"All hail to the man
Who leads in the van,
Be the struggle of brain or of muscle;
For what the world needs
Is the man who succeeds,
And comes out atop in the tussle."
"The real heroes of God's making... have their natural heritage of love and conscience, which they drew in with their mother's milk; they know one or two of those deep spiritual truths which are only to be won by long wrestling with their own sins and their own sorrows; they have earnest faith and strength, so far as they have done genuine work."—Scenes from Clerical Life.
LIKE AN AMEN TO THE BIBLE—" NOT A CAKEY MAN"—INSTINCT WITH POWER—TEACHING BY A STICK—FIGHTING IN EARNEST—GOD AS GOOD AS HIS WORD—THE BOY WHO WOULD BE HEARD—DRY-AS-DUST—LOOK! LOOK! LOOK! A GREAT REWARD FOR A SMALL SERVICE.
"When I think of you, it is like an Amen to the Bible, to the truth and certainty of all its blessed promises," was said by Augustus Hare to a friend. Which is a high style of life—to be God's Amen to the principles, facts, and promises of redemption that make up the Bible; and this honour, in the opinion of many Evangelical Christians, belongs to Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Whatever opinions may be entertained as to some of his utterances and methods, all who love the cardinal doctrines of the Reformation recognise him as a wonderful example of the power and success of the Gospel; in other words, as one of God's Amens to the Bible. In some degree this is possible to all who are participators by faith in the benefits of the atonement, and therein their lives convey comfort to men. The life of C. H. Spurgeon speaks clearly an emphatic Amen to the statements and claims of the Bible; and therefore it is helpful to them.
To trace out the successive advances of this great preacher, to learn from his weaknesses and to be sustained by his strength, to admire the faith in God which has imparted to him power over men, and, above all, to recognise in him one of the kingly, prophetic, champion souls that arise from time to time with marvellous consequences to the human race; in short, to hear the speech of this life, which, like the fabled statue, is musical because the sunlight has kissed it, is our purpose now.
"Blessed influence of one true loving human soul on another; not calculable by algebra, not deducible by logic, but mysterious, effectual, mighty as the hidden process by which the tiny seed is quickened and bursts forth into tall stem, and broad leaf, and glowing tasselled flower." It is, indeed, impossible to adequately estimate the influence of Spurgeon upon the religious thought and life of this age, for it has been, and is still, truly enormous. One who differs greatly from Mr. Spurgeon recently said to the author, "I went to hear him preach, and I said to myself, 'He is still a force.'" A force he is, and a force he will remain.
One or two things may be stated at the outset as the result of careful inquiry and personal knowledge.
C. H. Spurgeon is not a "cakey man," as John Lawrence termed those who affect undue refinement, and hence with sickly sentimentalists he has not the slightest sympathy. And the words of John Foster about Robert Hall may, we think, be applied with equal, if not greater truth to C. H. Spurgeon. The great essayist says: "In some remarkable manner everything about him, all he does and says, is instinct with power." After frequent and varied opportunities of observing his character under many lights, C. H. Spurgeon not only appears to be instinct with power, but as holding back much of his mental strength—in other words, as endowed with immense reserve force. Had he chosen any other calling in life than that of the ministry, he would have been equally conspicuous; indeed, he is so well proportioned mentally, and so desperately in earnest as a preacher, that much of his wealth of intellect is unseen, although it acts as a fount of supply to the gushing waters that have refreshed and strengthened thousands. If the word king means a leader, and probably a steersman, as Max Müller says that it does, is it too much to apply it to the man who, in spite of objections from many quarters, leads, and will lead, an immense multitude, who admire his high endowments, share his beliefs, love him for his self-sacrifice and devotion, and regard him almost as if he were an angel sent from God, as indeed he is? Thousands will endorse the application to him of the words that form J. T. Lynch's epitaph: "A herald of God, loving His message; a guardian of the light of God, holding it forth conspicuously; a shepherd whose wisdom is as a fold for the Saviour's sheep, and his comfortable words a hospice on the rude mountains for those who were crossing them on their way to the promised country."
