Love, Courtship, and Marriage By MRS. C. H. SPURGEON
WHEN I came to deal with the sacred and delicate task of writing this chapter, to record the events of the years 1854 and 1855, two courses only seemed to open before me--the one, to conceal, as gracefully as possible, under conventional phraseology and common-place details, the tender truth and sweetness of our mutual love-story--the other, to write out of the fullness of my very soul, and suffer my pen to describe the fair visions of the past as, one by one, they grew again before my eyes into living and loving realities. I chose the latter alternative, I felt compelled to do so. My hand has but obeyed the dictates of my heart, and, I trust also, the guidance of the unerring Spirit.
It may be an unusual thing thus to reveal the dearest secrets of one's past life, but I think, in this case, I am justified in the course I have taken. My husband once said, "You may write my life across the sky, I have nothing to conceal;" and I cannot withhold the precious testimony which these hitherto sealed pages of his history bear to his singularly holy and blameless character.
So, I have unlocked my heart, and poured out its choicest memories. Some people may blame my prodigality, but I am convinced that the majority of readers will gather up, with reverent hands, the treasures I have thus scattered, and find themselves greatly enriched by their possession.
It has cost me sighs, and multiplied sorrows, as I have mourned over my vanished joys; but, on the other hand, it has drawn me very near to "the God of all consolation", and taught me to bless Him again and again for having ever given me the priceless privilege of such a husbands love.
Many years ago, I read a most pathetic story, which is constantly called to mind as the duties of this compilation compel me to read the records of past years, and re-peruse the long-closed letters of my beloved, and live over again the happy days when we were all-in-all to each other. I do not remember all the details of the incident which so impressed me, but the chief facts were these. A married couple were crossing one of the great glaciers of Alpine regions, when a fatal accident occurred. The husband fell down one of the huge crevasses which abound on all glaciers--the rope broke, and the depth of the chasm was so great that no help could be rendered, nor could the body be recovered. Over the wife's anguish at her loss, we must draw the veil of silence.
Forty years afterwards saw her, with the guide who had accompanied them at the time of the accident, staying at the nearest hotel to the foot of the glacier, waiting for the sea of ice to give up its dead; for, by the well-known law of glacier-progression, the form of her long-lost husband might be expected to appear, expelled from the mouth of the torrent, about that date. Patiently, and with unfailing constancy, they watched and waited, and their hopes were at last rewarded. One day, the body was released from its prison in the ice, and the wife looked again on the features of him who had been so long parted from her!
But the pathos of the story lay in the fact that she was then an old woman, while the newly-rescued body was that of quite a young and robust man, so faithfully had the crystal casket preserved the jewel which it held so long. The forty years had left no wrinkles on that marble brow, Time's withering fingers could not touch him in that tomb, and so, for a few brief moments, the aged lady saw the husband of her youth, as he was in the days which were gone for ever!
Somewhat similar has been my experience while preparing these chapters. I have stood, as it were, at the foot of the great glacier of Time, and looked with unspeakable tenderness on my beloved as I knew him in the days of his strength, when the dew of his youth was upon him, and the Lord had made him a mighty man among men. True, the cases are not altogether parallel, for I had my beloved with me all the forty years, and we grew old together; but his seven years in glory seem like half a century to me; and now, with the burden of declining years upon me, I am watching and waiting to see my loved one again--not as he was forty years or even seven years ago, but he will be when I am called to rejoin him through the avenue of the grave, or at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints. So I am waiting, and "looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious reappearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ."
The first time I saw my future husband, he occupied the pulpit of New Park Street Chapel on the memorable Sunday when he preached his first sermons there. I was no stranger to the place. Many a discourse had I there listened to from Pastor James Smith (afterwards of Cheltenham)--a quaint and rugged preacher, but one well versed in the blessed art of bringing souls to Christ. Often had I seen him administer the ordinance of baptism to the candidates, wondering with a tearful longing whether I should ever be able thus to confess my faith in the Lord Jesus.
I can recall the old-fashioned, dapper figure of the senior deacon, of whom I stood very much in awe. He was a lawyer, and wore the silk stockings and knee-breeches dear to a former generation. When the time came to give out the hymns, he mounted an open desk immediately beneath the pulpit, and from where I sat, I had a side view of him. To the best of my remembrance, he was a short, stout man, and his rotund body, perched on his undraped legs, and clothed in a long-tailed coat, gave him an unmistakable resemblance to a gigantic robin; and when he chirped out the verses of the hymn in a piping, twittering voice, I thought the likeness was complete!
Well also did I know the curious pulpit without any stairs; it looked like a magnified swallow's-nest, and was entered from behind through a door in the wall. My childish imagination was always excited by the silent and "creepy" manner in which the minister made his appearance therein. One moment the big box would be empty--the next, if I had but glanced down at Bible or hymn-book, and raised my eyes again--there was the preacher, comfortably seated, or standing ready to commence the service! I found it very interesting, and though I knew there was a matter-of-fact door, through which the good man stepped into his rostrum, this knowledge was not allowed to interfere with, or even explain, the fanciful notions I loved to indulge in concerning that mysterious entrance and exit. It was certainly somewhat singular that, in the very pulpit which had exercised such a charm over me, I should have my first glimpse of the one who was to be the love of my heart, and the light of my earthly life. After Mr. Smith left, there came, with the passing years, a sad time of barrenness and desolation upon the church at New Park Street; the cause languished, and almost died, and none even dreamed of the overwhelming blessing which the Lord had in store for the remnant of faithful people worshipping there.
From my childhood, I had been a greatly-privileged favourite with Mr.and Mrs. Olney, Senr. ("Father Olney" and his wife), and I was a constant visitor at their homes, both in the Borough and West Croydon, and it was by reason of this mutual love that I found myself in their pew at the dear old chapel on that Sabbath evening, December 18th, 1853. There had been much excitement and anxiety concerning the invitation to the country lad from Waterbeach to come and preach in the honoured, but almost empty sanctuary; it was a risky experiment, so some thought, but I believe that, from the very first sermon he heard him preach, dear old "Father Olney's" heart was fixed in its faith that God was going to do great things by this young David.
