One hundred thirty years ago, January 31, 1892, at 11:05 pm on a starry Sunday night, the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon left earth’s shores and took his first breath of celestial air. The sky at Mentone, France was unusually bright that night. Mrs. Spurgeon, his wife of thirty-six years, was standing with Spurgeon’s private secretary, Joseph W. Harrald. As she gazed at the planets, Jupiter and Venus, she asked, “I wonder what he thinks of those planets now?” J. W. Harrald replied, “If they are inhabited, he has asked the Lord to let him go, that he may preach the Gospel there.”
The Final Days
The events leading up to Spurgeon’s final days are well documented. No time was wasted getting the ailing Spurgeon to a warmer climate in hopes of his recovery. On Oct 26, 1891, they headed toward the south of France. Mr. and Mrs. Spurgeon, Rev. James A. and Mrs. Nellie Spurgeon (brother and sister- in-Law), and Joseph W. Harrald crossed the English Channel until they came ashore and boarded a luxury train at Calais heading to Mentone, France. The trip was paid for by several friends, including Joseph Passmore, his publisher. It was a journey of about 780 miles. Once they arrived, they checked into the same hotel Spurgeon always stayed in when in Mentone: room number 14 the Hotel Beau-Rivage. Mrs. Spurgeon recorded their times together with walks they would take and the long drives and how his “enjoyment was intense, his delight exuberant” on their outings together. It would be just what he needed on those final days.
On January 20, 1892, C. H. Spurgeon would take his last ride that day and by later that evening he would have an attack of gout that came upon him, mainly in his head, and he would retire to bed early. He would never rise from that bed again. It was around this same time he said to Harrald, “My work is done.” No one wanted to believe this.
For Susannah, the last three months of time together as she said, was “of perfect earthly happiness here in Mentone, before He took him to the ‘far better’ of His own glory and immediate presence.” Susannah was never able to go to this beautiful part of France because of her own sickness and at times being bedridden for long periods of time. In God’s providence, not knowing they were to be his final days, He allowed Susannah to be well enough to take this journey to be with him. It would be their “earthly Eden” for three months. The plain hotel rooms would be made into a beautiful place by Mrs. Spurgeon and Mrs. Thorne (Susie’s assistant) with decorations to make it more comfortable and familiar.
Spurgeon would go in and out of consciousness and soon be with his Lord twelve days later, January 31, 1892. It was a painful reality for they had hopes of his full recovery. But it was not to be. At 11:05 pm., Spurgeon took his last breath. Those in the room would kneel and give thanks for the life that was well-lived. Mrs. Spurgeon, Mrs. Thorne, Mr. Allison, Mr. Harrald, Mr. Samuel, and Dr. Fitzhenry were present. The prayer of Mrs. Spurgeon was notable. Though grieving, she thanked God for the “treasure so long lent to her.” A telegram would be sent to New Zealand to their son Rev. Thomas Spurgeon. It would simply say, “Father in heaven. Mother resigned.” In London, the leaders of the Metropolitan Tabernacle were notified and the news was posted outside of the Tabernacle announcing his death. This was not the news they were hoping for.
In the long days ahead, the planning of the funeral would not be easy. Many hours would be spent bringing his body back home to London for burial. At one time, Spurgeon thought he was to be buried in Mentone but he gave that idea up. He then wanted to be buried on the Orphanage grounds but those plans were changed when the electric company came through.
Sometime before Spurgeon’s last trip to Mentone, he went to Norwood Cemetery with a friend and saw a spot in the corner of the cemetery. It was nothing to look at. But he decided this was the spot. However, a different decision was made back in London by his brother, Rev. James A. Spurgeon who felt his brother should have a more prominent spot. He chose the present spot where he is buried today.
