An Intimate Interlude
T WAS SCARCELY to be expected that Spurgeon, different from other men in so many ways, would act like an ordinary lover. Nor did he. We have seen that the lady who was to be his wife, Miss Susannah Thompson, was present at his first Sunday evening service in London, and that she was scarcely prepossessed in his favour. She was already seeking to follow Christ, and the ministry of Mr. Spurgeon was much blessed in leading her to fuller devotion to His service, and naturally enough her early prejudices so vanished.
Seek a good wife from thy God, for she is the best gift of His providence;
It was a singular wooing. "Do you pray for him who is to be your husband?" he softly whispered to the trembling, blushing girl at his side, who said nothing, could say nothing, and saw nothing, but with beating heart felt that heaven was coming near. When the ceremony was nearly over, another whisper came, "Will you come and walk around the palace with me?" and breaking away from the others, who perhaps were not so obtuse as they looked, the two went out into the enchanted ground. He was wise enough to delay the definite proposal of marriage for some weeks, until on August 2, 1854, in her grandfather's garden, they gave themselves to each other, she with her adoring heart, and sweet face framed in the curls that fell on each side of it, he with his clear eye, swift brain, high collar, white tie, and protruding tooth.
MY DEAR FRIEND,
Upon which "yours ever most truly and affectionately, C. H. Spurgeon," replied:
MY DEAR MR. RUSKIN,
Of the disgust with things in general which Ruskin felt during those years a sample is given by Mr. Spurgeon himself. He said:
Mr. Ruskin came to see me one day, and among other things he said that the Apostle Paul was a liar and that I was a fool! "Well," I replied, "let us keep the two things separate; so first of all tell me how you can prove that the Apostle Paut was a liar!"
The early students at his College used to come to his house an hour or two on Saturday mornings for informal talk, and many a person in trouble came to him for comfort. In 1869, by the kindness of some friends, the house was rebuilt, and while the work was in progress the family removed to Brighton. Here, in the hope of restoring Mrs. Spurgeon's health, an operation was performed by Sir James Y. Simpson. He journeyed twice from Edinburgh, and when questioned as to his fee answered, "Well, I suppose it should be a thousand guineas, and when you are Archbishop of Canterbury I shall expect you to pay me. Till then let us consider it settled by love."
Leaving the boys at school at Brighton, Mrs. Spurgeon returned to Nightingale Lane, much better in health, to find that in the renovation and refurnishing her every desire for herself and her husband had been anticipated. A room adjoining her husband's study had been specially fitted up for her, the lawn had been laid out so that it was suitable for the game of bowls, always a favourite pastime of Mr. Spurgeon's. In one of the trees the old pulpit from New Park Street had found a resting-place, the stairs leading up to a quiet eyrie where the preacher could retire when he wished to be quite alone.
Mr. Spurgeon was in those early days often away from home. One morning, as he was preparing to start on a journey, he noticed his wife in tears, and asked her a question which startled her. It was whether any of the children of Israel, when they brought a lamb to the Lord's altar as an offering to Him, wept when they saw it laid there. "Why, no," she replied. And then he suggested that she was giving him as they gave their sacrifice, and so the tears were dried. If ever afterward there was a sign of sorrow at his absence, he would bring the smiles instead of tears by the question, "What! Crying over your lamb?"
On one of these occasions he asked her if there was anything he could bring her on his return and, with the whim of an invalid, she replied that she should like an opal ring and a piping bullfinch. He laughed as he bade her good-bye; there was little likelihood of her desire being granted. But the Lord is very pitiful to His tired children. An old lady whom Mr. Spurgeon had once visited had meanwhile sent a note to the tabernacle that she wished someone to call on her, as she wanted to send Mrs. Spurgeon present. When it arrived, behold, it was the opal ring, and he brought it back to her with triumph. Soon afterward came the visit to Brighton, and one day, on his return from London, Mr. Spurgeon brought a cage containing the piping bullfinch. He had visited a dying man who was somewhat disturbed by the piping of the bird, and his wife had begged him to take the bird to Mrs. Spurgeon, declaring she would entrust it to nobody else, and expressing her hope that its songs would cheer her when she was so often left alone. So the Lord condescends not only to meet the needs of His children but also their wishes!
