It was very important that, during the short active lifetime of our Saviour--little more than three years--He should confine His operation to a comparatively small district, so as to produce a permanent result there which would afterwards radiate over the whole world. He knew what was best for men, and therefore He restricted Himself to a very narrow area; and, my brethren and sisters, I am not sure that we are always wise when we want a great sphere. I have myself sometimes envied the man with about five hundred people to watch over, who could see them all, know them all, and enter into sympathy with them all, and so could do his work well. But, with so large a number as I have under my charge, what can one man do?--C.H.S. in exposition of Matthew 15:21
The Pastors Fellow Workers
Among my first London deacons was one very worthy man, who said to me, when I went to preach in Exeter Hall and the Surrey Gardens Music Hall, `I am an old man, and I cannot possibly go at the rate you young people are going; but I don't want to hang on, and be a drag to you, so I will quietly withdraw, and go and see how I can get on with Mr. Brock.' I think that was the kindest thing that the good man could have done, and that it was probably the best course for himself as well as for us. I went over to see him, some time afterwards, and he asked me to take my two boys that he might give them his blessing. He said to me, `Did I not do the very best thing I could have done by getting out of the way, and not remaining to hinder the work? I always read your sermons, and I send in my subscriptions regularly.' Dear good man, he died the next day.
My present staff of nine deacons consists of peculiarly lovable, active, energetic, warm-hearted, generous men, every one of whom seems specially adapted for his own particular department of service. I am very thankful that I have never been the pastor of a dead church, controlled by dead deacons. I have seen such a thing as that with my own eyes, and the sight was truly awful. I recollect very well preaching in a chapel where the church had become exceedingly low, and, somehow, the very building looked like a sepulchre, though crowded that one night by those who came to hear the preacher. The singers drawled out a dirge, while the members sat like mutes. I found it hard preaching; there was no `go in the sermon, I seemed to be driving dead horses.
After the service, I saw two men, who I supposed were the deacons-the pillars of the church-leaning against the posts of the vestry door in a listless attitude, and I said, `Are you the deacons of this church?' They informed me that they were the only deacons, and I remarked that I thought so. To myself I added that I understood, as I looked at them, several things which else would have been a riddle. Here was a dead church, comparable to the ship of the ancient mariner which was manned by the dead. Deacons, teachers, minister, people, all dead, and yet wearing the semblance of life.
All my church-officers are in a very real sense my brethren in Christ. In talking to or about one another, we have no stately modes of address. I am called `the Governor'--I suppose, because I do not attempt to govern; and the deacons are known among us as `Brother William,' `Uncle Tom,' `Dear Old Joe,' `Prince Charlie,' `Son of Ali,' and so on. These brethren are some of them esquires, who ought also to be M.P.'s, but we love them too well to dignify them. One day, I spoke rather sharply to one of them, and I think he deserved the rebuke I gave him, but he said to me, `Well, that may be so, but I tell you what, sir, I would die for you any day.' 'Oh!' I replied, `bless your heart, I am sorry I was so sharp, but, still, you did deserve it, did you not?' He smiled, and said he thought he did, and there the matter ended.
One of my deacons made a remark to me one night which would have mortally offended a more sensitive individual than I am. It was the first Sabbath in the month, the preaching service was over, and we were just going down to the great communion in the Tabernacle. I enquired how many new members there were to be received, and the answer was, `Only seven.' In an instant, my good friend said, `This won't pay, Governor; running all this big place for seven new members in a month!' He was quite right, although a Christian church is not `run' on exactly the same lines as a business undertaking; but I could not help thinking, at the time, that it would not have done for some deacons to make such an observation to certain ministers of my acquaintance; or if the remark had been made, it would have been attended with very serious consequences. I know one pastor who is very decidedly of opinion that the Lord never made anyone equal in importance to a Baptist minister (that is, himself), but it so happened that one of his church-officers had the notion that a deacon is a being of a still higher order, so it was not very surprising that the time came when they could no longer work together harmoniously.
