heard her pray for them one by one by name. She came to Charles, and specially prayed for him, for he was of high spirit and daring temper. I listened till she had ended her prayer, and I felt and said, "Lord, I will go on with Thy work. The children will be cared for."' His father elsewhere remarked, that 'as the parent of seventeen children, he had frequently worn a shabby coat when he might have possessed a good one, had he cared less for his children's education.'
At fifteen years of age he attended an agricultural college at Maidstone, kept by one of his relatives; he was a successful prizeman at the examination, and here he remained for one year. In 1849 he accepted the office of usher under Mr. Swindell, who kept a school at Newmarket. Here he studied Greek and French with some diligence.
The turning-point in his life took place in his sixteenth year. 'One wintry Sabbath day, while hungering for the bread of life, he turned into a sanctuary at Colchester. The preacher was a "lean-fleshed man," who, after giving out his text, "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth," cried, "Look, look, look!" The truth at once became clear to the seeker's mind, and he has ever since been happy in believing.' The Rev. Robert Eaglen was the Primitive Methodist who preached that day at Colchester.
His leisure time at Newmarket was spent in tract distribution and other religious work; he attached himself to a Sabbath-school, and gave addresses in the hall of the Independent Chapel. After one year spent in Newmarket, in 1850 he removed to Cambridge, and became usher under Mr. Henry Leeding, who had recently opened a school for young gentlemen there. He identified himself with a Baptist church in Cambridge, took part in children's addresses, and although only sixteen, he was received as a member of the 'Lay Preachers' Association.' His first sermon was preached in a cottage in the village of Taversham, about four miles from Cambridge. The work of the Lay Preachers' Association consisted in inducing the poorest classes around Cambridge to turn out to a service where dress would be no barrier to their appearance there, and where the preacher would suit the gospel to their understanding and needs. Thirteen villages around Cambridge were chosen as a scene for these labours; young Spurgeon entered heartily into the work, and set himself to deliver one sermon each evening. The people in the village of Waterbeach, about five miles from Cambridge, were so satisfied with his preaching that they invited him to become their pastor in the little Baptist church there. The building then used as a chapel, formerly a barn, had a high-pitched roof, and was covered with thatch. The walls consisted of conglomerate, well white-washed. The population of the village on an average might consist of 1300 inhabitants, who were mostly engaged in agricultural operations. When called to the Baptist Chapel, the membership numbered forty individuals, but during the short stay among them this number was more than doubled. Many lives in this village were reformed, and one of the deacons, speaking of his ministrations there, has said: ' He was generally well received, and soon became quite popular as a preacher. It was no unusual thing to see the labourers on the farm at a distance from the village literally running home when the duties of the day were over that they might be in time to attend his ministry in the evening. At the early age of eighteen he was unanimously chosen pastor of our little church. We have often sat under his ministry with a mixture of pleasure, profit, and surprise, and have been ready to exclaim with the inquiring Jews in the Gospel, Whence hath this young man this wisdom and these mighty words? Our congregation soon rapidly increased, so that both the seats and the aisles were generally filled, and some could not obtain admission into the place... When, after preaching for some months on the Sabbath morning and afternoon, he was met by the request to preach on the Sabbath evening also, he modestly replied, "I cannot always preach three times, for I am not so strong as a man."'
While labouring here, his father and other friends deemed it advisable that he should go to college; this he declined, saying in later life that he has 'a thousand times thanked the Lord very heartily for the strange providence which forced his steps into another and far better path.' It is a fact, however, that arrangements were at one time made whereby he might begin a college training. He was to meet Dr. Angus, who was tutor in a college at Stepney, in the house of Mr. Macmillan, the well-known publisher. At the place of meeting, Spurgeon was shown into one room by the absent-minded servant-maid, and Dr. Angus was shown into another; and so the latter, after waiting until he was tired, left for London without seeing the famous young preacher, who thus narrowly missed receiving a regular college training. He has himself remarked regarding his self-education and the gradual formation of character going on at this period, 'Personally, I owe much to many hours, and even days, spent alone under on old oak-tree by the river Medway. Happening to be somewhat indisposed at the time when I was leaving school, I was allowed considerable leisure, and, armed with an excellent fishing-rod, I caught a few small fishes, and enjoyed many day-dreams, intermingled with searchings of heart and much ruminating of knowledge acquired. If boys would think, it would be well to give them less class-work and more opportunity for thought.'
If further testimony were needed to his precocity as a preacher, we might add the fact that one who heard him preach his first sermon, when about sixteen years of age, says that 'he then read, prayed, and expounded the Word, being attired in a round jacket and broad, turn-down collar, such as I remember to have seen in fashion at that period.' Another eye-witness has to tell that he remembers Mr. Spurgeon preaching at Somersham, when he would be about seventeen years of age. He was then wearing a round jacket and turndown collar. The words of the text were, 'Fear not, thou worm Jacob.'
In 1853, and when in his nineteenth year, he was invited to preach in New Park Street Chapel, London; the congregation was small, and the text was from James i. 17. He further agreed to preach in London on three Sabbaths early in 1854. The result was that on 25th January he was invited to occupy the pulpit for six months on probation. The probation was not required, for on 19th April it was resolved unanimously by the deacons and members of the church, 'that we tender our brother, the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon, a most cordial and affectionate invitation forthwith to become pastor of this church, and we pray that the result of his services may be owned of God with an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and a revival of religion in our midst, that it may be fruitful in the conversion of sinners and in the edification of those that believe.' To this request Mr. Spurgeon sent an answer in the affirmative on 28th April 1854. On commencing his ministrations, the congregation multiplied so that in the evening, when the gas was lit, he remarked that the place became like the Black Hole of Calcutta. One who heard him about this time said: 'His voice is clear and musical; his language plain; his style flowing, yet terse; his method lucid and orderly; his matter sound and suitable; his tone and spirit cordial; his remarks always pithy and pungent, sometimes familiar and colloquial, yet never light or coarse, much less profane.' The secret of some of this pulpit power is evident from what he says about his career of self-training: 'Once I put all my knowledge together in glorious confusion, but now I have a shelf in my head for everything; and whatever I read or hear, I know where to stow it away for use at the proper time.'
