It is difficult to say where Mr. Spurgeon may be considered most at home; for his time is spent in moving quickly to and from the Tabernacle, the Pastors' College, the schools, alms-houses, and orphanages, of which he is the guiding spirit. Perhaps the most hard-working man on the Surrey side of the Thames, he finds but little leisure for taking his ease in his house in Nightingale Lane--a quiet nook hard by Wandsworth Common. He passes his life, when not actually preaching or working, in a pony chaise, varied by occasional hansom cabs. Wrapped in a rough blue overcoat, with a species of soft deerstalking hat on his head, a loose black necktie round his massive throat, and a cigar burning merrily in his mouth, he is surely the most unclerical of all preachers of the Gospel.--THE WORLD, October 4, 1876.
The New Helensburgh House
WHILE Spurgeon was so diligently, and in such self-denying fashion, caring for students and colporteurs, widows and orphans, some of his friends thought it was time for a little more comfort to be provided for himself and his household. Many hallowed associations had endeared the old house at Nightingale Lane to its happy inmates; but they were not blind to the disadvantages of their ancient dwelling, and all rejoiced greatly when, in 1869, it was pulled down, and the new Helensburgh House was erected in its place. The large amount of money expended by the owner in his many departments of service for the Lord would have made it impossible for him to meet the necessary outlay, so a few of his most liberal and devoted helpers determined to defray the principal part of the cost, as a token of their appreciation of his public ministry and private friendship. The work was entrusted to the charge of Mr. William Higgs, and the plans were drawn by his eldest son, William, who was later to become a deacon at the Tabernacle.
Before the new house was ready for occupation, Spurgeon met the generous donors; and Mrs. Spurgeon, who had been for some time staying in Brighton, came up to London in order to be present at that memorable gathering. In a tiny notebook which has been preserved, the Pastor wrote the introduction and outline of the speech in which he expressed his gratitude for the gift he had received. It was a most exceptional thing for him to make, for any occasion, more than a bare skeleton of the address or sermon he was about to deliver, so the high value he set upon the presentation is manifest from the fact that he was moved to compose what may well be called a prose-poem of thanksgiving for it:
'It was a law of Abdul the Merciful that no man should be compelled to speak when ovenwhelmed by kindness. Doth a man sing when his mouth is full of the sherbet of Shiraz, or a prince dance when he wears on his head the crown of Ali with its hundredweight of jewels? Or, as Job saith, "Doth the wild ass bray when he hath grass? Or loweth the ox over his fodder?" As he that marrieth a virgin is excused from war, so he that receiveth a great gift is exempted from a public speech. My heart is as full of thanks as Paradise was full of peace. As the banks of Lugano ring with the songs of nightingales, so my whole being reverberates with gratitude; and there is another, for whom I may also speak, who echoes all I utter, as the cliffs of Meringen prolong with manifold sweetness the music of the horn.
From you, it comes with double pleasure, like the nuts and the almonds that were carried to Joseph fresh from his father's tents. From my brethren, it is a flower dripping with the dew of Hermon, and perfumed with the fragrance of affection. From my fellow-soldiers, it comes as a cup of generous wine in which we pledge each other for future battles. From my children in the faith, as a love-token such as a tender father treasures. From the church, it is offered as a sacrifice of sweet smell, acceptable unto God.
A house, founded in love, walled with sincerity, roofed in with generosity. Its windows are agates, its gates carbuncles. The beam out of the wall shall talk with me, and the stones shall give me sermons. I shall see your names engraven on every room; and I shall read, in a mystic handwriting, the record that your love was weighed in the balances, and was not found wanting.
The time of your love. During my life--not like the poor philosopher, who was starved to death, but who afterwards had a pillar erected in his honour. This house will be a monument of your generosity, and so it will be a double memorial. Your own presents made it needful. I am like the man who received a white elephant as a gift from his prince, and, with it, a sufficient sum of money to enable him to keep it. The damp and decay in the old house rendered a new one necessary; the other was "a pleasant place to live out of."