When the family returned from the morning service, varied emotions filled their souls. They had never before heard just such preaching; they were bewildered, and amazed, but they had been fed with royal dainties. They were, however, in much concern for the young preacher himself, who was greatly discouraged by the sight of so many empty pews, and manifestly wished himself back again with his loving people, in his crowded chapel in Cambridgeshire. "What can be done?" good Deacon Olney said; "we must get him a better congregation to-night, or we shall lose him!" So, all that Sabbath afternoon, there ensued a determined looking-up of friends and acquaintances, who, by some means or other, were coaxed into giving a promise that they would be at Park Street in the evening to hear the wonderful boy preacher. "And little Susie must come, too," dear old Mrs. Olney pleaded. I do not think that "little Susie" particularly cared about being present; her ideas of the dignity and propriety of the ministry were rather shocked and upset by the reports which the morning worshippers had brought back concerning the young man's unconventional outward appearance! However, to please my dear friends, I went with them, and thus was present at the second sermon which my precious husband preached in London.
Ah! how little I then thought that my eyes looked on him who was to be my life's beloved; how little I dreamed of the honour God was preparing for me in the near future! It is a mercy that our lives are not left for us to plan, but that our Father chooses for us; else might we sometimes turn away from our best blessings, and put from us the choicest and loveliest gifts of His providence. For, if the whole truth be told, I was not at all fascinated by the young orator's eloquence, --while his countrified manner and speech excited more regret than reverence. Alas, for my vain and foolish heart! I was not spiritually-minded enough to understand his earnest presentation of the gospel, and his powerful pleading with sinners, but the huge black satin stock, the long, badly-trimmed hair, and the blue pocket-handkerchief with white spots, which he himself has so graphically described--these attracted most of my attention, and, I fear, awakened some feelings of amusement. There was only one sentence of the whole sermon which I carried away with me, and that solely on account of its quaintness, for it seemed to me an extraordinary thing for the preacher to speak of the "living stones in the Heavenly Temple perfectly joined together with the vermilion cement of Christ's blood."
I do not recollect my first introduction to him; it is probable that he spoke to me, as to many others, on that same Sabbath evening, but when the final arrangement was made for him to occupy New Park Street pulpit, with a view to the permanent pastorate, I used to meet him occasionally at the house of our mutual friends, Mr. and Mrs. Olney, and I sometimes went to hear him preach.
I had not at that time made any open profession of religion, though I was brought to see my need of a Saviour under the ministry of the Rev. S. B. Bergne, of the Poultry Chapel, about a year before Mr. Spurgeon came to London. He preached, one Sunday evening, from the text, "The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart" (Romans x. 8), and from that service I date the dawning of the true light in my soul. The Lord said to me, through His servant, "Give Me thine heart," and, constrained by His love, that night witnessed my solemn resolution of entire surrender to Himself. But I had since become cold and indifferent to the things of God; seasons of darkness, despondency, and doubt, had passed over me, but I had kept all my religious experiences carefully concealed in my own breast, and perhaps this guilty hesitancy and reserve had much to do with the sickly and sleepy condition of my soul when I was first brought under the ministry of my beloved. None could have more needed the quickening and awakening which I received from the earnest pleadings and warnings of that voice--soon to be the sweetest in all the world to me.
Gradually I became alarmed at my backsliding state, and then, by great effort, I sought spiritual help and guidance from William Olney ("Father Olney's" second son, and my cousin by marriage), who was an active worker in the Sunday-school at New Park Street, and a true Mr. Greatheart, and comforter of young pilgrims. He may have told the new Pastor about me--I cannot say; but, one day, I was greatly surprised to receive from Mr. Spurgeon an illustrated copy of The Pilgrim's Progress, in which he had written the inscription which is [here] reproduced . . . .
I do not think my beloved had, at that time, any other thought concerning me than to help a struggling soul Heavenward, but I was greatly impressed by his concern for me, and the book became very precious as well as helpful. By degrees, though with much trembling, I told him of my state before God; and he gently led me, by his preaching, and by his conversations, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to the cross of Christ for the peace and pardon my weary soul was longing for.
Thus things went quietly on for a little while; our friendship steadily grew, and I was happier than I had been since the days at the Poultry Chapel, but no bright dream of the future flashed distinctly before my eyes till the day of the opening of the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, on June 10, 1854. A large party of our friends, including Mr. Spurgeon, were present at the inauguration, and we occupied some raised seats at the end of the Palace where the great clock is now fixed. As we sat there talking, laughing, and amusing ourselves as best we could, while waiting for the procession to pass by, Mr. Spurgeon handed me a book, into which he had been occasionally dipping, and, pointing to some particular lines, said, "What do you think of the poet's suggestion in those verses!" The volume was Martin Tupper's Proverbial Philosophy, then recently published, and already beginning to feel the stir of the breezes of adverse criticism, which afterwards gathered into a howling tempest of disparagement and scathing sarcasm. No thought had I for authors and their woes at that moment. The pointing finger guided my eyes to the chapter on "Marriage", of which the opening sentences ran thus--
"Do you pray for him who is to be your husband?" said a soft low voice in my ear--so soft that no one else heard the whisper.
