The man who finds the ministry an easy life will also find that it will bring a hard death. If we are not labourers, we are not true stewards; for we are to be examples of diligence to the King's household. I like Adam Clarke's precept: "Kill yourselves with work, and then pray yourselves alive again'.--C.H.S.
'If I have any message to give from my own bed of sickness it would be this--if you do not wish to be full of regrets when you are obliged to lie still, work while you can. If you desire to make a sick bed as soft as it can be, do not stuff it with the mournful reflection that you wasted time while you were in health and strength. People said to me years ago, 'You will break your constitution down with preaching ten times a week,' and the like. Well, if I have done so, I am glad of it. I would do the same again. If I had fifty constitutions I would rejoice to break them down in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ. You young men that are strong, overcome the wicked one and fight for the Lord while you can. You will never regret having done all that lies in you for our blessed Lord and Master. Crowd as much as you can into every day, and postpone no work till tomorrow. 'Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.'--C.H.S., 1876.
Typical Week's Work
MANY people have wondered how it was possible for Spurgeon to do all the work that he was able to perform, for so many years, with such happy results. He had efficient helpers in various departments of his service, and he was always ready to render to them their full meed of praise. Yet, with all the assistance upon which he could rely, there still remained for the chief worker a vast amount of toil which he could not delegate to anyone. He was a splendid organizer, and he could find employment suited to the capacity of many individuals with greatly varied qualifications; and while he could keep them all busily occupied, he was himself so quick in all his labour that he would probably do single-handed as much as all of them combined could accomplish.
The following description of a typical week's work will afford at least a glimpse of the way in which my husband spent a considerable portion of his time, and it will also indicate some of the methods adopted by him in discharging the heavy responsibilities which devolved upon him. In such an active and far-reaching life as his was, no one week in the year could be quite like the rest, nor indeed did the occupations of any two days exactly resemble one another; but the particulars here given will supply all that needs to be known about a fairly representative week's work.
The week must consist of seven days, for the Day of Rest was, in many respects, the beloved preacher's busiest time; and, although he often tried hard to get a Sabbath for himself on the Wednesday, the ever-increasing and not always reasonable requests for 'services,' all over the kingdom, frequently encroached upon the brief period of relaxation to which he was rightfully entitled, and which the claims of health imperatively demanded. He was, perhaps, all the more willing to take a long holiday in the winter because he had toiled so strenuously and almost continuously through all the other months of the year; though it must also be recorded that, during his seasons of rest, he probably did as much as most men do when in full work. The sermon had to be issued every week, and the magazine every month, material for the Almanacks had to be arranged, there were always some new books in course of preparation, many letters followed the absent minister wherever he might go, and the care of his own church and many others, and the many forms of holy service in which he was interested, left all too little leisure for the weary brain and the oft-suffering body. But if his holiday was a time of toil, what must have been the pressure when, for weeks and months at a stretch, it was almost literally 'all work and no play'?
In describing a typical week's work, a beginning can most appropriately be made with an account of the preparation for the hallowed engagements of the Sabbath. Up to six o'clock, every Saturday evening, visitors were welcomed at Westwood, the dear master doing the honours of the garden in such a way that many, with whom he thus walked and talked, treasure the memory of their visit as a very precious thing. At the tea-table, the conversation was bright, witty, and always interesting. After the meal was over, an adjournment was made to the study for family worship, and it was at these seasons that my beloved's prayers were remarkable for their tender childlikeness, their spiritual pathos, and their intense devotion. He seemed to come as near to God as a little child to a loving father, and we were often moved to tears as he talked thus face to face with his Lord. At six o'clock, every visitor left, for Mr. Spurgeon would often playfully say, 'Now, dear friends, I must bid you "Good-bye," and turn you out of this study; you know what a number of chickens I have to scratch for, and I want to give them a good meal to-morrow. So, with a hearty 'God bless you!' he shook hands with them, and shut himself in to companionship with his God. The inmates of the house went quietly about their several duties, and a holy silence seemed to brood over the place. What familiar intercourse with the Saviour he so greatly loved, was then vouchsafed to him, we can never know, for, even while I write, I hear a whisper, 'The place whereon thou standest is holy ground.' No human ear ever heard the mighty pleadings with God, for himself, and his people, which rose from his study on those solemn evenings; no mortal eyes ever beheld him as he wrestled with the Angel of the covenant until he prevailed, and came back from his brook Jabbok with the message he was to deliver in his Master's Name. His grandest and most fruitful sermons were those which cost him most soul-travail and spiritual anguish; not in their preparation or arrangement, but in his own overwhelming sense of accountability to God for the souls to whom he had to preach the gospel of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. Though he had the gift of utterance above many, preaching was to him no light or trifling task; his whole heart was absorbed in it; all his spiritual force was engaged in it; all the intellectual power, with which God had so richly endowed him, was pressed into this glorious service, and then laid humbly and thankfully at the feet of his Lord and Saviour, to be used and blessed by Him according to His gracious will and purpose.