Under the title of the New Park Street Pulpit, Mr. Joseph Passmore, a personal friend, and member of Mr. Spurgeon's congregation, began to issue his sermons in numbers. These sermons have been regularly published since, and have found their way wherever the English language is spoken. Their circulation is over 25,000 copies weekly; one of them, on 'Baptismal Regeneration,' has sold to the extent of 200,000 copies. Regarding these sermons, a good authority has said: 'We have the accounts of many young preachers; we know of none whose early sermons read so like their later, and exhibit such a clear view of the whole field of truth, such an instinctive apprehension, in the first moments of the ministry, of the great fontal springs of the whole Christian life and character. There is something truly and divinely natural in the fact that a character destined to achieve, even in the early years of life, so much, should seem to be consecrated and set apart from very boyhood. The same Providence which bent the early destinies of William Jay and John Angell James, and multitudes besides, from their boyhood, gave a distinct course to the life of Charles Spurgeon.'
Shortly after his settlement in London, he toiled until his own life was endangered, until his physical energies were exhausted, amongst those who were suffering and dying from cholera. He has himself related an incident which took place at this time, during his first year in London, in The Treasury of David, under Psalm xci.: 'When I had scarcely been in London twelve months, the neighbourhood in which I laboured was visited by Asiatic cholera, and my congregation suffered from its inroads. Family after family summoned me to the bedsides of the smitten, and almost every day I was called to visit the grave. I gave myself up with youthful ardour to the visitations of the sick, and was sent for, from all corners of the district, by persons of all ranks and religions. I became weary in body and sick at heart. My friends seemed falling one by one, and I felt or fancied that I was sickening like those around me. A little more work and weeping would have laid me low among the rest I felt that my burden was heavier than I could bear, and I was ready to sink under it. As God would have it, I was returning mournfully home from a funeral, when my curiosity led me to read a paper which was wafered up in a shoemaker's window in the Dover Road. It did not look like a trade announcement, nor was it; for it bore in a good bold handwriting these words: "Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the Most High, thy habitation, there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling." The effect upon my heart was immediate. Faith appropriated the passage as her own. I felt secure, refreshed, girt with immortality. I went on with my visitation of the dying in a calm and peaceful spirit; I felt no fear of evil, and I suffered no harm. The providence which moved the tradesman to place those verses in his window I gratefully acknowledge, and in the remembrance of its marvellous power I adore the Lord my God.' While speaking one evening in New Park Street Chapel, he exclaimed, 'By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, and by faith this wall at the back shall come down too.' He was reproved for these sentiments afterwards by a deacon, who said, 'Let us never hear of that again.' What do you mean?' said the preacher; 'you will hear no more about it when it is done, and therefore the sooner you set about doing it the better.'
While New Park Street was being enlarged, worship was carried on at Exeter Hall from 11th February 1855 to 27th May of the same year. When the congregation returned to New Park Street, it was found again to be too small to accommodate the crowds who flocked thither. These first wonderful successes in London led to a feeling of depression of spirit. 'Who was I that I should continue to lead so great a multitude! I would betake me to my village obscurity, or emigrate to America, and find a solitary nest in the backwoods, where I might be sufficient for the things which would be demanded of me. It was just then that the curtain was rising upon my life-work, and I dreaded what it might reveal I hope I was not faithless, but I was timorous, and filled with a sense of my own unfitness. I dreaded the work which a gracious Providence had prepared for me.' Many hundreds were frequently turned away, and those who did secure sitting-room were uncomfortably packed together, and the heat was unbearable. The newspapers meanwhile kept up the excitement by circulating what Mr. Spurgeon calls 'ridiculous stories' and 'cruel falsehoods' and various caricatures adorned the windows of the print-sellers with such titles as 'Brimstone and Treacle' and 'Catch-'em-alive-O!' He never, however, replied to any personal satire or attack. Several volumes, however, are preserved in his library, which are filled with newspaper cuttings, which he is in the habit of showing with a humorous smile to his guests. Some of the epithets by which he was designated were—mountebank, buffoon, blasphemer, hypocrite, and villain; this did not, however, disturb his equanimity or provoke any reply.
Growing popularity caused Mr. Spurgeon in June 1856 to return to Exter Hall; he preached there in the morning, and in his own chapel in the evening. This arrangement was found unsuitable, and as Exeter Hall could not be regularly let, measures were adopted for raising a fund for the erection of a larger place of worship. The large hall in the Royal Surrey Gardens was meanwhile secured for the Sabbath evening service. A lamentable accident occurred in this hall on 19th October 1856, which was thus recorded in the church book:
'On the evening of this day, in accordance with the resolution passed at the church meeting, 6th October, the church and congregation assembled to hear our pastor, in the Music Hall of the Royal Surrey Gardens. A very large number of persons (about 7000) were assembled on that occasion, and the service was commenced in the usual way, by singing, reading the Scriptures, and prayer. Just, however, after our pastor had commenced his prayer, a disturbance was caused (as it is supposed, by some evil-disposed persons acting in concert), and the whole congregation were seized with a sudden panic. This caused a fearful rush to the doors, particularly from the galleries. Several persons, either in consequence of their heedless haste, or from the extreme pressure of the crowd behind, were thrown down on the stone steps of the north-west staircase, and were trampled on by the crowd pressing upon them. The lamentable result was that seven persons lost their lives, and twenty-eight were removed to the hospitals seriously bruised and injured. Our pastor not being aware that any loss of life had occurred, continued in the pulpit, endeavouring by every means in his power to alleviate the fear of the people, and was successful to a very considerable extent In attempting to renew the service, it was found that the people were too excited to listen to him, and the service was closed, and the people who remained dispersed quietly. This lamentable circumstance produced very serious effects on the nervous system of our pastor. He was entirely prostrated for some days, and compelled to relinquish his preaching engagements. Through the great mercy of our heavenly Father, he was, however, restored so as to be able to occupy the pulpit in our own chapel on Sunday, 31st October, and gradually recovered his wonted health and vigour. "The Lord's name be praised!"
