Sermons should have real teaching in them, and their doctrine should be solid, substantial and abundant. We do not enter the pulpit to talk for talk's sake; we have instructions to convey, important to the last degree, and we cannot afford to utter pretty nothings. Our range of subjects is all but boundless, and we cannot therefore be excused if our discourses are threadbare and devoid of substance.... The entire gospel must be presented from the pulpit; the whole faith once delivered to the Saints must be proclaimed by us... So that the people may not merely hear, but know the joyful sound....
Do not rehearse five or six doctrines with unvarying monotony of repetition. With abundant themes diligently illustrated by fresh metaphors and experiences, we shall not weary but, under God's hand, shall win our hearers' ears and hearts.--C.H.S. in `Lectures to my Students'
Memorable Sermons and Services in the 1860s
AMONG the earliest of the memorable services at the Tabernacle was the one held on Lord's day morning, December 15, 1861. Late on the previous night, the Prince Consort had been `called home;' and in commencing his sermon, Spurgeon read a few sentences which he had written with reference to that solemn event. He did not feel that he could at that time make further allusion to the Prince's departure, as he had prepared a discourse upon quite a different topic, but the following Sabbath morning he preached from Amos 3:6, `Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?'--a sermon which was published under the title, `The Royal Deathbed.
Singularly enough, the next discourse claiming special notice also related to a great public calamity, namely, the Hartley Colliery explosion (near Tynemouth, Northumberland). On Thursday evening, January 30, 1862, Spurgeon preached from Job 14:14, `If a man die, shall he live again?'--a sermon which commenced thus `Once more the Lord has spoken; again the voice of Providence has proclaimed, "All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field." O sword of the Lord, when wilt thou rest and be quiet? Wherefore these repeated warnings? Why doth the Lord so frequently and so terribly sound an alarm? Is it not because our drowsy spirits will not awaken to the realities of death? We fondly persuade ourselves that we are immortal; that, though a thousand may fall at our side, and ten thousand at our right hand, yet death shall not come nigh unto us. We flatter ourselves that, if we must die, yet the evil day is far hence. If we be sixty, we presumptuously reckon upon another twenty years of life; and a man of eighty, tottering upon his staff, remembering that some few have survived to the close of a century, sees no reason why he should not do the same. If man cannot kill death, he tries at least to bury him alive; and since death will intrude himself in our pathway, we endeavour to shut our eyes to the ghastly object. God in Providence is continually filling our path with tombs. With kings and princes, there is too much forgetfulness of the world to come; God has therefore spoken to them. They are but few in number; so one death might be sufficient in their case. That one death of a beloved and illustrious Prince will leave its mark on courts and palaces. As for the workers, they also are wishful to put far from them the thought of the coffin and the shroud: God has spoken to them also. They were many, so one death would not be sufficient; it was absolutely necessary that there should be many victims, or we should have disregarded the warning. Two hundred witnesses cry to us from the pit's mouth--a solemn fellowship of preachers all using the same text, "Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel!" If God had not thus spoken by the destruction of many, we should have said, "Ah! it is a common occurrence; there are frequently such accidents as these." The rod would have failed in its effect had it smitten less severely. The awful calamity at the Hartley Colliery has at least had this effect, that men are talking of death in all our streets. O Father of thy people, send forth thy Holy Spirit in richer abundance, that by this solemn chastisement higher ends may be answered than merely attracting our thoughts to our latter end! Oh, may hearts be broken, may eyes be made to weep for sin, may follies be renounced, may Christ be accepted, and may spiritual life be given to many survivors as the result of the physical death of those who now sleep in their untimely graves in Earsdon churchyard!'
In closing his discourse, the preacher pleaded for the widows and orphans who were suffering through the terrible calamity; and, though it was a wet week-night, and many who were present had already contributed to the Relief Fund, the congregation generously subscribed £120.
