"The life of Jonah cannot be written without God; take God out of the prophets history, and there is no history to write. This is equally true of each one of us. Apart from God, there is no life, nor thought, nor act, nor career of any man, however lowly or however high. Leave out God, and you cannot write the story of anyone's career. If you attempt it, it will be so ill-written that it shall be clearly perceived that you have tried to make bricks without straw, and that you have sought to fashion a potters vessel without clay. I believe that, in a man's life, the great secret of strength, and holiness, and righteousness, is the acknowledgment of God. When a man has no fear of God before his eyes, there is no wonder that he should run to an excess of meanness, and even to an excess of riot. In proportion as the thought of God dominates the mind, we may expect to find a life that shall be true, and really worth living; but in proportion as we forget God, we shall play the fool. It is the fool who says in his heart, 'No God,' and it is the fool who lives and acts as if there were no God. In every godly life there is a set time for each event; and there is no need for us to ask, 'Why is the white here and the black there; why this gleam of sunlight and that roar of tempest; why here a marriage and there a funeral; why sometimes a harp and at other times a sackbut?' God knows, and it is a great blessing for us when we can leave it all in His hands."--C. H. S.
The Lord's Hand behind the Maid's Mistake
SOON after I had begun to preach the Word in the village of Waterbeach, I was strongly advised to enter Stepney, now Regent's Park College, to prepare more fully for the ministry. Knowing that solid learning is never an encumbrance, and is often a great means of usefulness, I felt inclined to avail myself of the opportunity of attaining it: although I hoped that I might be useful without a College training, I consented to the opinion of friends that I should be more useful with it. Dr. Angus, the tutor of the College, visited Cambridge, and it was arranged that we should meet at the house of Mr. Macmillan, the publisher. Thinking and praying over the matter, I entered the house exactly at the time appointed, and was shown into a room where I waited patiently a couple of hours, feeling too much impressed with my own insignificance, and the greatness of the tutor from London, to venture to ring the bell, and make enquiries as to the unreasonably long delay. At last, patience having had her perfect work, and my school-engagements requiring me to attend to my duties as an usher, the bell was set in motion, and on the arrival of the servant, the waiting young man was informed that the Doctor had tarried in another room until he could stay no longer, and had gone off to London by train. The stupid girl had given no information to the family that anyone had called, and had been shown into the drawing-room; and, consequently, the meeting never came about, although designed by both parties. I was not a little disappointed at the moment, but have a thousand times since thanked the Lord very heartily for the strange Providence which forced my steps into another path.
Still holding to the idea of entering the Collegiate Institution, I thought of writing and making an immediate application, but this was not to be. That afternoon, having to preach at one of the village-stations of the Cambridge Lay Preachers' Association, I walked slowly, in a meditative frame of mind, over Midsummer Common to the little wooden bridge which leads to Chesterton, and in the midst of the Common I was startled by what seemed a loud voice, but which may have been a singular illusion. Whichever it was, the impression was vivid to an intense degree; I seemed very distinctly to hear the words, "Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not!" This led me to look at my position from another point of view, and to challenge my motives and intentions. I remembered the poor but loving people to whom I ministered, and the souls which had been given me in my humble charge; and, although at that time I anticipated obscurity and poverty as the result of the resolve, yet I did there and then solemnly renounce the offer of Collegiate instruction, determining to abide for a season at least with my people, and to remain preaching the Word so long as I had strength to do it. Had it not been for those words, in all probability I had never been where and what I now am. I was conscientious in my obedience to the monition, and I have never seen cause to regret it.
Waiting upon the Lord for direction will never fail to afford us timely intimation of His will, for though the ephod is no more worn by a ministering priest, the Lord still guides His people by His wisdom, and orders all their paths in love; and in times of perplexity, by ways mysterious and remarkable, He makes them to "hear a voice behind them, saying, 'This is the way walk ye in it.'" Probably, if our hearts were more tender, we might be favoured with more of these sacred monitions; but, alas! instead thereof, we are like the horse and the mule, which have no understanding, and therefore the bit and bridle of affliction take the place of gentler means, else might that happier method be more often used, to which the psalmist alludes when he says, "Thou shalt guide me with Thine eye."