On going into the Tabernacle, one day, I gave directions about some minor alterations that I wished to have made, not knowing at the time that I was cancelling the orders given by the deacon who had the main care of the building resting upon him. When he arrived, in the evening, he saw what had been done, and at once asked who had interfered with his instructions. The reply was, `The Governor, sir.' The spirit of unquestioning loyalty at once asserted itself over any temporary annoyance he may have felt, and he said, `Quite right; there must be only one captain in a ship;' and, for a long while, that saying became one of our most familiar watch-words. I have often been amazed at the devotion of our brethren; I have told them many a time that, if they would follow a broomstick as they have followed me, the work must succeed. To which William Olney, as the spokesman for the rest, has answered, `Yes, dear Pastor; but it is because we have such absolute confidence in your leadership that we are ready to follow you anywhere. You have never misled us yet, and we do not believe you ever will do so.'
After one long illness, which kept me for many weeks out of the pulpit, I said to the deacons, `I am afraid you will get quite tired of your poor crippled minister,' but one of the least demonstrative of the brethren replied, `Why, my dear sir, we would sooner have you for one month in the year than anyone else in the world for the whole twelve months!' I believe they all agreed with what he said, for they have often urged me to go away for a long sea voyage, or to rest for a year, or for several months at the least, but I have always had one answer for them: `It is not possible for me to leave my work for any lengthened period until the Lord calls me home; and, besides, there is a Scriptural reason why a minister should not be away from his people for more than six weeks at a time.' `What is that?' they asked. `Why, don't you remember that, when Moses was up in the mount with God for forty days, Aaron and the children of Israel turned aside to the worship of the golden calf?'
I had one most touching proof of a deacon's loving self-sacrifice and generosity. During a very serious illness, I had an unaccountable fit of anxiety about money matters. There was no real ground for apprehension, for my dear wife and I were scrupulously careful to `owe no man anything,' and there was no pecuniary liability in connection with the Lord's work under my charge which need have caused me the slightest perplexity. I had fallen into one of those curious mental conditions that are often the result of extreme pain and weakness, in which the mind seems to lay hold of some impalpable object, and will not let it go. One of the brethren came to see me while I was in that sad state, and after trying in vain to comfort me, he said, `Well, good-bye, sir, I'll see what I can do.' He went straight home, and before very long he came back to me bringing all the stocks and shares and deeds and available funds that he had. Putting them down on the bed where I was lying in great agony, he said, `There, my dear Pastor, I owe everything I have in the world to you, and you are quite welcome to all I possess. Take whatever you need, and do not have another moment's anxiety.' Of course, as soon as I got better, I returned to my dear friend all that he had brought to me under such singular circumstances. Even if I had needed it, I could not have taken a penny of it, for it seemed to me very much as the water from the well of Bethlehem must have appeared to David. Happily, I did not require any part of the amount so freely placed at my disposal, but I could never forget the great kindness of the brother who was willing to give all that he had in order to allay the groundless fears of his sorely-afflicted minister.
Of late years we have heard a great deal against deacons, and have read discussions as to their office, evidently suggested by no idolatrous reverence for their persons. Many of our ministering brethren bitterly rate them, others tremble at the mention of their very name, and a few put on their armour and prepare to do battle with them wherever they go, as if they were the dragons of ministerial life. We ourselves are charged with having said that `a deacon is worse than a devil, for if you resist the devil he will flee from you, but if you resist a deacon he will fly at you'. This is no saying of ours; we never had any cause to speak so severely, and although in some cases it is undoubtedly true, we have never had any experimental proof of it. Not one in a hundred of all the sayings fathered upon us are ours at all, and as to this one it was in vogue before we were born.