Sometimes, but not often, he would leave the study for a few moments, to seek me, and say, with a troubled tone in his voice, 'Wifey, what shall I do? God has not given me my text yet.' I would comfort him as well as I could; and, after a little talk, he would return to his work, and wait and watch for the Word to be given. It was, to me, a cause for peculiar thankfulness when I was able to suggest to him a passage from which he could preach; and, afterwards, in referring to the sermon, he seemed so pleased to say, 'You gave me that text.'
Many years ago, on a Friday evening in the week of the Annual College Conference, a number of the ministers met at Westwood, as was usual with them, to talk over the doings of the past days, and to enjoy a chat with the President in his own home. During the evening, it was suggested that each one should explain his method of procedure in the most important matter of sermon-making; and the idea found great favour with the little company. Many of the brethren responded, and told, more or less interestingly, their manner of preparation; but it was evident that all awaited with impatience the moment when 'the Governor' should speak, and reveal to them the secrets of his Saturday nights' work. Very eager were the faces, turned to him as he sat, blissfully happy in his easy chair, the strain of the week over, and in full, enjoyment of the free and holy fellowship which obtained on such occasions. I cannot recall his very words, but the purport of them was something like this: 'Brethren, it is not easy for me to tell you precisely how I make my sermons. All through the week I am on the look-out for material that I can use on the Sabbath; but the actual work of arranging it is necessarily left until Saturday evening, for every other moment is fully occupied in the Lord's service. I have often said that my greatest difficulty is to fix my mind upon the particular texts which are to be the subjects of discourse on the following day; or, to speak more correctly, to know what topics the Holy Spirit would have me bring before the congregation. As soon as any passage of Scripture really grips my heart and soul, I concentrate my whole attention upon it, look at the precise meaning of the original closely examine the context so as to see the special aspect of the text in its surroundings, and roughly jot down all the thoughts that occur to me concerning the subject, leaving to a later period the orderly marshalling of them for presentation to my hearers.
When I have reached this point, I am often stopped by an obstacle which is only a trouble to those of us whose sermons are regularly printed I turn to my own Bible, which contains a complete record of all my published discourses; and, looking at those I have preached upon the text, I find perhaps that the general run of thought is so similar to that which I have marked out, that I have to abandon the subject, and seek another.
facscimile of inscription in Charles Spurgeon's study Bible
Happily, a text of Scripture is like a diamond with many facets, which sparkles and flashes whichever way it is held, so that, although I may have, already printed, several sermons upon a particular passage, there is still a, fresh setting possible for the priceless gem, and I can go forward with my work. I like next to see what others have to say about my text; and, as a rule, my experience is that, if its teaching is perfectly plain, the commentators, to a man, explain it at great length whereas, with equal unanimity, they studiously avoid or evade the verses which Peter might have described as 'things hard to be understood.' I am very much obliged to them for leaving me so many nuts to crack; but I should have been just as grateful if they had made more use of their own theological teeth or nut-crackers. However, among the many who have written upon the Word, I generally find some who can at least help to throw a side-light upon it; and when I have arrived at that part of my preparation, I am glad to call my dear wife to my assistance. She reads to me until I get a clear idea of the whole subject; and, gradually, I am guided to the best form of outline, which I copy out, on a half-sheet of notepaper, for use in the pulpit. This relates only to the morning sermon; for the evening, I am usually content if I can decide upon the text, and have a general notion of the lessons to be drawn from it, leaving to the Lord's-day afternoon the final arrangement of divisions, sub-divisions, and illustrations.'
This is, as nearly as I can recollect, the preacher's own explanation of his mode of preparing his discourses. 'Will you come and help me to-night, wifey?' he would say on those memorable Saturday evenings, as if I were doing him a favour, though the service was one which an angel might have coveted. I always found, when I went into the study, an easy chair drawn up to the table, by his side, and a big heap of books piled one upon the other, and opened at the place where he desired me to read. With those old volumes around him, he was like a honey-bee amid the flowers; he seemed to know how to extract and carry off the sweet spoils from the most unpromising-looking tome among them. His acquaintance with them was so familiar and complete, that he could at once place his hand on any author who had written upon the portion of Scripture which was engaging his attention; and I was, in this pleasant fashion, introduced to many of the Puritan and other divines whom, otherwise, I might not have known.
Never was occupation more delightful, instructive, and spiritually helpful; my heart has burned within me, as the meaning of some passage of God's Word has been opened up, and the hidden stores of wisdom and knowledge have been revealed; or when the marrow and fatness of a precious promise or doctrine have been spread like a dainty banquet before my longing eyes. Shall I ever forget those solemn evenings when the sufferings of the Lord Jesus were the theme of tearful meditation; when, with 'love and grief our hearts dividing,' we followed Him through out the night on which He was betrayed, weeping, like the daughters of Jerusalem, and saying, 'There was never: sorrow like unto His sorrow'; or the more rapturous time when the topic for the morrow was to be, the exceeding riches of His grace,' and we were fairly bewildered by inexhaustible treasures of love and mercy to be found in that 'land of Havilah, where there is gold? Gracious hours are those thus spent, and unspeakably precious to my soul; for, while the servant of the Lord is reaping the corn of the Kingdom for the longing multitude who expect to be fed by his hand, I can glean between the sheaves, and gather the 'handfuls of purpose' which are let fall so lovingly.
