No life of Mr. Spurgeon would be complete if it did not contain some account of his godly ancestors. There was much in the piety and conscientiousness of those who came before him which will help to account for his sturdy Christian character and unparalleled success. As the name Spurgeon imports, it is Continental rather than Anglican. It can be traced back for about three hundred years.
When Ferdinand Alvarez, Duke of Alva, died, in 1589, his wicked boast, that he had sent to the executioners no less than eighteen thousand persons, was not forgotten. That number represented the actual martyrs to the faith; but, besides these, there were very many thousands who had been driven into exile, large numbers of whom found a home in England. Among these were the progenitors of the English Spurgeons, who found a shelter and resting-place in East Anglia, some settling in Essex, and others in Norfolk. These Dutch Christians brought their useful arts with them, and, like the Huguenots from France, at a later date, greatly aided in laying the foundations of those various industries which have ministered to the strength and wealth and prosperity of England. The ancestors of Mr. Spurgeon were distinguished alike for their quiet energy, their business capabilities, and, best of all, their true godliness and exemplary piety. They made themselves friends among their English neighbours, and left their mark upon society. Everywhere they were industrious, honorable, and pious people. It is not difficult to see, even in Mr. Spurgeon's physique, a resemblance to the godly Dutchman, while in other respects he has proved himself a worthy son of the noble sires who, driven from their homes by cruel persecutions, carried with them the faith that was dearer to them than life itself.
One of the Essex branch of the family, Job Spurgeon, was a prisoner in Chelmsford jail at the time John Bunyan was lying in Bedford jail, and for the same cause,—faithful adherence to his conscientious convictions. For fifteen weeks, in bitterly severe weather, he lay on a pallet of straw without any fire. His descendant has an easier lot outwardly, but he is not lacking in the same spirit of Christian heroism, and he also has had his share of suffering for the truth's sake, both in the fierce ordeal through which he had to pass in the early years of his ministry in London, and in his continued contention for "the faith once for all delivered to the saints."
It is related that, quite early in his career in London, Mr. C. H. Spurgeon was introduced, in a bookseller's shop in Paternoster Row, to a Mr. John Spurgeon, a descendant of the Norfolk branch of the family. On comparing notes of their respective ancestors, the same piety, uprightness, and loyalty to the truth were found to have characterized them on both sides.
The great-grandfather of Mr. Spurgeon was a man of true Puritan type, and his wife was akin to him in mind, principles, and life. She took a deep interest in the spiritual welfare of their children, and both parents ordered their house faithfully according to the Word and will of God. They were contemporary with the earlier years of the reign of George III. From them we trace an unbroken line of faithful ministers of the Word, including four generations.
James Spurgeon was a son of the godly couple mentioned on the previous page, and was born at Halstead, Essex, 29th September, 1776. As a boy he was seriously inclined, and while still a youth he joined the Independent Church at Halstead. He was apprenticed at Coggeshall, in the same county, and there enjoyed the privilege of the pastoral oversight of the Rev. S. Fielding. Up to the age of twenty-six he followed business pursuits, when his mind was directed to the work of the gospel ministry. He entered Hoxton Academy in 1802. After a course of two years' study, he responded to an invitation to endeavor to raise the decayed Independent cause at Clare, Suffolk. His success warranted his ordination to the pastorate, and the church continued to prosper under his care. Stambourne, Essex, was his next and final sphere.
The Independent Church in this village had been distinguished for unbroken peace and unity, so that for nearly one hundred and fifty years there had been but three pastors. The death of the venerable Mr. Beddow in 1810, left a vacancy, which James Spurgeon was requested to fill. He accepted the unanimous call of the church, and lived and labored at Stambourne for fifty-four years, enjoying unbroken harmony and more or less of prosperity. When more than fourscore years of age he often remarked, "I have not had one hour's unhappiness with my church since I have been over it." Invitations from other churches were addressed to him, but the love and unity that prevailed at Stambourne decided him to decline them all. When some of his friends advised him to retire from the pastorate at eighty years of age, he replied, "No! God has blessed me; and I see that 'at evening time it shall be light.'"—alluding to a sermon from that text by his grandson which was a great favorite with him, Soon after this there was a blessed revival of the work of God in the village and neighborhood, and several young people joined the church at Stambourne. Frequent prayer-meetings were held, and much good was done, so that the good old pastor was led to say; "I will never give up so long as God inclines people to come, and souls are saved."
