The Triumphant End
N THE LAST HOUR of the last day of January, 1892, the spirit of Spurgeon sped home from his loved Mentone. After forty years of unexampled ministry, he entered into rest. Two or three days before the end he said to his secretary, "My work is done," and after that he had nothing to do but to wait the summons. There were no raptures, no heroics, nor were there any fears or hesitations. Shortly after ten o'clock Joseph Harrald was sure he saw a company of angels hovering over the Berceau; at five minutes past eleven only the body was left on the bed; before twelve Mrs. Spurgeon led the little group in praise and prayer. It was so quiet, yet it was so triumphant. All the bugles were blown as he departed, and the trumpeters sounded for him on the other side. It was a right enough instinct which made the mourners choose as his text, "I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith." When it was quoted at the funeral people asked when he said it. He never said it, he did it all the time.
To this Mrs. Spurgeon sent a suitable reply, but the invalid insisted on adding a postscript. This is it:
P.S. Yours is a word of love such as those only write who have been into the King's Country, and seen much of His Face. My heart's love to you.
Many other distinguished persons also wrote.
How well I remember the suspense of that anxious month. I was at the Manor House, Newton Harcourt, near my home in Leicester, and every morning a porter from Great Glen Station would come along the canal towpath with the telegram from Westwood giving the doctors' bulletin. The tide ebbed and flowed. At the tabernacle prayer meetings were held continually, and it seemed as if every promise of the Scripture, and every argument of faith, were used in pleading with God for the patient's recovery.
"Rarely, if ever," wrote Dr. Clifford, "has a warmer regard, or a more widespread interest in an invalid been excited. Love is victorious. Convictions are like bands of iron that cannot be broken; but opinions are as the weakest twine snapped in a moment, or burned in the first outleap of the flame of affection."
On August 9, a letter in the pastor's own hand was read to the congregation at the tabernacle.
The Lord's Name be praised for first giving and then hearing the loving prayers of His people! Through these prayers my life is prolonged. I feel greatly humbled, and very grateful, at being the subject of so great a love and so wonderful an outburst of prayer.
It soon became evident that though he was better there could yet be no thought of resuming work, so in October a fortnight's change was arranged at Eastbourne. As day after day Mr. Spurgeon went for a drive, respectful crowds would be outside his hotel waiting to see him start. He bore the change so well that, arrangements having meanwhile been made for Dr. A. T. Pierson to occupy the tabernacle pulpit, he started for the South of France on Monday, October 26, accompanied by Mrs. Spurgeon, who after years of illness felt able to undertake the journey, by Dr. and Mrs. James Spurgeon, and the devoted "armour-bearer," Joseph W. Harrald.
They reached the Hotel Beau-Rivage, Mentone, without incident, and there Mr. and Mrs. Spurgeon had, in spite of his weakness, three months of earthly paradise. To his son in New Zealand he wrote in triumph, "And your mother is here!" On the last evening of the year, and on the first of January, he gave two addresses, which were afterward published under the title Breaking the Long Silence. On Sunday evenings, January 10 and 17, he conducted a brief service in his room, reading some of his own writings, and at the close of the second service, he announced the hymn "The Sands of Time Are Sinking." And that was the end of all service for him on earth. A fortnight more he waited. People at home, anticipating his return, were building a "lift" at the rear of the tabernacle to save him the exertion of walking up the stairs; but they were waiting for him, too, in the unclouded country, and it was thither he went. What a welcome he must have received from the thousands who had already found their way there through his ministry!
In the first of his last two addresses occur the sentences:
During the past year I have been made to see that there is more love and unity among God's people than is generally believed. I feel myself a debtor to all God's people upon earth. We mistake our divergencies of judgment for differences of heart; but they are far from being the same thing. In these days of infidel criticism believers of all sons will be driven into sincere unity.