The difficulty of my position. My dear wife and I have firmly resolved that we will never go into debt for anything, yet you know something of the continual claims upon us in connection with the work of the Lord. You are also aware that, for the sake of my service for the Master here, I have refused to avail myself of many opportunities that I have had of acquiring wealth. You have all heard that I might have gone to America, and, in a few weeks, have obtained more than I am likely to receive in connection with my ministry for many years. Yet I feel that I acted rightly, in the sight of God, in declining all such offers that had been made to me.
The fear of making too much of a minister. There is no intent on my part to rest now that I have a new house. If possible, I shall work harder than before, and preach better than ever.'
There is a very memorable incident which belongs to the history of both husband and wife during this period when the new Helensburgh House was being prepared. In her volume, Ten Years After!, Mrs. Spurgeon thus wrote concerning the story of the opal ring and the piping bullfinch:
'This incident got into print somehow, and has been told, with varying incorrectness and sundry brilliant embellishments, in many papers, both in England and America. I think it must have been because my beloved so often spoke of it, and delighted to tell of the tender providence which, in so remarkable a way, gratified his sick wife's lightest wishes. As this book is as much of an autobiography as will ever be written by me, it seems well to give a correct version of the sweet true story in these pages. It was during a time of long and painful suffering that it occurred. Dark days those were, both for husband and wife, for a serious disease had invaded my frame, and little alleviation could be found from the constant, wearying pain it caused. My beloved husband, always so fully engaged about his Master's business, yet managed to secure many precious moments by my side, when he would tell me how the work of the Lord was prospering in his hands, and we would exchange sympathies, he comforting me in my suffering, and I cheering him on in his labour.
One ever-recurring question when he had to leave me was, "What can I bring you, wifey?" I seldom answered him by a request, for I had all things richly to enjoy, except health. But, one day, when he put the usual query, I said, playfully, "I should like an opal ring, and a Piping bullfinch!" He looked surprised, and rather amused; but simply replied, "Ah, you know I cannot get those for you!" Two or three days we made merry over my singular choice of desirable articles; but, one Thursday evening, on his return from the Tabernacle, he came into my room with such a beaming face, and such love-lighted eyes, that I knew something had delighted him very much. In his hand he held a tiny box, and I am sure his pleasure exceeded mine as he took from it a beautiful little ring, and placed it on my finger. "There is your opal ring, my darling," he said, and then he told me of the strange way in which it had come. An old lady, whom he had once seen when she was ill, sent a note to the Tabernacle to say she desired to give Mrs. Spurgeon a small present and could someone be sent to her to receive it? Mr. Spurgeons private secretary went, accordingly, and brought the little parcel which, when opened, was found to contain this opal ring! How we talked of the Lord's tender love for His stricken child, and of His condescension in thus stooping to supply an unnecessary gratification to His dear servant's sick one, I must leave my readers to imagine; but I can remember feeling that the Lord was very near to us.
Not long after that, I was moved to Brighton, there to pass a crisis in my life, the result of which would be a restoration to better health--or death. One evening, when my dear husband came from London, he brought a large package with him, and, uncovering it disclosed a cage containing a lovely piping bullfinch! My astonishment was great, my joy unbounded, and these emotions were intensified as he related the way in which he became possessed of the coveted treasure. He had been to see a dear friend of ours, whose husband was sick unto death; and, after commending the sufferer to God in prayer, Mrs. T- said to him, "I want you to take my pet bird to Mrs. Spurgeon, I would give him to none but her; his songs are too much for my poor husband in his weak state, and know that 'Bully' will interest and amuse Mrs. Spurgeon in her loneliness while you are so much away from her." Dear Mr. Spurgeon then told her of my desire for such a companion, and together they rejoiced over the care of the loving Heavenly Father, who had so wondrously provided the very gift His child had longed for. With that cage beside him, the journey to Brighton was a very short one; and when "Bully" piped his pretty song, and took a hemp seed as a reward from the lips of his new mistress, there were eyes with joyful tears in them, and hearts overflowing with praise to God, in the little room by the sea that night; and the dear Pastor's comment was, "I think you are one of your Heavenly Father's spoiled children, and He just gives you whatever you ask for."
Does anyone doubt that this bird was a direct love-gift from the pitiful Father! Do I hear someone say, "Oh! it was all 'chance' that brought about such coincidences as these"? Ah, dear friends! Those of you who have been similarly indulged by Him know, of a certainty, that it is not so. He who cares for all the works of His hand, cares with infinite tenderness for the children of His love, and thinks nothing which concerns them too small or too trivial to notice. If our faith were stronger, and our love more perfect, we should see far greater marvels than these in our daily lives.