There come delightful pauses in my reading, when the book is laid down, and I listen to the dear voice of my beloved as he explains what I cannot understand, or unfolds meanings which I fail to see, often condensing into a few clear, choice sentences whole pages of those discursive old divines in whom he delights, and I fail to see from the gathered thoughts all the richest nectar of their hidden sweetness. Thus, a poor prisoner has the first sip of the wines on the lees, well-refined'--the first morsel from the leaves with which thousands are to be fed and refreshed on the morrow. How shall I sufficiently thank God for this drink of the brook by the way, this 'holy place' within my home where the Lord deigns to meet with me, and draw out my heart in adoration and worship?
On Lord's-day morning Spurgeon always set a good example to his people by being early at the sanctuary. He usually reached the Tabernacle at least half an hour before the time for commencing the service. During that interval, he attended to any matters that were of special urgency, selected the hymns that were to be sung, and arranged with the precentor the tunes best adapted to them; the remaining minutes were spent in prayer with all the deacons and elders who were not already on duty elsewhere. The preacher him self; greatly valued this season of devotion, and his sermons contain many references to the petitions presented by the brethren in his vestry before joining in the public worship of the great congregation. During the thirty years that he preached in the beautiful building he had so largely helped to erect, there was practically no difference in the size of his audience, for the Tabernacle was always crowded, though sometimes the number of friends unable to gain admission, when the outer gates were closed, was larger than on other occasions. Punctually at eleven o'clock, Mr. Spurgeon was seen descending the steps leading to the platform, followed by the long train of office-bearers, and, after a brief pause for silent supplication, the service began.
Spurgeon himself often said that the pulpit was his throne, and that, when preaching, he envied no monarch in all the world, nor felt the slightest desire to exchange places with any man upon the face of the earth. Yet was there, even to him, an inner shrine--the very holy of holies--which was more sacred still. Many times he has testified that, when leading the great congregation in prayer, he has been so rapt in adoration, and so completely absorbed in the supplication or thanksgiving he has been presenting, that he has quite forgotten all his surroundings, and has felt even a measure of regret, upon closing his petition, and opening his eyes, to find that he was still in the flesh, in the company of men of like passions with himself, instead of being in the immediate presence of the Most High, sharing in the higher worship of the holy angels and the spirits of just men made perfect. D. L. Moody must have been very deeply in sympathy with Spurgeon upon this matter, for he declared that, greatly as he had been blessed every time he heard the pastor preach, he had been even more impressed as he had heard him pray. Other notable servants of Christ have borne a similar testimony.
The service being ended, if it was the second Sabbath in the month the Pastor joined the large company of communicants who usually filled the spacious lecture-hall; and there, around the table of their Lord, another half-hour of hallowed Christian fellowship was enjoyed completing and consummating the blessing received in the public assembly. To many of the most earnest workers of the Tabernacle Church, the morning was the only time when they could meet with their brethren and sisters in Christ in their own house of prayer; for the afternoon and evening were devoted to Sunday-school and mission work, open-air preaching, or the many forms of Christian service in which they were engaged. The Pastor constantly referred to this happy arrangement; and urged others of the members to adopt the same method of both getting good and doing good, as it would help to develop their own gifts and graces, and it would also make the more room for the unconverted who desired to come to hear the Word at night.
Each Sabbath, except the second, the ordinance of the Lord's supper was observed at the close of the evening service, the first Lord's-day evening in each month being the time for the great communion in the Tabernacle, when the area and the larger part of the first gallery were reserved for communicants, and many hundreds of spectators were able to remain in other parts of the building. It was a most impressive scene--sublime in its simplicity--and those who have ever taken part in it can never forget it. Spurgeon had long held and taught that the apostolic precedents all appeared to indicate that the celebration of the sacred supper should take place each Lord's day, and, therefore, whether at home or abroad, he always attended the communion every Sabbath if it was possible and he often bore his willing witness that the frequent participation in the holy feast increased rather than diminished its value as a constant reminder of Him who said to His disciples, 'This do in remembrance of me.'