Our observation of deacons leads us to observe that, as a rule, they are quite as good men as the pastors, and the bad and good in the ministry and the diaconate are to be found in very much the same proportions. If there be lordly deacons, are there not lordly pastors? If there be ignorant, crotchety men among deacons, are there not their rivals in our pulpits? The church owes an immeasureable debt of gratitude to those thousands of godly men who study her interests day and night, contribute largely of their substance, care for her poor, cheer her ministers, and in times of trouble as well as prosperity, remain faithfully at their posts. Whatever there may be here and there of mistake, infirmity, and even wrong, we are assured from wide and close observation, that the greater number of our deacons are an honour to our faith, and we may style them as the apostle did his brethren, the `glory of Christ'.
Heaviest censure is occasionally deserved, but affectionate esteem is usually due. Deprive the church of her deacons, and she would be bereaved of her most valiant sons; their loss would be the shaking of the pillars of our spiritual house and would cause a desolation on every side. Thanks be to God, such a calamity is not likely to befall us, for the great Head of the church, in mercy to her, will always raise up a succession of faithful men, who will use the office well, and earn unto themselves a good degree and much boldness in the faith.
Much ought to be taken into consideration in estimating the character of men sustaining office in the church, for many difficulties may be incidental to the position, and this may mitigate the severity with which we ought to judge the men. Our brethren in the deacon's work are not so migratory as our ministers; they are frequently born to Christ in the churches in which they live and die; they cannot readily remove when evil days becloud the church, but remain chained to the oar to bear the odium of discontent and the sorrow of decay. No frequent removal secures for them a renewal of popularity elsewhere; their whole career for bad or good is remembered by one and the same constituency, and hence false steps are with great difficulty reprieved, and awkward disagreements are painfully remembered. With new ministers come new ways, and men in office, especially elderly men, cannot so easily learn and unlearn as young and fresh comers might desire. Perhaps cherished methods are crossed and hallowed ideas overthrown, and this is not the smallest trial of a good man's life. We almost think it needs a better man to make a good deacon than a good minister. We who preach the Word go first, and this pleases human nature; grace is needed to make older, wealthier, and often wiser men go second and keep their place without envyings and bickerings: thousands do this and are to be honoured for it.
When I came to New Park Street, the church had deacons, but no elders; and I thought, from my study of the New Testament, that there should be both orders of officers. They are very useful when we can get them--the deacons to attend to all secular matters, and the elders to devote themselves to the spiritual part of the work; this division of labour supplies an outlet for two different sorts of talent, and allows two kinds of men to be serviceable to the church; and I am sure it is good to have two sets of brethren as officers, instead of one set who have to do everything, and who often become masters of the church, instead of the servants, as both deacons and elders should be.
As there were no elders at New Park Street, when I read and expounded the passages in the New Testament referring to elders, I used to say, 'This is an order of Christian workers which appears to have dropped out of existence. In apostolic times, they had both deacons and elders, but, somehow, the church has departed from this early custom. We have one preaching elder-that is, the Pastor and he is expected to perform all the duties of the eldership.' One and another of the members began to enquire of me, 'Ought not we, as a church, to have elders? Cannot we elect some of our brethren who are qualified to fill the office?' I answered that we had better not disturb the existing state of affairs, but some enthusiastic young men said that they would propose at the church-meeting that elders should be appointed, and ultimately we did appoint them with the unanimous consent of the members. I did not force the question upon them; I only showed them that it was Scriptural, and then of course they wanted to carry it into effect.
The church-book, in its records of the annual church-meeting held January 12, 1859, contains the following entry: 'Our Pastor, in accordance with a previous notice, then stated the necessity that had long been felt by the church for the appointment of certain brethren to the office of elders, to watch over the spiritual affairs of the church. Our Pastor pointed out the Scripture warrant for such an office, and quoted the several passages relating to the ordaining of elders: Titus 1:5, and Acts 14:23-- the qualifications of elders; I Timothy 3:1-7, and Titus 1:5-9--the duties of elders; Acts 20:28-35, I Timothy 1:17, and James 5:14; and other mention made of elders: Acts 11:30, 15:4, 6, 23, 16:4, and I Timothy 4:14.