There is not much more to tell. "Bully's" sweet little life and ministry ended at Brighton; but the memory of the Lord's tenderness in giving him to me, is a life-long treasure; and the opal ring glistens on my finger as I write this paragraph.'
The experiences of that trying time need not be described, but mention must be made of the great kindness of Sir James Y. Simpson, who travelled twice from Edinburgh to Brighten to render all the aid that the highest surgical skill could suggest. When the operation was over, Spurgeon asked Sir James about his fee, and he replied, 'Well, I suppose it should be a thousand guineas; and when you are Archbishop of Canterbury, I shall expect you to pay it. Till then, let us consider it settled by love.'
After the meeting of donors, mentioned earlier in this chapter, Mrs. Spurgeon went back to Brighton until the house was ready to receive its long-absent mistress. The thought and care which her husband bestowed upon its furnishing, would have surprised even those who thought they knew him. How lovingly and tenderly he 'reported progress' as the various articles of furniture were being purchased, the following letter will show:
'My Own Dear Sufferer,
I am pained indeed to learn, from T-'s kind note, that you are still in so sad a condition! Oh, may the ever-merciful God be pleased to give you ease!
I have been quite a long round to-day--if a "round" can be "long." First, to Finsbury, to buy the wardrobe--a beauty. I hope you will live long to hang your garments in it, every thread of them precious to me for your dear sake. Next, to Hewlett's, for a chandelier for the dining-room. Found one quite to my taste and yours. Then, to Negretti & Zambra's, to buy a barometer for my very own fancy, for I have long promised to treat myself to one. On the road, I obtained the Presburg biscuits, and within their box I send this note, hoping it may reach you the more quickly. They are sweetened with my love and prayers.
The bedroom will look well with the wardrobe in it; at least, so I hope. It is well made; and, I believe, as nearly as I could tell, precisely all you wished for. Joe [Mr. Passmore gave this handsome present] is very good, and should have a wee note whenever darling feels she could write it without too much fatigue; but not yet. I bought also a table for you in case you should have to keep your bed. It rises or falls by a screw, and also winds sideways, so as to go over the bed, and then it has a flap for a book or paper, so that my dear one may read or write in comfort while lying down. I could not resist the pleasure of making this little gift to my poor suffering wifey, only hoping it might not often be in requisition, but might be a help when there was a needs-be for it. Remember, all I buy, I pay for. I have paid for everything as yet with the earnings of my pen, graciously sent me in time of need. It is my ambition to leave nothing for you to be anxious about. I shall find the money for the curtains, etc., and you will amuse yourself by giving orders for them after your own delightful taste.
I must not write more; and, indeed, matter runs short, except the old, old story of a love which grieves over you, and would fain work a miracle, and raise you up to perfect health. I fear the heat afflicts you. Well did the elder say to John in Patmos, concerning those who are before the throne of God, 'neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat.'
Yours to love in life, and death, and eternally,
C. H. S.'
There was a very small room, by the side of Spurgeon's study, which was specially fitted up for his wife's use; and nothing had been forgotten which could in any way conduce to the comfort of an invalid almost entirely confined to her couch. Never will the rapture with which he welcomed her home be forgotten, nor the joyful pride with which he pointed out all the arrangements he had made so that her captivity should have every possible compensation and alleviation. There was a cunningly-contrived cupboard in one corner of the room, into which he had gathered all the details of his loving care for her. When the doors were opened, a dainty washing apparatus was disclosed, with hot and cold water laid on, so that no fatigue in ascending and descending the stairways should be necessary, and even the towels were embroidered with her name. He had thought of all things that might please; and there were such tender touches of devoted love upon all the surroundings of the little room that no words can describe her emotions when first she gazed upon them, and afterwards when she proved, by practical experience, their great usefulness and value.
Even when the new house was finished, Mrs. Spurgeon was still detained at Brighten, and her husband had, for a while, to occupy it without her. He used often to say, during that time of loneliness, that he and the cat (old 'Dick') went up and down the stairs mewing for the mistress.