On every Sabbath morning in the month, except the second, there was usually a long procession of friends from the country, or from foreign lands, waiting for just a shake of the hand and a greeting from the Pastor; and it was interesting to notice how quickly he recognized those whom he had seen before, even if years had elapsed since they last met. All through the summer season, some hundreds of visitors from the United States helped, at each service, to swell the contingents from other parts; and most of them afterwards sought to secure a personal interview with him. Among them were usually some of the most noted of the American ministers of various denominations, to whom a hearty invitation was given to take part in the evening service, or the prayer-meeting the next night. Spurgeon loved to quote what one of these brethren said to him: 'Well, Brother Spurgeon, I was here ten years ago, and heard you preach, and I find that you have not altered your doctrine in the least. You stand to-day exactly where you stood then,' 'Yes,' replied the Pastor, 'and if you come again in another ten years, you will, by the grace of God, find me still preaching the very same gospel, unless the Lord has, in the meantime, called me home.' Among the special friends from across the Atlantic were such divines as Dr. John Hall, Dr. W. M. Taylor, Dr. Cuyler, Dr. Armitage, Dr. MacArthur, Dr. Lorimer, and Dr. H. L. Wayland; and they were sure to be invited to call during the week at the Pastor's home, and some of them had the still greater delight of spending a quiet day with him in the country, when that rare privilege was possible. Others, at mutually-convenient times, visited the Orphanage, and the rest of the Institutions, under his guidance, and thus they heard from his own lips the charming story of how the Lord had led him and blessed him in connection with all the different branches of his service.
The informal reception being over at last, the Pastor was able to leave, unless, as not seldom happened, some poor trembling soul was waiting in the hope of having a word or two of cheer and direction from him, or one of the earnest workers, always on the watch for anxious enquirers, came forward, with radiant face, bringing one or another who had sought and found the Saviour either during or since the service, While Mr. Spurgeon was residing at Helensburgh House, he was able to return home to dinner on the Lord's-day; but, after removing to Westwood, he soon found that the distance was too great, so he remained for the afternoon within easy reach of the Tabernacle, with friends who were only too glad to minister in any way to his comfort and refreshing. Sometimes there was a sick member whom the Pastor felt that he must visit after dinner; otherwise, he had an hour or so of rest and Christian conversation before retiring, at about four o'clock, for the preparation of his evening discourse. Some, who were very little children then, can probably remember the injunction given to them on such occasions, 'You must be very quiet, for Mr. Spurgeon is getting his sermon.' Ere he was summoned to tea, the brief notes which he was going to use in the pulpit were duly arranged. The evening sermon was usually shorter than the one delivered in the morning, and somewhat more evangelistic, in order to be specially adapted to the larger number of casual, worshippers who might then be present. Yet, often, that order was changed; and the morning discourse more nearly resembled an earnest evangelist's address, while the sermon in the evening was a closely-reasoned exposition of the doctrines of grace, which again and again led to the conversion of more sinners than did some of the appeals directly addressed to them.
For some years, once a quarter, the Tabernacle was thrown open, on the Lord's-day evening, to anybody who liked to come, the members of the church and congregation being asked to stay away for that night. The experiment was crowned with abundant success from the first. The preacher said, afterwards, that his regular hearers had so loyally complied with his request that they should worship elsewhere for that one occasion, that, in addition to the seat stewards and other workers who were present, he could not recognize half-a-dozen persons in the whole assembly of five or six thousand people. The discourses delivered to such a promiscuous audience were, naturally, evangelistic, and many were brought to the Lord through these special services. Before the evening worship, on ordinary Sabbaths, the Pastor often saw an enquirer, or a candidate for church fellowship, who found it difficult to get to the Tabernacle during the week; and, after preaching, except on communion nights, however weary he might be, he was never too tired to point a poor sinner to the Saviour, and to act the part of the true shepherd of souls to those who were seeking entrance into the fold. Even when he reached his home his day's labour was not always finished; for, if he was going to preach in a distant area on the morrow, he was obliged to start at once revising the report of the discourse which he had delivered in the morning. That, however, was quite an exceptional arrangement; and, as a general rule, his first work, every Monday, was the revision of the Lord's-day morning's sermon.
This was always a labour of love, yet it was a labour; and it is not surprising that, during a very severe illness, when his friends induced him to see an eminent physician, the doctor urged and almost ordered him to abandon this heavy task so soon after the great strain of the Sabbath services. But the Pastor knew that, to delay the publication even for a week, would materially affect the circulation. He also said that, if he was to continue his gifts to the Lord's cause on the scale to which he had been accustomed, he must keep all his literary work up to the highest mark, and he could not bear the thought of lessening the help that he saw to be required in so many different directions. He used also playfully to say that the earth itself would cease to revolve if the sermon was not published every Thursday morning; and, in advising the students occasionally to follow his early example, and to write out their discourses in full--but not to read or recite them--he told them that the revision of his sermons for the press gave him all the benefits that other preachers might derive from writing theirs.
As soon as the messenger brought the reporter's manuscript, Mr. Spurgeon glanced at the number of sheets to see whether the discourse was longer or shorter than usual, so that he might judge whether he had to lengthen or to reduce it in order that it might, when printed, fill the requisite space, twelve octave pages; and at once began revising it. The facsimile, on the following page, will show how carefully and thoroughly this part of his work was done.