When Spurgeon was at Geneva, in 1860, he preached for Dr. Merle d'Aubigné as well as in the cathedral. It was therefore fitting that the Genevan divine should speak to the congregation at the Tabernacle when the opportunity occurred. On Lord's day morning, May 18, 1862, the Pastor purposely made his discourse some-what shorter than usual; and, in closing it, said: `My dear friend, Dr. d'Aubigné, is here this morning, having been called by the Bishop of London, according to the order of our beloved Queen, to preach in the Royal Chapel of St. James. In a kind note with which he favoured me last week he expressed a desire publicly to show his hearty fellowship with his brethren of the Free Churches of England, and I am delighted to welcome him in the Tabernacle, in the name of this church, and I may venture to add, in the name of all the Free Churches of England. May the historian of the Reformation continue to be honoured of the Lord his God!'
Dr. d'Aubigné, addressing the congregation, said: `When I heard your dear Pastor reading to us the 16th chapter of Romans, I remembered those words which we find very often in the Epistles of Paul, "love to the saints" and "faith in the Lord". In that 16th chapter, we find a beautiful exhibition of love to the saints, the children of God. We see that it was written from the Church of Corinth, in Greece, to the Church in Rome. Observe how many Christians that Church of Corinth and the apostle Paul knew at Rome! We have a long catalogue of them--Priscilla, Aquila, Andronicus, and others. I must confess, my dear friends, to my regret, that in this great assembly I know only two or three people. I know your Pastor and my dear friend, Mr. Spurgeon; I know the name, but not the person, of Mr. North, upon my left; and I know the friend who has received me in your great city, Mr. Kinnaird--"Gaius, mine host," as the apostle says. But in this great assembly of six thousand men and women, and I hope brethren and sisters in Christ, I do not know anyone else. Well, my dear friends, I would ask you, do you know the names of many Christians in Geneva? Perhaps you do not know three; possibly, not two; perhaps, only one. Now, that is to me a demonstration that fraternity, or brotherly love, is not so intense in our time as it was in the days of the apostles. In the first century, for a man to give his name to the Lord was to expose himself to martyrdom; and Christians at that time formed only one household in the whole world, in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Let us remember that, and may we, by the Holy Ghost, say that we, who have been baptized with the blood and the Spirit of the Lord, have only one Father, one Saviour, one Spirit, one faith, and we are only one house, the house of the living God, the house of Christ, one house of the Holy Spirit in the whole world; not only in Europe, Asia, and Africa, but in America, in Australia, one house, one family. O my dear friends, let us grow in love to the brethren!...
Dear friends, we find in the Epistle to the Romans these words, "The whole church saluteth you." I have no official charge; but I May, in a Christian and fraternal spirit, say to you, the Genevese Church, the Church in Geneva saluteth you; and I would say, the whole Continental Church saluteth you, for we know you, and we love you, and the dear minister God has given you. Now we ask from you love towards us; we are doing what we can in that dark Continent to spread abroad the light of Jesus Christ. In Geneva, we have an Evangelical Society which has that object before it, and we are also labouring in other places; we ask an interest in your prayers, for the work is hard among the Roman Catholics and the infidels of the Continent. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all! Amen.'
During the terrible distress caused by the Lancashire cotton famine, Spurgeon preached, on Lord's day morning, November 9, 1862, a sermon on `Christian Sympathy,' from Job 30:25: `Did not I weep for him that was in trouble? Was not my soul grieved for the poor?' In appealing on behalf of the people in need, the Pastor urged these five reasons why they should be generously helped: (1) their poverty was not the result of their own fault; (2) the cause of their suffering was the national sin of slavery; (3) their heavy trials had been borne most patiently; (4) the distress was very widely spread; and (5) gratitude to God should move all who were able to give liberally to those who were in want. The appeal was most effective, for the congregation contributed £776 11s. 11d. towards the Famine Fund--probably the largest amount ever given from the Tabernacle to any outside object, and exceeding even the sum (£700) realized by the Fast day service at the Crystal Palace in aid of the Indian Relief Fund.
