The Romantic Years
R. SPURGEON was able truthfully to boast that the doctrines of grace that he preached at the beginning of his ministry he preached to the end. But he would have admitted freely that with the years there was a change in emphasis and a development of style. Indeed, in the preface to the volume of his sermons for 1855 he draws attention to the fact that during that year he gave more place to the subject of the second coming of Christ than before, and he preached the doctrine consistently during the rest of his life, though he gave less place to it in later years, and never at any time committed himself to any theory of the order of events.
Like his great model, Whitefield, he seems blessed with "no constitution." He is endowed with a voice strong, clear, bell-like, which could be heard by many thousands, and with a physical frame equal to a vast amount of hard work. In contour of face, he reminds us something of John Caird, and his eye has the lustrous light of genius in it.
That on the one hand; on the other: "In our estimation he is just a spoilt boy."
In Edinburgh he felt himself to be a failure. He thought the Spirit of God had deserted him, and he told the people that the chariot wheels had been taken off. He was subject to such moods to the end, but a confession like that shows clearly enough that at other times, in spite of his easy eloquence, his reliance was on God's Spirit and not on himself.
On one of these occasions of gloom "he became impressed with the idea that he was only a waiter, and not a guest, at the Gospel feast," and so he retired to a village, determined not to preach again until the question was settled. On the Sunday he went to a little Methodist Chapel, where the service was conducted by a local preacher. He tells us that as he listened the tears flowed from his eyes. He said, "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 on my heart. I went to the preacher and said, 'I thank you very much for the sermon.' He asked who I was, and when I told him he turned as red as possible, and said, 'Why, it was one of your own sermons I preached this morning.' 'Yes,' I said, 'I know it was; but that was the very message I wanted to hear, because I then saw that I did enjoy the very word I myself preached.'"
This Scottish visit laid the foundation for the great influence that Spurgeon had to the end in that country, where his sermons were read more regularly and valued more greatly than perhaps anywhere else. A second visit in 1859, during the progress of the phenomenal services in the metropolis, increased his reputation.
On April 28, 1858, in the Surrey Gardens Music Hall, a sermon was given on behalf of the Baptist Missionary Society, which was probably the most memorable in its history, for on a Wednesday morning the great building was thronged. On several other occasions Mr. Spurgeon preached again for the Missionary Society, and in 1870 he spoke for the Bible Translation Society.
Meanwhile, in the summer of 1858 he visited Ireland, and the minister of my own church, Dr. James Morgan, of Fisherwick Place, who heard him three out of the four times he preached in Belfast, my native city, wrote:
I was not disappointed, although the mass of the people were. When he preached in the Botanic Gardens he was well heard of seven thousand persons. He was well received, and deserved to be so for his plain, honest and good preaching and deportment. I much question if his influence was as good as that of Mr. Grattan Guinness, who preceded him by a few months. There was a great contrast between them. Mr. Spurgeon was gay, lively and humorous; Mr. Guinness was solemn and earnest, and very reserved. Mr. Spurgeon is by far the abler man, yet were there a poll tomorrow in Belfast for the two, it would be in favor of Mr. Guinness.
It will not be forgotten that the great Irish revival came the following year, 1859. Though it could not be traced to the influence of any preacher, since it broke out spontaneously in many quarters about the same time without any attributable human cause, it is not without interest to trace God's hand in sending His messengers before His face to prepare the path of His feet. In my boyhood days the two evangelical names that were treasured in all our hearts were theseC. H. Spurgeon and H. Grattan Guinness.