Public subscriptions were raised for those who had suffered through the accident, while these services were continued for three years.
A newspaper of the day made some bitter comments on the accident: 'Mr. Spurgeon is a preacher who hurls damnation at the heads of his sinful hearers. Some men there are who, taking their precepts from Holy Writ, would beckon erring souls to a rightful path with fair words and gentle admonition; Mr. Spurgeon would take them by the nose and bully them into religion. Let us set up a barrier to the encroachments and blasphemies of men like Spurgeon, saying to them, "Thus far shalt thou come, and no farther;" let us devise some powerful means which shall tell to the thousands who now stand in need of enlightenment. This man, in his own opinion, is a righteous Christian, but in ours nothing more than a ranting charlatan. We are neither straightlaced nor Sabbatarian in our sentiments; but we would keep apart, widely apart, the theatre and the church—above all, would we place in the hand of every right-thinking man, a whip to scourge from society the authors of such vile blasphemies as on Sunday night, above the cries of the dead and the dying, and louder than the wails of misery from the maimed and suffering, resounded from the mouth of Mr. Spurgeon in the Music Hall of the Surrey Gardens.'
A letter in the Times about this time from an influential source was of some use in establishing him in public regard. We quote part of the letter:
'"I want to hear Spurgeon; let us go." Now, I am supposed to be a High Churchman, so I answered, "What! go and hear a Calvinist—a Baptist!—a man who ought to be ashamed of himself for being so near the Church, and yet not within its pale?" "Never mind; come and hear him." Well, we went yesterday morning to the Music Hall, in the Surrey Gardens... Fancy a congregation, consisting of 10,000 souls, streaming into the hall, mounting the galleries, humming, buzzing, and swarming,—a mighty hive of bees,—eager to secure at first the best places, and, at last, any place at all. After waiting more than half an hour,—for if you wish to have a seat you must be there at least that space of time in advance,—Mr. Spurgeon ascended his tribune. To the hum, and rush, and trampling of men, succeeded a low, concentrated thrill and murmur of devotion, which seemed to run at once, like an electric current, through the breast of every one present; and by this magnetic chain, the preacher held us fast bound for about two hours. It is not my purpose to give a summary of his discourse. It is enough to say of his voice, that its power and volume are sufficient to reach every one in that vast assembly; of his language, that it is neither high-flown nor
homely; of his style, that it is at times familiar, at times declamatory, but always happy, and often eloquent; of his doctrine, that neither the Calvinist nor the Baptist appears in the forefront of the battle which is waged by Mr. Spurgeon with relentless animosity and with gospel weapons against irreligion, cant, hypocrisy, pride, and those secret bosom sins which so easily beset a man in daily life; and to sum up all in a word, it is enough to say of the man himself, that he impresses you with a perfect conviction of his sincerity.
'But I have not written so much about my children's want of spiritual food when they listened to the mumbling of the Archbishop of -----, and my own banquet at the Surrey Gardens, without a desire to draw a practical conclusion from these two stories, and to point them by a moral. Here is a man not more Calvinistic than many an incumbent of the Established Church who "humbles and mumbles," as old Latimer says, over his liturgy and text—here is a man who says the complete immersion, or something of the kind, of adults is necessary to baptism. These are his faults of doctrine; but if I were the examining chaplain of the Archbishop of -----, I would say, "May it please your grace, here is a man able to preach eloquently, able to fill the largest church in England with his voice, and, what is more to the purpose, with people. And may it please your grace, here are two churches in the metropolis, St. Paul's and Westminster Abbey. What does your grace think of inviting Mr. Spurgeon, this heretical Calvinist and Baptist, who is able to draw 10,000 souls after him, just to try his voice some Sunday morning in the nave of either of those churches?"'
When a day of national humiliation was appointed for the Indian Mutiny, at a service in the Crystal Palace Mr. Spurgeon preached to over 23,000 people. The collection received was such as to admit of £686 being paid over to the National Fund. When the first stone of the New Tabernacle was laid, on 16th August 1859, by Sir S. Morton Peto, the subscriptions in hand amounted to £16,868.
In 1860 Mr. Spurgeon visited Paris, and preached in the Eglise de l'Oratoire and in the American Chapel to large audiences. Also in the same year in the cathedral of Geneva from John Calvin's pulpit, and in Mr. D'Aubigné's church.
The following is his own account of his preaching in John Calvin's pulpit:
'I think I must be a little proud, notwithstanding Mr. Stovel's advice to the contrary, for I was allowed to stand in the pulpit of John Calvin. I am not superstitious, but the first time I saw this medal, bearing the venerated effigy of John Calvin, I kissed it, imagining that no one saw the action. I was very greatly surprised when I received this magnificent present, which shall be passed round for your inspection. On the one side is John Calvin, with his visage worn by disease and deep thought, and on the other is a verse fully applicable to that man of God, "He endured as seeing Him who is invisible." That is the very character of the man—that glorious man Calvin! I preached in the cathedral I do not think half the people understood me in the cathedral of St Peter's; but they were very glad to see and join in heart with the worship which they could not join with understanding. I did not feel very happy when I came out in full canonicals, but the request was put to me in the following beautiful way: "Our dear brother comes to us from another country. Now when an ambassador comes from another country, he has a right to wear his own costume at court; but as a mark of very great esteem, he sometimes condescends to the manners of the country which he visits, and wears the court dress." "Well," I said, "yes, that I will, certainly, if you do not require it, but merely ask it as a token of my Christian love. I shall feel like running in a sack, but it will be your fault" But it was John Calvin's cloak, and that reconciled me to it very much. I do love that man of God, suffering all his life long, enduring not only persecutions from without, but a complication of disorders from within, and yet serving his Master with all his heart.'
