I would propose that the subject of the Ministry in this house, as long as this platform shall stand, and as long as this house shall be frequented by worshippers, shall be the person of Jesus Christ. I am never ashamed to avow myself a Calvinist; I do not hesitate to take the name of Baptist; but if I am asked what is my creed, I reply, 'It is Jesus Christ.' My venerated predecessor, Dr. Gill, has left a Body of Divinity, admirable and excellent in its way; but the Body of Divinity to which I would pin and bind myself for ever, God helping me, is not his system, or any other human treatise; but Christ Jesus, who is the sum and substance of the gospel, who is in himself all theology, the incarnation of every precious truth, the all-glorious personal embodiment of the way, the truth, and the life.--C. H. SPURGEON'S First Words at the Tabernacle.
The Tabernacle Opened
ON December 18, 1859, we commenced our third series of services at Exeter Hall, which ended on March 31, 1861. A few of my remarks upon leaving that place may fitly be quoted here: `In the providence of God, we, as a church and people, have had to wander often. This is our third sojourn within these walls. It is now about to close. We have had at all times and seasons a compulsion for moving: sometimes, a compulsion of conscience; at other times, a compulsion of pleasure, as on this occasion. I am sure that, when we first went to the Surrey Music Hall, God went with us. Satan went, too, but he fled before us. That frightful calamity, the impression of which can never be erased from my mind, became, in the providence of God, one of the most wonderful means of turning public attention to special services; and I do not doubt that--fearful catastrophe though it was--it has been the mother of multitudes of blessings. The Christian world noted the example, and saw its after-success; they followed it, and to this day, in the theatre and the music-hall, the Word of Christ is preached where it was never preached before. Never could it be more manifestly seen than in that place, that the gospel, when proclaimed simply and earnestly, is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.
In each of our movings we have had reason to see the hand of God, and here particularly; for many residents in the West End have in this place come to listen to the Word, who probably might not have taken a journey beyond the river. Here, God's grace has broken hard hearts; here have souls been renewed, and wanderers reclaimed. "Give unto the Lord, O ye mighty, give unto the Lord glory and strength. Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name." And now we journey to the house which God has in so special a manner given to us, and this day would I pray as Moses did, "Rise up, Lord, and let thine enemies be scattered; and let them that hate thee flee before thee."
"But what enemies have we?" say you. We have multitudes. We shall have to do battle in our new Tabernacle with that old enemy of the Church, the scarlet beast. Rome has built one of its batteries hard by our place, and there is one who styles himself "Archbishop of Southwark." Then we shall have another enemy, almost as our next-door neighbour--infidelity. There, has been one of its special places for display. Yet, comparatively speaking, infidelity is but a very puny adversary; it is not half so cunning as Popery, and hath nothing like its might. But worse than this, we shall have to deal with the indifference of the masses round about us, and with their carelessness concerning gospel truth, and with the prevailing sin and corruption; how shall we deal with all this? Shall we invent some socialistic system of reform? Shall we preach up some new method of political economy? No! the cross, the old cross is enough; this is the true Jerusalem blade, that divides like the razor of old with which Tarquin's augur cut the pebble. We will preach Christ as the sinner's Saviour, the Spirit of God as applying Christ's truth to the soul, and God the Father in His infinite sovereignty saving whom He wills, and in the bounty of His mercy willing to receive the vilest of the vile; and there is no indifference so callous, no ignorance so blind, no iniquity so base, no conscience so seared as not to be made to yield, when God wills it, before the might of His strength. So again I pray, "Rise up, Lord, and let these thine enemies be scattered; and let them that hate thee flee before thee." "Rise up, Lord!" O God the Father, rise up! Pluck thy right hand out of thy bosom, and let Thine eternal purposes be accomplished! O God the Son, rise up; show thy wounds, and plead before thy Father's face, and let thy blood-bought ones be saved! Rise up, O God the Holy Ghost; with solemn reverence, we do invoke thine aid! Let those who have hitherto resisted thee, now give way! Come thou, and melt the ice; dissolve the granite: break the adamantine heart; cut thou the iron sinew, and bow thou the stiff neck! Rise up, Lord--Father, Son, and Spirit we can do nothing without thee; but if thou wilt arise, thine enemies shall be scattered, and they that hate thee shall flee before thee.'