After Mr. Spurgeon had made the alterations which he deemed advisable, his literary secretary Mr. Keys, who sat on his left-hand in the study, was entrusted with the duty of verifying quotations, and seeing that the punctuation and other minor matters were all in order. Then, when about a third of the manuscript was ready, the messenger started off with it to the printers, returning for a second supply, and sometimes even for a third if the word of revision was at all delayed.
There was a little breathing-space for the busy toiler after the boy was sent away with the first portion of the sermon manuscript, but, usually, other work at once claimed the Pastor's attention. During the time that Mr. Spurgeon was revising the sermon, his private secretary, J. W. Harrald, would be busy opening the morning's letters, and arranging those that required immediate answers. If there were any that he knew would be specially cheering, they were always placed where they would at once catch the eye of 'the Governor.' This was always the case with large and unexpected donations for the Lord's work under his care, such as a cheque for £500, which came as a substantial token of a father's gratitude for Mr. Spurgeon's efforts to be the means of blessing to the gentleman's son at Mentone. Sometimes, there were anonymous letters--complaining, or abusive, or even blasphemous--and it was with peculiar satisfaction that they were prevented from ever wounding the servant of the Lord for whom they were intended by those who wrote them. The Pastor occasionally dictated replies to a few of the letters before continuing his sermon-revising; but, more often, with his own hand, he wrote the answers in full, for he never spared himself if he could give greater pleasure to others. In later years the number of donors to the various Institutions so increased that he was obliged to have a set of receipts lithographed in facsimile, but, even when using these, he added a few words which greatly enhanced their value in the opinion of those who received them. He found it necessary also to have a considerable variety of lithographed letters prepared, ready to send to applicants for admission to the College and Orphanage, or persons seeking situations, asking him to read manuscripts, or to write the Prefaces for new books, or to do any of the thousand and one things by which so many people sought to steal away his precious moments, and at the same time to augment the revenue of the Post Office.
It was usually far into Monday afternoon before the last sheet of the sermon was reached, and the messenger was able to start with it to the printing-office. Then there were more letters to be answered, possibly books to be reviewed, magazine proofs to be read, or other literary work to be advanced to the next stage; and it was with the utmost difficulty that even a few minutes could be secured for a quiet walk in the lovely garden that, all day long, seemed to be inviting the ceaseless worker to come and admire its many charms. He could also hear the voice of duty calling him in another direction, and soon it was time to get ready to start for the Tabernacle.
Frequently he reached the Tabernacle by half-past five, either to meet the elders, and consider with them the very important matters relating to the church's spiritual state which specially came under their notice, or to preside at the first part of a church-meeting, which often lasted throughout the whole evening, and was mainly occupied with the delightful business of receiving new members. As seven o'clock approached, he left the meeting in the charge of his brother, or one of the deacons or elders, that he might be at liberty to begin the prayer-meeting at the appointed hour. Sometimes, if he had engagements which would prevent him from being at the Tabernacle on Tuesday or Wednesday, he would get his sermon-revision completed by mid-day and directly after dinner go up to see enquirers and candidates--a congenial but exhausting form of service which often continued right up to the hour of prayer.
On certain special Mondays in the year, the annual meetings of some of the smaller Societies were held, and on those occasions Mr. Spurgeon was at the lecture-hall in time to give out the 'grace before tea.' His presence was greatly prized by the earnest and energetic sisters who carried on the various works of charity and beneficence; and they were much encouraged by his hearty words of cheer, and by the financial help which always accompanied them. It was really surprising to notice, year after year, how much he varied his addresses at these gatherings, for the audience mainly consisted of the same persons each time.
A little before seven o'clock, the happy season of talk was brought to a close, a brief prayer for a blessing on the work and workers followed, and then the whole company ascended to the Tabernacle for the prayer-meeting. All who are familiar with Spurgeon's writings, know that he regarded the prayer-meeting as the thermometer of the church; and, judging by that test, the spiritual temperature of the large community under his charge stood very high. Not that he could ever induce all the members to be regularly present on the Monday night; but, for many years the numbers attending filled a large portion of the area and first gallery, and the world-wide testimony was that the meeting was altogether unique, the only one that at all approached it being Archibald G. Brown's Saturday night prayer-meeting at the East London Tabernacle. Nor was it remarkable simply for its size, but the whole spirit of the gathering made it a source of peculiar helpfulness to all who were in constant attendance, while occasional visitors carried away with them even to distant lands influences and impulses which they never wished to lose or to forget. In Spurgeon's eyes the prayer-meeting was the most important meeting of the week. He often said that it was not surprising if churches did not prosper, when they regarded it as of so little value that one evening in the week was made to suffice for a feeble combination of service and prayer-meeting.
The gatherings at the Tabernacle on Monday nights were constantly varied. Usually, some of our own men' labouring in the country or abroad were present, and took part, while missionaries going out to China, or North Africa, or other parts of the foreign field, or returning home on furlough, helped to add to the spiritual profit of the proceedings. The Pastor always gave one or more brief addresses, and never allowed the interest to flag. All too soon, half-past eight arrived, and the meeting had to be concluded, for many of the workers had other prayer-meetings or services following closely upon that one.