Spurgeon's congregation left the Surrey Music Hall in December 1859, and met in Exeter Hall from that time till 1st March 1861. By May of that year regular work was begun at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, and, more remarkable still, the building was free of debt, no less a sum than £31,332, 4s. 10d. having been received and paid. A gentleman in Bristol alone gave £5000 towards the building. The length of the Tabernacle is 146 feet; breadth, 81 feet; height, 62 feet. Inside the church there are 5500 sittings, with room for 6000 persons without overcrowding. The lecture hall is calculated to hold 900, the children's schoolroom, 1000. There are also six classrooms, kitchen, lavatory, and various retiring rooms; besides a ladies' room for working meetings, young men's classroom, secretary's room, three vestries for pastors, deacons, and elders. The accommodation, notwithstanding all this, proved still too small. The membership in June 1877 was 5152.
In 1863 Mr. Spurgeon visited Holland, and had an interview with the Queen of the Netherlands, and found that his sermons were largely circulated in the Dutch language. In the autumn of 1867, owing to frequent illness, Mr. J. A. Spurgeon, the brother of the great preacher, was asked to become co-pastor in the church. Mr. Spurgeon, in acknowledging his services, says that no more efficient or sympathetic helper could be found. His work for the most part consisted in the general oversight of the church.
Dr. Guthrie, in visiting the Tabernacle, remarks: 'There was, as usual, a great crowd,—some six or seven thousand people,—and we had a grand sermon. We went into the vestry after the service, and had a crack with the greatest of English preachers. Had he more of the emotional, great as he is, he would be still greater. He was very genial and kindly.'
Of the many benevolent, charitable, and practically useful institutions which are kept up by the pastor and members of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, perhaps the Almshouses, the Pastors' College, and the Stockwell Orphanage are amongst the most important. The accommodation at the Almshouses consists of seventeen almsrooms, two schoolrooms, and a classroom, which are occupied by 380 children on week-days, with house for the master. Sabbath-schools, children's services, and evangelistic services are also conducted on the premises. The parties eligible for this charity are members of the church, women over sixty years of age. The following inscription has been placed over the door of the girls' school: 'These buildings are connected with the ancient church now worshipping in the Metropolitan Tabernacle. Six of the almshouses, together with a schoolroom, were built and endowed under the pastorage of Dr. John Rippon, at New Park Street, Southwark. The present structures were completed March 1868. C. H. and J. A. Spurgeon, pastors.'
The Stockwell Orphanage owes its origin to a Mrs. Hillyard, who placed £20,000 at the command of Mr. Spurgeon for founding and endowing such an institution. The scheme of the Orphanage was to do away with all voting and canvassing, and also 'to form the orphans together into large families, instead of massing them together upon the work-house system.' 'The last idea was convenient for the raising of money, for it enabled us to propose that individual donors should each give the amount to build a house.' From time to time Mr. Spurgeon has recorded the progress of this work in the pages of his magazine, the Sword and Trowel. These entries tell, in a graphic way, how the money was subscribed, and how the prayer of faith was answered:
'June 1867.—The Lord is beginning to appear for us in the matter of the Orphanage, but as yet He has not opened the windows of heaven as we desire and expect. We wait in prayer and faith. We need no less than £10,000 to erect the buildings, and it will come; the Lord will answer the prayer of faith. Our esteemed friend, Mr. George Moore, of Bow Churchyard, has, with spontaneous generosity, sent £250. Three friends have offered £50 each, in the hope that seventeen others will give the same.
'August 1867.—Let the facts, which with deep gratitude we record this month, strengthen the faith of believers. In answer to many fervent prayers, the Lord has moved His people to send in during the last month, in different amounts, towards the general funds of the Orphanage, the sum of £1075, for which we give thanks unto the name of the Lord. More especially do we see the gracious hand of God in the following incidents. A lady who has often aided us in the work of the College, having been spared to see the twenty-fifth anniversary of her marriage-day, her beloved husband presented her with £500 as a token of his ever-growing love to her. Our sister has called upon us, and dedicated the £500 to the building of one of the houses, to be called The Silver Wedding House. The Lord had, however, another substantial gift in store to encourage us in our work; for a day or two ago a brother beloved in the Lord called upon us on certain business, and when he had retired, he left in a sealed envelope the sum of £600, which is to be expended in erecting another house. This donation was as little expected as the first, except that our faith expects that all our needs will be supplied in the Lord's own way. The next day, when preaching in the open air, an unknown sister put an envelope into my hand, enclosing £20 for the College, and another £20 for the Orphanage. "What hath God wrought!"'
During 1867 over £2000 had been brought in, and the foundation-stones of four houses were laid, for which the land had been purchased and the houses provided for without trenching upon Mrs. Hillyard's original gift. During 1868, as a token of esteem, and in aid of this home for orphan boys, Mr. Spurgeon was presented with a purse containing £1200, which sum was afterwards made up to £1765. Some of the entries during 1868 are as follows:
'January 1868.—About three weeks ago, the noble sum of £1000 was brought us by an unknown gentleman, towards the erection of two other houses.'