Whereupon, it was resolved-That the church, having heard the statement made by its Pastor respecting the office of the eldership, desires to elect a certain number of brethren to serve the church in that office for one year, it being understood that they are to attend to the spiritual affairs of the church, and not to the temporal matters, which appertain to the deacons only.
I have always made it a rule to consult the existing officers of the church before recommending the election of new deacons or elders, and I have also been on the look-out for those who have proved their fitness for office by the work they have accomplished in their private capacity. In our case, the election of deacons is a permanent one, but the elders are chosen year by year, though they usually continue their office for life. This plan has worked admirably with us, but other churches have adopted different methods of appointing their officers. In my opinion, the very worst mode of selection is to print the names of all the male members, and then vote for a certain number by ballot. I know of one case in which a very old man was within two or three votes of being elected simply because his name began with A, and therefore was put at the top of the list of candidates.
My elders, usually about twenty-five in number, have been a great blessing to me; they are invaluable in looking after the spiritual interests of the church. The deacons have charge of the finance; but if the elders meet with cases of poverty needing relief, we tell them to give some small sum, and then bring the case before the deacons. I was once the unseen witness of a little incident that greatly pleased me. I heard one of our elders say to a deacon, 'I gave old Mrs. So-and-so ten shillings the other night.' 'That was very generous on your part,' said the deacon. 'Oh, but!' exclaimed the elder, 'I want the money from the deacons.' So the deacon asked, 'What office do you hold, brother? 'Oh!' he replied, 'I see; I have gone beyond my duty as an elder, so I'11 pay the ten shillings myself; I should not like "the Governor" to hear that I had overstepped the mark.' 'No, no, my brother,' said the deacon; Ill give you the money, but don't make such a mistake another time.'
Some of the elders have rendered great service to our own church by conducting Bible-classes and taking the oversight of several of our home-mission stations, while one or two have made it their special work to 'watch for souls' in out great congregation, and to seek to bring to immediate decision those who appeared to be impressed under the preaching of the Word. One brother has earned for himself the title of my hunting dog, for he is always ready to pick up the wounded birds. One Monday night, at the prayer-meeting, he was sitting near me on the platform; all at once I missed him, and presently I saw him right at the other end of the building. After the meeting, I asked him why he went off so suddenly, and he said that the gas just shone on the face of a woman in the congregation, and she looked so sad that he walked round, and sat near her, in readiness to speak to her about the Saviour after the service.
That same brother did a very unusual thing on another occasion. A poor fallen woman accosted him in the street, and in an instant he began to plead with her to leave her sinful ways, and come to Christ. Rain came on while he was talking to her, so he rapped at the door of the nearest house, and asked if he might stand in the passage while he spoke and prayed with a poor soul under conviction of sin. The good woman invited him into her front room, and when he thanked her for her kindness, he took the opportunity of asking her also if she knew the Lord. I believe he had the joy of leading both of them to the Saviour, and bringing them to join the church at the Tabernacle. Eternity alone will reveal how many have thus been arrested and blessed by a wise and winning word spoken in season, and accompanied by earnest prayer and dear Scriptural teaching concerning the way of salvation. Others of the elders have also exercised a most gracious ministry in various parts of the metropolis and in the home counties, through the agency of the Tabernacle Country Mission and Evangelists' Association. Many churches, that are now self-supporting and flourishing, were started in a very humble fashion by the brethren connected with one or other of these two useful Societies. The labours of the elders in visiting the sick, seeking to reclaim the wandering, pointing enquirers to the Saviour, and introducing candidates to the fellowship of the church, are recorded in the Lord's Book of Remembrance, and are gratefully recollected by their Pastor and fellow-members.
