Biographies are generally interesting if they are biographies; that is to say, if the events of the person's life are truly told; but I think that the most interesting biography to any man is his own life.......It would have been impossible for me to quote the experiences of other men if they had not been bold enough to record them, and I make an honest attempt to acknowledge my debt to my greater predecessors by writing down my own. Whether this arises from egotism or not, each reader shall decide according to the sweetness or acidity of his own disposition. A father is excused when he tells his sons his own life-story, and finds it the readiest way to enforce his maxims; the old soldier is forgiven when he "shoulders his crutch, and shows how fields were won;" I beg that the license which tolerates these may, on this occasion, be extended to me.—C. H. S.
THE publication of this work carries out a plan long ago formed by Mr. Spurgeon. In the occasional intervals of comparative leisure that he was able to snatch from his busy life's labours,—and mainly in the bright sunshine at Mentone,—he recorded many of the principal incidents in his wonderful career. As each one was completed, he used joyfully to exclaim, "There's another chapter for my Autobiography;" and had he been spared long enough, he would doubtless have given to the church and the world a full account of his life as it appeared from his own standpoint. This he has virtually done from the commencement of his public ministry, though not in the connected form in which it is now issued. His preaching was always so largely illustrated from his personal experience that his true biography is delightfully enshrined in the whole series of his Sermons, while "his own Magazine"—The Sword and the Trowel—was confessedly autobiographical during the entire period of his unique editorship. His many other published works abound in allusions to the Lord's gracious dealings with him, and these are now for the first time gathered together into a continuous narrative. The record is given entirely in Mr. Spurgeon's own words, except here and there where an explanatory sentence or two had to be inserted, or where letters written to him, and references made by others to the incidents he described, seem to be necessary to the completeness of the history.
Mr. Spurgeon's writings are enriched with many references to other biographies beside his own. In the year 1870, after reading Mr. Arnot's Life of Dr. James Hamilton, he wrote:—"The value of a biography depends far less upon its subject than upon its author. Milton mutilated by Ivimey, and Carey smothered by his nephew Eustace, are mournful instances of literary murder. James Hamilton has the singular good fortune to be embalmed by William Arnot, his own familiar friend and acquaintance, a spirit cast in the same fair mould, a genial genius wealthy in grace and wisdom. It were worth while to pray for an earlier end to one's career, if we could be sure of an Arnot to produce its record. Apples of gold in baskets of silver are precious things in an appropriate setting, the golden apple being neither dishonoured by contact with a basket too homely, nor shamed by comparison with costlier metal than its own; the memorial of a good man's life should not be marred by poor writing, neither should it be overshadowed by excessive authorship." In this Autobiography, the subject is also the author, so the apples of gold are perfectly matched by the golden basket in which they are displayed.
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In his early volume, The Saint and his Saviour, published in 1857, Mr. Spurgeon wrote:—"Few men would dare to read their own autobiography, if all their deeds were recorded in it; few can look back upon their entire career without a blush. 'All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.' None of us can lay claim to perfection. True, at times, a forgetful self-complacency bids us exult in the virtue of our lives; but when faithful memory awakes, how instantly she dispels the illusion! She waves her magic wand, and in the king's palaces frogs arise in multitudes; the pure rivers at her glance become blood; the whole land is creeping with loathsomeness. Where we imagined purity, lo, imperfection ariseth! The snow-wreath of satisfaction melts before the sun of truth, the nectared bowl of gratulation is embittered by sad remembrances; while, under the glass of honesty, the deformities and irregularities of a life, apparently correct, are rendered, alas! too visible.
"Let the Christian, whose hair is whitened by the sunlight of Heaven, tell his life-long story. He may have been one of the most upright and moral; but there will be one dark spot in his history, upon which he will shed the tear of penitence, because then he knew not the fear of the Lord. Let yon heroic warrior of Jesus recount his deeds; but he, too, points to deep scars, the offspring of wounds received in the service of the evil one."
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Speaking in the Tabernacle, many years ago, Mr. Spurgeon said:—"I used to marvel at William Huntington's Bank of Faith,—a strange enough book, by the way,—but I am sure I could, from my own history, write a far more remarkable Bank of Faith than William Huntington has penned. I have often told you, dear friends, that, if I possessed the powers of a novelist, I might write a three-volume novel concerning the events of any one day in my life, so singularly striking has my experience been. I should never need to describe things from the outside, as I should have plenty of material from within. My life seems to me like a fairy dream. I am often both amazed and dazed with its mercies and its love. How good God has been to me! I used to think that I should sing among the saints above as loudly as any, for I owe so much to the grace of God; and I said so once in a sermon, long ago, quoting those lines,—
"'Then loudest of the crowd I'll sing,
While Heaven's resounding mansions ring
With shouts of sovereign grace.'
