Memorable Incidents and Letters
O RECORD ONLY a tithe of the memorable incidents that have occurred in connection with the publication of the sermons and to mention but a few of the prominent men who have found them of benefit and blessing to themselves, would occupy far more space than can be spared in the present little volume; but a few typical instances may be given.
Perhaps one of the most remarkable features of the early circulation of the sermons was the way in which they became generally known in Australia. A Christian gentleman in that colony, feeling the need of sending the Gospel into outlying districts in such at way as to ensure that it would be read, obtained C. H. Spurgeon's permission to insert some of the sermons in the Australian papers as advertisements. This was a course which, as the preacher himself said, necessitated the advertiser "spending week by week a sum which I scarcely dare to mention, lest it should not be believed." The spirit in which this Colonial admirer of C. H. Spurgeon's discourses entered upon his expensive mission may be gathered from the following letter which he sent to the preacher: "Having been brought through grace to feel somewhat of the power and love of Jesus and the blessings of the glorious Gospel, and knowing the wants of the great mass of our widely-scattered population, and seeing that your sermons so fully set forth the way of salvation, I was induced to publish them in the newspapers here. The Australasian being a sporting paper, the manager seemed indisposed to help in carrying out my idea, so he gave orders that I was to be charged the full price as advertisements for the sermons; but, feeling the importance of the step, I resolved to pay what he demanded until his readers were interested in them, and then I thought better terms might be obtained. After the publication had continued for some six or nine months, I waited on the manager, who did not even then appear willing to grant me the reduction I wanted; and, not being able to convince him of the appreciation his readers had for the sermons, I suggested that we should ask for an expression of their opinion with regard to them. The result was that about four hundred letters were received; and I send the enclosed specimens of them for your good cheer. I should be sorry that my name should be made public, and I have withheld my own from the papers here, fearing that the enemy might say that I am seeking the approbation of men. The reason of my sending these letters to you is that Mr. __________ called on me and I showed them to him, and he said that I ought to let you see them.
"I have sent a few of the papers; containing the sermons to Mr. Samuel Morley, Mr. Peabody, Earl Shaftesbury and others, in the hope that they might be induced to do likewise, as a newspaper often falls into the hands of men and women who would not take a tract. May I ask you for any suggestion that will help to further the cause and advance the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ?
"In conclusion, I would beg your prayers for myself. I am seeking to grow in grace and in knowledge of the love of God. Also, please pray that this work of publishing the sermons here may abundantly prosper."
Four hundred letters was a large number to receive in response to an invitation by a Colonial paper in those early days, and the replies came from all parts of Australia and New Zealand, from the inhabitants of towns and villages, and from lonely dwellers in the Bush. In many cases the sermons, published in so strange a manner, were blessed to the salvation of souls, and it appeared to be no uncommon thing for the people of a scattered district to gather together weekly to hear the welcome advertisement read out. One and all, the letters were most cheering.
"Sir," wrote one man in an outlying part of Victoria, "having seen an advertisement lately, at the head of one of the sermons published weekly in The Australasian, asking for an expression of opinion as to their usefulness, I venture respectfully to offer the following plain and brief statement in reply. I have been for some five years or more one of those unfortunates who are commonly called 'swagmen.' Traveling about a few months since looking for employment, I came to a public-house by the roadside, into which I went for a drink and an hour's rest, as I was very tired. A newspaper was lying on the counter containing Mr. Spurgeon's sermon on the text, 'Turn, O backsliding Children, saith the Lord; for I am married unto you.' I read it through with increasing interest as I went along; and it exactly met my case. It aroused me to a sense of my utterly lost condition as a sinner of the deepest dye, and, at the same time, so encouraged me to seek for mercy and peace at the foot of the Cross, that I could not resist doing so; and I humbly hope and believe that I did not seek in vain. I left that public-house resolved never to enter one again, unless absolutely compelled by circumstances to do so. Since then I have enjoyed a peace to which I had been long a stranger. I now make God's Word my daily study and attend Divine service whenever I can. Although nominally a Church of England man, previous to reading the sermon alluded to, had only been once to church since my arrival in the Colony, now nearly seven years ago. To my personal knowledge, these sermons are extensively read in the country districts; and, for my own part, I look to the arrival of the weekly paperwhich my employer always lends meas the messenger of joy and comfort to myself; and I pray that it may prove to be the same to hundreds of others also. I would just, in conclusion, ask you to offer the expression of my humble and heartfelt thanks to the friend who pays for the advertisements of Mr. Spurgeon's sermons."