I do not remember that the question received any vocal answer, but my fast-beating heart; which sent a tell-tale flush to my cheeks, and my downcast eyes, which feared to reveal the light which at once dawned in them, may have spoken a language which love understood. From that moment, a very quiet and subdued little maiden sat by the young Pastor's side, and while the brilliant procession passed round the Palace, I do not think she took so much note of the glittering pageant defiling before her, as of the crowd of newly-awakened emotions which were palpitating within her heart. Neither the book not its theories were again alluded to, but when the formalities of the opening were over, and the visitors were allowed to leave their seats, the same low voice whispered again, "Will you come and walk round the Palace with me?" How we obtained leave of absence from the rest of the party, I know not, but we wandered together, for a long time, not only in the wonderful building itself, but in the gardens, and even down to the lake, beside which the colossal forms of extinct monsters were being cunningly modelled. During that walk, on that memorable day in June, I believe God Himself united our hearts in indissoluble bonds of true affection, and, though we knew it not, gave us to each other for ever. From that time our friendship grew apace, and quickly ripened into deepest love--a love which lives in my heart to-day as truly, aye, and more solemnly and strongly than it did in those early days; for, though God has seen fit to call my beloved up to higher service, He has left me the consolation of, still loving him with all my heart, and believing that our love shall be perfected when we meet in that blessed land where Love reigns supreme and eternal.
It was not very long (August 2, 1854) before the sweet secret between us was openly revealed. Loving looks, and tender tones, and clasping hands had all told "the old, old story", and yet, when the verbal confession of it came, how wonderful it was! Was there ever quite such bliss on earth before? I can see the place where the marvel was wrought, as plainly, at this distance of over forty years, as I saw it then. It was in a little, old-fashioned garden (my grandfathers), which had high brick walls on three sides, and was laid out with straight, formal gravel paths, and a small lawn, in the midst of which flourished a large and very fruitful pear tree--the pride of old grandad's heart. Rather a dreary and unromantic place, one would imagine, for a declaration of love; but people are nor particularly careful as to the selection of their surroundings at such a moment, and do not often take pains to secure a delightful background to the picture which will for ever be photographed on their hearts. To this day, I think of that old garden as a sacred place, a paradise of happiness, since there my beloved sought me for his very own, and told me how much he loved me. Though I thought I knew this already, it was a very different matter to hear him say it, and I trembled, and was silent for very joy and gladness. The sweet ceremony of betrothal needs no description; every loving and true heart can fill up the details either from experience or anticipation. To me, it was a time as solemn as it was sweet, and, with a great awe in my heart, I left my beloved, and hastening to the house, and to an upper room, I knelt before God, and praised and thanked Him, with happy tears, for His great mercy in giving me the love of so good a man. If I had known, then, how good he was, and how great he would become, I should have been overwhelmed, not so much with the happiness of being his, as with the responsibility which such a position would entail. But, thank God, throughout all my blessed married life, the perfect love which drew us together never slackened or faltered, and, though I can now see how undeserving I was to be the life companion of so eminent a servant of God, I know he did not think this, but looked upon his wife as God's best earthly gift to him.
In the diary I then kept, I find this brief but joyful entry: "August 2, 1854.--It is impossible to write down all that occurred this morning. I can only adore in silence the mercy of my God, and praise Him for all His benefits."
My dear husband used often to write his name and a brief comment in any of his books which he specially valued. His first volume of Calvin's Commentaries contains an inscription which is a direct confirmation of what I have written above.
After our engagement, we met pretty constantly; I attended the services at New Park Street Chapel as often as possible, and on February 1, 1855, I was baptized there by my beloved, upon my profession of repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. When I had to "come before the church", he endeavoured to keep the matter as quiet as possible, lest inconvenient curiosity should be aroused, but the fact must have found some small leakage, for we were amused to hear afterwards of the following little incident. An old man, named Johnny Dear, preceded me in the list of candidates, and when he had given in his experience, and been questioned and dismissed, two maiden ladies, sitting at the back of the room, were overheard to say, "What was that man's name?" "Johnny Dear." "Oh, well, I suppose it will be 'sister dear' next!" And I am thankful to say her surmise was correct, and that I happily passed through the somewhat severe ordeal.
Mr. Spurgeon had expressed a wish that I should write out my confession of repentance and faith, which I accordingly did. I do not know whether it was read to the officers of the church, or retained solely for his own perusal, but it is preserved among his papers, and in the following words he gave me assurance of his satisfaction with my testimony:
The letter is all I can desire. Oh! I could weep for joy (as I certainly am doing now) to think that my beloved can so well testify to a work of grace in her soul. I knew you were really a child of God, but I did not think you had been led in such a path. I see my Master has been ploughing deep, and it is the deep-sown seed, struggling with the clods, which now makes your bosom heave with distress. If I know anything of spiritual symptoms, I think I know a cure for you. Your position is not the sphere for earnest labour for Christ. You have done all you could in more ways than one, but you are not brought into actual contact either with the saints, or with the sinful, sick, or miserable, whom you could serve. Active service brings with it warmth, and this tends to remove doubting, for our works thus become evidences of our calling and election.
I flatter no one, but allow me to say, honestly, that few cases which have come under my notice are so satisfactory as yours. Mark, I write not now as your admiring friend, but impartially as your Pastor. If the Lord had intended your destruction, He would not have told you such things as these, nor would He enable you so unreservedly to cast yourself upon His faithful promise. As I hope to stand at the bar of God, clear of the blood of all men, it would ill become me to flatter; and as I love you with the deepest and purest affection, far be it from me to trifle with your immortal interests; but I will say again that my gratitude to God ought to be great, as well on my own behalf as yours, that you have been so deeply schooled in the lessons of the heart, and have so frequently looked into the charnel-house of your own corruption. There are other lessons to come, that you may be thoroughly furnished, but, Oh! my dear one, how good to learn the first lesson well! I loved you once, but feared you might not be an heir of Heaven--God in His mercy showed me that you were indeed elect. I then thought I might without sin reveal my affection to you--but up to the time I saw your note, I could not imagine that you had seen such great sights, and were so thoroughly versed in soul-knowledge. God is good, very good, infinitely good. Oh, how I prize this last gift, because I now know, more than ever, that the Giver loves the gift, and so I may love it, too, but only in subservience to Him. Dear purchase of a Saviour's blood, you are to me a Saviour's gift, and my heart is full to overflowing with the thought of such continued goodness. I do not wonder at His goodness, for it is just like Him; but I cannot but lift up the voice of joy at His manifold mercies.