During the last twelve years of his life, Mr. Spurgeon had his home at Westwood, Beulah Hill, Upper Norwood. It was somewhat singular how the change was made. Some business took him to the new district, and in passing over the hill he noticed that the house, which could not be seen from the road, was for sale. It had been suggested to him that perhaps if he lived on higher ground his health, and possibly his wife's health, might be better. On his return, in repassing the house, his secretary alighted, read the bill, and discovered that cards were necessary to view the premises. But the impression on his mind was so deep that he sent a message giving his name and asking whether he could see the house without having a card. His name was enough. When he saw the house he exclaimed that it was too grand for him, and yet he could not get the thought of it out of his mind. But he did not send anyone to the sale. On that very day, however, the builder of the house at Nightingale Lane called on him, inquiring whether he had ever thought of selling his present residence, for his next-door neighbour would like it for his son-in-law, who was returning from abroad. Then it was learned that "Westwood" had not been sold, and after some further inquiry it appeared that it could be bought for little more than the price his neighbour was willing to give for Helensburgh House. So without further delay the two bargains were completed. The new home was charming, not too extensive, with garden, lawns, lake, and some small fields bond, where Mrs. Spurgeon afterwards found grazing for two or three cows. There was a fernery, a rosery, a vinery, and some other glass, two large rooms looking on to the garden, one of which made an excellent study, and the other an admirable library. As Mr. Spurgeon in the earlier home had fitted up a room for his wife, she, during one of his visits abroad, had a little room, opening off the study, built for him. In the study he did most of his work, with J. L. Keys, his amanuensis, at one side of the long table, and Joseph Harrald, his "armour-bearer," at the other, he himself at his own table crosswise at the top. The door to the little inner sanctum furnished by his wife was just behind him, so that he could slip in and out as he liked.
His working books were in this room, the biblical volumes arranged in Bible order. The top shelves contained "dummy" volumes, with fancy titles, a number of them suggested by the names of his students. "Eastward Ho!" by A. G. Brown; "Cuff on the Head"; "Pains and Aches" by Feltham; "Tydeman on Cleanliness"; Gange's "Rivers." Others were just witticisms; "Exaggeration" by Jonathan, "Bragging" by John Bull, "The Elevation of Parliament" by Guido Faux, "Hints on Honeypots" by A. B., "The Composition of Milk" by A Dealer, "Absalom on the Mule," "Balaam on the Donkey," "Riding Horses" by Gilpin.
Spurgeon delighted in his garden; he did not botanise, but he knew most of the flowers and plants. A frequent visitor says, "We went into the vinery one day when the tree was in full leaf. He said, sniffing the odour from the branches: 'Well done, Solomon, the vines do give a good smell, there is no fragrance, no perfume, nothing will describe it, but good. You instinctively feel it is healthy to take in the scent of the vine.'"
Between the library and the dining room was Mrs. Spurgeon's book room, from whence the parcels of books were dispatched to ministers by means of her book fund. Mrs. Spurgeon continued to reside at Westwood till her death on October 22, 1903, and from the beginning of the book fund until that time she distributed over 200,000 volumes, as well as countless copies of her husband's sermons.
The fund began when Mr. Spurgeon handed his wife the corrected proof of the first volume of his Lectures to My Students. When she had read it she declared that she wished she could place a copy in the hands of every minister in England. "Then why not do it?" her husband said, and he added, "How much will you give?" Although she was scarcely prepared for such a challenge, it suddenly occurred to her that she had some money at her disposal, accumulated by her hobby of saving every five-shilling piece that came to her. On counting her hoard she discovered that she had enough money to send out a hundred copies, and so the book fund was born. When its inauguration became known there was a rush of applicants from all parts of the country, as well as from all sections of the church, and the work so approved itself to God's stewards that means were generously forthcoming. It is a question whether there was more joy in the hearts of those who received the books than in the heart of the gracious lady who counted the sending of them her bit of service through her twenty-eight later years. The story is gracefully told in two volumes, Ten Years of My Life and Ten Years After. Mrs. Spurgeon was much helped by her companion, Miss Thorne.