March 15, 1863, was a memorable morning at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, for Spurgeon then delivered the discourse which, when published, became No. 500. The text of it was, 1 Samuel 7:12: `Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us;' and the title was most appropriate, 'Ebenezer.' It was both autobiographical and historical, and contained many interesting allusions to the Lord's gracious help to both Pastor and people. In the introduction, the preacher said: `Looking at God's hand in my own life, and acknowledging that hand with some record of thankfulness, I, your minister, brought by Divine grace to preach this morning the five hundredth of my printed sermons, consecutively published week by week, set up my stone of Ebenezer to God. I thank Him, thank Him humbly, but yet most joyfully, for all the help and assistance given in studying and preaching the Word to these mighty congregations by the voice, and afterwards to so many nations through the press. I set up my pillar in the form of this sermon. My motto this day shall be the same as Samuel's, "Hitherto hath the Lord helped me"; and as the stone of my praise is much too heavy for me to set it upright alone, I ask you, my Comrades in the day of battle, my fellow-labourers in the vineyard of Christ, to join with me in expressing gratitude to God, while together we set up the stone of memorial, and say, "Hitherto hath the Lord helped us."'
In many respects, the most memorable service ever held in the Tabernacle was the one on Lord's day morning, June 5, 1864, when Spurgeon preached his notable sermon on `Baptismal Regeneration'. Concerning that discourse, the preacher wrote, more than ten years afterwards: `It was delivered with the full expectation that the sale of the sermons would receive very serious injury; in fact, I mentioned to one of the publishers that I was about to destroy it at a single blow, but that the blow must be struck, cost what it might, for the burden of the Lord lay heavy upon me, and I must deliver my soul. I deliberately counted the cost, and reckoned upon the loss of many an ardent friend and helper, and I expected the assaults of clever and angry foes. I was not mistaken in other respects; but, in the matter of the sermons, I was altogether out of my reckoning, for they increased greatly in sale at once. That fact was not in any degree to me a test of my action being right or wrong; I should have felt as well content in heart as I am now as to the rightness of my course had the publication ceased in consequence; but, still, it was satisfactory to find that, though speaking out might lose a man some friends, it secured him many others; and if it overturned his influence in one direction, it was fully compensated elsewhere. No truth is more sure than this, that the path of duty is to be followed thoroughly if peace of mind is to be enjoyed. Results are not to be looked at; we are to keep our conscience clear, come what may; and all considerations of influence and public estimation are to be light as feathers in the scale. In minor matters, as well as in more important concerns, I have spoken my mind fearlessly, and brought down objurgations and anathemas innumerable; but I in nowise regret it, and shall not swerve from the use of outspoken speech in the future any more than in the past. I would scorn to retain a single adherent by such silence as would leave him under any misapprehension. After all, men love plain speech.'
A student who was in the Pastors' College in 1864--Samuel Blow has preserved this interesting reminiscence of the day following the great deliverance: `It was the custom of Mr. Spurgeon to revise his sermons on Monday mornings, and then, in the afternoon, to come to the class-room, and question us on history and other subjects in a homely and friendly way. Entering the room, and taking his seat, on this particular occasion, he told us that he had just been revising this special sermon, and he was certain it would cause a great stir and raise tremendous opposition when it appeared in print. He suggested that, instead of going through the usual course of instruction, we might devote the time to prayer, so the whole of that afternoon was spent in supplicating a blessing on the issue and circulation of that remarkable discourse showing the absurdity of the Baptismal Regeneration theory.
Now that a whole generation has passed away since the sermon was delivered, it is difficult to realize the sensation which was caused when it appeared in print, and became generally known. A hundred thousand copies of it were speedily sold, and the circulation was still further increased by the many replies to it which were before long preached and published. Three weeks after its delivery, Spurgeon preached from Hebrews 13:13, `Let us Go Forth'; and in quick succession followed two more special discourses in continuation of the controversy--'Children Brought to Christ, not to the Font'; and `"Thus Saith the Lord" or, the Book of Common Prayer Weighed in the Balances of the Sanctuary.' All of them had an immense sale, and as each one was issued, it elicited answers from the Church of England side. Spurgeon collected a hundred and thirty-five sermons and pamphlets, and had them bound in three large octavo volumes; and, doubtless, others gathered together similar signs and tokens of the fray. One such set afterwards came into the Pastor's hands, and he found in it several contributions which were not contained in his own series. They were bound in two substantial volumes, and were evidently the result of the sympathetic labours of an ardent admirer, who recorded his opinions concerning the controversy in the following Preface: `In 1864, the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon threw down the gauntlet of defiance to the Church of England upon the point of Infant Baptism and Regeneration; when, presto! such a theological battle ensued as was never before seen or heard of. The whole religious world of London flung itself into it; the press groaned under the infliction; the pamphlets which followed, pro and con, in prose and verse, serious and burlesque, being almost innumerable.'