Spurgeon's day's work was not yet complete, for various visitors were waiting for an interview; and, with them, some candidates or enquirers needed and secured a few precious minutes--the conversation and prayer at such times being something to be remembered with gratitude as long as they lived. On some Monday nights, an extra service was squeezed in; and, leaving the Tabernacle a little before eight o'clock, the Pastor preached at Christ Church, Upton Chapel, Walworth Road Chapel, or some other neighbouring place of worship; or spoke at some special local gathering, such as a meeting at the Newington Vestry Hall on behalf of the Hospital Sunday Fund. When, at last, he was really en route for home, his first question was--'Has the sermon come? and the second--'What is the length of it?' If the reply was, Just right,' it was joyfully received, for the labour of adding to or cutting out any part made the task of revising the proof still more arduous; and, if a distant preaching engagement had to be fulfilled the next day, it was essential for the revision to be completed that night, or very early in the morning. On one occasion, when the London Baptist Association Committee met at Westwood for breakfast and business, it transpired that their host had taken time by the forelock, and begun his day's work at four o'clock.
Ordinarily, the correction of the proof of the sermon was completed by about eleven o'clock on Tuesday morning, leaving a couple of hours for replying to letters, and attending to the most pressing literary work. When there were only four Thursdays in the month, an extra sermon was required to make the usual number for the monthly part, and that entailed heavy labour. The discourses available for this purpose were the shorter ones delivered on the Sabbath and Thursday evenings; and, as a rule, two or three pages had to be added to them. The facsimile on the next page is a good example of the method adopted in lengthening the sermon which had been set up from the reporter's transcript, unrevised, and it is specially suitable to the present volume as it contains a striking passage in the preacher's autobiography.
Tuesday afternoon, with rare exceptions, was devoted to the truly pastoral and important work of seeing candidates and enquirers at the Tabernacle; and in no part of his service was Spurgeon more happy and more completely at home. On reaching his vestry at three o'clock, he always found some of his elders already at their post; and usually they had, by that time, conversed with the first arrivals, and given them the cards which were to introduce them to the Pastor. If he was satisfied with the person's own testimony, he put the name of the friend upon the list of those to be proposed for church-fellowship, and indicated the elder or deacon to be appointed as visitor, to make the necessary enquiries before the applicant could be admitted to baptism and membership. In the course of three or four hours, twenty, thirty, or even forty individuals were thus seen; and anyone who has had much experience in such service knows how exhausting it is. Sometimes, the number was smaller, or it was made up with those who came about other matters. These were seen by Mr. Harrald, or by the elders, and interviews with the Pastor were arranged if they were deemed advisable. At five o'clock, a brief interval was secured for tea; and, during that half-hour, the Pastor compared notes with his helpers concerning those with whom he had conversed, and related specially interesting incidents which some of the candidates had described to him. Then he returned to the happy task, and kept on as long as any were waiting; and, often, as the crowning of his day's labour, he went down to the lecture-hall, to preside at the annual meeting of one or other of the Tabernacle Societies, such as the Sunday-school, the Almshouses Day-schools, the Evangelists' Association, the Country Mission, the Loan Tract Society, or the Spurgeon's Sermons' Tract Society. He frequently said that the number of Institutions, Societies, Missions, and Sunday-schools connected with the Tabernacle was so large that it would have been possible to arrange for an anniversary of one of them every week in the year! The secretaries or leaders of many of these works always secured his presence and help at their meetings, if possible; and he used to describe the lecture-hall as his happy hunting-ground where he found recruits for the College. Some who later became successful ministers and missionaries spoke tremblingly before him, for the first time, at these week-night gatherings. They might scarcely recognize themselves by the description the President gave of some of them then, as he pictured the 'fledglings, with their callow wings, trying to soar away to the empyrean, but falling down flop into the arena!'
Sometimes, instead of meeting with a few hundreds of friends in the lecture-hall, the Pastor presided over many thousands in the Tabernacle, One such gathering took place on the night when the Jubilee Singers sang, and, by that one effort, the sum of £220 was added to the funds of the Fisk University; another notable meeting was held when our own black brethren, Johnson and Richardson, and their wives, had their farewell before proceeding to Africa, 'the land of their fathers'--and an equally memorable occasion was the evening when Mr. John B. Gough gave one of his marvellous oratorical displays on behalf of the Pastors' College, and, in recognition of his kindness, the Pastor presented to him a complete set of his sermons. At other times Spurgeon was not the chairman of the meeting, but he helped to contribute, to the success of the proceedings by delivering an earnest address in aid of the Primitive Methodist Missionary Society, the Liberation Society, or some other great public, movement for which the Tabernacle had been lent, and for which his personal advocacy was also desired.