Occasionally Mrs. Spurgeon would invite her neighbours to a service on Sunday evening in the study. I remember addressing them one Sunday. Once the window was opened to freshen the room after one of these services, and it was forgotten. During the night a burglar discovered it, entered and stole a few things, the most valuable being a gold-headed stick presented to Mr. Spurgeon by J. B. Gough. As the gold bore Spurgeon's name it was afterwards the means of identifying the burglar, as he sought the next day to dispose of it. He then wrote to Mr. Spurgeon, saying, among other things, that he did not know it was the "horflings' Spurgeon" who lived there, and ending up by the pithy advice, "Why don't you shut your windows, and keep a dog?" This led to the acquisition of Punch, the pug-dog who gave his master unending pleasure and very greatly interested his visitors.
The news of the robbery led Punch (the journal, not the dog) to publish a humorous page entitled "The Diary of a Burglar." Various exploits in his profession are chronicled: "Last night did a stylish little piece of work. Robbed Spurgeon's house. Not so much for the swag as to create a sensation. Have always been a follower and admirer of his, but shouldn't have been if I'd known how precious few valuables he keeps on the establishment. Nothing but tracts and reports and notes for discourses. Returned these, of course, after reading one or twoespecially one very elegant discourse on 'Theft.' Returned the whole lotwith compliments on the very elegant language of the one I have mentionedapologising for the temporary abstraction. Shall really think of giving up my pewquite disgusted." A piece of fooling which was given and taken in excellent spirit.
No account of the home could be complete without a reference to "old George," the faithful servant of many years, who anticipated his master's wants, and often insisted on things that were for his benefit. His second name was Lovejoythe fruit of the Spirit, he would say"Love, joy."
In addition to his winter furlough at Mentone, of which we will speak later, Spurgeon generally spent two or three summer weeks in the Highlands. For one or two years he was guest of Mr. John Anderson, but generally he was entertained by Mr. James Duncan at Benmore, taking a friend or two with him. On these occasions he preached each Sabbath at Rothesay, Dunoon, or on the lawn in front of the house. One year I was a privileged visitor. The first Sunday thousands of people came, and a homely sermon was given, which one of the Glasgow papers the next day criticised somewhat severely, but not unjustly. Spurgeon answered the criticism the next Sunday. On the Monday he telegraphed to his publishers to see whether his last sermon in the tabernacle had been published; the answer was in the negative, so he preached it again. The text was "Mercy shall be built up for ever." The effect in his own pulpit had been great; given in the open air, with an immense crowd drinking in every word, it was astonishing. As the sermon progressed, mercy was built higher and higher, until it pierced the heavens, and sat down on the throne of God. The preacher excelled himself. That was his answer to the newspaper.
There is a record of another great service during his summer furlough. He was announced to preach on Sunday morning, July 28, 1878, at Rothesay. On the Saturday crowds came to the place, and every available room was occupied. About three o'clock Mr. Dunran's yacht arrived in the bay and anchored among the many others that had been attracted there. In a few minutes the news of his arrival had spread over Rothesay. The next morning Spurgeon preached to a crowd of fifteen to twenty thousand persons. After the service he rested for a while in the provost's garden to give the crowds time to disperse, but Mr. A. G. Short, who tells the story, says that they evidently did not intend to leave him quite in that fashion. They knew he would have to leave in a boat to reach the yacht, and they gathered in thousands along the seawall. When Mr. Spurgeon stepped into the boat, and the sailors began to ply their oars, as one looked along the crescent-shaped front, it seemed as if every person in that vast gathering had brought a white handkerchief for the special purpose of waving it in his honour. That was Scotland's way of bidding a Sabbath adieu to the great and good man she loved so well; and not until he was on board the yacht did the farewell signals cease to flutter in the evening breeze.