It was a surprise and a disappointment to many friends of Spurgeon to find that his protest against the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration was, to some extent at least, weakened by a published letter from the Rev. Baptist Wriothesley Noel, who had himself left the Church of England, and become Pastor of the Baptist Church meeting in John Street Chapel, Bedford Row, and whose Essay on the Union of Church and State contained quite as vigorous a condemnation of the clergy as appeared in the sermon to which he objected. It is generally supposed, and was officially stated, on the authority of Mr. Arnold, the Secretary of the Evangelical Alliance, that Spurgeon's withdrawal from that body was the result of Baptist Noel's letter, but the following paragraph in The Sword and the Trowel, March, 1870, puts the matter in its true light:
`Our readers may have observed a letter written by us to an American paper explaining the reason why we cannot attend the meeting of the Evangelical Alliance at New York. We had to make the same explanation to the Dutch brethren when the Alliance met at Rotterdam, but, as we have no wish to disturb the peace of the Alliance, we have not agitated the question. It may, however, be as well to state that, about the time when Mr. Noel's letter appeared, objecting to certain expressions used by us in our notorious Baptismal Regeneration sermon, we received a letter from Mr. James Davis, the secretary of the Alliance, setting forth very strongly that our only alternative was either to retract our harsh language, or to withdraw from the Alliance. Knowing Mr. Noel's gentle spirit, we should not have taken much notice of his letter had we not been led to suppose, from the epistle of the secretary, that the Committee of the Alliance were of the same mind; and then, not being able to retract a syllable of our utterances, and being unwilling to embroil the Alliance in our conflict we withdrew from it. We have since learned that the letter was unauthorized, and several members of the Alliance Committee have expressed regret that we acted upon it. We are in this state of the case absolutely passive; we do not wish to revive any personal question, or cause altercation; only it is clear to everyone that, under the circumstances, neither manliness nor Christian truthfulness will allow us to attend Alliance gatherings while we are practically under its ban.'
Happily, some few years afterwards, Spurgeon saw his way to rejoin the Alliance, and he remained a member of its Council until he was called home in 1892. On many occasions, he spoke at meetings arranged in connection with the Alliance, the most memorable being the great gatherings at Exeter Hall and the Mildmay Conference Hall, in 1888, for united testimony in regard to fundamental truth, just at the time when the 'Down-grade' Controversy was at its height, and thousands of lovers of Evangelical doctrine felt the need of a clear and emphatic `declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us.' It is also noteworthy that, in the circular conger concerning the formation of the Pastors' College Evangelical Association, Spurgeon wrote: `As a convenient summary of faith, we have adopted, with certain alterations and additions, the basis of the Evangelical Alliance, accepting it with the more readiness because so many believers of various churches have been content thus to set forth the main points of their agreement.'
The Baptismal Regeneration Controversy afforded Dr. Campbell the opportunity of publishing in The British Standard a series of articles, which extended over seventeen weeks, and were afterwards republished in a volume consisting of 330 small octavo pages. In the Introduction, he explained why he had not earlier taken part in the conflict: `It was known to many that, between Mr. Spurgeon and myself, there had long been an intimate and cordial friendship, proofs and illustrations of which, on my part, had from time to time appeared in the columns of The British Standard, and other publications under my control. In his early days, I stood by him, when his advocates in the press were neither numerous nor, with one or two honourable exceptions, efficient, while his adversaries were both unscrupulous and powerful. Some surprise accordingly was felt, by our mutual friends, that I was not among the first to place myself at his side. They were at a loss to account for my seeming apathy, but, in this, they were guided by feeling rather than by judgment; they did not reflect that the state of things was entirely altered. Mr. Spurgeon was no longer a tender sapling that might receive benefit from the friendly shade of an elder tree, but an oak of the forest, whose roots had struck deep in the earth, and whose thick and spreading boughs bade defiance to the hurricane. They forgot that Mr. Spurgeon alone was more than a match for all his adversaries. Besides, a passing newspaper article, however strong or telling, although it might have gratified our mutual friends, would have been of small importance to the cause which I had so much at heart--the correction and purification of the Liturgy of the Established Church.... That subject is vital, not only to her real usefulness, but to her very existence as a Protestant Institution! The universality of the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration will be the sure prelude to her overthrow, and the reestablishment of the Church of Rome, with all her darkness and bondage, misery and wickedness.'