The awful cruelties of Alva, that "fleshless instrument of massacre," in the sixteenth century, drove many of the inhabitants of the Netherlands to seek a home in England. And no wonder; for Alva "strode with gigantic steps over haughty statutes and popular constitutions, crushing alike the magnates who claimed a bench of monarchs for their jury, and the ignoble artisans who could appeal only to the laws of their land." History has recorded but few names of those heroic emigrant-sufferers, but God has not forgotten them, and they are enrolled among the noble army of martyrs, whose deeds are known in heaven. Would that some more careful Foxe would gather up the traditions about them that still linger in the farmsteads, villages, and small towns of Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex, and thus show the immediate cause of the sturdy and Protestant character of the natives of those parts.
One family of refugees from the Netherlands was named Spurgeon, and they made their home in Norfolk and in Essex. From the Essex settlers Charles Spurgeon has descended. Such men, after leaving their homes and all that they possessed for conscience' sake, were not likely to submit to the profligate hypocrisy of Charles the Second, or the equally dangerous dogged tyranny of James the Second. All honour to them and thanks to God that the reign of vice and of absolutism has for ever passed away from England. But our liberties have been won by suffering, and surely no Evangelical Christian will either defend the tyranny of the King and his advisers or refuse to admire the heroic martyrs. Episcopalians can afford to esteem Bunyan and his fellow-confessors, just as Nonconformists can admire Hall, Leighton, and Ken.
"My great-grandfather's grandfather was a Quaker," said Mr. Spurgeon, "and was imprisoned in the gaol at Chelmsford; and I sometimes feel the shadow of his broad brim come over my spirit, inasmuch as I believe in spiritual monitions."
For fifteen weeks John Spurgeon lay in Chelmsford gaol, without fire, although the weather was severe, because he refused to believe in religion as he was bidden by a King who at heart was really an atheist and a Papist. The story of those times is truly shameful, especially when we reflect that honest and worthy men stooped to defend the shameless vice of Charles and his companions; but the story is heroic when we see how men chose rather to endure poverty, prison, and death than to do what they thought to be wrong:—
"Men of England, who inherit
Rights that cost your sires their blood,
Men whose undegenerate spirit
Hath been proved on field and flood;
We're the sons of sires who baffled
Crowned and Papal tyranny,
And defied the field and scaffold
For their birthrights—so will we!"
The martyr spirit took another form in James Spurgeon, the grandfather of our hero. He was born at Halstead, in Essex, on the 29th of September 1776. He was evidently a remarkable man, accustomed to think for himself and to speak his mind, as became the child of the martyrs. For fifty-three years he was pastor of a Congregational church at Stambourn, in Essex, and with such success, that he declared that during this protracted period he had not had one hour's unhappiness with his church.
He was asked on one occasion what he weighed, and replied: "If I were weighed in the balances I should be found wanting, but if I were weighed in the pulpit I should be heavy enough."
A man with some keen sparkle of wit, and a sturdy English pride in him. "John," said he to his son, "we are an honourable family; not rich in this world's goods, but where is there a family with five preachers making known the Gospel every Sunday? There are few families, indeed, that can say so much."
A hard-shelled man, who, with all his kindness, was tenacious of what he esteemed right and true. For instance, it is said that he loved and admired Watts' hymns. Nowadays it has become too customary to sneer at Dr. Watts' hymns. It may be safely predicted, that as long as the service of song of the House of the Lord continues, such favourites as "Come let us join," "How strong Thy arm is," "When I survey the wondrous cross," "O the delight, the heavenly joys," "Give me the wings of faith to rise," and other noble hymns will be sung.