After the Tabernacle was opened, the church continued to grow so rapidly that it was found necessary, from time to time, to provide the Pastor with suitable helpers in his many-sided service. The following entry in the church-book shows the steps that were taken before a permanent appointment was made:
November 24, 1862. 'Our' Pastor stated that he thought it desirable that we should revive the office of Teacher, which had formerly existed in this church, but had fallen into disuse. In looking over our church history, he found that, during the pastorate of William Rider, Benjamin Keach had laboured in the church under the name and title of Teacher, so that, upon the decease of William Rider, a Pastor was at once on the spot in the person of the mighty man of God who had for twenty years been recognized as a Teacher among us. Again, in the pastorate of Benjamin Keach, the church elected Benjamin Stinton to assist the Pastor as a Teacher, and it again happened that, on the removal of Benjamin Keach, Benjamin Stinton succeeded to the pastorate, and the church was spared the misery of long remaining without a Pastor, or seeking some unknown person from abroad. The Teacher, without dividing the unity of the pastorate, should, in the judgment of our Pastor, be a valuable aid for the edification of the saints in the matter of Word and doctrine. Our Pastor also remarked that, when the Holy Spirit manifestly made a man useful in the church, and bestowed on him the real qualifications for an office, it seemed but fitting and seemly that the church should humbly recognize the gift of the Lord, and accept the brother in the Lord's name.
In the outcome, two such teachers were appointed--John Collins followed by Thomas Ness--but after short periods of happy service both of them were called to hold pastorates elsewhere, and for the moment the experiment ended.
After the departure of Thomas Ness nearly two years were allowed to elapse before any further effort was made to relieve the Pastor from part at least of his ever-increasing burden of labour and responsibility. On October 16, 1867, a special church-meeting was held, of which the church-book contains the following record:
'For nearly fourteen years, we have, as a church, enjoyed a most wonderful and uninterrupted prosperity, so that our present number of members is now more than 3,500--a number far too great for the efficient oversight of one man.' Although out deacons and elders labour abundantly, yet there is much work which no one can do but the Pastor, and which one Pastor finds himself quite unable to perform. The mere examination of candidates, and attending to discipline, entail most laborious duties. Moreover, the Pastor's labours in Exeter Hall, the Surrey Gardens Music Hall, our own large Tabernacle, and the Agricultural Hall, have been most exhausting, and yet he has taken little rest, being perpetually occupied in preaching the Word, having proclaimed the gospel throughout England, Scotland, and Wales, and having journeyed for the same purpose to Geneva, Paris, Holland, and Germany.
In addition to all this, numerous Institutions have grown up in connection with our church, of which the chief are the College and the Orphanage, both of which require much care and industry in their right management. The Pastor conducts a magazine which greatly aids him in raising funds, but which involves much writing. He publishes a sermon every week. He has been one of the foremost in founding the London Baptist Association, and serves on its Committee, and accepts his share of work for other public Societies. Last of all, he has been for some months laid prostrate by severe illness, and will probably be attacked in the same manner again very speedily unless some little respite can be afforded him. He is not afraid of work, but he does not wish to commit suicide, and therefore asks for help.
The following resolution was then proposed by Deacon William Olney, seconded by Elder Dransfield, supported by brethren Nisbet, Miller, and Stringer, and carried unanimously: "That, in the opinion of this church, the time has now arrived when some permanent help should be obtained to assist our beloved Pastor in the very arduous work connected with the pastorate of so large a church; also that we consider the most likely person to discharge this duty to the comfort of our Pastor, and the lasting benefit of the church, is our Pastor's brother, the Rev. J. A. Spurgeon. It is therefore resolved that an invitation be given to the Rev. James A. Spurgeon to give as much of his time as he can spare from his present engagements to assist our Pastor in any way considered by him most advisable for the advantage of this church, for a period of three months, with a view to his being permanently engaged afterwards, if it is thought
advisable at the expiration of that period; also that it be an instruction to our deacons to make any financial arrangement necessary to carry out this resolution."'