The first meeting in the Tabernacle was held on Tuesday afternoon, August 21, 1860, while the building was still unfinished. The object of the gathering was twofold: first, to give thanks to God for the success which had thus far attended the enterprise; and, next, to raise as much as possible of the amount required to open the sanctuary free from debt. £22,196 19s. 8d. had been received up to that time, but more than £8,000 was still needed. Apsley Pellatt presided, and heartily congratulated the congregation upon being present in the largest place of worship in Great Britain for the use of Nonconformist Christians. Several representative speakers delivered interesting and sympathetic addresses, and Spurgeon gave the following detailed description of the main building in which the meeting was being held, and of the smaller rooms connected with it: `You may perhaps guess the joy with which I stand before you today, but no man but myself can fathom its fulness, and I myself am quite unable to utter it. "Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name." Much as I wish to express my gratitude, I must go at once to my business, and first say a few words about the structure itself. If the floor were to give way, our brethren, who are now upon the platform, would find themselves in the baptistery; and if, at any time, those of them who have never been baptized wish to be immersed in obedience to their Master's command, they will always find a willing servant in me. The baptistery will be usually uncovered, as we are not ashamed to confess our belief in believers' baptism.
On the occasion of the administration of the Lord's supper, the table will also stand here; and there are steps on each side at the back of the platform by which the deacons will descend to distribute the memorials of the Saviour's death. You see, above us, the pulpit, or platform, which might hold a large number of persons. I cannot stand like a statue when I preach; I prefer a wide range both of thought and action. The pulpit will also be convenient for public meetings, so that there will be no expense for erecting platforms. Concerning this vast chapel, I believe it is the most perfect triumph of acoustics that has ever been achieved. If it had been a failure at present, I should not have been at all disappointed, because the walls have yet to be covered with matched boarding, so that not a particle of brickwork is to be exposed-it being my theory that soft substances are very much the best for hearing, having proved in a great number of buildings that stone walls are the main creators of an echo, and having seen hangings put up to break the reverberation, and to give the speaker a hope of being heard.
It has been remarked by a great many friends, as they entered, that the building was not so large as they expected; and I was pleased to hear them say so, for it showed me that the structure did not appear huge and unsightly. To look very large, a building must be generally out of proportion, for when there is proportion, the idea of size is often lost. If you went down below, you would find the lecture-hall, about the same area as New Park Street Chapel, or rather larger; and the school-room, larger in its area than the venerable sanctuary in which my brother, Dr. Campbell, long preached the Word-I mean, the Tabernacle, Moorfields. I believe that four chapels like the one at Moorfields could be put into this building; two resting on the basement would only just fill up the same area, and then there would be room for two more on the top of them. Now, perhaps, you may get some idea of the size of the Tabernacle.
With regard to the appearance of the structure, I have this much to say; I think it is highly creditable to the architect. The omission of the towers has deprived him of much of the effect which he hoped to produce by his design, and is perhaps the reason why the roof seems to rise too much, but they will never be erected as long as I am here. I will have no ornament which has not a practical use, and I do not think those towers could have had any object except mere show. As for the front elevation, it is not surpassed by anything in London. The building has no extravagance about it, and yet, at the same time, it has no meanness. True, the roof rises to a very great height above the portico, and does not present a very architectural appearance from the Causeway, but we must recollect this-those who only look at the Tabernacle from the outside have not subscribed anything towards its erection, and therefore cannot judge of its true beauty.