The new Helensburgh House was dedicated to God with much prayer and praise. Spurgeon always felt that it was a gift from the Lord, through His faithful stewards; and, therefore, all its charms and comforts were accepted as a sacred trust to be employed for his Master's glory. The claims laid to his many forms of Christian service were so numerous, and so constant, that his home could hardly at any period have been called a private house; but there were 'high days and holidays' when the students would gather in the garden, at the commencement of the Autumn session, or on some other special occasion when they were invited to meet with their tutors and brethren, and to listen to the wit and wisdom of their President. At such times, there were always many sincere enquiries for 'the Mother of the College,' though, for some years, she had to be content with quietly peeping, from a corner of her bedroom window, at the merry throng down below. On one memorable occasion, she was carried down, in a chair, to the dining-room, and the students sang for her especial benefit some of the sweet songs of Zion.
The garden was rearranged under the direction of Shirley Hibberd, who very ingeniously made the most of a comparatively small area, so that it formed a still more delightful retreat for the oft weary preacher and toiler when he could steal away for a brief respite from his almost incessant service. Among other alterations, a new lawn was specially prepared, where father and sons, and a few favoured visitors, might play at the old Puritan game of 'bowls.' It was a healthy and not too tiring exercise; but its chief attraction probably was that it had been the favourite amusement of the great uncrowned king of England, Oliver Cromwell, and some of the mightiest masters of theology that the world has ever seen. Spurgeon used frequently to say that the expression 'the bias of the will' must have been connected in their minds with 'the bias of the bowl,' and that he would have greatly prized the privilege of witnessing the game as it was played by the Lord Protector and such notable divines as Thomas Goodwin, John Howe, Thomas Manton, John Owen, and other eminent preachers of the golden age of England's civil and religious history.
Some time after that particular part of the garden was newly turfed, it furnished an interesting instance of the latent power of vegetable life. In digging up the ground ready for the levelling process, the men had evidently disturbed certain roots which had been deeply buried beneath the earth; so it happened before long, that horseradish forced its way up in various places, to the manifest disfigurement of the lawn. It was a very troublesome task to eradicate the old tenant of the soil, but the preacher saw in it a striking simile of the development of long-hidden evil in the human heart, and of the difficulty of getting rid of it.
G. H. Pike who became acquainted with Spurgeon not long after the completion of the new Helensburgh House has given the following description of the home:
'Helensburgh House struck the visitor as being not only an elegant villa, but one which was well planned to suit the requirements of the family. There was a neat garden in front, charming grounds of some extent in the rear. When you entered the house from Nightingale Lane all the domestic arrangements would strike you as being exceedingly comfortable; but there was nothing provided for mere show. At each end the dining-room opened into a conservatory, which was also an aviary, whose feathered inmates maintained a kind of cheerful chorus. There were pictures on the walls of some attraction; but probably the one you would stand still to look at would be the one consisting of photographs of the pastor's twin sons. Once a year, until the two came of age, a new photograph was taken, so that the progress of humanity from babyhood to young manhood was seen at a glance. "Ah," said the great preacher to me when I once showed some interest in this collection, "if one could only grow in grace like that!"
Well, it is past three o'clock on a Saturday afternoon--dinner is over and for one who can claim the privilege this is the time to see the pastor more at ease than on any other day in the week. "Is Mr. Spurgeon at home!" "Yes; and all alone in the study." To reach the study you ascend some stairs. The greeting is thoroughly cordial; but, at the same time, it would appear that this ever-busy man has been interrupted in his work. There may be a number of newly-written letters before him, the ink on the last being not yet dry. In any case there will be a number of printer's proofs on the table, some already corrected, while others are awaiting the process. The room at once struck you as being all and containing all that an ardent student could require. The apartment was large; it was sufficiently lofty, and was, of course, richly furnished with books, new and old, some being of sufficient rarity to cause a bibliophile's mouth to water. These books, collected with great care and judgment, were not only on the shelves and a sight to see--they were well used; and, notwithstanding the very natural astonishment of a class of good folks who never enter a library without expressing the opinion that the possessor can never have read, nor can ever hope to read, so many books, you would have found some difficulty in reaching down a volume with the contents of which the master was not partially or fully acquainted. In addition to the printed books there were also divers unpublished MSS., some being the productions of seventeenth-century Puritan divines. The fact was, a number of second-hand booksellers had the intimation made to them that whenever a MS. of this kind came into their possession the treasure would find a ready purchaser at Clapham. The wonder was how, with such demands on his time, Spurgeon contrived to get through so much reading as he did; but the more you conversed with him in that charming room, the more dearly did you perceive that the mind of your companion was the garner of an omnivorous reader. He could not only read at lightning speed, but when he had gone through a book the contents became permanently his own.