The three-months' probationary period having proved satisfactory to both Pastor and people, a special church-meeting was held in January, 1868, at which it was decided to invite James Archer Spurgeon, who was three years younger than his brother, to become Assistant or Co-Pastor of the Church. At the same time it was explained to him by letter that, should the Lord call his brother Charles home, it would not follow that he would automatically succeed him in the pastorate. Nor while he was Co-Pastor must he assume that the office gave him the right to occupy the pulpit at the Tabernacle in the absence or the illness of Charles. These delicate matters were stated with complete candour but in gracious words, and James Spurgeon found no difficulty in accepting the Church's stipulations. During the remainder of his brother's life 'he did a vast amount of daily routine work at the Tabernacle, of which the outside public heard little and knew less, but in the doing of which he proved the most effective assistant to the senior pastor that could possibly have been provided...The two brothers appeared to be at one in everything; but the chief reason of their being able to work in unison as they did was that they were agreed in doctrine'.
If Charles was known to his elders and deacons as 'The Governor', James was known to them and to members of the Tabernacle as Mr. James'. To Church members at Croydon, where he also held a pastorate, the latter was known as Mr. Spurgeon; among outsiders he was recognized as Mr. James Spurgeon. 'Brother', remarked Charles to him one day, 'l am taking from you your very name--they call you Mr. James. If ever the Americans offer you a doctorship you must accept it, and then Dr. Spurgeon will be a sufficient distinction from Mr. Spurgeon'! The wish met with fulfillment, but not until after Charles's death, when the degree of LL.D was conferred on James by Colgate University, U.S.A.
Spurgeon used often to say that his best deacon was a woman--alluding to Mrs. Bartlett. In the summer of 1859, one of the teachers of New Park Street Sunday-school was going away for a month, and asked Mrs. Bartlett to take charge of her class during her absence; but, on presenting herself at the school, she was directed by the superintendent to the senior class. There were only three young women in attendance that afternoon, but in the course of the month the number had so increased that she was asked to continue as teacher. She did so, and before long the class had outgrown its accommodation, an experience which was again and again repeated until it was finally settled in the lecture-hall of the new Tabernacle, where there were some 600 or 700 regularly present. When Mrs. Bartlett was 'called home,' in 1875, it was estimated that between 900 and 1000 members of her class had joined the church at the Tabernacle, and Mr. Spurgeon thus wrote concerning his esteemed helper:
'Mrs. Bartlett was a choice gift from God to the church at the Tabernacle, and the influence of her life was far-reaching, stimulating many others besides those who by her means were actually led to the Saviour. We miss her sadly, but her spiritual children are with us still; they have stood the test of years, and the most searching test of all, namely, the loss of her motherly counsel and inspiring words. She did not build with wood, hay, and stubble, for the edifice remains, and for this let God be glorified.
She was a woman of intense force of character. She believed with all her heart, and therefore acted with decision and power. Hence, she did not constantly look to the Pastor for help in her appointed service; but, beginning in a small and quiet way, toiled on till everything grew around her to large proportions. She took small account of difficulty or discouragement, but trusted in God, and went on as calmly sure of success as if she saw it with her eyes. When anything flagged, she only seemed to throw out more energy, waited upon God with more fervency, and pushed forward with the resolve to conquer. Deborah herself could not have been more perfectly God-reliant than Mrs. Bartlett was. She did not beat the air, or run at an uncertainty, but such expressions as "I know God will help us. It must be done; it shall be done; sisters, you will do it!" were just the sort of speeches that we expected of her. She flamed in determined earnestness at times when only fire could clear a path, and then there was no withstanding her, as her class very well knew.