The mausoleum would be built to hold six family members but only Charles and Susannah are entombed there. Sometime after his burial, a bust of his face would be placed on the mausoleum and it was fixed to where it would be looking towards the Metropolitan Tabernacle. At that time (1892) on a clear day, the Metropolitan Tabernacle could be seen from that summit of the hill. Many years after Spurgeon’s death, the very spot where he picked to be buried would be called, “Spurgeon’s corner.” Several of those who stood arm and arm with a young Spurgeon would find their resting place there: Mr. William Higgs, Mr. William P. Olney, and several others. Not far from that spot, his son Thomas Spurgeon is buried, also.
Preparations and Memorials in Mentone
Back at Mentone, preparations were being made for his remains to head back home. The body remained in the hotel on Monday, February 1st. Dr. Fitzhenry came to the Beau-Rivage Hotel at 10 that morning to certify his cause of death. Flowers came in from different places and were placed around the bed and a net was draped over him. One newspaper journalist was permitted to see his remains, “The massive face is all and vigorous even with death upon it, and there is no sign of acute suffering in any feature.” It went on to say, “The expression is one of benign benevolence, and is remarkably peaceful.” Back in London, a prayer meeting was being held at the Metropolitan Tabernacle that was already on the schedule to pray for God’s mercy that the influenza plague would be lifted. Queen Victoria’s grandson Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale had died from the Russian Influenza. Charles Spurgeon, Jr. was suffering from it. The nation as a whole was suffering from the 3rd wave of it, which proved to be the most deadly.
On Tuesday, the 2nd at 5:00 am, Spurgeon’s body was removed from the hotel and taken to the Chapel. At 2:00 pm in the afternoon, the body was prepared by his own physician and friend, Dr. Fitzhenry. His body would remain at the chapel until more instructions would come.
On Wednesday, the 3rd at 3:30 pm his body was laid in a lead coffin and sealed tightly. That lead coffin was placed into a beautiful Olive Wood coffin made from the trees of Mentone, and the lid would be screwed down. Those present were Mr. Allison, deacon of the Tabernacle representing the church, and Mr. Harrald representing Mrs. Spurgeon and the family. Also present were Rev. Mr. Somerville, of the Scotch Presbyterian Church where the first memorial service would be held, Mr. Charles Palmar, British Vice-consul, Mr. Frank, British Pro-Consul, and the Commissary of Police. At four o’clock seals were placed upon the coffin by the British Vice-Consul and the Police Commissary.
On Thursday, the 4th at 8:30 am Spurgeon’s body would be moved to the Scotch Presbyterian Church for a 10:00 am service. There was not a cloud in the sky. Every seat was filled and many remained outside, unable to get in. A few floral arrangements from friends and locals graced the chapel, and palm branches in abundance were on display at Mrs. Spurgeon’s request. Several spoke at this service, too numerous to mention. Rev J. E. Somerville would minister these words,
“A prince and a great man is fallen in Israel… Charles Spurgeon belonged not to the Metropolitan Tabernacle only, nor to London, nor to England, but to all English-speaking countries, and to many others besides. That active life is over here. No more shall that mellow and wondrous voice plead with men, nor the ready pen counsel and delight. The labourer rests. The warrior’s ‘sword’ lies idle, the ‘trowel’ has fallen from the workman’s hand, because the Master has said, ‘COME’.”
Prayers would be offered for Mrs. Spurgeon who was unable to attend any of the services. Mr. Harrald brought a message from her to the mourners to be read. “If you want to tell them anything from me, say, ‘He hath done all things well…” Telegrams came from the Prince and Princess of Wales to Mrs. Spurgeon and would be read at the memorial service. D. L. Moody sent one quoting John 11:25-26. There were many others. At the conclusion of the service, Psalms 72 and 130 would be sung.
The Long Trip back to London
After the one-hour service, the coffin was taken to the rail station for the long journey back to London. The mourners walked to the station behind the horse-drawn coffin. Once it arrived at the station, the scene would be photographed. From this point, they placed the olive wood coffin in a shipping box for safety and loaded it in the rail car. It would not depart for Paris until 11:30 that night. His body was never out of sight. His remains were accompanied by Dr. Fitzhenry to Paris but a death in his family called him away. Another doctor accompanied the body to the English Channel to board the Steamer Seine.