In February, 1860, while the great tabernacle was being built, Mr. Spurgeon, after spending a week in Dublin, paid a visit to Paris. It was arranged by the Rev. William Blood, who escaped from the burning of the "Amazon." The visit was so great a success that a special pamphlet giving a description of it was published. Mr. Spurgeon was then preaching each Sunday at Exeter Hall, and the Paris visit was therefore strictly limited as to time. He preached three times in the American Chapel, and twice in the Oratoire. Each evening he was invited to the residence of some person of position in the city, and these salon gatherings were as remarkable as the public services. He also visited the college at Passy and addressed the missionary students there. Neither Scotland nor Ireland had given him such a genial reception. Dr. Frederic Monod wrote that "Mr. Spurgeon is a new proof that God does nothing by halves. If He calls one of His servants to special work, He gives him the special endowments necessary for it." Dr. Grand-Pierre wrote, "One would willingly hear him during two hours at a time. Among the requisites to oratory which he possesses, three particularly struck usa prodigious memory, a full, harmonious voice, and a most fruitful imagination. Mr. Spurgeon is in reality a poet." And M. Prevost-Paradol, a distinguished writer of the time, a Roman Catholic, declared that he was "the most natural, and, we would willingly say, the most inspired orator we have ever had the pleasure of hearing."
At this time we find a verdict calmly given that "his name is the most popular in Christendom," and a shrewd judge of men declared that "he acts in everything as if he had been the first actor, and as if this were the first age of Christian society, with neither ancestry nor precedent." Indeed, a High Church critic, on being asked where he would put Spurgeon, seeing that his ministry was so manifestly blessed of God, declared that he was like Melchizedek, without predecessor and without successor. He was the man most talked about everywhere, beloved and despised according to circumstances. Bishop Wilberforce, on being asked whether he did not envy the Nonconformists their possession of Spurgeon, gave the caustic answer, "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's ass."
At the end of April, 1863 a visit was paid to Holland, where Mr. Spurgeon preached in the chief cities with much acceptance, sometimes speaking for two hours at a stretch. In conversation long afterward, though he lamented that he found it difficult to approach individuals on spiritual matters, he told me that one of his most encouraging interviews was when he visited the Queen of Holland, and talked with her heart to heart. This was on Friday morning, April 24. There may be put alongside that the greeting of a peasant woman, who came with much emotion, gripping his hand at the door of the Dom-Kirk at Utrecht, and said, "Oh, Mr. Spurgeon, God bless you! If you had only lived for my soul's sake, you would not have lived in vain!"
The months of June and July, 1860 were given to a Continental tour; Mr. Spurgeon's first holiday in seven years. Belgium, the minor German states, and Switzerland were visited. The chief interest lies in his visit to Geneva, where he preached twice in Calvin's pulpit. "The first time I saw the medal of John Calvin, I kissed it," he says. "I preached in the Cathedral of St. Peter. I did not feel very comfortable when I came out in full canonicals, but the request was put to me in such a beautiful way that I could have worn the Pope's tiara if they had asked me. They said, 'Our dear brother comes to us from another country. Now when an ambassador comes from another country, he has a right to wear his own costume at court, but as a mark of a very great esteem, he sometimes condescends to the weakness of the country which he visits, and will wear court dress!' 'Well,' I said, 'yes, that I will, certainly; but I shall feel like running in a sack.' It was John Calvin's cloak, and that reconciled me to it very much."
Among the books he most valued were Calvin's works; in the first volume of Calvin's commentaries in his library is written, "The volumes making up a complete set of Calvin were a gift to me from my own most dear and tender wife."
It may be said of Spurgeon, as of Calvin, that "nowhere does the whole personality stand out in such clear relief as in his sermons." The style of preaching was also very similar. The following estimate of Calvin with slight changes might have been written of Spurgeon:
He was a born preacher. For years the spacious church of St. Pierre in Geneva was thronged, not once or twice, but several times a week to hear him. He was the star of the Genevan pulpit, but his words carried far beyond the city in which they were spoken. Seldom has any man addressed a wider audience or received a more grateful response. His sermons became models and standards for hundreds of pastors who were confined to such help as their publication supplied.
These paragraphs, as we have said, might almost have been written of Spurgeon. And not only did he resemble the great Reformer in style, and in the number of sermons he preachedCalvin is supposed to have preached between three and four thousandhis heart was established in the same faith in God's sovereignty. "I can recall the day when I first received those truths into my soul," he says, and from his diary we know that day was April 7, 1850, "when they were, as john Bunyan says, burnt into my heart as with a hot iron; and I can recollect how I felt that I had grown on a sudden from a babe into a man, that I had found, once for all, the clue to the truth of God. One week-night, when I was sitting in the House of GodI was not thinking much about the preacher's sermon, for I did not believe itthe thought struck me, 'How did you come to be a Christian?' I sought the Lord. 'But how did you come to seek the Lord?' The truth flashed across my mind in a moment. I should not have sought Him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek Him. I prayed, thought I; but then I asked myself, 'How came I to pray?' I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. 'How came I to read the Scriptures?' Then in a moment I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that He was the Author of my faith; and so the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed." "And his Calvinism was no nineteenth-century Laodicean compound."
