Standing in the Metropolitan Tabernacle, the scene for so many years of his marvellous ministry, Mr. Spurgeon, on Lord's-day morning, May 3rd, 1891, commenced his sermon upon Ps. 40:7: "Then said I, Lo, I come" (No. 2,203), with the following memorable statement:—"To my great sorrow, last Sunday night I was unable to preach. I had prepared a sermon upon this text, with much hope of its usefulness; for I intended it to be a supplement to the morning sermon, which was a doctrinal exposition. The evening sermon was intended to be practical, and to commend the whole subject to the attention of enquiring sinners. I came here feeling quite fit to preach, when an overpowering nervousness oppressed me, and I lost all self-control, and left the pulpit in anguish. I come hither this morning with the same subject. I have been turning it over, and wondering why it was so. Peradventure, this sermon was not to be preached on that occasion, because God would teach the preacher more of his own feebleness, and cast him more fully upon the divine strength. That has. certainly been the effect upon my own heart. Perhaps, also, there are some here this morning who were not here last Lord's-day evening, whom God intends to bless by the sermon. The people were not here, peradventure, for whom the eternal decree of God had designed the message, and they may be here now. You that are fresh to this place, should consider the strange circumstance, which never happened to me before in the forty years of my ministry; and you may be led to enquire whether my bow was then unstrung that the arrow might find its ordained target in your heart. The two sermons will now go forth together from the press; and perhaps, going together, they may prove like two hands of love wherewith to embrace lost souls, and draw them to the Saviour, who herein saith, 'Lo, I come.' God grant it may be so!"
Although probably no one suspected it at the time, this was "the beginning of the end" of that noble life that closed at Menton on January 31st, 1892. The preacher was at the time terribly overworked, and applications for additional services were continually coming. He struggled on bravely, however, and on May 17th, preached a sermon on the text: "My times are in Thy hand" (No. 2,205), which many people regarded as almost prophetic of the great illness he was about to suffer. He was even then attacked by that terrible scourge, misnamed "influenza"; and on the following day, Dr. R. M. Miller, of Upper Norwood, who was called in to attend him, forbade his venturing to the Tabernacle. He was, indeed, closely confined to the house for nearly three weeks; but at the end of that time, on Lord's-day morning, June 7th, he preached from 1 Samuel 30:21-25, the sermon afterwards published under the title of "The Statute of David for the Sharing of the Spoil" (No. 2,208). This will ever be a most memorable discourse, for it was practically the Pastor's farewell to the Tabernacle. He was never inside the building again, until all that remained of him was brought from Menton, in the olive-wood casket, amid universal mourning.
On Monday morning, June 8th, Mr. Spurgeon went into what he called, in his preface to Memories of Stambourne, "my grandfather's country." One object he had in going was that he might obtain photographs to illustrate that little work. In that he succeeded. We have reproduced, on page 15, one of the views taken by Mr. Nash, representing C. H. Spurgeon and J. C. Houchin, the present pastor at Stambourne, as they appeared on June 10th, 1891.
In the preface already mentioned, Mr. Spurgeon wrote:—"On the Thursday of the week, an overpowering headache came on, and I had to hurry home on Friday, to go up to that chamber wherein, for three months, I suffered beyond measure, and was often between the jaws of death."
From that time Dr. Miller was again in constant attendance; and on June 24th, Dr. Joseph Kidd was called in for consultation. For a time, all that medical skill, patient watching, and careful nursing could do, appeared of no avail for the beloved sufferer's recovery. Meanwhile, prayer without ceasing was made to God for him, the world over, in ordinary meetings and in special gatherings. As soon as the critical condition of the Pastor was made known, the Church at the Tabernacle constituted itself into one great protracted prayer-meeting. Not only did thousands gather together for a day of prayer; but for weeks special prayer-meetings were continued two or three times daily. Also, in many other places, meetings for earnest supplication on Mr. Spurgeon's behalf were held, showing, in a remarkable manner, the real unity of the One Church of Christ.
Besides numerous callers at "Westwood", letters and telegrams of sympathy came in great numbers from all sorts and conditions of men, and from all parts of the world.
The archbishops, bishops, and clergy of the Church of England were largely represented; while Nonconformist ministers, of all denominations, were most hearty in their sympathetic utterances; and cablegrams, telegrams, letters, and resolutions came from almost endless Associations, Assemblies, Colleges, Committees, Conferences, Congresses, Conventions, Institutions, Missions, Societies, Synods, Unions, &c., including almost all the great religious and philanthropic agencies of the Metropolis, the United Kingdom, and many parts of the Continent and the English Colonies throughout the world.
(We have not given here any list of the thousands of friends who thus expressed their sympathy with Mr. and Mrs. Spurgeon during the trying months that the Pastor was lying in such a critical condition at "Westwood"; nor of those who united in the hearty congratulations that greeted his partial recovery. They were duly recorded at the time in The Sword and the Trowel; but at the end of this volume we have printed a list of the Churches and Societies from which resolutions of sympathy have come to Mrs. Spurgeon or the Tabernacle since the "promotion to glory" of the beloved Pastor. It was quite impossible to make any record of the telegrams and letters from individuals; that would have expanded the list into a Memorial Volume by itself. The present list, lengthy as it is, must necessarily be incomplete, for the letters from distant parts will, doubtless, continue to arrive for a long time to come; but it is as correct as it can be made up to the date of publication.)
The letter to the congregation at the Tabernacle, dated August 9th, of which, a reduced facsimile appears on the next page, was the first Mr. Spurgeon was able to write with his own hand after his long illness:—
In The Sword and the Trowel for October appeared a long note from Mr. Spurgeon, thanking "the thousands of friends, of all ranks and religions", who had expressed their sympathy with him in his long and trying affliction. On October 3rd, Mr. Spurgeon and his private secretary, Mr. Harrald, went to Eastbourne, in the hope that a short stay at the seaside might bring to him sufficient strength to enable him to take the journey to Menton. Mrs. Spurgeon also went for a few days; and the experiment appeared quite satisfactory, so that, when the Pastor returned to "Westwood", on October 16th, he was so much stronger that the arrangements for starting for Menton were completed.
On Monday, October 26th, Pastor and Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, Pastor and Mrs. J. A. Spurgeon, and Mr. Harrald started on their thousand miles' journey to the sunny South. They were accompanied as far as Calais by two of the Tabernacle deacons, Messrs. Allison and Higgs. It has been very widely published that Baron Rothschild placed his saloon carriage at Mr. Spurgeon's disposal; but the fact is, that Messrs. Alabaster, Passmore, & Sons, and Mr. John M. Cook most generously defrayed the cost of the saloon carriage from Calais to Menton, and so enabled the whole party to travel in ease and comfort, and to arrive at their destination on Thursday, October 29th. Dr. FitzHenry at once took charge of his illustrious patient, and aided him greatly by his wise and kindly advice. The appearance of Mr. Spurgeon, from this time until a few days before he was called home, led many beside himself to hope that a long rest by the sunny shore of the Mediterranean would complete his restoration. He gradually gained strength, and his weekly letters to the church at home continued to be an unfailing source of interest to thousands. Not, however, until the last day of the old year, was he able to conduct a service. Then, to a little group of delighted friends, he gave the following memorable address:—
—From the Pulpit to the Palm-Branch