Saturday afternoon was a time of unbending and of free intercourse, if such a term as unbending may be applied to a man who never carried about with him any airs of the "great man." Still, at such times, when he was surrounded by friends, he would relate things which he would not have told in public; and such was the interest of his reminiscences and his opinions on men, books, and great public movements, that even his dog Punch seemed to be an interested auditor.
"You know, I am not the reverend gentleman," I once heard him remark; and it was at once realized that he spoke what he felt. He wished all of his visitors to be as much at ease as he was himself. I am not a lukewarm admirer of Boswell's Life of Johnson; but I am persuaded that, with all his powers, the literary monarch of the eighteenth century did not surpass Spurgeon as a conversationalist.
At Helensburgh House you found yourself in a charming home, where indoors and out were all things to add pleasure or attraction to life; but so fully is the master occupied with the business which seems to fire him with enthusiasm, that all seem to exist for others rather than for him. The house was supposed to be out of the great highway of city life; and when he went there the young pastor, of course, fervently hoped that the place would afford him a retreat from the crowd of callers, including even begging impostors, who seem naturally to be attracted by the popular minister, and whom they regard as their legitimate prey. As popular preachers know to their cost, however, it is impossible to keep the crowd of intruders altogether at bay.
Many were the welcome visitors who came to Nightingale Lane. Along with such friends as his publishers, Passmore and Alabaster, the Principal of his College, George Rogers, and his church officers at the Tabernacle, there were missionaries and preachers who called, including sympathizers from America and the Colonies. The circumstances in which some came to the house, however, were not always so happy as the following story, which Spurgeon told to the students of the Pastors' College many years later, indicates:
'There is a Divine discipline always going on in the Church of Christ, of which, sometimes, we are not fully aware. I remember one terrible instance, which occurred many years ago, of a man who often tried to annoy and offend me; but that is not a thing that can be done so easily as some suppose. The individual to whom I refer had long attempted it, and failed. At last, one Sabbath, when he had been peculiarly troublesome, I said to him, "Brother So-and-so, will you come and see me to-morrow morning?" In a very surly tone, he replied, "I have got my living to earn, and I can't see you after five o'clock in the morning." "Oh!" I answered, "that will suit me very well, and I will be at your service, and have a cup of coffee ready for you to-morrow morning at five o'clock." I was at the door at the appointed time, ready to let him in; his temper had led him to walk all those miles out to my house that he might tell me of his latest grievance. It appeared that he had lost £25 for something or other that he had done, he said for the church, but we all felt that it was his own private speculation, and we were not responsible. However, he told me that he could not afford to lose such a large amount, so I counted out five £5 notes, and gave them to him. He looked at me, and asked me this question, "Do you give me this money out of any of the church funds?" "No," I replied, "I feel that you cannot afford such a loss, and though it is no concern of mine, I willingly give you the money." I noticed a strange look come over his face, but he said very little more, and I prayed with him, and he went away.
At five o'dock in the afternoon, the man sent round for my brother to go to see him. When he returned, he said to me, "Brother, you have killed that man by your kindness; he cannot live much longer. He confessed to me that he had broken up two churches before, and that he had come into the Tabernacle church on purpose to act in the same way, and he had specially sought to put you out of temper with him--which he never could do--and he told me that he was a devil, and not a Christian. I said to him, "My brother once proposed to have you as an elder of the church." He seemed very surprised, and asked me, "Did he really think so much of me as that?" I answered, "Yes, but the other elders said that you had such a dreadful temper that there would be no peace in their midst if you were brought in among them."
About the middle of the prayer-meeting, a note was passed to me saying that the poor fellow had cut his throat. I felt his death terribly, and the effect of it upon the people generally was much the same as when Ananias and Sapphira were slain because of their lying unto the Holy Ghost: "Great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things." I had often spoken of "killing people by kindness," but I never wished to have another instance of it in my own experience.'