"You may take a step from Paul to Augustine," Spurgeon once said to his students, "then from Augustine to Calvin, and thenwell, you may keep your foot up a good while before you find such another." In another student talk he said that John Newton put Calvinism in his sermons as he put sugar into his tea, his whole ministry was flavoured with it; then he added, "Don't be afraid of putting in an extra lump now and then."
Mr. Spurgeon was among the most eager celebrants of the tercentenary of Calvin's death on May 27, 1864. He agreed with John Knox, who said that in Geneva, in Calvin's day, was "the most perfect school of Christ that ever was on the earth since the days of the apostles."
Preaching in Leeds for the Baptist Union in a Methodist Chapel on a memorable occasion, he read the tenth chapter of Romans. Pausing at the thirteenth verse, he remarked, "Dear me! How wonderfully like John Wesley the apostle talked! 'Whosoever shall call.' Whosoever. Why, that is a Methodist word, is it not?"
"Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!" came the responses.
"Yes, dear brothers," the preacher added, "but read the ninth chapter of the epistle, and see how wonderfully like John Calvin he talked"That the purpose of God according to election might stand.'" Smiles on the faces of those that had before been silent were the only response to this utterance. "The fact is," continued the preacher, "that the whole of truth is neither here nor there, neither in this system nor in that, neither with this man nor that. Be it ours to know what is scriptural in all systems and to receive it."
Wherever he went, people thronged him to hear the word of life. Thousands gathered in Parker's Piece in Cambridge, and the desire to speak to him was so great that friends with clasped hands had to form a circle round him to make it possible for him to walk to the house where he was being entertained. Under Cheddar Cliffs he preached to thousands who had gathered from all parts of the district. At Trowbridge so great was the desire to hear him that, having preached in the afternoon and evening, he held another crowded service at ten o'clock at night. At Risca, in South Wales, he preached three sermons one after the other, and on a later visit, in the open air nearby, he again preached to thousands, the people swaying beneath the word like corn in the summer winds. At Abercarne, where some twenty thousand people gathered, some great persons were present in their carriages who attempted to get near the speaker, upon which the preacher cried that "four horses and a carriage would occupy the ground of fifty people, so the horses and carriages must remain where they are." A similar scene took place at Melbourne, near Cambridge, when the service was to be held in a field. When Spurgeon arrived the field was half covered with vehicles, and he made a request that the horses should be taken from the carriages. "We cannot edify the horses, but the carriages will be a great comfort to the occupants."
At Castleton, in South Wales, there were enormous crowds in the open air. At Naunton, near Cheltenham, the experience was repeated. At Dunnington the hymn-sheets used for the services are preserved yet. Pepphard, near Caversham, was the scene of another great conventicle. "He do put the spade in deep, don't he?" said one of his village hearers. At Ogbourne St. George, near Marlborough, the service was to have been in the open air, but the weather became wintry, so a wealthy farmer had a tent erected; then there came a heavy fall of snow, but, nothing daunted, the farmer cut up a rick of straw, and made a path with it from village to tent, about a quarter of a mile distant. At Lymington a large booth, holding nearly three thousand people, was crowded. At Swansea, although it was midnight when he arrived, hundreds of persons welcomed him at the railway station. The next morning was wet, so he preached two sermons in chapels, instead of one in the open air, and after the weather cleared he preached again in the field to thousands of hearers. At Carlton, in Bedfordshire, there were open-air sermons afternoon and evening, with tea between in chapel, schoolroom, and booth.