Whatever befall us, trouble and adversity, sickness or death, we need not fear a final separation, either from each other, or our God. I am glad you are not here just at this moment, for I feel so deeply that I could only throw my arms around you and weep. May the choicest favours be thine, may the Angel of the Covenant be thy companion, may thy supplications be answered, and may thy conversation be with Jesus in Heaven! Farewell; unto my God and my father's' God I commend you.
At this time, the Crystal Palace was a favourite resort with us. It possessed great attractions of its own, and perhaps the associations of the opening day gave it an added grace in our eyes. In common with many of our friends, we had season tickets, and we used them to good purpose, as my beloved found that an hour or two of rest and relaxation in those lovely gardens, and that pure air, braced him for the constant toil of preaching to crowded congregations, and relieved him somewhat from the ill effects of London's smoky atmosphere. It was so easy for him to run down to Sydenham from London Bridge that, as often as once a week, if possible, we arranged to meet there for a quiet walk and talk. After the close of the Thursday evening service, there would be a whispered word to me in the aisle, "Three o'clock to-morrow," which meant that, if I would be at the Palace by that hour, "somebody" would meet me at the Crystal Fountain. I was then living at 7, St. Ann's Terrace, Brixton Road, in the house which my parents, Mr. and Mrs. R. B. Thompson, shared with my uncle, H. Kilvington, Esq., and the long walk from there to Sydenham was a pleasant task to me, with such a meeting in view, and such delightful companionship as a reward. We wandered amid the many Courts, which were then chiefly instructive and educational in character; we gazed with almost solemn awe at the reproductions of Egypt, Assyria, Pompeii, and I think we learned many things beside the tenderness of our own hearts towards each other, as the bright blissful hours sped by.
The young minister had not much time to spare from his duties, he usually came to see me on a Monday, bringing his sermon with him to revise for the press; and I learned to be quiet, and mind my own business, while this important work was going on. It was good discipline for the Pastor's intended wife, who needed no inconsiderable amount of training to fit her in any measure for the post she was ordained to occupy. I remember, however, that there was one instance of preparation for future duty, which was by no means agreeable to my feelings, and which, I regret to say, I resented. As a chronicler must be truthful, I tell the story, and to show how, from the very beginning of his public life, my dear husband's devotion to his sacred work dominated and even absorbed every other passion and purpose of his heart. He was a "called, and chosen, and faithful" servant of Christ in the very highest degree, and during all his life he put God's service first, and all earthly things second. I have known him to be so abstracted, on a Sabbath morning at the Tabernacle, just before preaching, that if I left his vestry for a few moments, he would, on my return, rise and greet me with a handshake, and a grave "How are you?" as if I were a strange visitor; then, noting the amused look on my face, he would discover his mistake, and laughingly say, "Never mind, wifey dear, I was thinking about my hymns." This happened not once only, but several times, and when the service was over, and we were driving home, he would make very merry over it.
But I must tell the promised story of the earlier days, though it is not at all to my own credit; yet, even as I write it, I smile at the remembrance of his enjoyment of the tale in later years. If I wanted to amuse him much, or chase some gloom from his dear face, I would remind him of the time when he took his sweetheart to a certain service, and there was so preoccupied with the discourse he was about to deliver, that he forgot all about her, and left her to take care of herself as best she could. As I recalled the incident, which really was to me a very serious one at the time, and might have had an untoward ending, he would laugh at the ludicrous side of it till the tears ran down his cheeks, and then he would lovingly kiss me, and say how glad he was that I had borne with his ill manners, and how much I must have loved him.
This is the story. He was to preach at the large hall of "The Horns", Kennington, which was not very far from where we then resided. He asked me to accompany him, and dined with us at St. Ann's Terrace, the service being in the afternoon. We went together, happily enough, in a cab, and I well remember trying to keep close by his side as mingled with the mass of people thronging up the staircase. But, by the time we had reached the landing, he had forgotten my existence; the burden of the message he had to proclaim to that crowd of immortal souls was upon him, and he turned into the small side door where the officials were awaiting him, without for a moment realizing that I was left to struggle as best I could with the rough and eager throng around me. At first, I was utterly bewildered, and then, I am sorry to have to confess, I was angry. I at once returned home, and told my grief to my gentle mother, who tried to soothe my ruffled spirit, and bring me to a better frame of mind. She wisely reasoned that my chosen-husband was no ordinary man, that his whole life was absolutely dedicated to God and His service, and that I must never, never hinder him by trying to put myself first in his heart. Presently, after much good and loving counsel, my heart grew soft, and I saw I had been very foolish and willful; and then a cab drew up at the door, and dear Mr. Spurgeon came running into the house, in great excitement, calling, "Where's Susie? I have been searching for her everywhere, and cannot find her; has she come back by herself?" My dear mother went to him, took him aside, and told him all the truth; and I think, when he realized the state of things, she had to soothe him also, for he was so innocent at heart of having offended me in any way, that he must have felt I had done him an injustice in thus doubting him. At last, mother came to fetch me to him, and I went downstairs. Quietly he let me tell him how indignant I had felt, and then he repeated mother's little lesson, assuring me of his deep affection for me, but pointing out that, before all things, he was God's servant, and I must be prepared to yield my claims to His.
I never forgot the teaching of that day; I had learned my hard lesson by heart, for I do not recollect ever again seeking to assert my right to his time and attention when any service for God demanded them. It was ever the settled purpose of my married life that I should never hinder him in his work for the Lord, never try to keep him from fulfilling his engagements, never plead my own ill-health as a reason why he should remain at home with me. I thank God, now, that He enabled me to carry out this determination, and rejoice that I have no cause to reproach myself with being a drag on the swift wheels of his consecrated life. I do not take any credit to myself for this; it was the Lord's will concerning me, and He saw to it that I received the necessary training whereby, in after years, I could cheerfully surrender His chosen servant to the incessant demands of his ministry, his literary work, and the multiplied labours of his exceptionally busy life. And now I can bless God for what happened on that memorable afternoon when my beloved preached at "The Horns", Kennington. What a delightfully cosy tea we three had together that evening, and how sweet was the calm in our hearts after the storm, and how much we both loved and honoured mother for her wise counsels and her tender diplomacy!