Another visitor arrived at Helensburgh House in dramatic circumstances and his coming might have had very serious consequences if the master of the house had not been graciously guided in his mode of dealing with the madman. Spurgeon happened to be passing the entrance-hall just as someone rapped rather loudly at the door; and, without considering who might be seeking admission in that unceremonious fashion, he opened it. In an instant, a wild looking man, armed with a huge stick, sprang in, slammed the door, stood with his back against it, and, in a most menacing manner, announced that he had come to kill Mr. Spurgeon! The situation was extremely critical, for there was no way either to escape from the maniac or to summon assistance to get rid of him; so Spurgeon said, 'You must mean my brother, his name is Spurgeon!;--knowing, of course, that he could give him timely warning if there was any fear of the man going to Croydon.' Ah!' said the crazy fellow, 'it is the man that makes jokes that I mean to kill.' 'Oh, then, you must go to my brother, for he makes jokes!' 'No,' he said, 'I believe you are the man,' and then suddenly he exclaimed, 'Do you know the asylum at______? That's where I live, and it takes ten men to hold me.' Then Spurgeon saw his opportunity, and drawing himself up to his full height, he said, in his most impressive tones, 'Ten men! that is nothing; you don't know how strong I am. Give me that stick.' The poor creature, thoroughly cowed, handed over the formidable weapon. Seizing it, and opening the door, Spurgeon almost shouted, 'If you are not out of the house this very moment, I'll break every bone in your body.' The man quickly fled, someone was at once sent to give information to the police, and it was a great relief to hear that, before long, the escaped madman was again under restraint.
Spurgeon used often to describe the encounter he had with one of his neighbours at Nightingale Lane. After a long and painful illness from gout, he was starting for a short drive, in the hope of gaining a little strength, when this gentleman came up to the carriage, and pointing to the sufferer's bandaged hand and foot, said, with all the scorn and contempt he could compress into the words, '"Whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth." I would not have such a God as that.' In relating the story, Spurgeon always said, 'I felt my blood boil with indignation, and I answered, "I rejoice that I have such a God as that; and if He were to chasten me a thousand times worse than this, I would still love Him; yea, though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him."'
Another time, the same gentleman was in rather a different mood, and he then said to the Pastor, 'I don't believe in shutting myself up with a lot of people in a stuffy building; I like plenty of fresh air, and I worship the God of nature.' 'Yes,' replied Spurgeon, who knew that his neighbour had a skittle-alley, 'your god is made of wood, is he not? and his worship is carried on with a great deal of noise, isn't it? I hear you at your little game before I start for the Tabernacle on a Sunday morning.
Spurgeon knew how to turn everything to account in his great life-work of preaching the gospel. A simple incident, associated with the new house and garden, furnished him with a most effective illustration for a sermon in the Tabernacle. Long after he had left Nightingale Lane, he recalled the circumstances; and, in urging his hearers who had found the Saviour to seek to bring others to Him, he said:
'In the depth of winter, at a time when I had a balcony to my study, I put some crumbs out upon it, and there came a robin redbreast first, who pecked and ate all he could. I do not know his language, but I fancy I can tell what he said, for he went away, and presently returned with ever so many sparrows and other birds. He had no doubt said to them,: 'There are crumbs up there; come with me, and get them." So they followed him, and they came in greater numbers every day, and I do not know how it was except that they told one another. One day, whether it was the robin or the sparrows, I cannot say, but some of them told a blackbird, and he was a bigger fellow than any of them; when he came, he stood near, for I should think, a minute, and then he spied me inside, and he flew away, for he thought, "That good man does not like blackbirds." But he did not know me; for I was pleased to see him, and I should have liked to see a lot of such birds. So the robin went up to him, and told him that he had been there for the last three or four days, and I had never even threatened him; and then, after being persuaded a little, the blackbird came back, and the robin seemed to me to be quite pleased to think that he had converted his big companion, and brought him back, for they dropped down together on the crumbs, and they had such a joyful feast that they returned to the balcony again and again as long as the wintry weather lasted.