At the opening of City Road Chapel, Bristol, the crowd in the afternoon was so great, and those outside so unruly, that the service had to be concluded after a brief address. After a subsequent visit in 1868 in connection with the Baptist Union meetings he was announced to preach on Thursday evening, October 15, and so great was the demand to hear him that the evening before he promised to preach also at nine on the next morning. Colston Hall was again crowded. At Halifax six thousand persons gathered in a large wooden structure three times in one day, and as the crowds were dispersing in the evening, some boards gave way, and the people in one of the galleries were thrown against each other; there were screams from the frightened folk, but fortunately no worse consequence than two broken legs. The entire structure, overloaded by snow, and beaten by a boisterous wind, fell three hours afterwards. The timbers were split to shivers so completely that most of it was rendered useless for building. It came very near to a disaster more tragic than that at the Surrey Music Hall. Little wonder that Spurgeon was always nervous thereafter about a crowd. Persons he feared not at all; a multitude of people made him tremble. But then it is the racehorse, not the carthorse, that trembles on the verge of the task.
At Bradford the largest building was too small; at Birmingham crowds of six thousand gathered; the secretary who dispersed the tickets had so many applications that his doorbell was broken. Stockton-on-Tees gave a worthy greeting to its visitor. Dudley and Wolverhampton were not behind in enthusiasm. Liverpool, which offered a Welsh as well as an English audience, seems to have fired the heart of the preacher to new earnestness for the rest of the year. At some of these places collections were taken for the new tabernacle; the gifts of the people at all of them were generous; at two village places Mr. Spurgeon, preaching for poor pastors, was unconventional enough to ask an offering to purchase the minister a new suit of clothes. At Cheltenham he met Grattan Guinness, then in his prime, for the first time, both of them preaching in the town the same evening. Guinness was at that time "bidding fair to rival the renowned Mr. Spurgeon as another modern Whitefield." Brownlow North was also spoken of as "The Northern Spurgeon."
One of the most interesting of these country visits was to Stambourne on March 27, 1856. Again crowds. He also revisited Waterbeach. In 1866, when the Free Church Assembly was in session, he visited Edinburgh, and, judging the interest he excited by the eagerness there was to hear him, Spurgeon eclipsed the General Assembly, while at that assembly itself he was to the majority the principal figure. People climbed over the railings of Free St. George's in the afternoon to hear him preach, and broke down one of the doors of the United Presbyterian Church in the evening. Another Scotch visit included most of the northern cities. Five thousand tickets, ranging in price from a shilling to half a crown, were sold before he entered the town of Aberdeen.
Years after he said, "I cannot remember visiting a single village or town that I have visited a second time, without meeting with some who praised the Lord that they heard the Word of truth there from my lips."
A service of great interest was held on Clapham Common on July 10, 1859. A fortnight before, a tree on the common had been struck by lightning, and a man sheltering under it killed. Ten thousand persons gathered round the stricken tree to listen to the appeal, "Be ye therefore ready also;" and a collection was taken for the widow. In aid of a chapel at Epsom Mr. Spurgeon preached, on June 11, 1858, two sermons from the grandstand of the racecourse. One was from the text "So run that ye may obtain." When Bunyan's tomb in Bunhill Fields was restored he also spoke at length in City Road Chapel, the afternoon of May 21, 1862 being too wet for anything but the briefest service at the grave.
Truly these were romantic years. Crowds, crowds everywhere. "If crowds come to hear a preacher," he once said to his students, "some are ready to say, 'Oh, they are running after a man.' What would you have them run aftera woman?"
The people had a true instinct. An old gardener, leaning on his spade voiced it, "Spurgeon! Ah, there was no humbug about him!"
Here I may perhaps be permitted to quote myself in the biography of Thomas Spurgeon in illustration of the extent to which his father was venerated and almost adored:
I know of an old man in a country district which Spurgeon was to visit who asked permission from his master to attend the preaching. The farmer insisted on the day's work being done first, and so the old man began at the first sign of dawn to use the scythe, and at every sweep of it he said, "Spurgeon! Spurgeon! Spurgeon!" until, having finished his task, with a glad spirit he got away to hear the man whose name had inspired his heart for years and had been on his lips all the morning.