Wednesday was the only possible time available as a mid-week 'Sabbath'; and whenever it could be secured for rest, its benefits were immediately manifest. Each year, on his return from Mentone, Spurgeon told his secretary to keep his diary clear of all engagements on that day; but, alas! soon one, and then another, and yet others, had to be given up in response to the importunate appeals to which the self-sacrificing preacher had not the heart to say, 'No, although he knew that the inevitable result would be a breakdown in health, and the cancelling for a time of all arrangements for extra services. Then, when he appeared to have recovered, the same process would be repeated, with an exactly similar sequel; but the requests for sermons, speeches, and lectures poured in upon him even during his worst illnesses, and it always pained him when he felt that he must refuse them.
But there were some outstanding days when, with one or more congenial companions, he would go off for a long drive into the country. Yet, even then, before he started in the morning, or after he returned at night, he often accomplished what many other people would have considered enough for a hard day's work. When there were only two or three hours available for a drive, a favourite route was over the Shirley Hills, and through Addington Park. The Archbishop of Canterbury kindly sent, each year, a card giving the right of free passage through his spacious grounds, and he, on several occasions, expressed his wish to have the pleasure of entertaining Spurgeon at Addington. On the acceptance of one invitation to lunch, Dr. Benson greeted his guest very heartily, and, pointing to his butler and footman, said, 'There are two members of your congregation, Mr. Spurgeon, When I am in residence at Lambeth, they always go to the Tabernacle. I don't blame them, for I would do the same myself if I had the chance. When your coachman gets round to the stables, he will recognize another Tabernacle attendant; and I can truly say that they are all a credit to the instruction they receive from you.' This testimony was very pleasing to the Pastor, and he was further cheered by hearing of others on the estate who were readers of his sermons. The two preachers spent a very enjoyable time together; and, later on, during Spurgeon's long illness, one of the letters which gave him great comfort was written by the Primate. In his friendly intercourse with the Tabernacle Pastor, Dr. Benson followed in the footsteps of one of his own predecessors, for, during the time that the bill for the abolition of church rates was before Parliament, Archbishop Tait frequently consulted Spurgeon upon several of the details of the measure.
Sometimes, instead of going through Addington Park, Spurgeon paid a visit to the Bishop of Rochester at Selsdon Park. A very intimate friendship existed between Bishop Thorold and the Pastor, and they enjoyed many happy hours together in the Selsdon home and under the elms of the garden. Usually, each year, as the time approached for the preparation of the addresses to be delivered in connection with his episcopal visitation, the Bishop invited Spurgeon to spend a long quiet day with him in prayer and conversation upon such matters as would help to put him in a right state of heart for the responsible task before him. On several occasions he also visited his friend at Westwood, and the season of spiritual fellowship in the study must have been mutually profitable, for, when it was over, and the visitor was gone, Spurgeon always remarked, 'Oh, we have had such a delightful time of talk and prayer together!
Thursday morning was principally devoted to letter-writing and literary work in general. Spurgeon's position naturally brought him into correspondence with vast numbers of people all over the world. Yet he often felt that he could have employed his time to far better purpose. Again and again, he sorrowfully said, 'I am only a poor clerk, driving the pen hour after hour; here is another whole morning gone, and nothing done but letters, letters, letters! When reminded of the joy and comfort he was ministering to many troubled hearts by that very drudgery, he agreed that it was work for the Lord as truly as the preaching in which he so much more delighted. Still, we often felt that quite an unnecessary addition to his already too-heavy load was made by the thoughtless and often frivolous communications to which he was expected personally to reply.
If Spurgeon's correspondence was not quite as burdensome as usual, or if he had literary work that had to be done--when the weather permitted, he liked to retire to his favourite retreat, a summer-house in the garden, where the hours fled all too swiftly as he wrote his comments on the Psalms, or some of the other books that now remain as permanent memorials of his studious and industrious life.
After dinner, definite preparation for the Thursday evening service began, though the subject had probably been, as he often said, 'simmering' in his mind all the morning. The Saturday evening procedure was to a great extent repeated, but one of his secretaries had the privilege of looking up anything that might help him to get the true meaning of his text. His private study, commonly called 'the den,' became, on such occasions, his place for secret retirement and prayer; and very joyously he generally came forth, carrying in his hand his brief pulpit-notes; though, at other times, the message he was to deliver only came to him just in time.
For many years, Spurgeon had on Thursday evening in the Tabernacle lecture-hall, from six o'clock till nearly seven, what he termed 'The Pastor's prayer-meeting.' This was an extra gathering, specially convened for the purpose of pleading for a blessing upon the Word he was about to preach; and most refreshing and helpful it always proved both to himself and the people. From the New Park Street days, he had made little or no difference between the services on the Lord's-day and on week-nights; and, throughout the whole course of his ministry, the Thursday evening worship afforded an opportunity for the attendance of many Christian workers of all denominations who were not able to be present on the Sabbath; and, among them, were numerous Church of England clergymen and Non-conformist ministers. At the close, some of these hearers usually desired a few minutes' conversation with the preacher, so that it was late before he could get away; and then, though not weary of his work, he was certainly weary in it.