There are some of you, dear robin redbreasts, who have been here ever so long, eating my Master's crumbs, and you have brought some sparrows to the feast; now try to entice a blackbird, and if there is one blackbird bigger and blacker than the rest, go and bring him, for Jesus says that He will cast out none that come to Him by faith; and you may be sure that it is true, for He is "a Friend of publicans and sinners."'
At another service, Spurgeon thus turned to practical account the wiles of the bird-catchers who carried on their operations not far from his home:
'There is a common hard by the place where I live; and, on Sundays, Londoners come down by scores, and occupy themselves in this way upon it. They bring with them little birds in cages, and use them to lure other birds from the sky, that they may entrap them. Only the other Sabbath, as I was going to the house of God, I saw a little robin sitting on his perch in a wire cage, and he was diligently whistling so as to attract other birds to the fowlers' snare. I assure you that it was a good lesson to me; for I said to myself, "These men know that it is no use for them to frighten the birds; but if they want to catch them, they must put one of their own kind into a cage, and the little captive, by its song, attracts its fellows." Suppose one of those fowlers should be stupid enough to put a cat into the cage, it would not allure any robins; or suppose he was to put in an owl, that sleepy creature would not attract any larks. The arts of the bird-catcher teach us that, when God would save a sinner, He usually takes one of the same sort, first converts Him by His grace, and then sets him to preach, or teach, or sing, or to do something which attracts and allures others.'
That same common also furnished Spurgeon with an illustration which he thus related to his students:
I shall never forget the manner in which a thirsty individual once begged of me upon Clapham Common. I saw him with a very large truck, in which he was carrying an extremely small parcel, and I wondered why he had not put the parcel into his pocket, and left the machine at, home. I said to him, "It looks odd to see so large a truck for such a small load." He stopped, and looking me seriously in the face, he said, "Yes, sir, it is a very odd thing; but, do you know, I have met with an odder thing than that this very day. I've been about, working and sweating all this 'ere blessed day, and till now I haven't met a single gentleman that looked as if he'd give me a pint of beer, till I saw you." I considered that turn of the conversation very neatly managed; and we, with a far better subject upon our minds, ought to be equally able to introduce the theme upon which our heart is set. There was an ease in the man's manner which I envied, for I did not find it quite so simple a matter to introduce my own topic to his notice; yet, if I had been thinking as much about how I could do him good as he had upon how to obtain a drink, I feel sure I should have succeeded in reaching my point.'
There still stands, on Clapham Common, an ancient tree under which Spurgeon preached to ten thousand persons on Lord's-day afternoon, July 10, 1859. A fortnight earlier, a violent storm passed over the South of London. The tree was struck by lightning, and a man who had sought shelter beneath it was killed. Spurgeon, who was greatly impressed by the solemn event, resolved to preach on the fatal spot, and to make a collection for the widow of the man who had been killed. This arrangement was duly carried out, a waggon beneath the tree serving for a pulpit, and the congregation contributing £27 10s. 4d. for the poor bereaved woman.' The text was taken from Luke 12:14, 'Be ye therefore ready also;' and in commencing his discourse, the preacher said:
'Happily for us, it is not often that men are struck dead by lightning. Remember all the multitudes of men existing upon the face of the earth, then calculate the number of thunderstorms, and you will see that, after all many of the fears which disturb our minds in time of tempest and of storm are far more groundless than we are apt to imagine. It is but here and there, and now and then, that the scathing blast smites the earth, and one of our fellow-creatures is launched into eternity. When, however, such a solemn event occurs, we ought to hear in it the voice of God, and listen to what He says to us. I thought, as I passed this tree a short time since, what a sermon it might preach if it could speak! How the rustle of its leaves would forewarn us of the stealthy footsteps of death; and, as it towers upward to the skies, how it might be regarded as a finger directing us to look toward heaven and seek the Lord of grace and mercy!'