Mrs. Spurgeon stayed at the hotel the rest of the week until Monday at the request of friends to go to the Palazzo Orengo, La Mortola near Ventimiglia, northern Italy. There she would stay for a month with friends before returning back to London. The events, including the loss of her husband, had taken their toll on Susannah. She knew the leaders would follow her request and they did. Two large boxes of palm branches from Mentone would be shipped back to London to be displayed around the coffin of her beloved.
From Friday the 5th through Sunday the 8th, the coffin traveled to the English Channel by rail car to the Dieppe port to be loaded on the Steamer Seine, headed to the port of Newhaven. A serious delay in Paris made the trip much longer.
Arrival in London
The Seine would arrive at Newhaven at 5:00 am Monday morning. Over 100 people and representatives of Newhaven and Seaford Local Boards were present. As the coffin was unloaded, the packing case was removed before being placed on the train heading towards Victoria Station in London. Pieces of the packing case were gathered up by the spectators, who joined in singing the hymn, “Forever with the Lord,” led by Rev. David Lloyd, Congregational minister. Prayers were offered by the Wesleyan minister, Rev. Foster Smith.
The train headed toward London, and soon, Spurgeon was back on his beloved soil. The train carrying the body of the beloved pastor arrived at Victoria Station at 11:10 am. This must have been a sight to behold. The entire body of Deacons and Elders of the Metropolitan Tabernacle arrived in ten carriages, drawn by brown horses in the pouring torrential rain as the heavens opened up, mixed with the tears of these godly men and women. Those weeping thought it proper that the English skies should weep too. Many other mourners were present, and the crowds gathered to see what if they had heard was true. Mr. Dongis, the undertaker had taken the journey from Paris all the way to London. Also present at Victoria Station were Rev. James A. Spurgeon and his wife, Mr. Fullerton, Mr. Smith, and Mr. Charlesworth of the Orphanage. Dr. Pierson who was ministering at the Tabernacle until Spurgeon was well enough to return and Mr. Joseph Passmore, Spurgeon’s publisher, were also present.
Designated men would place the coffin upon their shoulders and place it in the horse-drawn hearse. Those standing around broke into tears, both men and women. They would leave immediately heading through a different route of London where there was less traffic. Inspector Hart led the way, along with a few of the company’s police escorts.
Memorial Services in London
They arrived at the Pastor’s College by 12:45 pm. Despite the heavy downpour, a very large crowd assembled, and hats were removed in respect as the coffin was taken into the Main Hall of the college. “Immediately there was held a short and simple service attended by the officers of the church and a few invited friends.”At 1:00 p.m., the students and pastors had assembled for the first memorial service in London. Dr. Pierson and Rev. J.A. Spurgeon conducted the service and several of the deacons engaged in prayer. The palm branches were laid around the coffin on the floor and flowers brought from Mentone, were used until fresh flowers were brought.
By 3:00 pm in the afternoon, the hall was emptied and the second memorial service, exclusively for the family, was held. Those present were Rev. John Spurgeon, the father of Spurgeon., Rev. J. A. Spurgeon (brother), and Rev. Charles Spurgeon, Jr. (son), who was quite ill. The three married sisters of Spurgeon, Mrs. Jackson, Mrs. Page, and Mrs. Henderson and Miss C. J. Spurgeon who was unmarried, plus several nieces and nephews were also present.
That evening, a prayer meeting was held at the Tabernacle. One of the pastor’s songs was sung by Mr. Chamberlain, “Show Me Thy Face.” At about 10:00 that night, some of the Pastors’ College students lifted up their beloved mentor, teacher, and pastor and carried him into the Metropolitan Tabernacle for the public viewing the next day.
On Tuesday morning, the doors opened promptly at seven. Everything was running smoothly. Down both side aisles, two by two they came past the remains, crying, lifting their hats as they wept going out the side doors of the Tabernacle. All classes of Londoners filed through – the poor, the wealthy, tradesmen of all kinds, and many more.
