'I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction'--This has long been the motto fixed before our eye upon the wall of our bed chamber, and in many ways it has also been written on our heart. It is no mean thing to be chosen of God. God's choice makes chosen men choice men. . . . We are chosen, not in the palace, but in the furnace. In the furnace, beauty is marred; fashion is destroyed, strength is melted, glory is consumed; here eternal love reveals its secrets, and declares its choice. So has it been in our case . . . Therefore, if to-day the furnace be heated seven times hotter, we will not dread it, for the glorious Son of God will walk with us amid the glowing coals.--C.H.S., in 'The Cheque Book of the Bank of Faith'.
The Furnace of Affliction
In the months following the Jubilee celebration Spurgeon's work continued with the vigour which always marked his periods of comparative health. But the duration of these periods was now growing shorter and by October, 1884, the customary effects of the burden of his labours had re-appeared. The Sword and the Trowel for that month contained the editorial note:
'Solicited on all sides to preach abroad, and abundantly willing to do so, we made another trial of labouring in the provinces, with the same result as on former occasions, an utter breakdown, a sharp agony, and a long weakness. . . . We must again cancel all promises; and for a while do home work and nothing more. Crowded chapels, windows necessarily opened, and consequent cold draughts, foul air from below, and cold air from above, make up an arrangement which must arouse rheumatism when it slumbers in the constitution.'
Nevertheless, despite some days when suffering was severe, Spurgeon remained at his post. On December 9th, at the annual College meeting, he mentioned his extreme weakness. Two days later his brother had to take the Thursday evening service at the Tabernacle, though Spurgeon was hoping, as he wrote to his brother, to be able to preach at the week-end: 'Tell the good people to look for me. I think I can get away on January 5th. I must try to hold out till then on Sundays.' His Winter ministry at the Tabernacle did continue until Sunday, January 4th, 1885 but the following day he was too ill to leave for Mentone as intended. It was not until January 27th that he was fit enough to travel. During the intervening weeks, he received the following letter from a special church meeting:
We have heard, with profound grief, that you have been unable to go out on your proposed visit to Mentone in consequence of severe and painful illness during the past week. Our poignant sympathy is rather increased than lessened by the reflection that this season of affliction has not been borrowed from your time of service for the church, but from the period of recreation to which you have a perfect right as well as a hearty welcome.
While devoutly recognizing the hand of the Lord in this and in all other dispensations of His providence, we feel that it cannot be irreverent to seek some clear interpretation of the will of our Heavenly Father. Can we be mistaken in supposing that the lesson to us and to yourself is transparent? Your arduous labours, and your incessant anxieties, so far exceed the average strength of your constitution, that there is an imperative demand for you to take longer and more frequent occasions of retirement, and to take them, not when you have used up 'the last ounce of your strength, but when you are in unimpaired vigour.
Under present circumstances, we earnestly entreat you to consecrate at least three months to entire relaxation from the duties of your sacred office; and if it seem good to you, let the appointment of supplies for your pulpit be left to the Co-pastor and the deacons, subject always to their accepting any suggestion of yours, and their communicating to you every arrangement of theirs, as is their habitual wont.
And accept herewith our assurance, as a church, that we will all unite in a strong determination to support the good work of the Tabernacle by constant attendance, both on Sundays and week evenings, and by offering our full contributions to the support of the various institutions of the church.
With sincere affection, and unceasing prayers for your recovery, We are, dear Pastor,
After his departure the annual church-meeting was held as usual in February and in writing to this meeting from Mentone the Pastor referred to the subject of the previous letter:
I salute you all right heartily. I regret that an annual church-meeting should be held without me; but I know that all things will be done rightly, for the Spirit of God is among you.
I write only to send my love, and to assure you that I am greatly profiting by the rest which has been given me. I am weak indeed, but I feel much more myself again. I have learned, by experience, that I must go away in November each year, or else I shall be at home ill.
If the Lord will help me through the other months of the year, I might rest in November and December with a clear economy of time. I want to do the most possible; and, on looking over the past, this appears to be the wisest way.
The other matter is,--the elders propose special services, and my whole heart says "Yes." If the church takes it up, the result will be, with the Divine blessing, a great ingathering. Members canvassing from door to door, and leaving a sermon, might do much good. I will subscribe £5 towards a fund for sermons, suitably selected, to be given away. The chief point is, to get the people in, not by bribing them with tea, etc., but by fair persuasion. Oh, for a great blessing!
I feel grieved to be out of the running, but I cannot help it. I can pray, and I do. Rally round your leaders. Pray with double earnestness. Be instant in season and out of season. Attempt great things, and expect great things.