Another correspondent wrote thus: "Reading in The Australasian a request that parties approving of Mr. Spurgeon's sermons would communicate with you, I place the following facts before your notice. I have been in the Colony about sixteen years; and during that period have been into a place of worship about three times, and then more from accident than design. During my abode in this Colony I am sorry to say that I have contracted the horrible habit of drunkenness, occasionally getting what some people call on the spree 'for a fortnight' or three weeks at a stretch. The summer before last I had 'the horrors' twice; and last summer I had delirium tremens just coming on. Unable to either sit, stand, lie down or walk about, I casually picked up The Australasian, and what should catch my eye but Mr. Spurgeon's sermon on 'The Aproachableness of Jesus' (No. 809). I commenced reading it: and before I had gone far tears came into my eyes and I had not got through it before I had to hold my hand before my face for very shame. By the time I had read it all, I found myself looking to Christ to be relieved from my hideous burden of sin; and, to my astonishment, the delirium tremens vanished like a heavy dew on a summer's morning. I was weak in consequence of the long drinking-bout, but felt quite happy in my mind; and since, am glad to say, that I never enjoyed such peace of mind in my life before."
Many years later, when Pastor Thomas Spurgeon was in Geelong, the writer of this letter called upon him and had a most interesting conversation, during the course of which he produced from his pocket a torn and discolored copy of the newspaper containing the sermon that had been used by the Holy Spirit to his conversion.
The writers of the four hundred letters referred to above were, of course, not the only people to whom the sermons in The Australasian had been blessed. C. H. Spurgeon himself, over a course of years, received direct many letters of similar import, and, from time to time, other instances of conversion by the same means, became known. In one letter a minister recorded a remarkable case of conversion. "I was preaching," he said, "in the Baptist Chapel, Aberdeen Street, Geelong, a few years ago, when, at the close of an evening service, an elderly man came to the platform to bid me 'good-night.' As he was a stranger, I asked him where he came from, and how long he had known the Lord: he then told me the story of his conversion, and the strange way by which he was led to the Savior. About five years before, while keeping sheep, some miles beyond Ballarat, he picked up a sheet of a weekly newspaper, which the wind had blow, over the plains. He glanced at a few sentences, and these drew him on to read more, and then he found he was eagerly perusing a sermon by Mr. C. H. Spurgeon. 'If I had known it was a sermon,' he said, 'before I had begun to read it, I should have tossed it away;' but, having commenced the discourse, he wanted to see how it finished. It set him thinking; he carefully preserved it, reading it over and over again in deep concern, until, finally, it became the means of leading him to the Cross. For many years he had not entered a place of worship, and he was utterly careless about his soul till this paper was blown to his feet. Now, when he has the opportunity, he always attends some Baptist service; but this is a rare pleasure, owing to his lonely life and employment in the bush. He does, however, get the weekly sermons, which cheer and comfort him with spiritual nourishment."
More remarkable still was the case of the conversion of a woman, the wife of a publican in England. She received a parcel from a friend in Australia, and the wrapper happened to be a copy of a newspaper containing one of C. H. Spurgeon's sermons. The woman read it casually, became interested, then felt exercised in soul, and, finally, was led to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as her Savior. A somewhat similar case occurred in Jersey, where a gentleman used to receive regularity a copy of the paper containing C. H. Spurgeon's sermons. He had been converted by reading one of the sermons in The Australasian, and, not knowing anything about the English edition of the discourses, he subscribed to the colonial paper. Years afterwards, when he learnt of the preacher, he wrote to him as follows, enclosing a gift of money for use in some of his many good works: "I have been a reader of your sermons these seventeen years or more, and God has been graciously pleased to bless them to the salvation of my soul. I had almost begun to think my Savior had forgotten me; I knew I had long ignored Him. I have lately found out the way to procure the sermons in any number, and have gladly availed myself of it. I think I have now nearly six hundred of them; I lend them out in books of fifty. I prize them above every other means of grace, save the Book. As you so frequently want money for the good works in which you are always engaged, I thought you would not despise my trifle. I wish it were fifty times as much. Receive my sincere and heartfelt thanks for the unspeakable help your sermons have afforded and still afford me."