Rev. James Spurgeon believed in Dr. Watts, and when a visitor who had come to preach at Stambourn gave out, one after the other, two hymns that were by other authors, he closed his book as a protest. When a third hymn was announced, and that also not by his favourite author, it is said that he shook his fist most significantly at the young preacher. After the service had concluded, he said to the offending minister, "Young man, if you don't want your brains knocked out, you must use Dr. Watts' hymns!" As he spoke, he waggishly raised and flourished a huge stick that had supported his steps. The minister promised amendment, and kept his word, for at the next service Watts' hymns only were sung. The Nestor, no longer angry, said to him, "Right, sir, right; I am glad to see you can appreciate the best authors so quickly. Go now and get your ram's horn ready like those men, and God may make you the means of hurling to the ground walls as stubborn as those." The sermon had been upon the capture of Jericho by Joshua. The grandson of this worthy relates some pleasing reminiscences of him. In the "Spare Half-Hour," a volume of a most useful series, to which reference will be made in a later chapter of this book, C. H. Spurgeon relates several anecdotes of his grandfather. Rev. James Spurgeon, we are told, most intensely believed in the devil. One day during his sermon, it occurred to the good man that it would be wise to board in the cupboard in which was kept the sand for the floor of his manse. With characteristic pugnacity he rejoined mentally, "What business has the devil to talk about my sand-closet on a Sunday, and in the pulpit too? I will not board it in at all!"
This sturdy antagonist of the great enemy of men dreamed once that the devil threatened to tear him in pieces if he ventured to pray beneath a certain tree in Honeywood Park. When he awoke, the dream came to his mind, and he reasoned on it thus: "Whether it be a dream or a temptation of the devil, I cannot tell, but anyhow I will not yield. I will not do Satan's bidding, and to defy him I will go to the very tree." To those whose belief in Satanic agency in this world is only skin-deep, the heroism of this act is not very evident; but those who believe that we are, like Job, the objects of the enmity and power of Satan, will judge otherwise. Here was a man defying the devil, and determined not to yield to what he believed to be an attempt to deter him from his duty. He went right on towards the tree. Yet in doing this he suffered most intensely; the mental conflict wrung great beads of water from his face; he shook and trembled, but he went forward until he reached the oak in safety. Who can say that James Spurgeon did not then and there win a real victory over the enemy of God and man? To those who do not believe in a personal tempter, it may be well to suggest that if there were no tempter, human depravity would be incurable; but because man has been led away by a worse than himself, redemption becomes possible. Carlyle, it will be remembered, took his friend Emerson (who denied the existence of Satan) from one London den of infamy to another. He asked him after each sight, "Do you believe in a devil now? Do you believe in a devil now?" The misery and infamy of men he felt would be inexplicable except upon the belief that fallen men are led away by the devil. And the Scriptures explicitly declare that our adversary the devil "goeth, about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour."
All honour, then, to the man who met what was to him a real temptation and triumphed over it.
Rev. James Spurgeon, the village pastor, was very popular in the country round Stambourn; his gentleness, his sturdiness, his adherence to truth, and his love for all who held it, his orthodoxy and his catholicity, endeared him to Dissenting ministers, and even to the Rector of his parish; for after all, the bonds by which good men of all communions are held together are stronger than others can realise; and the differences between those who hold the Evangelical faith are smaller than we know.
The true spirit of the Gospel is that which is manifested by Cowper, who, on entering an unknown church, sat near a stranger who sang most devoutly. "Bless you for praising Him whom my soul loveth," said Cowper to himself. "Bless you for working for Him whom my soul loveth," ought to be the feeling of all true Christians towards each other.
At a watch-night service in the Tabernacle, Mr. Spurgeon related the following incident:—"I knew a minister who once threatened his boy that, if he repeated an offence, he would visit it with such a punishment that he would remember it if he lived for a hundred years. He regretted the rash threat, but when his boy was detected in the forbidden act, he called him aside for prayer, and then told him he must proceed to inflict the threatened punishment. He bade him follow him to the corner of a cornfield beyond the reach of hearing. The trembling culprit obeyed, and conjectured every conceivable form of punishment it was possible his father might inflict. Arrived at the chosen spot, the father bade him kneel, and then with two stalks of wheat lightly brushed his cheek. 'There,' said he, 'I have kept my word; you will never forget that punishment.' And he never has,' said Mr. Spurgeon, 'for that boy was my own father, and he repeated the story to me only a few days ago."