Some little time afterwards, when Mr. Spurgeon had an engagement at Windsor, I was asked to accompany him, and in forwarding the invitation, he referred to the above incident thus: "My Own Darling--What do you say to this? As you wish me to express my desire, I will say, 'Go'; but I should have left it to your own choice if I did not know that my wishes always please you. Possibly, I may be again inattentive to you if you do go, but this will be nice for us both--that 'Charles' may have space for mending, and that 'Susie' may exhibit her growth in knowledge of his character, by patiently enduring his failings." So the end of this little "rift in the lute" was no patched-up peace between us, but a deepening of our confidence in each other, and an increase of that fervent love which can look a misunderstanding in the face till it melts away and vanishes, as a morning cloud before the ardent glances of the sun.
Two tender little notes, written by my husband sixteen years later (1871), will show what an abundant reward of loving approval was bestowed on me for merely doing what it was my duty to do:
"My Own Dear One,--None know how grateful I am to God for you. In all I have ever done for Him, you have a large share, for in making me so happy you have fitted me for service. Not an ounce of power has ever been lost to the good cause through you. I have served the Lord far more, and never less, for your sweet companionship. The Lord God Almighty bless you now and for ever!
"I have been thinking over my strange history, and musing on eternal love's great river-head from which such streams of mercy have flowed to me. I dwell devoutly on many points--the building of the Tabernacle--what a business it was, and how little it seems now! Do you remember a Miss Thompson who collected for the enlargement of New Park Street Chapel as much as £100? Bless her dear heart! Think of the love which gave me that dear lady for a wife, and made her such a wife; to me, the ideal wife, and, as I believe, without exaggeration or love-flourishing, the precise form in which God would make a woman for such a man as I am, if He designed her to be the greatest of all earthly blessings to him; and in some sense a spiritual blessing, too, for in that also am I richly profited by you, though you would not believe it. I will leave this 'good matter' ere the paper is covered, but not till I have sent you as many kisses as there are waves on the sea."
It was our mutual desire to pay a visit to Colchester, that I might be introduced to Mr. Spurgeon's parents as their future daughter-in-law, and, after some trouble and disappointment, my father's consent was obtained, and we set off on our first important journey together, with very keen and vivid perceptions of the delightful novelty of our experience. It is not to be wondered at that my memories of the visit are somewhat hazy, although intensely happy. I was welcomed, petted, and entertained most affectionately by all the family, and I remember being taken to see every place and object of interest in and around Colchester, but what I saw, I know not; the joy of being all the day long with my beloved, and this for three or four days together, was enough to fill my heart with gladness, and render me oblivious of any other pleasure. I think we must have returned on the Friday of our week's holiday, for, according to our custom, we exchanged letters on the Saturday as usual, and this is what we said to each other:
My Own Doubly-dear Susie,
How much we have enjoyed in each other's society! It seems almost impossible that I could either have conferred or received so much happiness, I feel now, like you, very low in spirits, but a sweet promise in Ezekiel cheers me, 'I will give thee the opening of the mouth in the midst of them.' Surely my God has not forgotten me. Pray for me, my love; and may our united petitions win a blessing through the Saviour's merit! Let us take heed of putting ourselves too prominently in our own hearts, but let us commit our way unto the Lord. 'What I have in my own hand, I usually lose,' said Luther; 'but what I put into God's hand, is still, and ever will be, in my possession.' I need not send my love to you, for, though absent in body, my heart is with you still, and I am, your much-loved, and ardently-loving,
C. H. S.
P.S.--The devil has barked again in The Essex Standard. It contains another letter. Never mind; when Satan opens his mouth, he gives me an opportunity of ramming my sword down his throat."
I thank you with warm and hearty thanks for the note just received. It is useless for me to attempt to tell you how much happiness I have had during the past week. Words are but cold dishes on which to serve up thoughts and feelings which come warm and glowing from the heart. I should like to express my appreciation of all the tenderness and care you have shown towards me during this happy week, but I fear to pain you by thanks for what I know was a pleasure to you. I expect your thoughts have been busy to-day about 'the crown jewels.' The gems may differ in size, colour, richness, and beauty, but even the smallest are 'precious stones', are they not?
That Standard certainly does not bear 'Excelsior' as its motto; nor can 'Good will to men' be the device of its floating pennon, but it matters not; we know that all is under the control of One of whom Asaph said, 'Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee; the remainder of wrath shalt Thou restrain.' May His blessing rest in an especial manner on you to-night, my dearly-beloved, and on the approaching Sabbath, when you stand before the great congregation may you be 'filled with all the fulness of God'! Good-night. Fondly and faithfully yours,--SUSIE."
The mention of The Essex Standard, in the foregoing letters, points to the fact that, even thus early in his ministerial career, the strife of tongues had commenced against God's servant, and the cruel arrows of the wicked had sorely wounded him. He had also begun to learn that some of his severest critics were the very men who ought to have been his heartiest friends and warmest sympathizers. The first reference to this persecution is in a letter to me, written January 1, 1855, where he says: "I find much stir has been made by 'Job's letter', and hosts of unknown persons have risen up on my behalf. It seems very likely that King James (James Wells) will shake his own throne by lifting his hand against one of the Lord's little ones." Then, in May, in one of the Saturday letters, there occur these sentences: "I am down in the valley partly because of two desperate attacks in The Sheffield Independent, and The Empire, and partly because I cannot find a subject. Yet faith fails not. I know and believe the promise, and am not afraid to rest upon it. All the scars I receive, are scars of honour; so, faint heart, on to the battle! My love, were you here, how you would comfort me, but since you are not, I shall do what is better still, go upstairs alone, and pour out my griefs into my Saviour's ear. 'Jesus, Lover of my soul I can to Thy bosom fly!"