The news of his home-going flashed round the world. On Monday the newspapers featured but one story"Death of Spurgeon," and it was difficult that day to secure a newspaper, the demand was so great. The only experience at all resembling it was the day during the war when another single announcement sufficed "Death of Kitchener."
In spite of other suggestions, it was arranged that Spurgeon must be buried among his own people. So on February 4, at the Presbyterian Church, Mentone, the Rev. J. E. Somerville conducted a memorial service there, and then the coffin was conveyed across France, and arrived on Monday, February 9, at Victoria Station, London. It was met by a little group of friends and brought to the Pastor's College, where it remained that afternoon. At night it was carried into the tabernacle, and there the next day some sixty thousand persons passed through to pay their homage to the dead.
Memorial services, unexampled in their wide expression of sympathy, were held four times on the Wednesday, great interest being given to Mr. Harrald's account of Spurgeon's last days. Mr. Ira D. Sankey was present and sang twice. The culminating moment of the day was when Herber Evans, with almost Welsh "hwyl," said, "But there is one Charles Haddon Spurgeon whom we cannot bury; there is not earth enough in Norwood to bury himthe Spurgeon of history. The good works that he has done will live. You cannot bury them." None who were there will ever realise more concentrated emotion than then.
Dr. Pierson rose to the occasion with combined wisdom and grace, preaching no less than five sermons during the eight days. The funeral was on the Thursday. One newspaper said that you might have searched London and not have found three women who did not wear black on the street on that day. All along the route to Norwood Cemetery crowds stood in front of the closed shops. At the Stockwell Orphanage the children sat on a raised platform, in deep mourning. At the grave, Archibald G. Brown, the most distinguished of Mr. Spurgeon's men, and his close friend, pronounced a eulogy by which he will be remembered for ever. Here it is in cold type:
Beloved President, faithful Pastor, Prince of Preachers, brother beloved, dear Spurgeonwe bid thee not "Farewell," but only for a little while "Goodnight." Thou shalt rise soon at the first dawn of the Resurrection day of the redeemed. Yet is the goodnight not ours to bid, but thine; it is we who linger in the darkness; thou art in God's holy light. Our night shall soon be passed, and with it all our weeping. Then, with thine, our songs shall greet the morning of a day that knows no cloud nor close; for there is no night there.
As the casket was lowered into the grave nothing was to be seen but the text at the foot of it about the good fight, and the Bible that lay on the top of it, open at the text that led Spurgeon into the light "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else."
All the services are described in the volume which I edited entitled From the Pulpit to the Palm Branch, and I quote from the Preface my own words:
Since this good gift, which the Giver of all good bestowed upon the church, and upon the world, was to be taken from us, we are constrained to say that he could have gone from our midst in no better way. This is not only a matter of faith, but, having tried to imagine other methods of departure, we are compelled to fall back on God's way as the wisest and the best.
In John Ploughman's Talk there is a sentence which runs,
Let the wind blow fresh and free over my grave, and if there must be a line about me, let it be
A few days before the end, at Mentone, he said, "Remembera plain slab, with C. H. S. upon it: nothing more." But love denied the last request; and reverence substituted the name "Charles Haddon Spurgeon" for that of John Ploughman. Then on one side of the tomb is the verse of the hymn he was accustomed to write in albums, and the verse that follows it.
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die.
There is little more to add. Mrs. Spurgeon lived for some years afterward at Westwood, and her body now lies in the same grave as her husband. The tomb of Thomas Spurgeon is nearby. The Tabernacle Church still continues; the college is still training men to preach the Gospel; the orphanage, in a new location, still shelters and educates girls and boys.
For the rest, Spurgeon's own last words to the little Mentone group shall also be his last words to the readers of his biography:
The vista of a praiseful life will never close, but continue throughout eternity. From psalm to psalm, from hallelujah to hallelujah, we will ascend the hill of the Lord, until we come into the Holiest of all, where, with veiled faces, we will bow before the Divine Majesty in the bliss of endless adoration. Throughout this year may the Lord be with you! Amen.