Some interesting anecdotes of his grandfather have been recorded by Mr. Spurgeon in "The Sword and the Trowel," and others may be found in his printed sermons. Here is one, entitled—
While a youth, under conviction of sin, he frequently repaired to a wood in Honeywood Park, where, especially under a certain oak, then only a sapling, he wept and groaned before the Lord, and where, also, he received the gift of faith to believe on the Lord Jesus, and enter upon the enjoyment of peace with God. It was a lonely spot, but it was to him a Bethel, the house of God and the gate of heaven. He often resorted thither for meditation, prayer, and praise.
"Some time after this happy event," writes the grandson, "having to go from Coggeshall to Hal-stead, his route lay near the hallowed spot. On the night previous he dreamed very vividly that Satan appeared to him, and threatened to tear him in pieces if he dared to go along that footpath, and pray under the oak as he had been wont to do. The Evil One reminded him that there was another way through the farmyard, and that if he took the farmyard path all would go well with him. When my grandfather awoke, the impression on his mind was overpowering, and he reasoned thus with himself: 'Whether it be a dream or really a temptation from Satan I cannot tell, but anyhow I will not yield to it, but will show the Devil that I will not do his bidding in anything, but will defy him to his face.' This was the good man all over. Like Luther, he had a vivid impression of the reality and personality of the great Enemy, and was accustomed to make short work with his suggestions.
"One day, when in the pulpit, it came into his head that the place where the sand was kept for sanding the brick floor of his manse ought to be boarded in. His next thought was, what business had Satan to make me think about the sand-closet on a Sunday, and in the pulpit, too? It shall not be boarded at all. I will let him see that he shall not have his way with me.
"But to return to the story of the oak-tree. My grandfather, then a young man, went on cheerily enough till he came to the stile where the two paths diverged; then a horrible fear came upon him, and he felt his heart beat fast. Suppose he really should meet the Archfiend, and should find him too strong for him, what then? Better take the farmyard path. No, that would be yielding to Satan, and he would not do that for ten thousand worlds. He plucked up courage, and tremblingly went on. The stile was leaped, the narrow track through the wood was trodden with resolution mingled with forebodings. The oak was in sight, the sweat was on his face, the pace was quickened, a dash was made, and the tree was grasped, and there was no Satan there. Taking breath a moment, the young man uttered aloud the exclamation, 'Ah, cowardly Devil! you threatened to tear me in pieces, and now you do not dare to show your face.' Then followed a fervent prayer and a song of praise, and the young man was about to go on his way, when his eye was caught by something shining on the ground. It was a ring, a very large ring, he told me, nearly as large as a curtain ring, and it was solid gold. How it came there it would be hard to guess. Inquiries were made, but no claimant ever appeared, and my grandfather had it made into my grandmother's wedding-ring, in memory of the spot so dear to him.
"Year by year he continued to visit the oak-tree on the anniversary of the day of his conversion, to pour out his soul before the Lord. The sapling had spread abroad its branches, and the man had become the parent of a numerous family, but the song of gratitude was not forgotten, nor the prayer that he and his offspring might forever be the Lord's. The angels of God, we doubt not, watched those consecrated seasons with delightful interest.