On Friday morning, the usual routine of answering correspondence had, to some extent, to give way to the more urgent work of preparation for his talk to the students of the College. He regarded this part of his service as so important that he devoted all his powers of heart and mind to it, and it was indeed a rich store of mental and spiritual instruction that he carried up, each week, to his 'school of the prophets.' Hundreds of 'our own men' have testified that, greatly as they profited by the rest of their College curriculum, Spurgeon's Friday afternoon class was far beyond everything else in its abiding influence upon their life and ministry. With such a responsive and appreciative audience, he was at his very best; and both students and ministers often declared that, not even in his most brilliant pulpit utterances, did he excel, or even equal, what it was their delight to hear from his lips in those never-to-be-forgotten days. From three till about five o'clock, there was a continuous stream of wit and wisdom, counsel and warning, exhortation and doctrine, all converging to the one end of helping the men before him to become good ministers of Jesus Christ.1 Then, when the class was dismissed, another hour, or more, was ungrudgingly devoted to interviews with any of the brethren who desired personally to consult the President; and that this privilege was highly prized was very evident from the way in which it was exercised.
Now and then, the Friday afternoon was made even more memorable by a special sermon to the students, at the close of which the Lord's supper was observed, the whole service being peculiarly helpful to the spiritual life of the brethren. On other occasions, students from Harley House, or Regent's Park, or Cheshunt College paid a fraternal visit to Newington; and, in due course, the Pastors' College men returned the visit. At such times, Presidents, tutors, and students vied with one another in making their guests feel at home, and in conveying to them all possible pleasure and profit.
Perhaps, between six and seven o'clock, Mr. Spurgeon was free to start for home; but, more likely, there was another anniversary meeting--possibly, of the Evening Classes connected with the College, at which he had promised to preside; or there was some mission-hall, at which he had engaged to preach or speak; or there was a sick or dying member of the church to whom he had sent word that he would call on his way back from the College. It was utterly impossible for him to make any systematic pastoral visitation of his great flock--that work was undertaken by the elders--but he found many opportunities of visiting individual members; and his sermons contain frequent references to the triumphant deathbed scenes that he had witnessed. He could not often conduct funeral services, yet there were some cases in which he felt bound to make an exception to his usual rule, as he did also in the matter of weddings. The Sword and the Trowel has recorded typical instances of how thoroughly, on such occasions, he sorrowed with those who wept, and rejoiced with those who were full of happiness. Add to all this, the constant interruptions from callers, and the many minor worries to which every public man is subject, and readers may well wonder when Spurgeon could find time for reading, and study, and all the work he constantly accomplished! If they had known how much he was continually doing, they might have marvelled even more than they did. Surely, there never was a busier life than his; not an atom more of sacred service could have been crowded into it.
Saturday morning was the time for the Pastor and his private secretary to clear off, as far as possible, any arrears of work that had accumulated during the week. The huge pile of letters was again attacked; various financial matters were settled, and cheques despatched to chapel-building ministers or those engaged in pioneer and mission work, or needing some special assistance in their labour for the Lord. The secretary also then reported the result of interviews with students, and various officials and workers in connection with the different Institutions, and received instructions as to the replies to be given to their requests, or with regard to various matters tending to the general efficiency of the whole work. It was usual, often, on that morning, for the President to see some of the applicants for admission to the College, or to examine the papers of others, and to dictate the letters conveying his decision, or making further enquiries if there was a doubt either with regard to acceptance or rejection. Brethren just leaving for the foreign mission field, or some other distant sphere of service, were glad of the opportunity of a personal farewell, and of the tender, touching prayer, and tokens of practical sympathy, with which they were speeded on their way. Then there were magazine articles to be written or revised, Almanacks to be prepared, books to be read and reviewed, or sent to some of the brethren who helped in that department of The Sword and the Trowel; and, by the time the gong sounded for dinner, the Pastor was often heard to say, 'Well, we have got through a good morning's work, even if there is not much to show for it.'
The greater part of the afternoon was spent in the garden, if the weather was favourable. One of the few luxuries the master of Westwood enjoyed was to stroll down to the most secluded portion of the grounds of Westwood and to rest awhile in the summer-house, to which he gave the singularly appropriate title, 'Out of the world.' Here, with his wife, or some choice friend, the precious minutes quickly passed; and by-and-by, other visitors arrived for a cheery chat and a peep at the numerous interesting things that were to be seen. It is needless to give the names of the many who shared in the delights of those happy afternoons; most of Mr. Spurgeon's special ministerial and other friends and acquaintances were included amongst them. One visitor who was always welcome was the Earl of Shaftesbury. His life also was a very busy one, so that his visits were infrequent; but, every now and then, when he was more than usually depressed and troubled by the aspect of affairs, religiously and socially, he found it a relief to have a talk with his Baptist friend, who largely shared his views concerning the state of the Church in general, but who also saw some signs of better and brighter days which the venerable nobleman had not perceived.
1 See Lectures to My Students