Rev. James Spurgeon lived to rejoice in his grandson's success. On one occasion he told the congregation that while Charles might be able to preach better than his grandfather, he had no better Gospel than that for which his fathers had suffered rather than surrender.
The integrity of the old Puritan appears in the fact that while he might legally, and some would have said morally, have claimed the chapel in which he had preached, he refused to do what he regarded as unjust. He put the chapel in trust, according to the intention of the founders.
And he was poor at the time, which makes the deed appear the more noble—so poor, indeed, that when his cow died he had not sufficient money in hand to buy another. "What will you do now?" asked his wife, thinking of the ten hungry children who needed food.
"I cannot tell what we shall do now, but I know what God will do. God will provide for us; we must have milk for the children," was the noble reply. His faith was rewarded, for the next morning the post brought him sufficient money to purchase another cow. God had heard his prayer, and remembered his faith.
The writer once heard Mr. Spurgeon relate, that when his grandfather lay in his last sickness, some one repeated to him the hymn, "Firm as the earth His promise stands."
The dying man corrected the speaker. "That would be but sorry comfort for me now," he said. "The earth is slipping away from me. No; 'firm as His throne His promise stands.'"
The second of the ten children who formed the family of this good man, John Spurgeon by name, is the father of the great preacher. A hale, hearty Englishman, of the robust, noble stamp that one might expect from such a home. Mrs. John Spurgeon, the mother of Charles, was a native of Colchester. After the ancient Puritan style she trained up her children, not knowing that from among them should arise one of the most remarkable men of the age.
Her two sons, Charles and James, are ministers, and two of her daughters have married those who have given their lives to the preaching of the Gospel.
We are favoured by the Rev. J. Keys with the following memorandum:—"September 4th, 1888.—I went this day to Somerset House to seek the register of baptism of Rev. C. H. Spurgeon. I saw the long, narrow vellum-bound book in use at Stambourn at the time of the passing of the Registration Acts. There is with it a letter from the Rev. James Spurgeon, the pastor, to the representatives of the Commissioners.
"The following is a copy of the original copy, procured by me. I think the entry in the Stambourn book ends at the word 'August.'
"'Charles Haddon, son of John and Eliza Spurgeon, his wife, of the parish of Kelvedon; born the 19th of June 1834; baptized the 3rd of August by the Rev. James Spurgeon.'
"Certified to be an extract from the register or record numbered Essex 59, and entitled a Register of births, baptisms, and burials, formerly kept by the Independents at Stambourn.
"On March the 8th, 1889, I again went to Somerset House to get the register of the birth or baptism of John Spurgeon, father of Pastor C. H. Spurgeon. He was born at Clare, Suffolk, July 15, 1810; but his father appears to have closed his ministry there at the end of 1810 or early in 1811. For this reason John Spurgeon's 'baptism' is not in the Clare book of baptisms, burials, &c., but in that of Stambourn, a copy of which I obtained.
"While looking at the Clare book, I noticed the entries of the two following as baptized by the Rev. J(ames) Spurgeon:—"'Stephen Church Spurgeon, son of William and Rachel Spurgeon, born June 22, '87' (meant for 1807).
"'Sarah Spurgeon, daughter of James and Sarah Spurgeon, born September 18, 1807.'"
Mrs. Jackson (daughter of Rev. John Spurgeon), under date February 20, 1891, writes thus to the author about her father: "In previous biographies very little is recorded of this venerable man of God, who has now attained the ripe age of fourscore years. He has always been an embodiment of homeliness, and from the earliest recollections of his children he imparted a charm to the home-life of his family. His sons and daughters were never so happy as when he gathered them around him for recreation, instruction, and devotion.