'March 1868.—Just at the last moment, as we were going to press, we received £2000 from A. B., an unknown friend. We call upon all our friends to magnify the Lord for this amazing instance of His care. How base a thing is unbelief, and how largely does the Lord honour His servants' faith! The note which attended this munificent gift proves it to be from the same donor who gave £1000 a few weeks ago. We have feared that the Orphanage might impoverish the College; see, dear readers, how graciously the Lord rebukes this unbelieving fear!'
'"My dear Sir,—You will remember my intention to send a donation to your College; I have this day dropped into your letter-box an envelope containing two bank-notes (£2000), one of which is for the College and the remaining £1000 to help to complete the Orphanage. The latter led me to contribute to the former. I am a stranger to you, but not to your sermons (printed). May the Lord give you health and strength many years to preach His Word, and carry on His work.—A. B."'
The building of the Orphanage was completed at the end of 1869, at a total cost of £10,200, and entirely free of debt. The endowments of the institution were at one time valued at £30,000; about £5000 a year, or not less than £80 a week, being required for the support of the place and its 240 inmates. Sometimes in straits for money for the support of this institution, in answer to prayer it flowed in, in the same remarkable way as already mentioned.
The following is Mr. Spurgeon's own description of the buildings:
'On looking from under the arch the visitor is struck with the size and beauty of the buildings, and the delightfully airy and open character of the whole institution. It is a place of sweetness and light, where merry voices ring out and happy children play. The stranger will be pleased with the dining-hall, hung round with engravings given by Mr. Graves, of Pall Mall; he will be shown into the boardroom, where the trustees transact the business; and he will be specially pleased with the great play-hall in which our public meetings are held and the boys' sports are carried on. There is the swimming bath, which enables us to say that nearly every boy can swim. Up at the top of the buildings, after ascending two flights of stairs, the visitor will find the schoolrooms, which from their very position are airy and wholesome. The floors, scrubbed by the boys themselves, the beds made, and the domestic arrangements all kept in order by their own labour, are usually spoken of with approbation. The matrons are glad to show friends over their houses; Mr. Charlesworth, the excellent master, is always pleased to arrange for friends to look over the schools and the buildings, and when there is no contagious disease abroad, he will conduct them to the infirmary, where the best of nurses will be glad to show them their domains.'
When Mr. Spurgeon visits the Stockwell Orphanage, it is a pleasant sight, says one writer, to see the 'two hundred and forty boys fed, clothed, and taught there. As he steps on to the broad green which forms the centre of the quadrangle, his burly form is soon espied by the taller boys on the playground at the upper end, and a ringing volley of cheers welcomes their pastor and master, who, while enjoying his reception, quietly remarks that his arrival is too good an excuse for making a noise to be passed over. As the boys collect round him, each eager for a word or smile of recognition, he recollects that their number exactly corresponds with that of the pence in a sovereign, and hands over that coin to Mr. Charlesworth, the excellent master, to be by him reduced to coppers and distributed.'
But of all the institutions begun by Mr. Spurgeon, that of the Pastor's College has most closely recommended itself to his prayers, and sympathy, and work. This College was commenced without any idea on the part of the founder that it would grow and expand as it has done. The raison d'être of the College may be given in the words of the founder:
'There were springing up around me, as my own spiritual children, many earnest young men who felt an irresistible impulse to preach the gospel, and yet with half an eye it could be seen that their want of education would be a sad hindrance to them. It was not in my heart to bid them cease their preaching; had I done so they would in all probability have ignored my recommendation. As it seemed that preach they would, though their attainments were very slender, no other course was open but to give them an opportunity to educate themselves for the work. ... I thought the Calvinism of the theology usually taught to be very doubtful, and the fervour of the generality of the students to be far behind their literary attainments. It seemed to me that preachers of the grand old truths of the gospel, ministers suitable for the masses, were more likely to be found in an institution where preaching and divinity would be the main objects, and not degrees and other insignia of human learning. I felt that without interfering with the laudable objects of other colleges, I could do good in my own way. These and other considerations led me to take a few tried young men, and to put them under some able minister that he might train them in the Scriptures, and in other knowledge helpful to the understanding and proclamation of the truth.'
A fit tutor was found in Mr. George Rogers, and afterwards a complete staff of tutors was added. The College grew rapidly, and the number of students was advanced from one to forty, and from eighty to a hundred. Difficulty was experienced at first in procuring sufficient funds to go on with, yet these funds increased as the need enlarged, till in 1869 the income stood at £1869. The usual period of study for each student is two years; this is lengthened to three or four years as circumstances may require. Devotional habits are cultivated amongst the students, and they are each expected to engage in as much evangelistic work as the pressure of their other studies will allow. They are boarded out for the most part in twos and threes amongst the friends around the Tabernacle. This secures that they shall be accustomed to family habits, mix in fair society, and also that they do not live too far apart from the struggles of everyday life. At first the College met in rooms below the Tabernacle, but now commodious new buildings have been erected at a cost of £15,000, with suitable classrooms, library, and other accessories. Upwards of 430 men trained in the College have become pastors in connection with the Baptist denomination, and about £5000 a year, or £120 a week, is required to carry on the work.
The Colportage Association, of which Mr. Spurgeon acts as president, employs above sixty agents in twenty-seven counties, in the dissemination of pure literature. Mrs. Spurgeon also looks after a book fund for supplying poor pastors with theological works.
As an author, Mr. Spurgeon has been also signally successful. In addition to the monthly issue of a periodical called the Sword and Trowel, and to his weekly sermons, which are widely circulated throughout Great Britain and America, and which have been translated into Dutch, German, Swedish, and French, many useful and practical Christian treatises have proceeded from his pen. The best known of these books are John Ploughman's Talk, and John Ploughman's Pictures, which are racy, humorous, and sensible; The Treasury of David, in five large volumes, a commentary on the Psalms; and his magnum opus, the Interpreter, a book of family prayer; Morning by Morning, and Evening by Evening, containing daily readings after the manner of Bogatzsky's Treasury; Feathers for Arrows, a series of illustrations for the use of teachers and preachers; Lectures to my Students, and Commenting and Commentaries, etc.