[The following letters give further particulars concerning the proposed College course:
Mr. Angus, the tutor of Stepney College, preached for us on Sunday, Feb. 1. Being at my own place, I had no opportunity of seeing him, and was very surprised when, on Monday, I was told that he wanted to see me. I assure you, I never mentioned myself to him, nor to anyone--this came quite unexpectedly. I suppose the deacons of our church, hearing of my doings at Waterbeach, had thought right to mention me to him.
Well, I went to the place of meeting, but, by a very singular occurrence we missed each other; he waited in the parlour, while I was shown into the drawing-room, and the servant forgot to tell him I had come. As he was going to London, and could not wait, he wrote the enclosed."
(On the envelope containing the following letter, there is this note in Spurgeon' handwriting:
"Sent to Mr. Watts because he is my dear friend, and Mr. A. knew he would give it to me. Mr. Watts treats me like a son; he is well qualified to be a father: he will do anything for me, I know."
I am sorry that I missed seeing Mr. Spurgeon yesterday, and now write, through you, in the hope that you will lay this note before him. I cannot, of course, in any way pledge our Committee in the matter, but if, on prayerfully considering the whole case, he apply for admission here, I can assure him of a candid, friendly consideration of his application. There is a great need of hearty, devoted ministers; and to form such, so that they may occupy important posts, and wear well, we need to have them thoroughly furnished, especially with Bible knowledge. I should regret for your friend to settle without thorough preparation. He may be useful in either case, but his usefulness will be very much greater, it will at all events fill a wider sphere, with preparation than without it.
Applications must be sent to us before May, our Session beginning in September; and if Mr. S. think further of it, I shall be glad in due time to hear from him.
Spurgeon's letter to his father continues:
"I have waited thus long because (1) I wanted to get a little more to tell you; (2) I do not want to appear to desire to go to College at your expense. I do not wish to go until I can pay for it with my own money, or until friends offer to help, because I do not want to burden you. It is said by almost all friends that I ought to go to College. I have no very great desire for it; in fact, none at all. Yet I have made it a matter of prayer, and I trust, yea, I am confident, God will guide me.
Of course, you are my only earthly director and guide in these matters; your judgment always has been best; you must know best. But perhaps you will allow me just to state my own opinion, not because I shall trust in it, but only that you may see my inclination. I think, then (with all deference to you) that I had better not go to College yet, at least not just now, for--
1. Whatever advantages are to be derived from such a course of study, I shall be more able to improve when my powers are more developed than they are at present. When I know more, I shall be more able to learn.
2. Providence has thrown me into a great sphere of usefulness--a congregation of often 450, a loving and praying church, and an awakened audience. Many already own that the preaching has been with power from Heaven. Now, ought I to leave them?
3. In a few years' time, I hope to improve my financial position, so as to be at no expense to you, or at least not for all. I should not like to know that you were burdening yourself for me. I should love to work my own way as much as possible. I know you like this feeling.
4. I am not uneducated. I have many opportunities of improvement now; all I want is more time; but even that, Mr. Leeding would give me, if it were so arranged. I have plenty of practice, and do we not learn to preach by preaching? You know what my style is. I fancy it is not very College-like. Let it be never so bad, God has blessed it, and I believe He will yet more. All I do right, He does in me, and the might is of Him. I am now well off; I think as well off as anyone of my age, and I am sure quite as happy. If I were in need, I think the people might be able to raise more for me. Now, shall I throw myself out, and trust to Providence as to whether I shall ever get another place as soon as I leave College!
5. But, no; I have said enough--you are to judge, not I. I leave it to God and yourself, but, still, I should like you to decide in this way. Of course, I have a will, and you now know it, but I say, 'Not mine, but your will, and God's will.'