The service at the Tabernacle on Lord's day evening, July 31, 1864, was a memorable one to Spurgeon and two of his hearers, and afterwards to many more when he related a singular circumstance which occurred in connection with his sermon that night. A man living in Newington had been converted through the Pastor's preaching and he became a regular worshipper at the Tabernacle. His wife, a very staunch member of the Church of England, strongly objected to his going, but he continued to attend notwithstanding all that she said.
One Sabbath night, after her husband had gone to the service, her curiosity overcame her prejudice, and she herself determined to go to hear what the preacher had to say. Not wishing to be known, she tried to disguise herself by putting on a thick veil and a heavy shawl, and sought still further to avoid observation by ascending to the upper gallery. She was very late in reaching the building, so, just as she entered, the preacher was announcing his text, and the first words that sounded in her ears were strikingly appropriate to her case, especially as she declared that Spurgeon pointed directly at her as he said, `Come in, thou wife of Jeroboam; why feignest thou thyself to be another? for I am sent to thee with heavy tidings' (1 Kings 14:6).
This singular coincidence further impressed her when, in the course of his sermon, the Pastor said: `While thus speaking about the occasional hearer, an idea haunts my mind that I have been drawing somebody's portrait. I think there are some here who have had their character and conduct sketched out quite accurately enough for them to know who is meant. Do remember that, if the description fits you, it is meant for you; and if you yourself have been described, do not look about among your neighbours and say, "I think this is like somebody else". If it is like you, take it home to yourself, and God send it into the centre of your conscience, so that you cannot get rid of it!...
... I do not suppose there is anybody here disguised as to dress tonight, though such things may happen. The working man, who is afraid he shall be laughed at if he be known, may come here in disguise. Now and then a clergyman may come in, who would not be very comfortable in his conscience if it were known he did such a thing, and so he does not show himself exactly in his wonted garb. Notwithstanding, whoever you may be, disguised or not, it is of no use where God's gospel is preached. It is a quick discerner, and will find out the thoughts and intents of the heart. It will search you out, and unmask your true character, disguise yourself as you may.'
When the husband reached home, the woman revealed her secret, and said that he must, somehow, have let Spurgeon know that she was up in the gallery of the Tabernacle. The good man assured her that he was quite innocent, but she would not be convinced. The next day, when he saw the Pastor, he told him what a hard time he was having through his wife's singular experience the previous evening. The sermon was printed with the title `A Hearer in Disguise'.
An almost exactly similar incident occurred several years before, when Spurgeon was preaching at New Park Street Chapel. On that occasion it was the wife of an eminent London doctor who wished to hear the young preacher without being recognized. She also had disguised herself, as she thought, effectually, but she was greatly surprised when she heard the announcement of the text which was so singularly suited to her: `Come in, thou wife of Jeroboam; why feignest thou thyself to be another?'
At the Monday evening prayer-meeting at which Spurgeon related the incident linked with the sermon of July 31 he also mentioned the sermon at Exeter Hall in which he suddenly broke off from his subject, and pointing in a certain direction, said `Young man, those gloves you are wearing have not been paid for: you have stolen them from your employer'. At the close of the service, a young man, looking very pale and greatly agitated, came to the room which was used as a vestry, and begged for a private interview with Spurgeon. On being admitted, he placed a pair of gloves upon the table, and tearfully said, `It's the first time I have robbed my master, and I will never do it again. You won't expose me, sir, will you? It would kill my mother if she heard that I had become a thief'. The preacher had drawn the bow at a venture, but the arrow struck the target for which God intended it, and the startled hearer was, in that singular way, probably saved from committing a greater crime.