Mr. Spurgeon's work in recent years has been carried on amidst a struggle with bad health, which has caused him repeatedly to winter in the South of France. But when his tongue has been silent, usually his pen has been busy; and he has proved, take him all in all, one of the most industrious men, and strongest spiritual forces with the common religious mind, known to our times.
Morning n the Tabernacle (from Twelve Realistic Sketches of Mr. Spurgeon, London : James Clarke & Co.
It is spring-time, the sun is high in the heavens; but within the building the gas is burning, while the view is partially interrupted by a misty atmosphere in sympathy with the slight fog without doors. The immense area, which to a stranger might appear to be already nearly filled, must undergo the process of filling till it is packed. The movements of the people can only be compared with the motion of a swarm of insects, not, however, eager and impatient like the crowd outside; for the new arrivals are merely taking up their regularly appointed places. Onward move the great hands of the giant clock overhead, until they point to 10.40, when we witness a transformation scene both lively and extensive. Hitherto the 'regulars' and 'irregulars' had leisurely entered by side-doors, with the comfortable consciousness of being privileged persons; but now all the main front entrances are opened at once, and in pour the broad living streams, to occupy, to the last inch, the standing room of what appears to by an already overcrowded building. Look this way or that way, or take a general view, and it will be hard to distinguish between aisles and pews. The new comers are manifestly a little excited in their anxiety to find seats, and yet the bustle is not altogether like any other bustle which is witnessed in public buildings. The coughing, talking, and feet shuffling, produce a compound sound peculiar to the Tabernacle; and this is instantly hushed when Mr. Spurgeon appears on the platform... When the first word of the service is uttered, the multitude of faces are all turned in one direction—towards the preacher. Those who occupy seats in proximity to Mr. Spurgeon's table, may perhaps have observed that the tones of his voice seem to be nicely adapted to the requirements of those who are near, as well as to those who are farther away. To persons sitting near they are never unpleasantly loud; to they are never indistinct. Not that so vast a concourse can be addressed even by a man of the greatest living power, without a strong effort, though in this instance the strain is those in the remotest comer they are loud enough, while barely observed even by those who listen immediately beneath the clock. As seen from the deacons' standpoint, it is also interesting to note how the leviathan congregation allows itself to be managed. It is subject to certain influences, as if it were one great being instead of six thousand atoms. It has its recognised coughing times; by way of acknowledging a touch of humour, it smiles like one vast creature which is particularly sensitive. Then it sings *'faster' or 'slower' according to directions, and is in all respects most admirably managed.
While reading the concluding verse of 'Rock of Ages,' the pastor is visibly affected, just as a few minutes before he seemed to catch and diffuse the spirit of 'that wonderful gospel chapter' Isaiah lv. Anon the quiet earnestness of the sermon seems to extend its influence throughout the entire space of the building, until the rapt attention of the crowd as they listen to exposition and appeal based on the words, 'Without money and without price' is found to kindle feelings akin to actual awe. To handle what are called commonplace or hackneyed texts in a manner strikingly original, is the forte of a great man: the ability to do this with consummate art, is characteristic of the genius of Mr. Spurgeon.
An Evening in the Tabernacle (from Daily News)
In accordance with a request from Mr. Spurgeon, strangely at variance with entreaties on the same subject more usual in other places of worship, the congregation at the Tabernacle on Sunday night scrupulously refrained from attending the service. The request was preferred on the preceding Sunday in furtherance of a scheme recently devised by Mr. Spurgeon with the object of acquiring fresh ground to work in. Sunday after Sunday the vast building familiarly known in London as the 'Tabernacle' is crowded to its doors for the most part by regular seat-holders, only the fringe of the great audience being made up of the outside public. Mr. Spurgeon resolved to ask his congregation four times a year to stay away from the place, and leave it free to all comers. The doors of the Tabernacle are usually thrown open at six o'clock; but this night a crowd began to assemble at half-past five, and by ten minutes to six it had grown so dense that in order to prevent its overflowing beyond the railings, and so interfering with the street traffic, the doors were straightway opened. In little more than a quarter of an hour every seat appeared to be occupied, and by a quarter-past six the aisles were thronged, and, to the inexperienced observer, the problem of what was to be done with the stream that still poured in through a dozen opened doors seemed insoluble. But the deacons and pew-openers at the Tabernacle have by constant practice obtained a remarkable degree of perfection in packing a crowd. They found odd seats here and there in the long rows of pews; they filled the benches running all round the walls; they got a few more on the platform beneath the preacher's desk; and, all this done, flaps were let down from either side of the benches opening in the various aisles, and hereon alone were disposed a number of people who, in one of the old churches now disappearing from the city, would comprise a startlingly large Sunday congregation. All classes were represented, from the lady in silk to the wearer of carefully-preserved print calico, and from the man in broadcloth and fine linen to the costermonger ineffectually disguised in a frock-coat.