The Olive coffin was surrounded by flowers and palm branches brought in from Mentone. On the coffin was Spurgeon’s Bible opened to the passage, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.” Isaiah 45:22 (KJV). The palm branches were all standing up around the coffin with little tags tied to them that had special notes written. Mrs. Spurgeon’s said, “‘With Christ, which is far better.” I will follow thee, my husband. ‘Undying love from the wife of thy youth.’” Mr. Harrold’s read, “In fondest memory of my dearest earthly friend, my beloved Pastor and father in the faith, and ’the good soldier of Jesus Christ, whose armour-bearer desires to be faithful unto death as his captain was.” Banners on both the upper and lower galleries would read, “I have fought a good fight. I have finished my course. I have kept the faith.” The other on the upper floor read, “Remember the word I’ve said unto you being yet present with you.”
By seven that evening, the Deacons at the doors estimated 50 to 60,000 passed by to pay their respects. Hawkers wasted no time selling portraits of Spurgeon outside the Tabernacle (You may even have one of those in your possession). The evening was over but not the work. Night and day many put long hours to make sure everything was in order; nothing was lacking. From morning till night, there was much to do, but so little time.
On Wednesday, Feb. 10th, sometime the day or night before, communion tickets were given out to members only, for the memorial service at 11:00 am. It would be a great family reunion of sorrowful hearts around their pastor, friend, and leader who stood for truth. At that service, Dr. Angus, of Regent’s Park College would speak. Dr. Pierson would read a letter from Mrs. Spurgeon to the people. Several others would leave their parting thoughts.
It would not be long, as it was soon time to leave the sanctuary to make room for the next service at 3:00 pm which was only designed for the Ministers and Students of all denominations. Close to 5,000 would gather. The hymn, “Come Let Us Join Our Friends Above” was “impressive” to hear all male voices as one report said.
Soon this service would be over to make room for the 7:00 pm evening service for the Christian workers of all denominations. George Williams of the Young Men’s Christian Association spoke. Ira D. Sankey would sing “Sleep On, Beloved, Sleep, And Take Thy Rest.” D. L. Moody could not attend. He was holding a series of meetings in Scotland but sent Mr. Sankey down to London to represent him. Sankey’s lips quivered when he came to the part, “Good-night! Good-night! Good-night!”
Now, the 10:30 pm service for the general public would commence. By 9:30 those with tickets were permitted in. By 10:00 there was hardly a vacant spot anywhere in the Tabernacle. Mr. Fullerton would speak about how millions of hearts were “bleeding for his loss.” Mr. J. Manton Smith, an evangelist would sing “Rock of Ages.” Mr. Ira Sankey would sing, “Only Remembered By What We Have Done.” All would go home that night will sorrowful hearts of what they must do the next day.
The funeral took place on Thursday morning, Feb. 11th, beginning with the procession at 11:00 am. On the platform was a bust of Spurgeon. There was a harp of flowers and an anchor made of flowers both from churches in Ireland and Scotland. Twenty boys from the Orphanage were on the platform to sing. Mrs. Spurgeon’s pew was be occupied by Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts, a British Philanthropist. Members of Parliament, town clerks, the mayor, and Rev. Charles Spurgeon, Jr. were present. There were also delegates from the Salvation Army and too many more to name.
They opened with singing, “Servant Of God, Well Done.” Rev. J. W. Harrold led in prayer and A. G. Brown read passages from Scripture. Another song was sung, “The Sands Of Time Are Sinking.” Dr. Pierson gave the eulogy. “The giant cedar of Lebanon has fallen, and the crash of the downfall shook the whole land, and echoed round the world.” The final two songs were sung: “Forever With The Lord.” This was sung while they carried the coffin with the open Bible down the aisle, to the door of the Tabernacle. As those were leaving to the carriages, the song, “Thou Are Gone To The Grave” was sung. Thousands of handkerchiefs would be wiping their eyes. One final look through their tears as the olive coffin went past them.