These were only the first few drops of the terrible storm of detraction, calumny, and malice, which afterward burst upon him with unexampled fury, but which, blessed be God, he lived through, and lived down. I do not say more concerning these slanders, as they will be described in detail in the following chapters.
When my parents removed to a house in Falcon Square, City, we met much more frequently, and grew to know each other better, while our hearts were knit closer and closer in purest love. A little more "training" also took place, for one day my beloved brought with him an ancient, rusty-looking book, and, to my amazement, said, "Now, darling, I want you to go carefully through this volume, marking all those paragraphs and sentences that strike you as being particularly sweet, or quaint, or instructive; will you do this for me?" Of course, I at once complied, but he did not know with what a trembling sense of my own inability the promise was given, nor how disqualified I then was to appreciate the spiritual beauty of his favourite Puritan writers. It was the simplest kind of literary work which he asked me to do, but I was such an utter stranger to such service, that it seemed a most important and difficult task to discover in that "dry" old book the bright diamonds and red gold which he evidently reckoned were therein enshrined. Love, however, is a matchless teacher, and I was a willing pupil, and so, with help and suggestion from so dear a tutor, the work went on from day to day till, in due time, a small volume made its appearance, which he called, Smooth Stones taken from Ancient Brooks. This title was a pleasant and Puritanic play upon the author's name, and I think the compilers were well pleased with the results of this happy work together. I believe the little book is out of print now, and copies are very rarely to be met with, but those who possess them may feel an added interest in their perusal, now that they know the sweet love-story which hides between their pages.
As the days went by, my beloved's preaching engagements multiplied exceedingly, yet he found time to make me very happy by his loving visits and letters, and, on Sunday mornings, I was nearly always allowed by my parents to enjoy his ministry. Yet this pleasure was mingled with much of pain, for, during the early part of the year 1855, he was preaching in Exeter Hall to vast crowds of people, and the strain on his physical power was terrible. Sometimes his voice would almost break and fail as he pleaded with sinners to come to Christ, or magnified the Lord in His sovereignty and righteousness. A glass of Chili vinegar always stood on a shelf under the desk before him, and I knew what to expect when he had recourse to that remedy. Oh, how my heart ached for him! What self-control I had to exercise to appear calm and collected, and keep quietly in my seat up in that little side gallery! How I longed to have the right to go and comfort and cheer him when the service was over! But I had to walk away, as other people did--I, who belonged to him, and was closer to his heart than anyone there! It was severe discipline for a young and loving spirit. I remember, with strange vividness at this long distance of time, the Sunday evening when he preached from the text, "His Name shall endure for ever." It was a subject in which he revelled, it was his chief delight to exalt his glorious Saviour, and he seemed in that discourse to be pouring out his very soul and life in homage and adoration before his gracious King. But I really thought he would have died there, in face of all those people! At the end of the sermon, he made a mighty effort to recover his voice, but utterance well-nigh failed, and only in broken accents could the pathetic peroration be heard--"Let my name perish, but let Christ's Name last for ever! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Crown Him Lord of all! You will not hear me say anything else. These are my last words in Exeter Hall for this time. Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Crown Him Lord of all!" and then he fell back almost fainting in the chair behind him.
In after days, when the Lord had fully perfected for him that silver-toned voice which ravished men's ears, while it melted their hearts, there was seldom any recurrence of the painful scene I have attempted to describe. On the contrary, he spoke with the utmost ease, in the largest buildings, to assembled thousands, and, as a master musician playing on a priceless instrument, he could at will either charm his audience with notes of dulcet sweetness, or ring forth the clarion tones of warning and alarm.
He used to say playfully, that his throat had been macadamized; but, as a matter of fact, I believe that the constant and natural use of his voice, in the delivery of so many sermons and addresses, was the secret of his entire freedom from the serious malady generally known as "clergyman's sore throat". During this first visit to Exeter Hall, New Park Street Chapel was enlarged, and when this improvement was completed, he returned to his own pulpit, the services at the hall ceased, and for a short time at least, my fears for him were silenced.
But his work went on increasing almost daily, and his popularity grew with rapid strides. Many notable services in the open-air were held about this time, and my letters give a glimpse of two of these occasions. On June 2, 1855, he writes: "Last evening, about 500 persons came to the field, and afterwards adjourned to the chapel kindly lent by Mr. Eldridge. My Master gave me power and liberty. I am persuaded souls were saved; and, as for myself, I preached like the chief of sinners, to those who, like me, were chief sinners too. Many were the tears, and not a few the smiles."
Then, on the 23rd of the same month, I had a jubilant letter, which commenced thus: "Yesterday, I climbed to the summit of a ministers glory. My congregation was enormous, I think 10,000 (this was in a field at Hackney); but, certainly twice as many as at Exeter Hall. The Lord was with me, and the profoundest silence was observed, but, oh, the close--never did mortal man receive a more enthusiastic ovation! I wonder I am alive! After the service, five, or six gentlemen endeavoured to clear a passage, but I was borne along, amid cheers, and prayers, and shouts, for about a quarter of an hour--it really seemed more like a week! I was hurried round and round the field without hope of escape until, suddenly seeing a nice open carriage, with two occupants, standing near, I sprang in, and begged them to drive away. This they most kindly did, and I stood up, waving my hat, and crying, 'The blessing of God be with you!' while, from thousands of heads the hats were lifted, and cheer after cheer was given. Surely, amid these plaudits I can hear the low rumblings of an advancing storm of reproaches, but even this I can bear for the Master's sake."
This was a true prophecy, for the time did come when the hatred of men to the truths he preached rose to such a height, that no scorn seemed too bitter, no sneer too contemptuous, to fling at the preacher who boldly declared the gospel of the grace of God, as he had himself learned it at the cross of Christ; but, thank God, he lived to be honoured above most men for his uprightness and fidelity, and never, to the last moment of his life, did he change one jot or tittle of his belief, or vary an iota of his whole-hearted testimony to the divinity of the doctrines of free grace.