The lecture-hall, beneath this platform, is for our church-meetings; it is rendered fully necessary, as we have now more than 1,500 members. The schoolroom will contain, I should think, 1,500 if not 2,000 children. There are large class-rooms, which will be used on the Sabbath day for classes, and on the week-days for my students. I have no doubt my friend, Mr. Rogers, who has so long been my excellent helper in that work-and to whom very much credit is due-will feel himself more comfortable when he has proper rooms in which all his young men can be taught in every branch necessary to give them a complete education for the ministry. There is a very fine room for the ladies' working meetings, which will also be available for a library--a place where the works of all our former Pastors will be collected and preserved, for you must know that, of old, our church has ever been prolific of good works, in both senses of that term. We have the almost innumerable works of Keach--they were so many that it was difficult to find them all. The chap-books, which used to be hawked about the country-printed from worn type on bad brown paper, and adorned with quaint illustrations, yet containing good, sound theology-I have no doubt interested the villagers, and greatly impressed the public mind at the time. Then we have the ponderous tomes of Gill, the tractates and hymns of Rippon, and the works of those who, since their day, have served us in the Lord. The pulpit of my glorious predecessor, Dr. Gill, will be brought here, and placed in the vestry below, that we may retain our ancient pedigree. It is said to have had a new bottom, and some of the four sides are new, yet I affirm it to be Dr. Gill's pulpit. I am as certain that it is so, as that I am the same man as I was seven years ago, though all the component parts of my body may have been changed in the meantime.
Behind the upper platform, there are three spacious rooms; in the centre, is the minister's vestry; to the right and left, are the rooms of the deacons and elders-the officers of the army on either side of the captain, so that they may be ready to go forward at the word of command. Then above them, on the third storey, there are three other excellent rooms, to be used for tract and Bible depositories, and for other schemes which we hope the church will undertake.
I have thus tried to explain the structure of the building to you; I do not think that anything else remains to be said about it, except I draw your attention to the staircases by which you ascend to the galleries, each gallery having a distinct entrance and staircase, so that there is no fear of any overcrowding. I will only say that a design was never carried out with more fidelity by any builder than this has been. There have been improvements made as we have gone on, but they always have been improvements, to which, if they did not seem absolutely necessary, the builder has objected, lest he should have any extras; and when we have compelled him to make them, he has done them as cheaply as possible. He is a man of whom I am proud that he is at once a member of the church, a member of the Building Committee, and the builder of this house of God. Mr. Higgs, besides being a most generous donor, gives us in solid brick and stone far more than he has done in cash. If I had ten thousand buildings to erect, I would never look to anybody else; I would stick to my first love, for he has been faithful and true.
I must pass on to another point, namely, the present position of this project. We have pushed beyond the era of objection to it. Now, those very wise friends (and they were very wise) who said the building ought not to be built, it would be too big, cannot undo it; the only thing they can do is to help us through with it, for so much money has been spent already that we cannot propose to pull it down, however absurd the structure may be. Some of our brethren have asked, "When Mr. Spurgeon dies, who will take his place?"--as if God could not raise up servants when He would, or as if we ought to neglect our present duty, because of something which may happen in fifty years' time. You say, perhaps, "You give yourself a long lease-fifty years." I don't know why I should not have it; it may come to pass, and will, if the Lord has so ordained. Dr. Gill was chosen Pastor of this church when he was twenty-two, and he was more than fifty years its minister; Dr. Rippon was chosen at the age of twenty, and he was Pastor for sixty-three years; I was nineteen when I was invited; and is it not possible that I also, by Divine grace, may serve my generation for a long period of time? At any rate, when I am proposing to commence a plan, I never think about whether I shall live to see it finished, for I am certain that, if it is God's plan, He will surely finish it, even if I should have to leave the work undone.
I said, just now, that this project has gone beyond the era of objections; it has even passed beyond the realm of difficulties. We have had many difficulties, but far more providences. The ground was as much given to us by God as if He had sent an angel to clear it for us. The money, too, has been given, even beyond our hopes, and we have had it from quarters where we should least have expected it. All the Christian Churches have contributed their portion, and almost all the ends of the earth have sent their offerings. From India, Australia, America, and everywhere, have we received something from God's people to help us in this work. We hope now we shall go on even to the end of it without feeling any diminution of our joy.'
It was most appropriate that the building which had been erected for a house of prayer should be opened with a meeting for prayer. Accordingly, at seven o'clock in the morning of Monday, March 18, 1861, more than a thousand people assembled in the Tabernacle. The Pastor presided, and among those who took part in the proceedings were representatives of the deacons and elders of the church, and students of the College. Fervency and intense earnestness marked the petitions. On the following Monday, at the same early hour, the Rev. George Rogers presided over the second prayer-meeting, and addressed the brethren in a sweet and savoury manner upon `The House of God, the Gate of Heaven.' At three o'clock the same afternoon, the first sermon in the Tabernacle was preached by the Pastor from Acts 5.42: `And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ; and in the evening, Rev. W. Brock, of Bloomsbury Chapel, discoursed upon Philippians 1.18: `Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.' It was remarked at the time how well the two sermons were adapted to one another, although the ministers were quite unaware what text each had selected.