"They hailed his return from business and from religious services with delight, for they knew he would not fail to delight them by relating in his own captivating manner the incidents which had come under his observation during the day. Thus 'pleasant evenings' were wisely provided at home, and the temptations which characterise and endanger 'modern society' were avoided. Those early days of happy family life are remembered with devout gratitude.
"No wonder that it is Spurgeonic to prefer old methods.
"To-day the father is greatly revered by his eight living children on account of his devout spirit and the impressive way in which he used to conduct religious services in their midst; and at least one of them rejoices in being brought to Jesus while the father was tenderly pleading for the conversion of his offspring.
"Several stories have already appeared in print as facts or fancies, but others have not found their way into the press. One has the endorsement of an uncle, who was at home at the time: it may do good if told. 'A certain professor of religion in the village was in the habit of going to fairs, &c., which so shocked the thoughtful and puritanical boy, that he resolved to attack the man, in order to kill him as an inconsistent individual. Accordingly, he followed him one day when he was on his way to a fair at some distance, and dealt him blows with the hammer of God's Word, which made him reel, tremble, and turn aside to confess his sin, and pray for pardon and grace to keep him in future.'"
At the time of his eldest son's birth, Mr. Spurgeon kept a shop in the village. Subsequently he removed to Raleigh, in Essex. At a later period he became head-clerk in a coal, coke, and shipping office in Colchester, a position of considerable trust and importance, which he relinquished in order to undertake the pastorate of the church at Cranbrook.
It is said that Mr. John Spurgeon remarked that, "as the parent of seventeen children, I have frequently worn a shabby coat, when I might have possessed a good one, had I cared less for my children's education." He must have long since enjoyed the reward of his self-sacrifice. Indeed, no blessing ever came to men that had not been purchased by pain; many must suffer that the world may be blessed.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon was born on the 19th of June 1834, at Kelvedon, in Essex. His first learning was obtained at a school in Colchester, for even genius requires teaching, and learning involves labour. In "John Ploughman's Talk" Mr. Spurgeon relates an anecdote of his early days. He was at the time a small boy in pinafores, and had lost his pencil. He was without pocket-money, and purchased a slate-pencil on credit. The debt amounted to one farthing, which sum he purposed to pay at Christmas. By some means his father heard of this transaction, and after a powerful lecture upon the sin and danger of debt, the boy was marched down the street, and the farthing was paid amid many solemn warnings. "It was a fine lesson, and I have never forgotten it," says Mr. Spurgeon. "God bless my father," say I, "and send a breed of such fathers into Old England, to save her from being eaten up with villainy; for what with companies, and schemes, and paper-money, the nation is getting to be as rotten as touchwood." His father informed Dr. Ford, an American, that "I had been from home a good 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 a high spirit and daring temper. I listened until she had ended her prayer, and I felt and said, 'Lord, I will go on with Thy work; the children will be cared for.'"
If West became a painter because of his mother's kiss, is it too much to say that his mother's prayers contributed to make Spurgeon a preacher?
From an early age the child was sent occasionally to visit his grandfather, to whom reference has been made. There a maiden aunt, Miss Ann Spurgeon, who lived with the aged minister, ministered to the boy, not without discernment of his marvellous possibilities. Some years since Mr. Spurgeon related the following anecdote of those days, which had been recalled to his mind by his Aunt Ann.