A service which became more memorable after several years had elapsed was that held on Lord's day morning, August 4, 1867, when the Pastor preached from job 14:14: `All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come'. After the murder of President James A. Garfield (U.S.A.) in the summer of 1881, his widow wrote to Spurgeon: `It is choice treasure from my storehouse of beautiful memories, that I sat beside General Garfield in the Metropolitan Tabernacle one bright summer Sunday morning (August 4, 1867), and listened to your voice. I have this morning re-read from his journal his account of that day. A sentence from it may interest you. After describing his impressions of the great audience, of the preacher, and of the sermon, he adds: "God bless Mr. Spurgeon! He is helping to work out the problem of religious and civil freedom for England, in a way that he knows not of".'
One passage in the discourse was specially appropriate to the hundreds of Americans and other strangers from across the seas who were present: `The Christian life should be one of waiting; that is, holding with a loose hand all earthly things. Many travellers are among us this morning; they are passing from one place to another, viewing divers countries; but as they are only travellers, and are soon to return to their homes, they do not speculate in the various businesses of Lombard Street or Cheapside. They do not attempt to buy large estates, and lay them out, and make gold and silver thereby; they know that they are only strangers and foreigners, and they act as such. They take such interest in the affairs of the country in which they are sojourning as may be becoming in those who are not citizens of it; they wish well to those among whom they tarry for a while; but that is all, for they are going home, therefore they do not intend to hamper themselves with anything that might make it difficult for them to depart from our shores'.
It was a notable occasion--Tuesday evening, March 2, 1869--when Spurgeon preached in the Tabernacle to several thousands of children. It was one of the very few occasions on which the young people of the congregation and of the Sunday-schools were assembled specially by themselves. The text was Psalm 71:17: `O God, thou hast taught me from my youth;' and the sermon was one that boys and girls could easily understand and remember. It contained an unusually large number of anecdotes and illustrations, and in the course of it Spurgeon put several questions to his youthful auditors, which they answered promptly, and on the whole accurately. A brief extract will show the style of the sermon:
`Why should we go to God's school early? I think we ought to do so, first, because it is such a happy school. Schools used to be very miserable places, but, nowadays, I really wish I could go to school again. I went into the Borough Road School, the other day, into the Repository, where they sell slates, and pencils, and books, and all such things. The person who was there opened a box, and said to me, "Do you want to buy any of these things?" I said, "What are they? Why, they are toys, are they not?" He answered, "No, they are not toys: they are used for the lessons that are taught in the kindergarten school." I said, "Why, if I were to take them home, my boys would have a game with them, for they are only toys." "Just so," he replied, "but they are what are used in the kindergarten school to make learning the same as playing, so that little children should play while they are learning." Why, I thought, if that were so, I should like to go at once! Now, those who go to God's school are made much more happy than any toy can make children. He gives them real pleasure. There is a verse--I don't know how many of you can repeat it--I will say the first line; you say the second, if you can.
- SPURGEON: 'Tis religion that can give
- CHILDREN: Sweetest pleasures while we live;
- SPURGEON: 'Tis religion must supply
- CHILDREN: Solid comfort when we die.
- SPURGEON: Yes, we made that out very well between us. Then, let us be off to God's school early, because it is such a happy school.'
Spurgeon delivered a similar discourse to a congregation of children on Lord's day afternoon, February 26, 1871, only on that occasion his subject consisted of Dr. Horatius Bonar's hymn, beginning `I lay my sins on Jesus, The spotless Lamb of God.'