"I thought that I was the greatest debtor to Divine grace, and would sing the loudest to its praise; but when I came down out of the pulpit, there was a venerable woman who said to me, 'You made a blunder in your sermon this evening.' I said, 'I daresay I made a dozen, good soul, but what was that particular one?' 'Why, you said that you would sing the loudest because you owed most to Divine grace; you are but a lad, you do not owe half as much to grace as I do at eighty years of age! I owe more to grace than you, and I will not let you sing the loudest.' I found that there was a general conspiracy among the friends that night to put me in the background, and that is where I meant to be, and wished to me; that is where those who sing the loudest, long to be, to take the lowest place, and praise most the grace of God in so doing."
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In The Sword and the Trowel for 1869, Mr. Spurgeon turned to good account a popular superstition. He was too humble to apply to himself the closing sentences in the following paragraph; but all who read it must see how exactly it describes the abiding influence of his long and gracious ministry. He wrote:—"Hone, in his Year Book, gives a letter from a correspondent in Raleigh, Nottinghamshire, which states that, many centuries since, the church and a whole village were swallowed up by an earthquake. Many villages and towns have certainly shared a similar fate, and we have never heard of them more.
"'The times have been
When the brains were out, the man would die;'
"but at Raleigh, they say, the old church bells still ring at Christmas time, deep, deep, in earth; and that it was a Christmas morning custom for the people to go out into the valley, and put their ears to the ground to listen to the mysterious chimes of the subterranean temple. This is sheer superstition; but how it illustrates the truth that those preachers, whose voices were clear and mighty for truth during life, continue to preach in their graves! Being dead, they yet speak; and whether men put their ears to their tombs or not, they cannot but hear them."
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In the last sermon but one that Mr. Spurgeon ever revised, that remarkable discourse upon the text, "I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord;" he uttered these words, which have already been to a large extent fulfilled with regard to himself:—"Often, the death of a man is a kind of new birth to him; when he himself is gone physically, he spiritually survives, and from his grave there shoots up a tree of life whose leaves heal nations. O worker for God, death cannot touch thy sacred mission! Be thou content to die if the truth shall live the better because thou diest. Be thou content to die, because death may be to thee the enlargement of thine influence. Good men die as dies the seed-corn which thereby abideth not alone. When saints are apparently laid in the earth; they quit the earth, and rise and mount to Heaven-gate, and enter into immortality. No, when the sepulchre receives this mortal frame, we shall not die, but live."
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The portrait, which forms the frontispiece to this volume, has never before, so far as I know, been published. It was a lover's gift to the one who was very soon to become his bride, and I recall how, in the glamour of "love's young dream," I used to gaze on the sweet boyish face, and think no angel could look half so lovely! Afterwards, the picture was enshrined in a massive oaken frame, and it occupied the place of honour on the walls of the house in the New Kent Road, where we began our life's journey together, and founded our first home. Many a time, during my husband's long absences, when fulfilling his almost ceaseless preaching engagements, has this portrait comforted me; its expression of calm confident faith strengthened my heart, and I used to think the up-raised finger pointed to the source whence I must draw consolation in my loneliness.
Something of the same soothing and sacred influence steals over me as I look at it now with- tear-filled eyes; it speaks to me, even as it did in those days of long ago, and it says, "Do not fear, my beloved, God is taking care of us both; and though we are still separated for a little while, we shall meet again at home by-and-by!"
There have been many representations of my dear husband during the intervening years;—the young face changed into that of a strong, energetic man, then it grew into the semblance of one who knew sorrow and suffering, and again it changed into the grave and noble features which we remember best, because his departure has stamped them for ever on the tablet of our loving heart. Throughout them all can be traced the sweet humility, the gentle kindness, the mighty faith in God which characterized his glorious and blameless life; but I think it is reserved to this early portrait to depict the intense love and unfailing devotion to his Master which was the secret of his power both with God and man.
Image: Our First Home (No. 217, New Kent Road, London)<* * * *
In the early portion of the present volume, Mr. Spurgeon's reminiscences of his life at Stambourne are given at considerable length, partly because they present such a charming picture of his happy childhood at his grandfather's, but also because they are of special value to his many friends from the fact that this was the literary work upon which he was engaged just before his long and terrible illness in 1891. They also contain his inimitable description of the interest taken in him in his boyhood by Mr. Knill when at Stambourne; the remarkable prophecy uttered by that godly man over the head of the little ten-years-old lad, its literal fulfilment, and the influence of the incident itself, and the circumstances that followed it, upon the whole of his after history.
Most of the letters, written by Mr. Spurgeon, which are here published for the first time, were copied by his direction specially with a view to his Autobiography. Some of the others have been placed at my disposal by various friends; a few had been printed before. There are, doubtless, many thousands of my dear husband's letters still extant; but no useful purpose could be served by the publication of even a tithe of them. There must, however, be a very large number of the products of his pen that ought to have an enlarged ministry through the press. I shall be glad, therefore, to receive copies of special epistles of public and permanent interest; or, if the originals are lent to me, I will have them copied, and returned at once. All communications for me should be addressed,—Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, "Westwood," Beulah Hill, Upper Norwood, London.