The following evening, more than three thousand of the contributors to the Building Fund assembled in the Tabernacle, under the presidency of Sir Henry Havelock. The Pastor had undertaken, in the month of January, to bring in £1,000, at the opening of the building, in addition to all that he had previously raised; and in the course of the meeting he announced that he had paid in £1,500, others had brought the total up to £3,700, so that the building was free from debt, although they still needed about £500 for various matters which could wait until the money was in hand.
On `Good Friday,' March 29, the Pastor preached in the morning from Romans 3.24, 25: `Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood,' and in the evening, from the Song of Solomon, 2.16: `My beloved is mine, and I am his.' It was a fitting finale to these services to be able to announce that the whole sum required had been given, and the building, free from debt, was ready for Divine worship on the following Lord's day. That Sabbath evening, March 31, the Pastor preached from 2 Chron. 5.13, 14; and 7.1-3; and speaking upon the glory of the Lord filling the house, uttered a prophecy which has been abundantly fulfilled in every particular: `Let God send the fire of His Spirit here, and the minister will be more and more lost in his Master. You will come to think less of the speaker, and more of the truth spoken; the individual will be swamped, the words uttered will rise above everything. When you have the cloud, the man is forgotten; when you have the fire, the man is lost, and you only see his Master. Suppose the fire should come here, and the Master be seen more than the minister, what then? Why, this church will become two, or three, or four thousand strong! It is easy enough for God to double our numbers, vast though they are even now. We shall have the lecture-hall beneath this platform crowded at each prayer-meeting, and we shall see in this place young men devoting themselves to God; we shall find ministers raised up, and trained, and sent forth to carry the sacred fire to other parts of the globe. Japan, China, and Hindustan shall have heralds of the cross, who have here had their tongues touched with the Divine flame. Through us, the whole earth shall receive benedictions; if God shall bless us, He will make us a blessing to multitudes of others. Let God but send down the fire, and the biggest sinners in the neighbourhood will be converted; those who live in the dens of infamy will be changed; the drunkard will forsake his cups, the swearer will repent of his blasphemy, the debauched will leave their lusts--
On Thursday evening, April 4, Dr. Octavius Winslow preached from the words, It is finished; on Lords day, April 7, the pastor occupied the pulpit both morning and evening, and presided the first communion service held in the Tabernacle; the next night, a family gathering of our own church was held under the presidency of the Pastors father, Rev. John Spurgeon; and on the Tuesday evening, Rev. Hugh Stowell Brown, of Liverpool, preached on Christian Baptism, and the Pastor conducted the first baptismal service, concerning which Dr. Campbell wrote, in The British Standard, April 12:
The probable effects of the Metropolitan Tabernacle become the subject of interesting speculation. While these effects will be great and glorious, they will form no exception to the course of human affairs. Imperfection attaches to everything that appertains to man. The building will inevitably form a powerful magnet, especially to young people in all quarters of the city, who will hardly endure the old-fashioned churches and chapels of their fathers. The result will be to confer on it a leviathan monopoly. This monopoly will operate in two ways: it will bring multitudes from the world to Christ--an event in which we shall most sincerely rejoice. It will also draw multitudes from the churches to the water-an event in which we do not rejoice. This Metropolitan Tabernacle, we believe, will do more to make proselytes than all the other Baptist chapels in London united. It will lift the thing into respectability, and even dignity. It will become an object of ambition with sentimental young women and poetic young men to be plunged into a marble basin, so beautiful that it might adorn a palace, and so spacious that dolphins might play in it! Then, Mr. Spurgeon knows well how to go about this matter; his noble catholicity has not sufficed wholly to eliminate his baptismal bigotry. His manly eloquence will most powerfully minister to the triumph of the polished marble. He showed last Sabbath evening that, while prepared to die for the gospel, he is not less prepared to fight for the water....