"I dinna want to die," said an old North-countryman, "till I gan to London to see Madame Tussaud's and hear Mr. Spurgeon," and a traveller relates that, getting lost in a Highland glen, he found that the people who knew nothing about either Gladstone or Beaconfield woke up at the name of Spurgeon. There was no kirk in the glen, and they just met together and read one of Mr. Spurgeon's sermons. One old man said, "I wad shoost gang on ma twa honds and knees a' the way to Glesca tae get a sicht o' him."
Of course contrary voices were still heard and were heard until the end. One doctor of divinity, in giving the ordination to his own son in Bristol, declared that he would prefer a decent dog to one that was always barking, and warned the young minister against "the Barnums of the pulpit who draw large gatherings, collect large amounts, and preach many sermons"!
There were also kindly critics. One, who remained unknown, used to send the preacher a weekly list of mispronunciations and other errors in the previous Sunday morning's sermon. These communications were always welcome. If a phrase was used too frequently, the writer would say, "See the same expression in such and such a sermon." He remarked in one letter that Spurgeon quoted too frequently the line "Nothing in my hand I bring," and added, "We are sufficiently informed of the vacuity of your hand"!
Mr. Spurgeon never visited America, though he was invited on several occasions. In 1859 he was offered £10,000 for some sermons in New York, but he preferred to go unfettered, and actually intended to go the following year. Meanwhile he became the centre of antislavery controversy. His sermons were being published in America, and had a large sale, but it seemed as if he had changed his views on the subject of slavery. The fact was that the American publishers suppressed all references to the topic in sermons. When this was discovered he was bluntly asked whether he had consented to the expurgation of his sermons, and in reply he drew attention to the fact that though the question of slavery had not thrust itself upon him in the ordinary duties of his English ministry, he counted slavery as a crime of crimes. He followed this with a strong denunciation of the whole system, and as a result the circulation of his sermons dwindled, especially in the Southern States, and his visit to America was abandoned. In later years he was urged to cross the Atlantic. To one of these invitations, promising him not money (for the astute pleader knew that was not the proper bait for Spurgeon) but the opportunity of preaching to ten thousand people, Spurgeon answered that he had no wish to speak to ten thousand people; his only ambition was to do the will of God.
After the first early years he renounced all idea of visiting foreign shores. Mr. John Cook, of tourist fame, once offered to take him up the Nile like a prince, without expense to him, but he declined the generous offer. When his son Thomas was in Auckland, his heart almost led him to accept an invitation to New Zealand that was pressed upon him, but the impossibility of such a visit soon became apparent.
Content to exercise his ministry in London, he did not need to go afield, for representatives of all the world came to him. An American outside the tabernacle asked another man, "At what time do they open the door? I am a stranger from California, six thousand miles from here." "Sorry I can't tell you, but I am a little way from home myself," was the quiet response, "I come from Sydney, a little matter of twelve thousand miles from here, I reckon."
Quite early he began to lecture as well as preach. The Young Men's Christian Association sought his help in its series of "Exeter Hall Lectures," and with a spice of mischief the young, unlettered country bumpkin instantly chose a Latin title for his subject, "De Propaganda Fide." All London wanted to be there. Spurgeon was coming out in a new phase. "What could he know about Latin?" Encouraging as the attendance at the other lectures of the series had been, that night, January 4, 1859, the crowd was overwhelming. Distinguished men were present in considerable number, and excitement ran high. The lecture was a great success; it was cheered at the close and characterised as being neither lecture nor sermon, and yet for that occasion better than either. The lecture strongly condemned war and denounced the opium traffic.
One reference evoked such approval from the men in the audience that it almost seemed as if the applause would never end. "I would rather dress as a Quaker than wear the things some men do," he said, "and I would rather see my sisters in Christ habited as Quakers than that they should magnify, enlarge, and increase themselves as they now do." In a leading article afterwards Dr. Campbell remarked, "The stroke was the most electric one ever witnessed in that Hall. The ladies who were present, and the number was not inconsiderable, were placed in a plight most pitiable. The good-natured, yet deeply derisive cheering was tremendous, and longvery longcontinued. If that vast assembly might be taken as a fair representation of the young men of England, the ladies of the nation stand reprehended, laughed at, and ridiculed by gentlemen from John o' Groats to Land's End." A popular cartoon soon appeared representing Spurgeon inside a crinoline snapping the hoops asunder.