I have just acknowledged the letter, and said that I could make no reply until I had consulted my friends. I think it might be as well, if you think so, too, to let Mr. Angus know as much as is right of my present position, that he may be favourable toward me at any future time....
I hope you will excuse my scrawl, for, believe me, I am fully employed. Last night, I thought of writing, but was called out to see a dying man, and I thought I dare not refuse. The people at W--- would not like to get even a hint of my leaving them. I do not know why they love me, but they do; it is the Lord's doing.
Give my love and many thanks to dear Mother, Archer, and sisters. If at any time you think a letter from me would be useful, just hint as much, and I will write one. May God keep me, in every place, from every evil, and dwell with you, and abide with you for ever; and with my best love,
Extract from C. H. Spurgeon's letter to his father, March 9th, 1852:
"I have all along had an aversion to College, and nothing but a feeling that I must not consult myself, but Jesus, could have made me think of it. It appears to my friends at Cambridge that it is my duty to remain with my dear people at Waterbeach; so says the church there, unanimously, and so say three of our deacons at Cambridge."
Letter from Deacon King to C. H. Spurgeon's father:
Having heard, with deep regret, of your intention of placing your son at Stepney College, I write to say that, if you were aware of all the circumstances connected with his ministry at Waterbeach, I think you would defer doing so, at least for a time.
Allow me to say that, since his coming, the congregation is very much increased, the aisles and vestry being often full, and many go away for want of room; there are several cases of his being made useful in awakening the careless; and although we have only known him about five months, the attachment is as strong as if we had been acquainted with him as many years, and if he were to leave us just now, it would be the occasion of general Lamentation Mourning, and Woe. Added to which he has no wish to go but rather the reverse; and his friends in Cambridge, who previously recommended his going, now hesitate, and feel disposed to alter their opinion. If you sir, could come over, and see for yourself, you would find that this account is not exaggerated, but perhaps would be ready to exclaim, 'The half was not told me.' That we may be Divinely directed to act as shall be most conducive to the promotion of the Redeemer's glory, in connection with the best interests of those around us, is the sincere and earnest prayer of--
C. KING, on behalf of the Church and Congregation.
P.S.--Our friends are very anxious that Mr. S. should continue with us at least a year. Your acceding to this would cause many devout thanksgivings to God, and we hope would be attended with lasting benefit to many amongst us. A line to this effect would much oblige."
"April 6th, 1852.
My Dear Father,
I am sorry that anything I said in my letter should have grieved you. It was nothing you said that made your letter a sad one; it was only my thoughts of leaving the people at 'Beach. I thank you most sincerely for your very kind offer, and also for your assurance that I am at perfect liberty to act as I think it is the will of God I should act. I am sure I never imagined that you would force me--it was only my poor way of expressing myself that caused the blunder-- and I do now most affectionately entreat forgiveness of you if I said anything that had a shadow of wrong in it, or if I have thought in any wrong manner. I have desired, all along, to act the part of a dutiful son to an affectionate parent, and if I fail, I feel sure that you and dear Mother will impute it rather to my weakness in act, than to a want of love.
With regard to my decision--I have said so much in my last that more would be unnecessary. I do really think it to be my duty to continue in the place which I now occupy--for a short time at least. I have been assured that never were more tears shed in Waterbeach, at any time, than when I only hinted at leaving. They could not give me stronger tokens of their affection than they did give. One prayer went up from all, 'Lord, keep him here!' I am assured by Mr. King that the people have had ministers whom one lot were very pleased with, but there always was a party opposed, but now, though he has a good scope for observation, he has not heard one opinion contrary to me. The Lord gave me favour with the people, and I am so young that they look over many faults I believe this is one of the facts of the case. The worst is, I am in a dangerous place; the pinnacle is not so safe as the quiet vale. I know you pray that I may be kept humble, and I know I do. Oh, if the clouds pass without rain, how sorrowful I shall feel! When I have been thinking on the many difficulties in preaching the Word, the doctrine of election has been a great comfort to me. I do want men to be saved, and it is my consolation that a multitude no man can number are by God's immutable decree ordained to eternal life. So we cannot labour in vain, we must have some; the covenant renders that secure.