At half-past six precisely Mr. Spurgeon appeared, making his way through the crowd that blocked the approaches to the platform, level with the lower gallery, from which he preaches. At this moment the interior presented a spectacle such as it would be difficult to match amongst Sunday evening gatherings. The Tabernacle was built to seat six thousand persons. This night the numbers present were nearer seven thousand, for up and down, from ground-floor to the spacious galleries, there was not a square yard of available room unoccupied. This was at half-past six, and for nearly half an hour later a constant stream of people arrived at the gates, taking a desperate chance of finding admission. In the hope of catching some of these a prayer-meeting was held in the lecture-hall, which speedily became full to its utmost capacity. Mr. Spurgeon opened the service by a brief prayer. Then, upon his invitation, the whole congregation rose, and with hearty goodwill sang the Old Hundredth. There is no organ at the Tabernacle, a gentleman stepping forward from Mr. Spurgeon's side and raising the tune. But after the first note of the first verse his voice was heard no more, being lost in the mighty sound of thousands of voices that rolled forth the familiar tune, waiting for no signal and owning no leadership. After this Mr. Spurgeon read a portion of the eleventh chapter of Matthew, choosing as an appropriate exordium the fifteenth verse, 'He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.' The reading of what elsewhere would be called the lesson was accompanied by a running commentary of homely explanation and earnest exhortation. Another hymn, heartily joined in by the congregation, a second and longer prayer, and then Mr. Spurgeon began to preach, or rather to talk to the manifestly interested crowd.
He took as his text the three last verses of the chapter from which he had read, and spoke about it in a simple and at times passionately earnest manner for the space of fifty minutes. The sermon was singularly free from those unconventionalities of style which occasionally mark Mr. Spurgeon's pulpit utterances. 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,' was the burden of the text, and the preacher was content with reiterating and varying this invitation, insisting on the illimitability of the proffered welcome, and dwelling on the perfection of the promised rest. Twice only did he vary his discourse by the introduction of illustrations in parable form, which he is much accustomed to use for the enforcement of his text. One of these was short, and contained within itself the main argument of the discourse. 'There is a doctor who visits you,' he said. 'You have called him in because you are feeling very ill, and the first thing he says to you is, "Do you trust me entirely?" You say, "Oh, yes, doctor, I trust you entirely." "Very well; now tell me what you eat and what you drink." You tell him, and he declares that you are eating and drinking the very things that feed your disease. He tells you you must give up those things, and asks you if you will take some medicine he will send you. Oh, yes, you will do everything he tells you, and he goes away. A few days after he calls again, and finds you worse. "Why, how is this?" he says; "your disease is getting a firmer hold upon you." But when he comes to inquire, he finds that you have been going on eating and drinking the same things as before. "Did you take the medicine?" "Well," you say, "I just tasted it, but found it was nasty, and there it is." Then the doctor knows that you have not trusted him, and he goes away sorrowful; for he knows that without that trust he can do you no good. It is just so with Jesus Christ. You must trust Him entirely and do everything He tells you, for those are the sole conditions upon which He will give you rest.'
This was, in brief, the sermon. Its fuller recital was listened to throughout with never-faltering attention by the great congregation, to whom, seated or standing in whatever remote corner of the hall, the preacher's sonorous tones were as audible as if he were speaking to them across a table.
Mr. Spurgeon at the Pastor's College.
In the afternoon of May 4th 1881, a large party assembled at the college and drank tea, adjourning at 6.30 to the meeting, which in the first place was presided over by Mr. J. Houghton, of Liverpool, and subsequently by the Lord Mayor. Mr. Spurgeon expressed the delight he experienced in again meeting the subscribers, for there existed between himself and his supporters a strong tie of affection, and he counted himself happy in having such friends. There were even some who always told him not to be behindhand in writing whenever assistance was needed. It was a great mercy to have friends who believed their steward had been faithful. He was their instrument for carrying on a successful enterprise; but the confidence reposed in him often occasioned depression of spirit, although he had many true helpers around him to make him happy. He would not change deacons even with those mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, and the college tutors were equally valuable. He used at one time to trouble himself as to what he should do when Mr. Rogers retired; but they had now an efficient band of teachers, while such was the plentiful supply of students, that 150 were at present waiting for admission. While these would have to wait, it was evident that there was growth and life. He wished he could help all; but there were so many preaching young men in the Baptist denomination, that in any case they would preach somewhere; with those in the college they had no difficulty—the young men rarely showed any moral defect; and when, as sometimes happened, a man was recommended to return to his secular calling, and the tutors found themselves afterwards mistaken, the fact only proved that they were not infallible in judgment.
Mr. Spurgeon then referred to two difficulties they had had to contend against—supplying the demand when the demand was greater than the supply, and finding, as is now the case, that there is a lull in the demand. This, however, gave the tutors an opportunity to lengthen the course of study. The former difficulty was referred to nearly in the words of the current report:
'I could not lengthen the course in former days, when churches tempted the brethren away before the proper time, as they too often did. They told these raw youths that it was a pity to delay, that if they left their studies souls might be saved, and I know not what besides; and some were induced to run away, as Rowland Hill would have said, before they had pulled their boots on. If I constrained them to remain, the good deacons of the eager churches thought me a sort of harsh gaoler, who locked up his prisoners, and would not give them up at the entreaty of their friends. One wrote and bade me loose the brother, for the Lord had need of him, and I would have let the young man go if I had thought that he was one of the donkeys to whom the passage referred. That a number of brethren may have entered upon their ministry prematurely was no fault of mine, but of those who tempted them to quit their classes too soon.'
There were now 355 pastors settled in Great Britain, and 500 in the whole world. They had men in Canada, in Australia, and other colonies; but though some were found in the United States the Americans were almost afraid of them, because the men were not strict enough on the question of communion. In regard to that question Mr. Spurgeon said he had made up his mind, and he should have to die and be born again before he refused to sit down at the table with his own father and mother. Under this head he did not grow better, and he was glad he had no such belief. Reference was made to the work undertaken in India, and for which special contributions were invited. On the whole, there was abundant reason for gratitude. The year had been one of depression, and when trade and the agricultural interest were depressed religion would be depressed also. Their increase had exceeded that of some other bodies, and they prayed that the college might go from strength to strength until the knowledge of the Lord covered the earth as the waters did the sea.