Though scarcely a lecture, a previous quiet talk with his own people at the Surrey Gardens Music Hall on "A Christian's Pleasures" had provoked the merriment of Punch, which came out with an article on "The Spurgeon Quadrille."
When the tabernacle work was in full swing a series of Friday evening lectures was given by Mr. Spurgeon. He began with "Shrews, and How to Tame Them," followed with "Eminent Lord Mayors," "Southwark," "The Two Wesleys," "Eccentric Preachers," and several on natural history with specially prepared diagrams. "He seems always to do best what he is doing last," says a friendly reporter. "Throughout the hour and three quarters he frequently spoke with all the force, and vehemence which distinguished his ordinary preaching; and then be it remembered that this was after four hours in the lecture room, and the exertions of the previous Thursday night, while only thirty-six hours remained till the commencement of the overwhelming services of the Lord's Day.
Two later lectures aroused wide attention. Paul du Chaillu had recently published his Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa, and his statements had been received with some caution, especially his account of the gorilla. His discoveries were afterwards confirmed, but Spurgeon believed in him from the beginning, and with Nineveh Layard in the chair, and du Chaillu at his side, he lectured to a crowd that filled the tabernacle to excess. For some occult reason this aroused the fury of the press. More cartoons appeared. One representing Spurgeon as "Greatheart" among a crowd of gorillas; another, "A Gorilla Lecturing on Mr. Spurgeon," with his hand on the head of a bust of the preacher.
A second lecture which acquired world-wide fame was "Sermons in Candles." In an address to his students Spurgeon told them that if they could see nothing in the world but a tallow candle, they might find illustrations enough to last them six months. They demurred, and so he promised to prove his words, and the candle lecture was the result. All sorts of candles and lamps were used as object lessons, and the lecture, which continually grew, was given again and again, always with great acceptance, and was widely copied by others.
Mr. Spurgeon was invited to repeat his lecture on George Fox to the Society of Friends at their Institute in Bishopsgate in London. So on November 6, 1866, he was greeted by a large representation of the Society, some twelve hundred. He felt a strong desire to lead in audible prayer, but silent petition was considered more fitting. Matthew Arnold was there, and wrote afterwards to his mother: "Last night Lord Houghton went with me and William Foster to Spurgeon's lecture. It was well worth hearing. It was a study in the way of speaking and management of the voice, though his voice is not beautiful as some people call it, nor is his pronunciation quite pure. Still it was a most striking performance; he kept up one's interest and attention for more than an hour and a half, and that is a great thing. I am very glad I have heard him."
When the people had nearly all dispersed, one of the audience came up to speak to the lecturer; it was John Bright, with whose oratory his own has been so often compared, and who, like him, for some years enjoyed "the beatitude of malediction."
Thus the romantic years passed. Amid praise and blame he held on his way. In a time of violent criticism Mrs. Spurgeon wondered what she could do to smooth his path, so she had a text illuminated in old English type and hung in their bedroom, where every morning he could see it, and many a time his heart was calmed as he read
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you (Matt. 5:11-12).
Like his Master, he grew in favour with God and man. A boy in America was asked in an examination who was the prime minister of England. His answer was "C. H. Spurgeon." This can be matched by something overheard at Mentone. Spurgeon was walking on the promenade, and a carriage was passing along the road. Said the coachman to the person he was driving, "Do you know who that is? That is the Pope of England!" The people too were at last on his side. On the great day, Match 7, 1863, when Queen Alexandra made her public entry into London, Spurgeon drove into town in his closed brougham. There was a block on London Bridge, and one of his hearers recognised him. As the news spread, those on the bridge pressed round the carriage, struggled to see his face, almost wrenched his hand off in their fervour, and cheered him again and again, giving him an ovation that even the princess might have envied.
During these years it was no uncommon thing on Sunday mornings on the north side of the river for the conductors of the omnibuses that were about to cross the bridges to the south, all of them converging on the tabernacle, to entice people into their conveyances by a device more romantic than most of them guessed. With gusto they cried, "Over the water to Charlie!"