One of the members of the church at Stambourn, named Rhodes, was in the habit of frequenting the public-house, greatly to the grief of his pastor. Little Charles had doubtless noticed his grandfather's sorrow on this account, and laid it to heart. One day he suddenly exclaimed, in the hearing of Mr. Spurgeon, "I'll kill old Rhodes, that I will!" "Hush! hush! my dear," said his grandfather, "you mustn't talk so; it's very wrong, you know, and you'll get taken up by the police if you do anything wrong." "Oh, but I shall not do anything bad; but I'll kill him though, that I will." The good grandfather was puzzled, but yet perfectly sure that the child would not do anything which he knew to be wrong, so he let it pass with some half-mental remark about "that strange child." Shortly after, however, the above conversation was brought to his mind by the child coming in and saying, "I've killed old Rhodes; he'll never grieve my dear grandpa any more." "My dear child," said Mr. Spurgeon, "what have you done? Where have you been?" "I haven't been doing any harm, grandpa," said the child; "I've been about the Lord's work, that's all." Nothing more could be elicited from little Charles. Before long the mystery was explained. "Old Rhodes" called to see his pastor, and, with downcast looks and evident sorrow of heart, narrated the story of how he had been killed, somewhat in this fashion:—"I'm very sorry indeed, my dear pastor, to have caused you such grief and trouble. It was very wrong, I know; but I always loved you, and wouldn't have done it if I'd only thought." Encouraged by Mr. Spurgeon's kind words, he went on with his story thus:—" I was a-sitting in the public, just having my pipe and mug of beer, when that child comes in. To think an old man like me should be took to task and reproved by a bit of a child like that! Well, he points at me with his finger just so, and says, 'What doest thou here, Elijah? sitting with the ungodly, and you a member of a church, and breaking your pastor's heart! I'm ashamed of you! I wouldn't break my pastor's heart, I'm sure.' And then he walks away. Well, I did feel angry; but I knew it was all true, and I was guilty; so I put down my pipe, and did not touch my beer, but hurried away to a lonely spot, and cast myself down before the Lord, confessing my sin and begging for forgiveness. And I do know and believe the Lord in mercy pardoned me; and now I've come to ask you to forgive me; and I'll never grieve you any more, my dear pastor." Truly a child to be loved, observed, and trained; it was evident that from his childhood Charles Spurgeon discovered his life-mission. Of his life in the village manse we have several beautiful pictures. Mr. Spurgeon has repeatedly drawn upon his own experience to supply illustrations of his doctrine. In "Feathers for Arrows" he thus speaks:—"On the mantelshelf of my grandmother's best parlour, among other marvels, was an apple in a phial. It quite filled up the body of the bottle, and my wondering inquiry was, 'How could it have been got into its place?' By stealth I climbed a chair to see if the bottom would unscrew, or if there had been a join in the glass throughout the length of the phial. I was satisfied, by careful observation, that neither of these theories could be supported, and the apple remained to me an enigma and a mystery. But as it was said of that other wonder, the source of the Nile—
'Nature well known, no mystery remains,'
so it was here. Walking in the garden, I saw a phial placed in a tree bearing within it a tiny apple, which was growing within the crystal; now I saw it all; the apple was put into the bottle while it was little, and it grew there. Just so must we catch the little men and women who swarm our streets—we call them boys and girls—and introduce them within the influence of the Church; for alas! it is hard indeed to reach them when they have ripened in carelessness and sin."
The second reminiscence is as follows:—"When a little child, I lived some years in my grandfather's house. In his garden there was a fine old hedge of yew of considerable length, which was clipped and trimmed till it made quite a wall of verdure. Behind it was a wide grass walk which looked out upon the fields, and afforded a quiet outlook. The grass was kept mown, so as to make pleasant walking. Here, ever since the old puritanic chapel was built, godly divines had walked, and prayed, and meditated. My grandfather was wont to use it as his study. Up and down he would walk when preparing his sermons, and always on Sabbath-days, when it was fair, he had half-an-hour there before preaching. To me it seemed to be a perfect paradise, and being forbidden to stay there when grandfather was meditating, I viewed it with no small degree of awe. I love to think of the green and quiet walk at this moment, and could wish for just such a study. But I was once shocked, and even horrified, by hearing a farming man remark concerning this sanctum sanctorum, 'It 'ud grow a many 'taturs if it wor ploughed up.' What cared he for holy memories? What were meditation and contemplation to him? Is it not the chief end of man to grow potatoes, and to eat them? Such on a larger scale would be an unconverted man's estimate of joys so elevated and refined as those of heaven, could he by any possibility be permitted to gaze upon them."