At the annual meeting of the Baptist Conference (1881) for the general public, held in the Tabernacle, Mr. Spurgeon presided. The chairman said he should not be expected to say much, as he was somewhat weary—excitement wore the mind, and he was burdened with an excess of joy. What had been done in the year was not enough to satisfy them, but was sufficient for gratitude. He cared for no success apart from God's glory, and the building up of the Church. The brethren had been wonderfully successful when their discouragements were taken into account. Some, who had barely sufficient for food and clothes, had been helped by Mrs. Spurgeon, and they did their benefactors honour by accepting what was offered. If there must be such poor places and poor people, they were grateful that pastors could be found for them. Small as the salary was, it was now in many instances a struggle for the people to raise what they did; and as regarded the men, they would have their reward, though their wages might not be paid to-day. As concerned the college, they had been well supplied both with means and students, and it was long since he had felt anxious on the score of money. He was far more anxious to find something to say to the people on a Sunday. He often walked up and down anxious on this point. He would sometimes get the outline of a sermon in his mind, with a good text, and, after saying to himself, 'That will do,' he would find in his well-marked Bible, how it had been preached before, while what he had thought out closely resembled the printed copy. Time had been when at ten o'clock on Saturday evening, or even on Sunday morning, he had found himself without a text; but sometimes, when thus driven in a corner, with nothing to say, he did best.
Coming to the college, it appeared that thirty-two had gone out during the year, and assistance had come from friends at home and abroad, that very morning a contribution having come from St. Petersburg. The deacons and their helpers never drew back, and many whose names never appeared sent contributions. It was a great blessing when brethren after the flesh thus dwelt together in unity; and until they found that a grand row would be for the glory of God, they would practise the art of love.—Christian World.
Mr. Spurgeon's Colporteurs.
At the fourteenth annual meeting of the Metropolitan Tabernacle Colportage Association in the Tabernacle, the chair was occupied by the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon; a conference was also held during the afternoon, when Mr. Spurgeon addressed the men. The report read by the Rev. W. C. Jones, the secretary, stated that, in consequence of trade depression, it had been deemed desirable to consolidate the position already attained rather than to seek extension by extraordinary methods; but, nevertheless, during the year 16 new districts had been started, while in all 79 had been occupied. Some having, from various causes, being discontinued, the number of men now actually at work is 73, or about the same number as last year. During the year, 396,291 books and periodicals had been disposed of, the value being £7577. At the same time 630,993 visits to families had been made, while 6745 religious services had been held. The cash account showed that the gross profit on sales amounted to £1832, while the subscriptions for districts and general purposes were £36oo—total, £5432.
At the afternoon meeting the men were addressed by several members of the committee, while the colporteurs themselves narrated a number of striking incidents illustrating the progress of the work both in London and the country. Entering at 4.25, Mr. Spurgeon complimented his friends on being such a lot of fine-looking fellows of whom people would be obliged to buy. As regarded himself, booksellers' shops had as great a fascination for him as bonnet-shops had for ladies; but as on two former occasions he had spoken to them on 'Sell the books,' he had been thinking of what he should say. After some advice in regard to general business, Mr. Spurgeon proceeded to show that the aim of colporteurs was higher than that of selling. They were not mere traders; they were working for the glory of God. Hence each should be a sanctified man, one who sold his wares with the desire of bringing souls to Christ. Nor were their books the only means they were to use. They would have to look well after themselves, and so sell as that the blessing would be sure. They must begin the day on their knees. The knee was the worst joint in the body to have rheumatism; but if the knee was right, all was right; and so, if the spiritual knee was strong, all would be strong. He advised them to begin the day by pleading with God for men, and then to go forth to plead with men for God. When thus began well, the day went well; God prepared the soil for both preachers and colporteurs, and even crosses would be turned to profit. There were weights which pulled down; but these might be so adjusted as that they pulled them up—when fullest the pack would feel lightest Then it was necessary that they should take care of their eyes; they must be one-eyed men, in a spiritual way, having a single eye to the glory of God. They needed to have one object and one desire. If they aimed at two objects they would not get them, nor would they succeed in life. If any one desired to make money, he should not be in the colporteurs' ranks; it was, indeed, hard to imagine what other object a colporteur could have than the glory of God. If any were moved by lower desires, they ought to give up the work. The earnest man would ever be perceiving and seizing his opportunities; all the people in the country round would be game in his preserves for him to have a shot at; and while such a one would sell his books and make way, his very failures would drive him to God to get new strength. In their journeys they would find many discomforts; but these would be borne cheerfully. Mr. Spurgeon here recommended the men to work well, and not to resemble those British workmen who did the least they were able to do. The best labourer was he who looked after himself. There were several ways of doing the same thing, and there were two ways of doing colportage work. Any fool could sell people what they wanted; it needed a wiser man to make them buy what they thought they did not want. The people did not know how sorely they needed the Bible. Their success in the main depended on themselves; they should be neat in their persons, and tidy at home; and not show quickness of temper, or a disposition to argue. They were required to be nature's gentlemen. For such colportage supplied a sphere of which a man could make pretty much what he liked. The colporteur might become the pastor of the district, to make the desert blossom as the rose. Though it was hard work they did not expect it to be otherwise. Any one in God's service whose work was not hard would find it a hard task to give in his account at the last day.
Mr. Spurgeon afterwards drank tea with the men, and at the table announced that during the coming year he should give £5 to the man whose sales were the highest, £3 to the next, and £2 to the third. As the districts greatly differed, however, he also intended to give three similar additional prizes to the three men who, in the opinion of the committee, had done best, after taking their disadvantages into account—Christian World.
Copied for WholesomeWords.org from Teachers and Preachers of Recent Times. Edinburgh: William P. Nimmo & Co., 1881.
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