Towards the close of the sermon, Spurgeon related to the children this interesting reminiscence of his boyhood:
`Now the last wish is, "I long to be with Jesus." That is the best of all. But, dear boys and girls, you cannot sing that in your hearts unless you carry out the first part of the hymn, for we cannot be with Jesus till first He has taken upon Himself our sins, and made us like Himself. I do not think many of you go to a boarding-school, but I know what I used to do when I was at a school of that kind. I wanted to get home for the holidays; and six weeks before breaking-up time came, I made a little almanac. There was one square for every day, and, as the days passed, I used to mark them over with my pen, and make them black. Didn't I like to see them getting blotted! First I said, "There are only five weeks and six days before the holidays come," then it was, "five weeks and five days," and then, "five weeks and four days," and so on, till it was within a fortnight of the vacation, and then I began to feel that it was almost time to go home. You see, I was longing to go home; and that is how you and I will feel when we become like Jesus, we shall long to be with Jesus, where saints and angels sing His praises for ever. But, in order to be able to look at death in that light, we must first lay our sins on Jesus.'
How vividly this incident in my husbands boyhood recalls a similar one in much later days! He had been working at high pressure for a long time, and was greatly needing a rest. The time for the proposed holiday was fixed far in advance, and he looked forward to it with feverish impatience. It was referred to at all mealtimes; and one day he said to me, `Wifey, I wish I had a piece of string marked, and put in some prominent place, so that I could cut off each day as it passes.
I immediately prepared a length of tape, with all the dates plainly written on it, and attached it to the chandelier which overhung the dining-table. It certainly was not an ornament to the room, but it gave him exceeding pleasure to clip off a piece of it day by day; so nobody cared how it looked, if he were gratified. It was very long when first put up, and he took as much delight as a little child would have done in watching it gradually grow shorter.
Friends would stare at it in wonder and curiosity, especially if they happened to be there at dividing time, when the scissors were produced, and with all due ceremony the symbol of the flight of another twenty-four hours was snipped off. Some laughed, some joked, some criticized; but he steadily persevered in his task until only an inch or two of the recording line was left hanging in its place, and we began to make preparations for the long-desired journey.
Alas, for those plans of ours which do not run parallel with Gods will! My beloved became seriously ill when but a few days remained on the register, and that pathetic morsel of tape was cut down and removed, amidst tears of disappointment and sorrow for his sake. A sad period of suffering ensued, and one day he said, `Wifey, we will never do that again; it will be better, in future, patiently to wait for the unfolding of Gods purposes concerning us.
Of all the memorable services away from the Tabernacle, the most notable were those held on the five Lord's day mornings March 24 to April 21, 1867, in the Agricultural Hall, Islington. It is difficult to tell the exact number of persons present--the estimates ranging from twelve to twenty-five thousand--but the congregations were the largest that Spurgeon ever addressed in any building with the exception of the Fast-day service at the Crystal Palace in 1857.
Not only were great crowds of hearers attracted, but the Word preached was blessed to very many of them, some of whom joined the neighbouring churches, while others found a spiritual home at the Tabernacle. The text on the first morning was Matthew 21:28-32, and in introducing his subject, the preacher said:
`The sight of this vast arena, and of this crowded assembly, reminds me of other spectacles which, in days happily long past, were seen in the amphitheatres of the old Roman Empire. Around, tier upon tier, were the assembled multitudes, with their cruel eyes and iron hearts; and in the centre stood a solitary, friendless man, waiting till the doors of the lions' den should be uplifted, that he might yield himself up a witness for Christ and a sacrifice to the popular fury. There would have been no difficulty then to have divided the precious from the vile in that audience. The most thoughtless wayfarer who should enter the amphitheatre would know at once who was the disciple of Christ and who were the enemies of the Crucified One. There stood the bravely-calm disciple, about to die, but all around, in those mighty tiers of the Colosseum, or of the amphitheatre of some provincial town, as the case might be, there sat matrons and nobles, princes and peasants, plebeians and patricians, senators and soldiers, all gazing downward with the same fierce, unpitying look, vociferous in the joy with which they beheld the agonies of a disciple of the hated Galilean, "butchered to make a Roman holiday."