I shall always be glad of some of your skeletons, for though I do not want them to make me lazy, yet they give some hints when a passage does not open at once. It will be too much trouble for you to write them, but I have no doubt Archer will copy them for me.... As to my cash, I have bought a great many books lately, for my constant work requires them, and you know Mr. L. would not have many of the class of books I want. Yet I calculate on having £15 in hand at Midsummer, or by God's blessing, more. I think that (of course, I mean, if God prosper me) I shall be able to save enough to put myself to College, and if not, if I should go, which, as you say, is not very certain, why then friends at Cambridge would help me if I could not manage it. Has --- taken the positive steps yet with regard to joining the church? If not, tell her, I blush that she should blush to own her Lord. Do not forget me in earnest prayer.... My very best love to my dear Mother. I am sure she can tell all the mothers in the world that parents' prayers are not forgotten. I daresay you think God saved the worst first; if you do not, I do. I believe I have given you more trouble than any of the others, but I did not mean it, and I still believe that I have given you joy, too, and I hope the trouble, though not repaid, will yet be recompensed by, comfort arising from seeing me walk in the truth. Remember me to Emily.... The little ones are getting big, I suppose; my love to them, I hope they will be Gods daughters.
Part of undated letter from C H. Spurgeon to his mother; the first portion is missing:
"I need your prayers doubly at this time. I know I shall have them, and I believe I have felt the blessing of them more than once. The Lord visit you both, and bear you up in His everlasting arms! Troubles you have had, but I believe the comforts have always kept you joyful in tribulation; cast down, but not in despair.
Bless the Lord, I must say, for making me His son; 'tis of His own sovereign mercy. Not one good thing has failed. I have felt corruptions rise, and the old man is strong--but grace always comes in just at the critical time, and saves me from myself. The Lord keep me! I have no hope of going on well but by His power. I know that His almighty arm is all-sufficient. Get everyone you can to pray for me; a prayer is more precious than gold, it makes me rich. Lift up your arms, like Moses; there is a great battle both in me and out of me. Jesus intercedes; sweet thought, to one who needs just such a Pleader. Jehovah-Jesus, His people's buckler, is near; an ever-present help in time of trouble, not afar off. We live in Him, He is all around us; who shall destroy His favourites, His darlings? I have had for one of my sermons, John xv. 9: As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you: continue ye in My love.' Here is (1.) Love without beginning. God never began to love Jesus. (2.) Love without limit. God loves Jesus with an unbounded love. (3.) Love without change. God always loved Jesus alike, equally. (4.) Love without end. When will God leave off loving Jesus? Even so does Jesus love you and me.
How are all Christian friends? Love to Mr. Langford, and my best respects; tell him I desire a special interest in his prayers. I want to feel 'less than nothing', but this is a very great attainment. Thank Father for his letter; the Lord of hosts prosper his labours abundantly! My very best love to yourself. I hope, if it is right, that your hands are well. Kiss the little ones, and give them my love. May they learn of Jesus! I am glad Archer gets on so well; may your ten thousand prayers for us be answered by Him that heareth prayer! Emily is stronger, I hope; ask her to think whether she loves Jesus with all her heart.
I should very much like to know where Aunt lives. I have asked several times, but I have not learned yet. I do not expect many letters from home. Father is so much engaged, that I wonder I get so many. If you want to know any points in which I am not quite explicit enough, write and ask at any time. My affairs are your affairs. I hope always to do that which you would approve of.