We can find room for only one more Australian case, that of a well-known saw-mill proprietor in New South Wales, who had become an able and earnest local preacher in the Wesleyan Church. At an evangelistic service he thus referred to his own case:
"For twenty-five years of my life I lived in the darkness of sin. I had never been inside a Protestant place of worship. I had never in all that time met a Christian man. I knew nothing of the distinction between Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc.; they were all alike despised, in my eyes, as being all in gross error. About that time five of my companions were drowned together at Port Stevens. The occurrence made a deep impression upon my heart. The thought would force itself upon me, 'What if you had been among the number? Would you not now have been weeping and wailing among the lost souls in hell?'
"I was greatly troubled, and did what alone I could doprayed to God; but not knowing anything of the way of salvation through faith in Christ, and having no one to guide me, I lived for two years in the most awful agony. I would rather die than live those two years over again. I knew nothing of the great preachers of the day, until I happened to hear of Mr. Spurgeon; and a friend being about to visit Sydney, I asked him to get me at volume of Spurgeon's sermons. I read them eagerly, and received much light and comfort from them. At length, I came to one bearing the title, 'Seeking for Jesus' (No. 947), and as I read God spoke peace to my troubled heart. I felt that my sin was pardoned, and I could sing aloud for joy. It was about noon on a glorious Sabbath day when the great change took place, and I well remember the spot on which it occurred. Since then, ten years ago now, I have been telling the story of the Cross wherever I can."
A Wesleyan minister, who wrote and told C. H. Spurgeon of this incident, mentioned that a night or two afterwards an old gentleman stood up in the service and stated that twenty-one years earlier he was led to decision for Christ through reading the sermon entitled, "Now" (No. 603).
From America similar remarkable incidents were constantly being recorded. One must suffice here. At a great religious Convention, held in Chicago, in 1867, a delegate was present from a newly-formed settlement in the Far West, and he expressed the earnest desire that a preacher might be sent to minister to the spiritual needs of the Christians there, as, through the reading of C. H. Spurgeon's sermons, two hundred persons had been converted to God.
It was the same everywhere. The sermons appealed to no particular class, or creed, or nationality. They contained the Word of God and the Word of God knows no distinctions. They were read in little country chapels, where no preacher was available, and they were read in churches of the Establishment which boasted a high ritual. An instance of this was mentioned to C. H. Spurgeon in a letter from a correspondent, who said: "I think it will be gratifying to you to know that at St. __________ Church, __________ Road [a fashionable place of worship in the West End of London], which is generally supposed to be what is termed 'very high,' each Thursday afternoon during Lent there have been devotional readings, consisting of extracts from the works of various living divines. The reading this afternoon was from a sermon preached by you, fourteen or fifteen years ago, from the text, 'What if thy father answer thee roughly?' (No. 1188). The greater part of the discourse was read from the pulpit by the junior curate."
Many distinguished men made the sermons their constant companions. Dr. Livingstone, living a lonely life in the very heart of the Dark Continent, found comfort from these discourses. Among his possessions after his death was found a discolored and much used copy of the sermon, Accidents, not Punishments (No. 408). It had been carried by him throughout his travels, and at the top of the first page he had written the words: "Very good, D. L."
Bishop Welldon was a close friend of C. H. Spurgeon, and he told the preacher how greatly his grandmother prized the sermons; whereupon C. H. Spurgeon wrote a kindly note to the old lady and sent it through her grandson. Dr. Welldon replied: "I am deeply grateful for your kind thought of my grandmother. Nothing, I think, could cheer her so much in her last days as this word from you. It will, perhaps, be a little interesting to you to know that some years ago, when I was about to live in Germany, she put into my hands several volumes of your sermons, and made me promise to read one every Sunday mourning until I came home, as she thought, poor dear! that Senior Classics were sure to be skeptical, and ever since then I have been a student of your writings, so that I suppose there are few members of the English Church who know them better, or owe more to them, than I do."