Adjacent to the house at Benmore Mr. Duncan had built a picture gallery, with the same ground space, approximately, as the tabernacle, and had gathered a great collection of paintings, many of Dore's among them. Here an hour would be spent each evening. During the day there would be walks round the estate, and talks on all sorts of topics: occasionally there would be an excursion.
At one placeColintraivea party of four of us found only two rooms available in the little inn, and drew lots to fix our places; mine was with our host, and Mr. Higgs was placed with his pastor. I recall the excitement of a good woman as we walked that evening along the beach. She came running up to two of us, crying out, "Spurgeon's here! Spurgeon's here!" I remember one special day when we went out in the launch to fish in Loch Eck, caught a salmon, cooked it on the lakeside, and feasted in royal picnic fashion. How these memories abide! One Sunday morning I preached at Kilmun. I went upstairs to prepare, and Mr. Spurgeon was among the others downstairs. As I sat in my room, I heard a gentle knock at the door, and when I opened it found him outside. He had climbed the stairs, no very easy task for him, to help me. "I have come to pray with you before you go," he said. Then we knelt down, and he prayed as he might have prayed for himself, that I might be helped to preach in power. But there was another side to the incident, for the next day Spurgeon pointed out the house next door to the church, with a notice exhibited, "Mangling done here," and insisted that that was where I had preached.
The homelife was ideal, chastened indeed by frequent sufferings, but never fretful nor constrained. It was a deep joy to the parents when the sons were baptised, a great gratification when they began to preach in a cottage at Wandsworth. Both had entered upon business careers, one in a city merchant's office, the other as an engraver on wood, but their preaching power developed. Charles, the elder, after pastorates at Greenwich, Noningham, Cheltenham, and Hove, became his father's successor at Spurgeon's orphanage; Thomas, the younger, after his ministry in Australia and New Zealand, became his father's successor at the tabernacle, carried on the work there for fourteen years, and on October 20, 1917, died. Two years afterward, his son, Harold, in unveiling the stained glass window at the orphanage, showed in his speech some Spurgeonic power.
If we may venture to observe the inner life of this man so greatly honoured of God in the world, we shall not find Spurgeon often on his knees; and that not because he did not pray but because he prayed incessantly. In the New Jerusalem there is no temple because it is all temple. Between the closing of one book and the opening of another with Spurgeon there were the shut eyes and the moving lips. "I always feel it well just to put a few words of prayer between everything I do," he once said to an intimate friend. He seldom wrote a letter without raising his heart to God for guidance. Archibald G. Brown tells how in a railway journey with him they kneeled down and spent a time in prayer. Dr. Wayland Hoyt says, "I was walking with him in the woods one day just outside London and, as we strolled under the shadow of the summer foliage, we came upon a log lying athwart the path. 'Come,' said he, as naturally as one would say it if he were hungry and bread were put before him, 'Come, let us pray.' Kneeling beside the log, he lifted his soul to God in the most loving and yet reverent prayer. Then, rising from his knees, he went strolling on, talking about this and that. The prayer was no parenthesis interjected. It was something that belonged as much to the habit of his mind as breathing did to the habit of his body." Dr. Cuyler bears a similar testimony. In one of the Surrey woods they were conversing in high spirits when suddenly Spurgeon stopped and said, "Come, Theodore, let us thank God for laughter." That was how he lived. "From a jest to a prayer meant with him the breadth of a straw."
His idea of prayer was the passing over the counter of a check bearing an honoured name. There was no need for pleading; the name pleaded. It was only necessary to wait till the money was paid. And he acted his faith; there was a calm serenity about him in spite of the burdens he bore. Once, when dining with a gentleman in the neighbourhood of Regent's Park, it transpired that £1000 was needed the next morning to pay the builder of the orphanage. Mr. Spurgeon said he had prayed about it and had confidence it would come. Dr. Brock, who was also a guest, said he thought that they should speak with caution about such things, and he had scarcely said it when a telegram was handed in saying that somebody had called at the tabernacle and left £1000!