To her resolute will, God had added by His grace an untiring perseverance. On, and on, and on, year by year, she went at the same duty, and in the same way. New plans of usefulness for the class were opened up by her as she saw them possible and prudent, but the former things were never dropped for fresh ideas, and novel methods were not devised to the superseding of the well-tried plans. Her talk was always concerning "the old, old story," and never of new-fangled doctrines or imaginary attainments. She kept close to the cross, extolled her Saviour, pleaded with sinners to believe, and stirred up saints to holy living. Of her theme she never tired, nor would she allow others to tire. She looked as if it was treason to grow cold; her glance indicated that to be indifferent about the Redeemer's Kingdom was a shameful crime. From first to last of her long leadership of her class, she appeared to be almost equally energetic and intense.
It pleased God to make our sister an eminently practical woman. She was no dreamer of dreams, but a steady, plodding worker. She never wasted two minutes of her Pastor's time with marvellous methods, and miraculous plans; she instinctively saw what could be done, and what should be done, and she did it, looking to God for the blessing. Her class has raised large sums for the College, and has done actual service in more ways than we have space to tell, for she trained her disciples into a band of labourers, and kept them all at it to the utmost of their abilities. Her addresses were always practical; never speculative, or merely entertaining. She aimed at soul-winning every time she met the class, and that in the most direct and personal manner. In pursuing this object, she was very down-right, and treated things in a matter-of-fact style. The follies, weaknesses, and temptations of her sex were dealt with very pointedly; and the griefs, trials, and sins of her class were on her heart, and she spoke of them as real burdens. Her talk never degenerated into story-telling, or quotations of poetry, or the exhibition of singularities of doctrine; but she went right at her hearers in the name of the Lord, and claimed their submission to Him. Amid all her abounding labours, Mrs. Bartlett was the subject of frequent pain and constant weakness. She had the energy of vigorous health, and yet was almost always an invalid. It cost her great effort to appear on many occasions, but then she would often succeed best, as she pleaded with her hearers, "as a dying woman" to be reconciled to God. "Out of weakness ... made strong," was her continual experience; in fact, much of her power lay in her weakness, for the observation of her pains and feebleness operated upon the sympathetic hearts of her young friends, and made them the more highly appreciate the counsels which cost her so much effort and self-denial. She has met many of her spiritual children above, and others are on the way to the sweet meeting-place. We are thankful for the loan we had of such a woman, thankful that she was not sooner removed as sometimes we feared she would have been, thankful that she has left a son to perpetuate her work, and thankful, most of all, that there is such a work to be perpetuated.'
On the monument over her grave in Nunhead Cemetery, is the following inscription, which was written by Mr. Spurgeon:
- 'In affectionate memory of
- LAVINIA STRICKLAND BARTLETT,
Who departed to her blissful home, August 21, 1875, in her 69th year. The Pastors, Deacons, and Elders of the Church in the Metropolitan Tabernacle unite with her Class and the students of the College in erecting this memorial to her surpassing worth. She was indeed "a mother in Israel." Often did she say, "Keep near the cross, my sister".
This chapter may be appropriately closed with Spurgeon's testimony to the piety and the unity of the Tabernacle church, together with a solemn warning as to what would happen if such a highly favoured company of people should ever prove unfaithful:
'I thank God that we have a great many very warm-hearted, earnest Christians in connection with this church--I will make bold to say, such true and lovely saints as I never expected to live to see. I have beheld in this church apostolical piety revived; I will say it, to the glory of God, that I have seen as earnest and as true piety as Paul or Peter ever witnessed. I have marked, in some here present, such godly zeal, such holiness, such devotion to the Master's business, as Christ Himself must look upon with joy and satisfaction. God has been pleased to favour us with profound peace in the church. We have been disturbed by no word of false doctrine, by no uprising of heretics in our midst, or any separations or divisions. This is a blessed thing, but, still, Satan may make it a dangerous matter. We may begin to think that there is no need for us to watch, that we shall always be as we are; and deacons, and elders, and Pastor, and church-members, may all cease their vigilance, and then the "root of bitterness" may spring up in the neglected corner till it gets too deeply rooted for us to tear it up again. Though we are not free from ten thousand faults, yet I have often admired the goodness of God which has enabled us, with a hearty grip, to hold each other by the hand, and say, "We love each other for Christ's sake, and for the truth's sake, and we hope to live in each other's love till we die, wishing, if it were possible, to be buried side by side." I do thank God for this, because I know there is more than enough of evil among us to cause dissensions in our midst. We who bear office in the church have the same nature as others; and therefore, naturally, would seek to have the supremacy, and every man, if left to himself, would indulge an angry temper, and find many reasons for differing from his brother. We have all been offended often, and have as often offended others. We are as imperfect a band of men as might be found, but we are one in Christ. We have each had to put up with the other, and to bear and forbear; and it does appear to me a wonder that so many imperfect people should get on so well together for so long. By faith, I read over the door of our Tabernacle this text, "When He giveth quietness, who then can make trouble?"