"To add to the solemnity of the secluded wood, his father, while passing by the spot, was touched by the hand of God, and suddenly fell dead. He could then feel even more deeply, 'How awful is this place!' This made the annual visitations to the tree more deeply impressive, and we believe beneficial. They would have been continued till my grandfather's last year, were it not that the hand of modern improvement ruthlessly swept away tree and wood, and every relic of the past. His last prayer on the dear spot was most ludicrously interrupted. As the wood was almost all felled, he judged by the pathway as nearly as possible where the long-remembered oak had stood; the place was covered with growing wheat, but he kneeled down in it, and began to bless the name of the Lord, when suddenly he heard a rough voice from over the hedge crying out.' Maister, there be a creazy man a saying his prayers down in the wheat over thay're.' This startled the suppliant, and made him beat a hasty retreat. Jacob must wrestle somewhere else; the man of God looked at the spot, and went his way, but in spirit he still raised an altar in that Bethel, and praised the God of his salvation.
"He has gone to his rest after having fought a good fight, but the prayers of Honeywood Park are blessing his children, and his children's children to the third generation at this very hour. To them and all the world his testimony is, 'Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you;' and equally does he instruct us to 'Bless the Lord, and forget not all His benefits.'"
One or two other anecdotes may here be given of the venerable pastor. The first illustrates his uprightness and conscientiousness in things about which many professing Christians are not always straight. When in middle life he intended to exercise his right as a voter for the county at the general election, but his qualification was disputed. The reason assigned was that all the trustees of the manse and land were dead. He was advised that, as he had had undisputed possession for more than twenty-one years, he should go home, make his will, and leave the property to his children, as it had become legally his. This tempting proposal, however, he refused, and at once called a meeting of the church-members and subscribers, and put the entire property in trust, according to the will and intentions of the donor. As he had a large family, and was really poor, this was a great triumph of principle over interest.
An anecdote is related of the old gentleman, which illustrates alike his faith in divine providence, and God's faithfulness to him in a trying exigency. The large family and the small income of the pastor made it difficult to get along in the world; but he loved his Master, and he loved his work, and on no account would he give up the ministry for a more remunerative profession; so he tried to help his income by the cultivation of a few acres of ground, keeping a cow to supply the family with milk. One day, when he went to the cow, she fell back with the staggers, and died. "James," said Mrs. Spurgeon to her husband, "how will God provide for the dear children now? What shall we do for milk?" "Mother," said he, "God has said that He will provide, and I believe that He could send us fifty cows if He pleased."
It happened that on that very day a number of gentlemen were assembled for a certain purpose in London, some of whom were known to the pastor of Stambourne; they were sitting as a committee for the distribution of money to poor ministers, and they had given something to all who had asked for help. Old Mr. Spurgeon had never asked for any; he preferred, by rigid economy, and labor on his land, to meet his requirements without appealing to others. When all the cases had been dealt with there remained a balance of £5. What should they do with it?
"Well," said one, "there is a Mr. Spurgeon down at Stambourne, in Essex, a poor minister, who needs some help."
"Oh," said another, "don't send him £5; I will put £5 to it; I know him; he is a worthy man."
"No," said another, "don't send him £10. I will give £5, if some one else will add another £5, and make it £20."
The next morning Mr. Spurgeon received a letter for which there was ninepence to pay. The old lady begrudged ninepence for a letter, but when it was opened, it was found to contain £20. Her husband, on seeing the money, remarked to his wife, "Now, can't you trust God about an old cow?"
In relating this anecdote, his distinguished grandson remarked:—
"I think of my dear old grandfather, and of what he used to say to me. If he were here to-night,—I am glad he is not, because he is in heaven, and that is a much better place for him,—but if he could come from heaven, and could talk as he used to do when he was here on earth, he would say, 'Ah, my boy, I did find him a faithful God.'"
Old James Spurgeon was very popular with the people in Essex, where he was widely known, being frequently asked to preach on special occasions, such as anniversary seasons. His own chapel was of considerable size, and on the Sabbath afternoons it was well filled, the farmers for many miles around driving in for the services. A long range of stables was connected with the chapel for the convenience of such of the congregation as required it for their horses.