On the evening of Tuesday, the ordinance of baptism, by immersion, was administered to some twenty people. The interest of the thing was overpowering. There was the young orator, the idol of the assembly, in the water, with a countenance radiant as the light; and there, on the pathway was Mrs. Spurgeon, a most prepossessing young lady--the admiration of all who beheld her--with courtly dignity and inimitable modesty, kindly leading forward the trembling sisters in succession to her husband, who gently and gracefully took and immersed them, with varied remark and honied phrase, all kind, pertinent to the occasion, and greatly fitted to strengthen, encourage, and cheer. Emerging from the water, there were two portly deacons, in boxes at the side of the steps, with benignant smile, to seize their hands, and bring them up, throwing cloaks over them; two other deacons received them at the top of the steps, and other two politely led them backward to the vestry. It was quite an ovation, an era in the history of the neophytes. It had really not been wonderful if all the ladies in the place had been candidates for such distinction. We have ourselves seen several who were there, whose heads seem completely turned. Paedo-Baptist ministers, whatever their piety or ability, have no chance with Mr. Spurgeon in multiplying members. They operate only in one element, he in two: to him, the land and the water are alike productive. We shall not be surprised if, in seven more years, his church be doubled, and the Metropolitan Tabernacle prove insufficient to accommodate even the members and their families. The largest chapel in the world, it will have the largest church. When then?'
In the same article, Dr. Campbell thus referred to one of the many misleading paragraphs which continued to be inserted, from time to time, in various newspapers:
`The services of a Christian minister may, as a rule, be safely estimated by the light in which he is viewed by an ungodly world. If it exalt him, there is something wrong. It only "loves its own." But, if it pour out upon him the vials of its calumny, falsehood, and scorn, the presumption is, that he is faithful to his God, and the friend of his race. The most splendid illustration of the last century was Whitefield.... In our own times, the counterpart of Whitefield is Mr. Spurgeon. Regard being had to the changed and softened character of the times, he has been abused, slandered, libelled, and lied against quite as much. The London correspondent of a very able Scottish journal, professedly conducted on Christian principles, had the audacity, so late as last week, to write as follows: "Sympathetic Aberdonians need not trouble themselves to make up any more money-boxes for Mr. Spurgeon's Tabernacle. All the debts have been paid, and the chapel was opened on Sunday evening. As the Tabernacle is Mr. Spurgeon's own property, pew-rents and all, he will probably be able to enjoy his `privilege' of riding in a carriage to the end of his days. This being the case, it is sincerely to be hoped that he will now finally dissociate the work of the gospel from the pursuit of mammon."
Now, the great fact alleged in the foregoing is an unmitigated falsehood; and, as to cupidity, it were quite as just and true to charge Mr. Spurgeon with the guilt of murder as with the worship of mammon! No man in this great metropolis preaches one-third so much for all Evangelical sects, on behalf of all sorts of charitable objects, and he uniformly preaches for nothing!
"But the carriage," says the correspondent. Well, the plain one-horse vehicle--what of that? Living where his health requires him to live, a few miles in the country, in a very plain and far from commodious habitation, some conveyance is absolutely necessary to his great and unceasing toils. Is that to be denied him? To economize a little horse-power, would you abridge his leviathan labours for the cause of God and the souls of men? It is a curious fact that the miserable malignants of a former day brought it as a charge against Wesley and Whitefield, and in our own times against Collyer and Hill, that they kept a carriage! This suggests the economist who wished the ointment to have been sold for the poor, "not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag." But enough: "Wisdom is justified of her children." All good and upright men "glorify God" in Charles Haddon Spurgeon. They desire for him life and length of days, with a continuance of all his gifts and all his graces, and an increase of favour with God and man. He is still in the morning of life; and we trust he may have before him at least half-a-century of usefulness and honour ere he be called to the Upper World to take his place among prophets, apostles, martyrs, and evangelists, who have turned many to righteousness--to shine as a star for ever and ever.'