Another sight is before us to-day, with much more happy associations; but, alas! it is a far more difficult task this day to separate the chaff from the wheat. Here, in this spacious arena, I hope there are hundreds, if not thousands, who would be prepared to die for our Lord Jesus, if such a sacrifice were required of them; and in yonder crowded seats, we may count by hundreds those who bear the Name and accept the gospel of Jesus of Nazareth; and yet, I fear me that, both in these living hills on either side, and upon this vast floor, there are many enemies of the Son of God, who are forgetful of His righteous claims, who have cast from them those "cords of a man" which should bind them to His throne, and have never submitted to the mighty love which showed itself in His cross and in His wounds. I cannot attempt the separation. You must grow together until the harvest. To divide you were a task which, at this hour, angels could not perform, but which, one day, they will easily accomplish, when, at their Master's bidding, the harvest being come, they shall gather together first the tares to bind them in bundles to burn them, and afterwards the wheat into Jehovah's bam. I shall not attempt the division, but I ask each man to attempt it for himself in his own case. I say unto you, young men and maidens, old men and fathers, this day examine yourselves whether you be in the faith.'
It is not a matter of surprise that the success of such a ministry as this should `provoke to jealousy' various other branches of the Christian church, and not a few were inclined to believe that imitation was called for. The cry came at times from unexpected quarters; as for example from a High Churchman (writing in the second volume of The Ingoldsby Letters), who, despite his ecclesiastical principles, had braced himself to the ordeal of attendance at a service in the Tabernacle. Indeed, the repetition of the indiscretion testified to the deep impression made on the inquisitive mind by what it heard and saw. The narrative in `The Letters' ran as follows:
`The hymn concluded, Mr. Spurgeon walked to the table, and taking his stand between it and the sofa, opened a large and handsome clasped Bible (the gift, I was told, of the congregation), and when he had found the place, which was on this occasion the latter part of the sixth chapter of Ephesians, he proceeded to read it with a slow and articulate voice, dwelling upon the more impressive passages, which he illustrated by a short extempore comment as he went along. This was a sermon in itself and was listened to with profound attention, and I will venture to say, corresponding edification, by all that multitude, who thus drank in the words of the Apostle, made plain and intelligible to the humblest comprehension, at the same time impressed upon all with a fervour and simplicity of illustration worthy both of the matter and object of the writer....
All the learning and piety in the world will not supply the want of a good delivery, and the tact to suit your discourse to the character of your audience. Herein lies the first secret of Mr. Spurgeon's success. He has taken the measure of his congregation's taste and capacity, and adapts himself to it. Like the cunning doctor in Lucretius, he anoints the lips of his cup with honey, and so cheats his patients into swallowing the salutiferous draught. Religion was made agreeable to his hearers but it is still religion. He makes it apparent of in his preaching and practice that her ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace.
The second great cause of Mr. Spurgeon's continued popularity is that he is mighty in the scriptures and he is not sparing of its resources. He draws and draws again as he has occasion, and he does it without forcing. He has carefully studied John Bunyan, and copies him here with considerable skill.
Thirdly, he is evidently a man of prayer, and feels therein a hidden source of strength which will not fail him at his need. The same gift Which empowers him to pour forth his two extempore prayers in the early part of the service, accompanies him throughout his sermon, and chastens and subdues even the more attractive portions of the discourse. In his lightest illustrations he does not forget the object and the occasion, and thus escapes splitting on a rock that has foundered many a preacher of oratorial power equal or even superior to his own.
He has, moreover, an accurate and quick ear and an expressive eye, developing in a remarkable degree the organ of language aided by those of ideality, comparison, gaiety, wonder, veneration, and constructiveness. His manner is agreeable, and he is blest with a large fund of animal spirits and considerable strength. Such are Mr. Spurgeon's natural and acquired qualifications as a preacher to which he has not disdained to add the great advantages of careful study and long cultivation. He understands, too, the art of concealing his art. He holds himself entirely under control. And if for a moment he appears to give way to the excitement of the topic and allows free rein to his tongue, he still has it under subjection, and returns to a quieter mood without effort and without constraint. His transitions are natural, and pleasantly relieve the outline of his bolder strokes. He is no windy orator, and knows when to pause, when to turn. He does not run either himself or his subject out of breath. His diction, though rapid, is sufficiently choice; his figures well selected and full of meaning. His energy prodigious, and his earnestness bears all the appearance of sincerity and truth.'