When the venerable grand sire was eighty, his grandson was on a preaching tour in Essex. The old minister heard of it, and sent him a letter asking him to call and see him once more. He arrived as early as eight o'clock one morning, but the old pastor had been some time on the outlook for "his boy." It was a memorable occasion, and the cheerful old gentleman was delighted with the visit, and went over some of the principal scenes in his long life, dwelling with especial pleasure on his college tutor at Hoxton, on the many trials and deliverances he had experienced, and on the many friends he had known, and who had preceded him to the better land, where he hoped soon to rejoin them. The grandson treasured up these reminiscences, and upon his stores we have chiefly drawn for the above incidents.
In the year 1856 Mr. Spurgeon preached a sermon at Stambourne, on the occasion of his grandfather completing the fiftieth year of his ministry. The date of this interesting event was 27th May, and the sermon may be found, as preached at New Park Street the previous Lord's day, in Nos. 81, 82, of "The New Park Street Pulpit." The old man had great delight in promoting the sale of the sermons and other publications of his eminent grandson, always seeking to get an early supply.
The venerable pastor at Stambourne, like his elder grandson, was gifted with a large head, and there was no small stock of what was good in it. He had a good voice, and was very earnest and practical in his preaching, at the same time giving due prominence to the glorious truths of the everlasting gospel. In person he was the very picture of neatness, his dress cravat, frilled shirt, knee breeches, buckled shoes, and silk stockings, marking him out as one belonging to the past age rather than the present. He is said to have somewhat resembled Rev. John Wesley in his manners and stature, as also in his staid, quiet, and uniform dress and habits. In this respect, as also in his preaching, he was regarded throughout his native county as a venerable minister of the old school. For more than half a century he walked among the people and before the world with unblemished reputation. The secret of which, was, he walked humbly with his God. His affable manners, his genuine piety, and his uniform excellence of character, procured for him the good-will of his neighbors; and, though a thorough Nonconformist, he was on brotherly terms with some of the parochial clergy, and often went to the parish church to hear the sermon, especially when the cause of missions was to be advocated. He was blessed with a wife who was a partaker with him of "like precious faith;" she showed "piety at home," and was a true helpmeet to her husband in every good word and work.
The old gentleman held firmly to Puritan theology, and throughout his ministry kept back nothing, but declared all the counsel of God. He was a great favorite with the young; children gathered around him, and with a strength of attachment which riper years did not unsettle; while young people felt that they had in him a wise counsellor, a loving father, and a faithful pastor.
In his last illness he was sustained and comforted by the truths of the gospel he had so long and so faithfully proclaimed. It was his desire that he might be permitted to bear witness for Christ on his dying bed, and God granted him his desire. He said the gospel was his only hope; he was "on the Rock of Ages, immutable as the throne of God." His departure from earth was marked by joy and peace in believing, and with a glorious prospect of an abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom of his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
During the last two years of his life, he had the assistance in the pulpit of various ministers, but he continued to preach as often as health and strength permitted; always, even to the end, administering the Lord's Supper. He ceased his labors, and entered into rest, 12th February, 1864, when in his eighty-eighth year. His remains rest near his beloved sanctuary, to which resting-place of the worn and wearied body an immense concourse of people, and many endeared friends, attended him. The tears and sympapathy of the people showed how much he was loved and respected. Funeral sermons were preached at Stambourne by Rev. Mr. Bridge, of Ridgewell; at Cranbrook, Kent, by his son, Rev. John Spurgeon; and at the Metropolitan Tabernacle by his distinguished grandson. He left eight children, seven of whom were members of Christian churches, the elder son then being a deacon at Stambourne, and the younger, Rev. John Spurgeon, pastor of the Independent Church at Cranbrook, the chief town of the Weald of Kent.
The following is a copy of the memorial in the present Stambourne meeting-house.
IN MEMORY OF
THE REV. JAMES SPURGEON,
Who for fifty-four years was the faithful
and beloved Pastor of the Church in this place,
and for four years previously of the
Independent Church at Clare.
He departed this life on the 12th day of
In the 88th year of his age.
—From the Usher's Desk to the Tabernacle Pulpit