Love to all once more--
Extract from letter from C. H. Spurgeon to his mother, November, 1852:
"I am more and more glad that I never went to College. God sends such sunshine on my path, such smiles of grace, that I cannot regret if I have forfeited all my prospects for it. I am conscious that I held back from love to God and His cause, and I had rather be poor in His service than rich in my own. I have all that heart can wish for; yea, God giveth more than my desire. My congregation is as great and loving as ever. During all the time that I have been at Waterbeach, I have had a different house for my home every Sabbath day. Fifty-two families have thus taken me in; and I have still six other invitations not yet accepted. Talk about the people not caring for me, because they give me so little! I dare tell anybody under heaven 'tis false! They do all they can. Our anniversary passed off grandly: six were baptized; crowds on crowds stood by the river; the chapel was afterwards crammed, both to the tea and the sermon."]
At this anniversary (in 1852) my venerable friend, Cornelius Elven, of Bury St. Edmunds, as a man of mark in that region, was requested to preach, and right well do I remember his hearty compliance with my request. I met him at the station as he alighted from a third-class carriage, which he had selected in order to put the friends to the least possible expense for his travelling. His bulk was stupendous, and one soon saw that his heart was as large as his body. There was a baptismal service in the river in connection with the anniversary, but Mr. Elven said that he could not go into the water with us, for if he got wet through, there were no garments nearer than Bury St. Edmunds that would fit him. He gave me much sage and holy advice during his visit, advice which came to me with much the same weight as Paul's words came to Timothy. He bade me study hard, and mind and keep abreast of the foremost Christians in our little church; "for," said he, "if these men, either in their knowledge of Scripture, or their power to edify the people, once outstrip you, the temptation will arise among them to be dissatisfied with your ministry; and, however good they are, they will feel their superiority, and others will perceive it, too, and then your place in the church will become very difficult to hold." I felt the common sense of the observation, and the spur was useful. The sermons of the day were very homely in style, and pre-eminently practical. I remember his reading the narrative of Naaman the Syrian, and his pithy comments thereon. He seemed to have taken Matthew Henry for his model, and in the course of one of the services he gave us Henry's inimitable description of the Father receiving the prodigal, which occurs in the commentator's exposition of Luke xv. With a voice deep-toned and graciously tender, he said: "'When he was yet a great way off, his father saw him'--here were eyes of mercy; 'and had compassion--here were bowels of mercy; 'and ran'--here were feet of mercy; 'and fell on his neck'--here were arms of mercy; and kissed him'--here were lips of mercy;--it was all mercy!" But one thing above all others fixed itself upon my memory, and when I heard of the good man's departure, it came before me with great vividness; he told me anecdotes of the usefulness of addressing individuals one by one about their souls, and urged the duty upon me with great earnestness, quoting again and again from the life of a certain Harlan Page. Being busy with a thousand matters, I had never looked up the biography which he so strongly recommended, but my first thought, when I learned of his death, was, Harlan Page. Cornelius Elven completed an honourable ministry of fifty years in his native town, and passed away amid the respectful regrets of all the inhabitants, and the deep affection of his church He was a man of large and loving heart, with a vivacious mind, and interesting manner of utterance. He was not only the friend of my youth, but he also preached for me in London in after days. He used, with a merry laugh, to tell the story of a lady who came to hear me at New Park Street, but putting her head inside the door, and seeing the vast form of Cornelius Elven, she retreated, exclaiming, "No, no; the man has too much of the flesh about him, I cannot hear him." It was a very unjust judgment, for the dear mans great bulk was a sore affliction to him. Peace to his memory! I weave no fading wreath for his tomb, but I catch the gleaming of that immortal crown which the Master has placed upon his brow. He was a good man, full of faith and of the Holy Ghost.
[Professor Everett has preserved the following reminiscence of this period:
"In or about I852, I was occupying a post in a high-class school--Mr. Thorowgood's, at Totteridge, near London--and there being a vacancy for another assistant, I wrote, with Mr. Thorowgood's approval, to my old friend Spurgeon, proposing that he should come and fill it. He asked for a few days to decide definitely, and then wrote declining, chiefly on the ground that he was unwilling to renounce the evangelistic work which he combined with the position he then held. He stated, then, or in a subsequent letter, that he had preached more than three hundred times in the previous twelve months, and that the chapel at Waterbeach was not only full, but crowded with outside listeners at the open windows."]