Possibly, my brethren, many of you do not sufficiently prize the peace which reigns in our church. Ah! you would value it if you lost it. Oh, how highly you would esteem it if strife and schism should ever come into our midst! You would look back upon these happy days we have had together with intense regret, and pray, "Lord, knit us together in unity again; send us love to each other once more;" for, in a church, love is the essential element of happiness.
If we, as a church, prove unfaithful; if we leave our first love; if we do not plead in prayer, and seek the conversion of souls, God may take away His presence from us as He has done from churches that were once His, but which are not so now. The traveller tells you that, as he journeys through Asia Minor, he sees the ruins of those cities which once were the seven golden candlesticks, wherein the light of truth shone brightly. What will he now say of Thyatira? Where will he find Laodicea? These have passed away, and why may not this church? Look at Rome, once the glory of the Christian Church, her ministers many, and her power over the world enormous for good; and now she is the place where Satan's seat is, and her synagogue is a synagogue of hell. How is this? Because she departed from her integrity, she left her first love, and the Lord cast her away. Thus will He deal with us also if we sin against Him. You know that terrible passage: "Go ye now unto my place which was in Shiloh, where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel." God first of all had the Tabernacle pitched at Shiloh, but it was defiled by the sin of Eli's sons, so the tabernacle was taken away, and Shiloh became a wilderness. So may this flourishing church become. If justice should thus visit you, you may hold your prayer-meetings-probably those will soon cease-but of what avail will your formal prayers be? You may get whom you will to preach, but what of that? I know what you would do, if some of us were fallen asleep, and the faithful ones buried--if the Spirit of God were gone, you would say, "Well, we are still a large and influential congregation; we can afford to pay a talented minister, money will do anything;" and you would get the man of talents, and then you would want an organ and a choir, and many other pretty things which we now count it our joy to do without. Then, if such were the case, all these vain attempts at grandeur would be unsuccessful, and the church would ere long become a scorn and a hissing, or else a mere log upon the water. Then it would be said, "We must change the management," and there would be this alteration and that; but if the Lord were gone, what could you do, By what means could you ever make this church, or any other church, revive again? Alas! for the carnal, spasmodic efforts we have seen made in some churches! Prayer-meetings badly attended, no conversions, but still the people have said, "It is imperative upon us to keep up a respectable appearance; we must collect a congregation by our singing, by our organ, or some other outward attraction;" and angels might have wept as they saw the folly of men who sought almost anything except the Lord, who alone can make a house His temple, who alone can make a ministry to be a ministration of mercy, without whose presence the most solemn congregation is but as the herding of men in the market, and the most melodious songs but as the shoutings of those who make merry at a marriage. Without the Lord, our solemn days, our new moons, and our appointed feasts, are an abomination such as His soul hateth. May this church ever feel her utter, entire, absolute dependence upon the presence of her God, and may she never cease humbly to implore Him to forgive her many sins, but still to command His blessing to abide upon her! Amen.'