On Wednesday, April 10, a great communion service was held--probably the largest since the day of Pentecost--in order to set forth the essential oneness of the Church, and the real fellowship in the body of Christ which is the privilege of all her members. The following afternoon and evening, addresses were delivered upon the distinguishing doctrines of Calvinism--election, human depravity, particular redemption, effectual calling, and final perseverance. Spurgeon, in introducing the ministering brethren that day, began with certain remarks on the terms used:
`It may happen this afternoon that the term "Calvinism" may be frequently used. Let it not be misunderstood; we only use the term for shortness. That doctrine which is called "Calvinism" did not spring from Calvin; we believe that it sprang from the great founder of all truth. Perhaps Calvin himself derived it mainly from the writings of Augustine. Augustine obtained his views, without doubt, through the Spirit of God, from the diligent study of the writings of Paul, and Paul received them of the Holy Ghost, from Jesus Christ the great founder of the Christian dispensation. We use the term then, not because we impute an extraordinary importance to Calvin's having taught these doctrines. We would be just as willing to call them by any other name, if we could find one which would be better understood, and which on the whole would be as consistent with fact.'
Following that, Spurgeon observed that `there is nothing upon which men need to be more instructed than upon the question of what Calvinism really is', and went on to controvert various 'infamous allegations' which have been brought against Calvinists. Refuting the charge that Calvinists dare not preach the gospel to the unregenerate, he said: `Did not Bunyan plead with sinners, and whoever classed him with any but the Calvinists? Did not Charnock, Goodwin and Howe agonize for souls, and what were they but Calvinists? Did not Jonathan Edwards preach to sinners, and who more clear and explicit on these doctrinal matters? The works of our innumerable divines teem with passionate appeals to the unconverted.... Was George Whitefield any less seraphic? Did his eyes weep the fewer tears or his bowels move with the less compassion because he believed in God's electing love and preached the sovereignty of the most High?'
On the charge that those who hold Calvinistic views are the enemies of revivals, Spurgeon had this to say: `Why, sirs, in the history of the church, with but few exceptions, you could not find a revival at all that was not produced by the orthodox faith. What was that great work which was done by Augustine, when the church suddenly woke up from the pestiferous and deadly sleep into which Pelagian doctrine had cast it? What was the Reformation itself but the waking up of men's minds to those old truths?... Need I mention to you better names than Huss, Jerome of Prague, Farel, John Knox, Wycliffe, Wishart and Bradford? Need I do more than say that these held the same views, and that in their day anything like an Arminian revival was utterly unheard of. . . . And then, let me say, if you turn to the continent of America, how gross the falsehood that Calvinistic doctrine is unfavourable to revivals! Look at that wondrous shaking under Jonathan Edwards and others which we might quote. Or turn to Scotland--what shall we say of M'Cheyne? What shall we say of those renowned Calvinists, Dr. Chalmers, Dr. Wardlaw, and before them, Livingstone, Haldane, Erskine, and the like? What shall we say of the men of their school but that, while they held and preached unflinchingly the great truths which we would propound today, yet God owned their word and multitudes were saved. And if it were not perhaps too much like boasting of one's own work under God, I might say, personally I have never found the preaching of these doctrines lull this church to sleep, but ever while they have loved to maintain these truths, they have agonized for the souls of men; and the sixteen-hundred or more whom I have myself baptized, upon profession of their faith, are living testimonies that these old truths in modern times have not lost their power to promote a revival of religion.'
At the first church-meeting held at the Tabernacle, on Monday evening, May 6, seventy-two persons were proposed for membership, and the Pastor wrote in the church-book as follows:
`I, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the least of all saints, hereby set to my seal that God is true, since He has this day fulfilled my hopes, and given according to our faith. O Lord, be Thou praised world without end, and do Thou make me more faithful and more mighty than ever!
C. H. Spurgeon'.
The following inscription, also in the Pastor's handwriting, is signed by himself, the deacons, the elders, and a large number of the church-members, beginning with 'Susie Spurgeon:
`We, the undersigned members of the church lately worshipping in New Park Street Chapel, but now assembling in the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington, desire with overflowing hearts to make known and record the lovingkindness of our faithful God. We asked in faith, but our Lord has exceeded our desires, for not only was the whole sum given us, but far sooner than we had looked for it. Truly, the Lord is good, and worthy to be praised. We are ashamed of ourselves that we have ever doubted Him; and we pray that, as a church and as individuals, we may be enabled to trust in the Lord at all times with confidence, so that in quietness we may possess our souls. In the Name of our God we set up our banner. Oh, that Jehovah-Jireh may also be unto us Jehovah-shammah and Jehovah-shalom! To Father, Son and Holy Ghost we offer praise and thanksgiving, and we set to our seal that God is true'.