In July of this year (1855), my dear one went to Scotland, intending to combine a holiday with the fulfillment of many preaching engagements--a very bad plan this, as he afterwards found, for an over-taxed mind needs absolute repose during resting times, and sermons and spirits both suffer if this reasonable rule be broken. His letters to me during this journey are not altogether joyful ones. I give a few extracts from them, which will serve to outline his first experiences in a form of service into which he so fully entered in after years. On this occasion, he was not happy, or "at home", and was constantly longing to return. This was, too, his first long journey by rail, and it is curious to note what physical pain the inexperienced traveller endured. In those days, there were no Pullman cars, or luxurious saloon carriages, fitted up with all the comforts and appliances of a first-class hotel, so our poor voyager fared badly. He writes a note from Carlisle, just to assure me of his safety, and then, on reaching Glasgow, he gives this account of his ride: "At Watford, I went with the guard, and enjoyed some conversation with him, which I hope God will bless to his good. At 10.45, I went inside--people asleep. I could not manage a wink, but felt very queer. At morning-light, went into a second-class carriage with another guard, and rejoiced in the splendid view as well as my uncomfortable sensations would allow. Arrived here tired, begrimed with dust, sleepy, not over high in spirits, and with a dreadful cold in my head. Last night, I slept twelve hours without waking, but I still feel as tired as before I slept. I will, I think, never travel so far at once again. I certainly shall not come home in one day, for if I do, my trip will have been an injury instead of a benefit. I am so glad you did not have my horrid ride, but if I could spirit you here, I would soon do it. Pray for me, my love."
The next epistle I will give at length. I have been trying in these pages to leave the "love" out of the letters as much as possible, lest my precious things should appear but platitudes to my readers, but it is a difficult task, for little rills of tenderness run between all the sentences, like the singing, dancing waters among the boulders of a brook, and I cannot still the music altogether. To the end of his beautiful life it was the same, his letters were always those of a devoted lover, as well as of a tender husband; not only did the brook never dry up, but the stream grew deeper and broader, and the rhythm of its song waxed sweeter and stronger.
My Precious Love,
Your dearly-prized note came safely to hand, and verily it did excel all I have ever read, even from your own loving pen. Well, I am all right now. Last Sabbath, I preached twice, and to sum up all in a word, the services were 'glorious'. In the morning, Dr. Patterson's place was crammed, and in the evening, Dr. Wardlaw's Chapel was crowded to suffocation by more than 2,500 people, while persons outside declared that quite as many went away. My reception was enthusiastic; never was greater honour given to mortal man. They were just as delighted as are the people at Park Street. To-day, I have had a fine drive with my host and his daughter. To-morrow, I am to preach here. It is quite impossible for me to be left in quiet. Already, letters come in, begging me to go here, there, and everywhere. Unless I go to the North Pole, I never can get away from my holy labour.
Now to return to you again, I have had day-dreams of you while driving along, I thought you were very near me. It is not long, dearest, before I shall again enjoy your sweet society, if the providence of God permit. I knew I loved you very much before, but now I feel how necessary you are to me, and you will not lose much by my absence, if you find me, on my return, more attentive to your feelings, as well as equally affectionate. I can now thoroughly sympathize with your tears, because I feel in no little degree that pang of absence which my constant engagements prevented me from noticing when in London. How then must you, with so much leisure, have felt my absence from you, even though you well knew that it was unavoidable on my part! My darling, accept love of the deepest and purest kind from one who is not prone to exaggerate, but who feels that here there is no room for hyperbole. Think not that I weary myself by writing, for, dearest, it is my delight to please you, and solace an absence which must be even more dreary to you than to me, since travelling and preaching lead me to forget it. My eyes ache for sleep, but they shall keep open till I have invoked the blessings from above--mercies temporal and eternal--to rest on the head of one whose name is sweet to me, and who equally loves the name of her own, her much-loved, C. H S."
The dear traveller seems to have had his Scottish visit interrupted by the necessity of a journey to fulfil preaching engagements at Bradford and Stockton. On his way to these towns, he stayed to see the beauties of Windermere, and sought to enjoy a little relaxation and rest, but he writes very sadly of these experiences. "This is a bad way of spending time," he says, "I had rather be preaching five times a day than be here. Idleness is my labour. I long for the traces again, and want to be in the shafts, pulling the old coach. Oh, for the quiet of my own closet! I think, if I have one reason for wishing to return, more cogent than even my vehement desire to see you, it is that I may see my Lord, so as I have seen Him in my retirement."
Of the services at Bradford, he gives this brief record: "Last Sabbath was a day of even greater triumph than at Glasgow. The hall, which holds more people than Exeter Hall, was crammed to excess at both services, and in the evening the crowds outside who went away were immense, and would have furnished another hall with an audience. At Stockton, I had a full house, and my Master's smile; I left there this morning at 8 o'clock."
Returning to Glasgow, via Edinburgh, he preached in that city, and I afterwards had a doleful little note, in which he wrote bitter things against himself--perhaps without reason. His words, however, show with what tenderness of conscience he served his God, how quick he was to discover in himself anything which might displease his Master, and how worthless was the applause of the people if the face of his Lord were hidden. He says: "I preached in Edinburgh, and returned here, full of anguish at my ill-success. Ah! my darling, your beloved behaved like Jonah, and half wished never more to testify against Nineveh. Though it rained, the hall was crowded, and there was I--without my God! It was a sad failure on my part; nevertheless, God can bless my words to poor souls."
A hurried excursion to the Highlands--a day's sight-seeing in Glasgow--another Sabbath of services, when enormous crowds were disappointed--20,000 people being turned away, because admittance was impossible--and then the Scottish journey (the forerunner of so many similar events) was a thing of the past, and work at home was recommenced with earnestness and vigour.