He himself told me that he never got so near to God as when he prayed on the tabernacle platform. This was the reason so many were impressed by his public intercessions even more than by his sermons, though they were all of a piece. This the reason, too, why when he preached he preferred to take the whole service himself. In his homely way he said, "I like to get the juice out of the meat."
"It was marvellous to hear his soliloquies at the Lord's Tablehis language there would have been considered extravagant if one did not know how perfectly real it was. From praying he would take to talking, and from talking he would stand and soliloquise about his Lord, and the audience felt that he was simply enraptured with Him." How he would weep when he was in close communion with his "Well-beloved," the name he most often used for his Saviour! One of his friends even says that he sometimes needed to drink water to supply his fount of tears.
Only twice in his life did he spend a whole night in prayer. The second time was when, on October 2, 1879, he bade his son Tom good-bye as he went to the Antipodes, never expecting to see him again. The hopes that he had cherished of his sons standing by his side were shattered. He preached in his pulpit that evening about Hannah, "a woman of a sorrowful spirit"the sermon is in the 1880 volumeand then he went home to agonise in prayer. He got the victory, made the renunciation gladly, and never turned back. The other occasion is too sacred for us to intrude upon it, but here too he triumphed. "There are dungeons underneath the Castle of Despair as dreary as the abodes of the lost," he once said, "and some of us have been in them."
Once, in a time of physical suffering, the pain became almost unendurable, and his prayer became a direct challenge to God. He told Him that he, an earthly father, could not bear to see any child of his suffer so intensely, that if he saw him tormented as he himself then he would at any rate put his arms under him to sustain him. He dared to chide the Almighty, and in doing so stilled his heart. When the nurse returned to his room, he declared that he would soon be easier. And sure enough the pain ceased.
He had his ambitions, but they were worthy ones. "I beseech you," he once said, "to live not only for this age but for the next also. I would fling my shadow through eternal ages if I could."
In the secret of his own spirit he was a mystic, but he never dared to preach beyond what was written. He thundered out the message of the wrath of God, but in an intimate moment he ventured to say, "While I believe in eternal punishment, and must, or throw away my Bible, I also believe that God will give to the lost every consideration, consistent with His love. There is nothing vindictive in Him, nor can there be in His punishment of the ungodly." In fact, though he contended earnestly for the truth in Jesus, he was no bigot, nor did he ever imagine that any finite mind could comprehend, much less systematise, the whole of divine truth. But he knew what he knew, and would not be moved from it. He gloried in the Cross, and in the sacrifice of Christ as a substitute for guilty men, but he recognised the mystery of redemption that lies beyond man's understanding. He often quoted that phrase in the litany of the Greek Church, "Let Thine unknown sufferings atone for our unknown sins."
In one of his morning sermons in 1886, entitled "The Three Hours' Darkness," he said some memorable words. Some of them have been quoted by Dr. Robertson Nicoll in his charming book on mysticism:
The great modern teacher of substitution, the apostle Spurgeon, in his sermon on "The Miraculous Darkness," says that "this darkness tells us all that the Passion is a great mystery into which we cannot pry. I try to explain it as a substitution, and I feel that where the language of Scripture is explicit, I may and must be explicit too. But yet I feel that the idea of substitution does not cover the whole of the matter, and that no human conception can completely grasp the whole of the dread mystery. It was wrought in darkness because the full, far-reaching meaning and result cannot be beheld of finite mind. Tell me the death of the Lord Jesus was a grand example of self-sacrificeI can see that and much more. Tell me it was a wondrous obedience to the will of GodI can see that and much more. Tell me it was the bearing of what ought to have been borne by myriads of sinners of the human race, as the chastisement of their sinI can see that, and found my best hope upon it. But do not tell me that this is all that is in the Cross. No, great as this would be, there is much more in the Redeemer's death. God veiled the Cross in darkness, and in darkness much of its deep meaning lies, not because God would not reveal it, but because we have not capacity to discern it all."
This breadth of heart was revealed on another occasion when in his prayer at a Thursday evening service he dared to go far beyond his creed, and in his passion for the souls of men cried, "Lord, hasten to bring in all Thine electand then elect some more."