In the "Spare Half-Hour" Mr. Spurgeon relates another incident which is one of the commonplaces of religious story. We give it in his own words:—"When I was a young child staying with my grandfather, there came to preach in the village Mr. Knill, who had been a missionary at St. Petersburg, and a mighty preacher of the Gospel. He came to preach for the London Missionary Society, and arrived on the Saturday at the manse. He was a great Soulwinner, and he soon spied out the boy. He said to me, 'Where do you sleep? for I want to call you up in the morning.' I showed him my little room. At six o'clock he called me up, and we went into the arbour. There, in the sweetest way, he told me of the love of Jesus, and of the blessedness of trusting in Him and loving Him in our childhood. With many a story he preached Christ to me, and told me how good God had been to him, and then he prayed that I might know the Lord and serve Him. He knelt down in the arbour and prayed for me with his arms about my neck. He did not seem content unless I kept with him in the interval between the services, and he heard my childish talk with patient love. On Monday morning he did as on the Sabbath, and again on Tuesday. Three times he taught me and prayed with me, and before he had to leave, my grandfather had come back from the place where he had gone to preach, and all the family were gathered to morning prayer. Then, in the presence of them all, Mr. Knill took me on his knee, and said, 'This child will one day preach the Gospel, and he will preach it to great multitudes. I am persuaded that he will preach in the chapel of Rowland Hill, where (I think he said) I am now the minister.' He spoke very solemnly, and called upon all present to witness what he said. Then he gave me sixpence as a reward if I would learn the hymn—
'God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform.'
I was made to promise that when I preached in Rowland Hill's Chapel that hymn should be sung. Think of that as a promise from a child! Would it ever be other than an idle dream? Years flew by. After I had begun for some little time to preach in London, Dr. Alexander Fletcher had to give the annual sermon to children in Surrey Chapel, but as he was taken ill, I was asked in a hurry to preach to the children. 'Yes,' I said, 'I will, if the children will sing "God moves in a mysterious way."'
As an example of his smartness, it is related that during his school-days he observed that the bottom place in the class was the warmest. At once he contrived to work his way downwards, until the master detected the reason, and reversed the position of the class. The boy immediately went up to the top of the class, which was now next to the fire.
In the year 1844 he went to spend his vacation with his grandfather, and during these happy days his love of Protestantism was deepened. To men like the pastor of Stambourn, Popery was a real foe, and the pages of Foxe were diligently read and believed. It has been said that one of the greatest gifts that God has conferred upon man is the power of asking questions. This faculty Charles, after the manner of acute intellects, began to exercise, sometimes most amusingly, as appears in the pages of the "Spare Half-Hour." The child was permitted to read the Scriptures at family prayer. He came to a passage that he did not understand, and he asked for an explanation. This was not given; but morning after morning the same chapter was read and the same questions asked, until the grandfather yielded and gave the needful information. Which thing was prophetic. Man's highest prerogative is to know, and he must ask before he knows.
It has for a long time been the style to speak of Mr. Spurgeon as if he were ignorant and untrained. He himself has jocosely remarked that he had not the benefit of a college training, and teased his brother about the supposed superior advantages that he enjoyed. As a matter of fact, Mr. Spurgeon is far better provided with learning than those who are not intimate with him know. Parade of all kind he abominates; but it is certain that at the age of seventeen he could easily have secured a degree had the Universities then been open. His tutor, Mr. Edward Leeding, now dead, was very emphatic about the solid learning and talents of his illustrious pupil, and certainly he should be permitted to know. His testimony is, "that at the age of seventeen Mr. Spurgeon could have easily secured a degree at the University if he had so desired."
It must not be forgotten that the use of strong, spicy Saxon is not a proof of ignorance, but of learning, and still more of that native sense and discernment of what is best and fit which is a mark of true genius.
In the year 1849 Mr. Spurgeon went to Newmarket as usher in a school there. The pastor of the Baptist church of that town was of the dry-as-dust kind, and the youth would often impart his dissatisfaction at the sermon to a good servant of the family.