Even at this early period of my beloved's ministry, while he was still so youthful that none need have wondered had he been puffed up by his popularity and success, there was in his heart a deep and sweet humility, which kept him low at the Master's feet, and fitted him to bear the ever-increasing burden of celebrity and fame. This is manifest in so many of these letters of 1855, that I have felt constrained to refer to it, since even now some dare to speak of him as self-confident and arrogant, when, had they known him as his dearest friends knew him, they would have marvelled at his lowliness, and borne witness--as these have often done--that "the meekness and gentleness of Christ" was one of the many charms of his radiant character. His dear son in the faith, Pastor Hugh D. Brown, of Dublin, speaks truly when he says of him, in a lately-published eulogy, "So wonderful a man, and yet so simple--with a great child-heart; or rather, so simple because so great, needing no scaffoldings of pompous mannerism to buttress up an uncertain reputation, but universally esteemed, because he cared nought for human opinion, but only for what was upright, open-hearted, and transparent, both in ministry and life; we never knew a public man who had less of self about him, for over and above aught else, his sole ambition seemed to be, How can I most extol my Lord?'" These thoughtful, discriminating words would have been applicable to him if they had been written in the long-past days, when his marvellous career had but just commenced, and his glorious life-work lay all before him.
The following letter reveals his inmost heart, and it costs me a pang to give it publicity, but it should silence for ever the untrue charges of egotism and self-conceit which have been brought against him by those who ought to have known better: "I shall feel deeply indebted to you, if you will pray very earnestly for me. I fear I am not so full of love to God as I used to be. I lament my sad decline in spiritual things, You and others may not have observed it, but I am now conscious of it, and a sense thereof has put bitterness in my cup of joy. Oh! what is it to be popular, to be successful, to have abundance, even to have love so sweet as yours--if I should be left of God to fall, and to depart from His ways? I tremble at the giddy height on which I stand, and could wish myself unknown, for indeed I am unworthy of all my honours and my fame. I trust I shall now commence anew, and wear no longer the linsey-woolsey garment, but I beseech you, blend your hearty prayers with mine, that two of us may be agreed, and thus will you promote the usefulness, and holiness, and happiness of one whom you love."
Then, some months later, he wrote: "The Patriot has a glowing account of me, which will tend to make me more popular than ever. May God preserve me! I believe all my little troubles have just kept me right. I should have been upset by flattery, had it not been for this long balancing rod."
Let any impartial reader decide whether these are the words of a vain and self-complacent man!
The year 1855 was now drawing to a close, and we were looking forward, with unutterable joy, to having a home of our own, and being united by the holy ties of a marriage "made in Heaven. My beloved went to spend Christmas with his parents in Colchester, and after a personal "Good-bye," wrote again thus: "Sweet One,--How I love you! I long to see you; and yet it is but half-an-hour since I left you. Comfort yourself in my absence by the thought that my heart is with you. My own gracious God bless you in all things--in heart, in feeling, in life, in death, in Heaven! May your virtues be perfected, your prospects realized, your zeal continued, your love to Him increased, and your knowledge of Him rendered deeper, higher, broader--in fact, may more than even my heart can wish, or my hope anticipate, be yours for ever! May we be mutual blessings--wherein I shall err, you will pardon, and wherein you may mistake, I will more than overlook. Yours, till Heaven, and then--C. H. S."
Ah! my husband, the blessed earthly ties which we welcomed so rapturously are dissolved now, and death has hidden thee from my mortal eyes, but not even death can divide thee from me, or sever the love which united our hearts so closely. I feel it living and growing still, and I believe it will find its full and spiritual development only when we shall meet in the glory-land, and worship "together before the throne".
There is just one relic of this memorable time. On my desk, as I write this chapter, there is a book bearing the title of The Pulpit Library; it is the first published volume of my beloved's sermons, and its fly-leaf has the following inscription:
The wedding-day was fixed for January 8, 1856, and I think, till it came, and passed, I lived in a dreamland of excitement and emotion, the atmosphere of which was unfriendly to the remembrance of any definite incidents. Our feet were on the threshold of the gate which stands at the entry of the new and untrodden pathway of married life, but it was with a deep and tender gladness that the travellers clasped each other's hand, and then placed them both in that of the Master, and thus set out on their journey, assured that He would be their Guide, "even unto death".
I have been trying to recall in detail the events of the--to me--notable day on which I became the loved, and loving wife of the best man on God's earth; but most of its hours are veiled in a golden mist, through which they look luminous, but indistinct--only a few things stand out clearly in my memory.
I see a young girl kneeling by her bedside in the early morning; she is awed and deeply moved by a sense of the responsibilities to be taken up that day, yet happy beyond expression that the Lord has so favoured her; and there alone with Him she earnestly seeks strength, and blessing, and guidance through the new life opening before her. The tiny upper chamber in Falcon Square was a very sacred place that morning.
Anon, I see a very simply-dressed damsel, sitting by her father's side, and driving through the City streets to New Park Street Chapel--vaguely wondering, as the passers-by cast astonished glances at the wedding equipage, whether they all knew what a wonderful bridegroom she was going to meet!
As we neared our destination, it was evident that many hundreds of people did know and care about the man who had chosen her to be his bride, for the building was full to overflowing, and crowds of the young preacher's admirers thronged the streets around the chapel. I do not remember much more. Within the densely-packed place, I can dimly see a large wedding party in the table-pew, dear old Dr Alexander Fletcher beaming benignly on the bride and bridegroom before him, and the deacons endeavouring to calm and satisfy the excited and eager onlookers.
Then followed the service, which made "us twain most truly one", and with a solemn joy in our hearts we stood hand in hand, and spake the few brief words which legally bound us to each other in blessed bonds while life lasted. But the golden circlet then placed on my finger, though worn and thin now, speaks of love beyond the grave, and is the cherished pledge of a spiritual union which shall last throughout eternity.