Spurgeon's closing words were: 'May the Lord now add His blessing! May He grant, moreover, that a more solemn impression than I can hope to make may be made upon you, as once again you gaze upon this spot! There is, in St. Paul's Cathedral, a little chisel mark still visible, which you may never have noticed, but which some time may be shown to you. It is the memorial of the death of a man who, being employed at work on the dome, fell down, and was dashed to pieces. What a solemn spot is that; and what a solemn spot is this! My dear hearers, ere you go away, breathe a prayer for pardon; and, as often as you pass this place, think of your past lives, and of the world to come. It is said that we often walk over our own graves without knowing it, and that we often come to other men's graves and death-places without being aware of it; but there, in that tree, stands the monument of the awfully sudden death of a fellow-creature; and let it be so remembered. May God bless the widow; may He bless the orphans; and may He bless all of you! But, my dear friends, ere we go away this afternoon, will not each one of you pray for himself that his sins may be pardoned? Will you all separate, having come together in vain? I do beseech and pray you to lift up your hearts to God, and every one of you to cry, 'God be merciful to me a sinner!' Look this very instant to Christ Jesus, who died upon the cross. We cannot all hope ever to meet again until the last tremendous day; oh, may we, without one exception meet then at the right hand of God! Amen.'
One of the inmates of the study in the new Helensburgh House, on certain days of the week, was John Lewis Keys, who was for a quarter of a century Spurgeon's secretary and literary assistant, and concerning whom the Pastor wrote in the Preface to Volume I of The Treasury of David: 'The research expended on this volume would have occupied far too much of my time, had not my friend and amanuensis, Mr. John L. Keys, most diligently aided me in investigations at the British Museum, Dr. Williams' Library, and other treasuries of theological lore. With his help, I have ransacked books by the hundred; often, without finding a memorable line as a reward; but, at other times, with the most satisfactory result.' In succeeding volumes, Spurgeon repeated his testimony to the value of Mr. Keys' help in the great task happily completed in 1885; and he also mentioned the many courtesies shown to himself, through his secretary, while searching for extracts in Church of England and other libraries.
All Spurgeon's publications, from 1867 to 1891, passed through the hands of J. L. Keys; and he not only read the proofs of the sermons, Sword and Trowel, Almanacks, and many books issued during that period, but he also contributed several interesting articles to the Magazine; and he was, for a great part of the time, engaged in evangelistic and pastoral labours at Wimbledon, Whitstable, and Streatham. After Spurgeon's death he struggled on, amid failing health and many difficulties, till, on January 7, 1899. he entered into rest. His suitability for and efficiency in the work he fulfilled are beyond all praise.
One who became a permanent member of the Spurgeon household at Nightingale Lane was George Lovejoy, or 'Old George' as he was familiarly called. Spurgeon's faithful servant for many years, he would certainly have been kindly mentioned if his master had been spared to complete the present record. The two men were first brought together after the death of Mr. Theme (father of Mrs. Spurgeon's companion). Mr. Thorne's butler said to the Pastor, 'Ah, sir! I closed my old master's eyes, and now Pil-garlic's occupation is gone.' 'Well, George, what do you say to coming to take care of me!' 'Do you really mean it, sir?' 'Yes, of course I do.' 'Oh! then I'11 dance for joy, for nothing would please me more, and I'll serve you faithfully as long as you will let me stay with you.
Spurgeon often said that George reminded him of Mr. Pickwick's Sam Weller, and he certainly had many quaint sayings which that worthy might have uttered. If anyone asked him his name, he answered, 'George Lovejoy. Don't you know what the apostle says, "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy"? 'You're a Rum 'un, George,' his dear master often said to him; and he would reply, 'Yes, sir; there were only two of us came over in three ships, and the other one was drowned.' 'Well, George, how are you this morning?' was often Spurgeon's enquiry; and the invariable answer was, 'First-rate, sir; as fresh as a salt fish.' George's hair was much darker than his beard and moustache, which his master playfully suggested was the result of having used his jaws more than his brains; and, on one occasion at least, Spurgeon said that his name could be properly spelt without using one of the right letters--thus, Jawj.
'No man is a hero to his valet,' was never true concerning Spurgeon. Everyone who came under his influence felt the power of his gracious character; and, while there was never in him any affectation of pride or superiority, all felt instinctively that they were in the presence of a truly noble and kingly man. There was no more sincere mourner, among the tens of thousands at Newington and Norwood in February, 1892, than the faithful 'Old George,' who had been superannuated through increasing infirmities which he was unwilling to confess; and, after continuing to the bereaved mistress such service as he was able occasionally to render, he also was 'called home' on January 6, 1898.