"Well," she would say, "did you get anything this morning?"
"No, not a bite."
"Neither did I, until I joined not with every word that he said, and then I did better."
It is an odd sermon that requires a negative to make it understandable!
Another time this woman said, "I felt like an old hen scratching on a dung-heap for a grain of corn, but there was none. Never mind, I thought; scratching will keep your legs warm."
A Bishop of Cork once said of a sermon preached by his Dean, "It was an admirably arranged and delivered sermon, clear, eloquent, argumentative, illustrative, but it had not in it Gospel enough to save a tomtit!" Which kind of sermon may gratify those who do not care about personal religion, but can never satisfy a seeking soul; it did not satisfy Charles Spurgeon.
It is further related that when, in accordance with the custom of the Independents, the youth should have been proposed in a church-meeting as a candidate for fellowship, the minister delayed doing so. Whereupon, after sundry ineffectual remonstrances, which were disregarded, the youth called upon the minister and informed him that he intended to walk down to the church-meeting and propose himself! Verily a youth who seemed likely to cause much trouble to the Rev. Go-very-easy and to all his kind. At a meeting of ministers and deacons, held at the Metropolitan Tabernacle on Tuesday, May 28, 1889, Mr. Spurgeon said: "I was a member of the church at Newmarket when I first joined the church, and was afterwards transferred to the church at Cambridge, one of the best in England. I attended for three Lord's days at the communion, and nobody spoke to me. I sat in a pew with a gentleman, and when I got outside I said, 'My dear friend, how are you?'
"He said, 'You have the advantage of me; I don't know you.'
"I said, 'I don't think I have, for I don't know you. But when I came to the Lord's table and partook of the memorials of His death, I thought you were my brother, and I thought I would speak to you.'
"I was only sixteen years of age, and he said, 'Sweet simplicity!'
"'Oh, is it true, sir?' I said, 'is it true?'
"He said, 'It is; but I am glad you did not say this to any of the deacons.' He asked me home to tea.
"I said I could not come that day; and he said, 'Come next Sunday, if you like.' I agreed, and for three years I was often in his house. I was his friend and companion, and when his wife was sick and died, I was still his friend and helper, and we are bound together by the closest ties. He naturally laughs now very much at the way in which I introduced myself without a card."
A period of religious despondency had preceded this avowal of his faith in God, a time such as comes in the life-history of all souls, when the faith of childhood has to be transmuted into the faith of riper years. This time of gloom and mental anguish was ended one snowy morning, when, entering the Primitive Methodist Chapel at Colchester, an unknown preacher discoursed from the text, "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth." The preacher, after the fashion of his denomination, kept to his text, and urged his hearers to look to Christ. This the unknown youth did, and found that looking to Christ cured his doubts and gave him peace. This was in January 1850.
A Primitive Methodist preacher once remarked that Dr. M'Call carefully polished a stone before he flung it. "The probability is that it will fly off and hit nobody, because it is so well polished. I go down to the seaside and catch up a good handful of stones, and fling them, with what force I can, among the crowd, quite sure that by God's grace every stone has its mark, and hits somebody." Which style of preaching Rowland Hill calls "slapdash," but which he highly commends as the most useful.
For preachers have an aim, and must keep it in view; they watch to win souls as those who must give an account. Who can tell but that the faithful preaching of the Gospel by thee may not be wonderfully successful? Subordinately to the great purpose, every man should preach as best he can, always remembering that his methods must be such as are in accordance with the principles of the Gospel. It is large comfort for men of little ability that in a small Primitive Methodist chapel the greatest preacher of the age was converted under a simple sermon preached by an unknown man.
The pulpit from which this sermon was preached has been purchased, and stands in the playroom of the Stockwell Orphanage. A more valuable memorial of the sermon is the vast multitude in heaven and earth that have been won for Christ by the books and sermons of Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
"Sow in the morn thy seed,
At eve hold not thy hand;
To doubt or fear give thou no heed,
Broadcast it o'er the land."