About the same time Canon Frederick Harford, of Westminster, wrote asking the preacher for the numbers or texts of any of his sermons wherein he dwelt upon the life of the world to come, and, in reply, C. H. Spurgeon sent him two discourses, one of which was the famous sermon, entitled, "Supposing Him to be the Gardener" (No. 1699). The Canon at once acknowledged the gift in these words: "Little did I guess, on entering my house last night at 10:30, that such a rare and precious feast was prepared for me. Both of those sermons are valuable treasures, but the inspired dream at Mentone [the sermon named above] is one that exceeds in usefulness, as well as in superb cleverness, all the memorable sermons I have read from English or from American sources during the last twenty-five years. I have ordered fifty copies today, purposing to send the first to the poor mourner, whom your message is certain to comfort, and another to your germine admirer, Louisa, Lady Ashburton. Some shall go to France, where I hope a translation will be made into the language of the country; and some will go to certain weak brethren whom I have been lately called to 'work at' and endeavor to draw away from Agnosticism and so-called Spiritualism . . . I must not forget to tell you how one of the most excellent women I ever knewand whose loss I shall ever mournalways read your sermons from the year 1856, when I was ordained at Croydon, until the year 1868, when she was taken away."
Similar testimony, as to the value of the sermons, was given by Colonel Morton, of Mildmay, who wrote to the preacher: "Allow me, very late in the day, to thank you for the numberless times you have refreshed and strengthened and comforted us soldiers, who, often in India and other countries, on the line of march hundreds of miles from any place of worship, or means of grace (in the ordinary sense of the word), have met under trees, some little distance from camp and have after prayer and hymns, introduced you as our foreteller. We had a large Bible-class in my regiment in those day, and many a blessing has been entreated upon you by those dear fellows, your sermon 'In the Garden with Him' (No. 2106), was my companion, quite lately, when going up Monte Pelegrino, near Palermo, en route from Malta to England. In what stray corners of the wide world, where soldiers and sailors are, do you not come and bring messages of God's love and truth? I have long wished to thank you, as hundreds of others would wish to do; and here is my opportunity. May God increasingly bless you!"
Mr. Gladstone more than once heard C. H. Spurgeon in the pulpit, and when the great preacher was lying ill at Norwood, in July, 1891, he wrote to Mrs. Spurgeon as follows:" In my own home, darkened at the present time [Mr. Gladstone had recently lost his eldest son], I have read with sad interest the daily accounts of Mr. Spurgeon's illness; and I cannot help conveying to you the earnest assurance of my sympathy with you. and with him, and of my cordial admiration, not only of his splendid powers, but still more of his devoted and unfailing character. May I humbly, commend you and him, in all contingencies, to the infinite stores of the Divine love and mercy." After the preacher's death, when Mr. Gladstone received a volume of his sermons, he wrote: I have retained a high impression of Mr. Spurgeon's great qualities, and of an integrity and manhood as remarkable as his eloquence . . ."
Before closing this chapter, there is one curious incident that must be recorded. It is best told in C. H. Spurgeon's own words:
"I once learnt something," he says, "in a way one does not often get a lesson. I felt at that time very angry and very sad and very heavy at heart and I began to doubt in my own mind whether I really enjoyed the things which I preached to others. It seemed to be a dreadful a thing for me to be only a waiter and not a guest at the gospel feast. I went to a certain gentry town, and on the Sabbath day entered a Methodist Chapel. The man who conducted the service was an engineer; he read the Scriptures and prayed and preached. The tears flowed freely from my eyes. I was moved to the deepest emotion by every sentence of the sermon, and I felt all my difficulty removed, for the Gospel, I saw, was very dear to me and had a wonderful effect upon my own heart. I went to the preacher and said, "I thank you very much for that sermon. He asked me who I was, and when I told him he looked as red as possible, and he said: 'Why, it was one of your sermons that I preached this morning!' 'Yes,' I said, 'I know it was, but that was the very message that I wanted to hear, because I then saw that I did enjoy the very Word I myself preached.' It was, happily, so arranged in the good providence of God. Had it been his own sermon it would not have answered the purpose nearly so well as when it turned out to be one of mine."