The scene outside the Tabernacle was of a double line of police to keep the crowd back. No vehicles, omnibuses, or tramcars were allowed to pass the procession once it started. The coffin carried by eight men was placed in the horse-drawn hearse. Right behind the hearse was Spurgeon’s empty carriage. Close to a hundred carriages would follow behind. Forty of those would be for members of the family, officers of the Tabernacle, and superintendents of the institutions found by their leader. Behind the empty carriage of Spurgeon’s was his son, Charles, with his wife and Rev. A. G. Brown.
The bells of St. Mark’s church, Kennington, and St. Mary’s church, Newington, rang from 11:00 till 3:00 that afternoon. Shops were closed, some windows with portraits and mottos upon them. Flags were flown half-mast. The public houses were closed. It was said you could not find three women who did not have mourning clothes on in London. As the hearse went past the Stockwell Orphanage, there was a platform for the children to sing on as it passed by. Their little hearts were broken as most of them could only weep, feeling like they were orphans again.
The procession pulled out at 12:30 led by two mounted constables. Eight hundred constables from different divisions were there to help keep the road to the cemetery clear. On that day, it would take two hours and five minutes to go to Norwood cemetery, which was only five miles from the Tabernacle (a thirty-minute ride today by car).
Only the first five carriages were allowed in the Cemetery. The graveside service required a ticket. The students of the Pastors’ College and the ministers of the institutions were gathered, close to 10,000 people. A patch of blue sky appeared overhead as if to remind them of the ”glory land above.” It was said that a dove flew from the direction of the Tabernacle towards the tomb while Mr. Brown was speaking. Off in the distance on another tombstone was a robin making music. They would soon sing,
“Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood shall never lose its power,
till all the ransomed Church of God be saved to sin no more.”
Dr. Brown closed with these words, “Beloved President, Faithful Pastor, Prince of Preachers, Brother Beloved, Dear Spurgeon, we bid thee not ‘farewell,’ but only a little while ‘good night.’ Hard worker in the field, thy toil is ended! Champion of God, thy battle long and nobly fought is over!”
Dr. Pierson prayed and the Bishop of Rochester gave the benediction.
On the coffin were these words on a plaque:
In ever-loving memory of
CHARLES HADDON SPURGEON,
Born in Kelvedon, June 19, 1834,
Fell asleep in Jesus at Mentone, Jan. 31, 1892.
“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”
The long trip from Mentone to Norwood Cemetery, about 839 miles, was over. It took almost two hundred and sixty-five hours and included two memorial services in Mentone, six memorial services in London, the main viewing for the public, and the main funeral.
So many things can be gleaned from the events surrounding these events.
- He was faithful unto death. Spurgeon was a faithful pastor, a faithful leader, a faithful friend. His ministry was Christ-centered, God-exalting to the Glory of God, and pointing always to Jesus, as the only means of redemption. He was faithful to the truth, to Christ, and to his beloved wife. C.H. Spurgeon persevered to the very end.
- His life was surrounded by great helpers. Not only his wife who was faithful by his side until the end, but he had men around him that stood with him from the time he was a young lad right up to the very end. Having the right leaders in ministry is important to get any job done. The leadership lifted his hands when he needed them lifted and supported him in his efforts when he needed times of rest.
- He loved his church. He was thinking of his church right up until the time of his death, even sending a Thanksgiving offering on his death bed. And they loved him in return as is evident from the outpouring of affection at his funeral.
- He loved his wife. He had such joy the last three months of his life with Susannah. C.H. had poured the gospel into his wife and this was reflected years after Spurgeon’s death. As Ray Rhodes writes, “For thirty-six years, Susie was the happy wife of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. After Charles’s death, Susie remained faithful to God through her service in the Book Fund, by writing, and through her diligence in the extension of the godly legacy that Charles had left behind.”