This entry closes the records in the church-book for the seven years from 1854 to 1861. It is worthy of note, as showing the unparalleled growth of everything connected with the work, that the two previous church-books had respectively lasted from 1757 to 1808, and from 1808 to 1854; while the next one, commenced on May 7, 1861, ended on January 11, 1866, and the following volumes were generally filled in about five years. All are large thick quartos, uniform in size, and the complete series formed one of the most precious treasures saved from the disastrous fire on April 20, 1898.
During the month of May, 1861, four more church-meetings were held, at which seventy-seven additional members were proposed, and at the communion service on June 2, a hundred and twenty-one persons were received into full fellowship. This large increase was thus gratefully recorded at the church-meeting on June 18: `It was unanimously resolved that a record of our gratitude to God for His graciousness toward us should be made in the church-book. With our whole hearts, as a highly-favoured church and people, we magnify and extol the lovingkindness of our God in so singularly owning the Word proclaimed among us, by giving so many souls to be added to our number. To God be all the glory! Oh, that we may be more than ever devoted to His honour and service!'
The Tabernacle is so well proportioned that many persons fail to realize its vast size. The building is a rectangle, measuring outside the walls 174 feet in length, and 85 feet in width; inside, the extreme length, including the vestries, is 168 feet; the main auditorium being 146 feet long, 81 feet broad, and 62 feet high. Estimates as to the seating accommodation of the Tabernacle have varied considerably; but the actual number of sittings that could be let, previous to the fire, was 3,600, and about 1,000 persons could occupy seats on the flaps in the aisles and other parts of the building. Many hundreds of additional hearers could find--and for thirty years did find--standing-room in the great house of prayer, so that the preacher had regularly before him, Sabbath by Sabbath, between five and six thousand immortal souls listening to his proclamation of the Word of life.
As an instance of the misleading notions that people have entertained concerning the capacity of large public buildings, it may be mentioned, on the authority of The Builder, May 4, 1861, that the Surrey Gardens Music Hall, which was supposed to hold 10,000 or 12,000 people, had a sitting area of 19,723 feet, while that of the Metropolitan Tabernacle was 25,225 feet!
At the annual church-meeting, on January 22, 1862, the Building Committee's audited balance-sheet was presented and adopted. It showed that the total expenditure up to that time had been £31,332 4s. 10d., all of which had been met. The two largest items in the account were-purchase of land, £5,000; and contract for the main building, £20,000. Among the receipts, the highest amounts were--collectors' accounts, £7,258 5s. 2d.; donations and subscriptions, £9,034 19s. 2d.; per Pastor C. H. Spurgeon, £1,253 15s. 6d.
After the Tabernacle was built, an earnest endeavour was made to retain New Park Street Chapel for the Baptist denomination, and to make it, if possible, the abode of another church. For some years, preaching was carried on, a brother supported, and considerable expenses incurred; but it was clear that a self-sustaining interest was not to be gathered in the neighbourhood. John Collins worked very hard, and enjoyed much of the Divine blessing, but those who were converted under him had a pardonable tendency to gravitate towards the mother-church at the Tabernacle and it became evident beyond all question that it was useless for us to retain so large a building in such a situation, and so near our own. The property consisted of the chapel, schools, and almsrooms; and it was agreed, and arranged with the Charity Commissioners, that it should be sold, and the proceeds used for new schools and almsrooms.
In the Memorials of William Higgs, there is an interesting paragraph concerning this transaction: `When the date of the auction was fixed, Mr. Higgs was requested to attend at the mart for the protection of the sale. He had before valued the property at a given sum, saying that he did not think it likely to fetch very much more. But, to the surprise of those friends who were also present, when this sum was reached, he himself put in a bid at a still higher figure, and ran up the amount until the property was knocked down to him at a price considerably greater than that which he had in the first instance named. He was, of course, joked a little about his bargain, but he quietly replied that no doubt it would prove a good one. And so it did; for, not very long afterwards, he went to Mr. Spurgeon with the news that he had sold the place at a profit of £500, adding that he had brought the money with him, as he could not, himself, think of keeping it.'