May the Lord bless, guide, comfort, strengthen and uphold the Co-pastor, deacons, elders, and every one of you, for Jesus sake!
The March, 1885, issue of The Sword and the Trowel reported: 'Resting at Mentone, bathing in the sunlight, the invalid finds his pain gone, and his strength returning'. On Sunday, April 12, Spurgeon was once more back in the Tabernacle pulpit. At the College Conference in May he mentioned that he was trying a vegetarian diet and that he had enjoyed life during the preceding ten days more than during the last ten years. The same point is referred to in the October issue of the magazine: 'The editor begs to report himself as for the present enjoying vigorous health, and working at express speed. . . . So far, abstinence from flesh has been a more effectual preservative from rheumatism and gout than any of the many systems hitherto tried. . . . It is a great joy to be bright of heart and vigorous in frame.'
Clearly Spurgeon did not mean to stop preaching when he felt in this condition and the intention expressed to the church-meeting in his February letter was thus not executed. Before long, however, his hopes were dashed as illness returned to lay him low. The December, 1885, magazine gave the news: 'After doing our utmost to remain at our post through the Winter, we are compelled to succumb. Neuralgia has marked us for her own for some time past. The brain is weary and refuses to perform its office with its usual ease. A whole day is needed to produce the thought-fabric which, in better times, was woven in half-an-hour. . . . The net will break if it be not mended. Day after day of wretched pain, and golden hours lost in miserable incompetence, warn us that true economy requires the most willing worker to have his due proportion of Sabbath.'
From his room at Westwood he wrote to the Church on Sunday, December 6: I should have been greatly disappointed if I had not learned that the Lord's appointments are those which must serve His children. I can form no idea as to how long I may be shut up in this room. My Lord is not bound to give me any account of His matters. Beloved, seek the prosperity of our Zion with all your hearts.'
On December 11, 1885, Spurgeon was able to leave England for two months. Thereafter, apart from a handful of Sundays, he was not to be in his own pulpit again during the Novembers, Decembers and Januarys of the few years which remained. By this time there was also more frequent illness in the months which earlier had usually left him comparatively free of suffering. In May, 1886, he could not be present at the Annual Conference on the day when his address was expected. The next morning, however, he arrived and a member of the Conference later wrote: 'Those who were present at the Conference on the following morning are not likely ever to forget the sudden appearance in the room of the suffering, President, "his arm in a sling, his face looking like a battle-field of contending pains." The address which followed was such as might have come from a strong man in buoyant health.'
The June, 1886, issue of The Sword and the Trowel gave further news of his health: 'Once more the editor has been called to pass through the fiery furnace of pain. This sad state of affairs has largely resulted from the extra services which he has been induced to undertake lately. Nearly every day requests have come in, begging for sermons, addresses, etc., on behalf of all sorts of objects at home and abroad. Many of these have been refused with regret but there are some to which a denial could not be given, and this is the consequence. . . . The question continually comes up--is not this too heavy a price to pay for the privilege of rendering occasional service to deserving objects outside our own immediate circle?'
Spurgeon wrote nothing on his health for his Autobiography, and, in general he made scant reference to the subject. The reader of his sermons is not often given any indication of the suffering which, in later years, frequently preceded, or even accompanied, their delivery. It is this fact which gives additional importance to the occasional autobiographical notes on his recurring illness in The Sword and the Trowel. Though these notes were originally written to explain his, absence from the Tabernacle pulpit, they are now essential to a proper understanding of his life. We therefore give the following extracts from his closing years and these tell their own story:
'November, 1886: Within five weeks of his time of vacation the editor has had a wretched break-down which makes him feel that the sooner he goes the better. The strain of his work is incessant. . . . It is a joyous thing to work on for the Lord Jesus and His people, but poor flesh and blood at last give way, and pain and sickness render service impossible.
July, 1888: The editor is so completely prostrate that his brain will not think, and his right hand cannot hold a pen . . . There is always some circumstance of grace about the heaviest trial. The thorn-bush bears its rose. The Lord lets us see a bright light in the clouds even when they gather in grimmest fashion.
November, 1888: When the time arrived for making up the Notes for the magazine, the editor was quite prostrate, and suffering so severely that he was unable to write even a sentence. . . . With both feet and one hand a mass of pain he was obliged to postpone everything. . . . If well enough to travel, he will leave home early in November for a season of sorely-needed rest.
December, 1888: Long has our motto been, 'I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction' and it proves itself to be true. . . . The furnace has been fiercely hot; and besides the dross which we hope we have parted with, we have certainly lost a great deal of strength, which it will take us long to recover . . . Writing on November 4, we are in this dilemma--we cannot get better until we are in another climate, and we cannot reach that other climate till we get better. . . . The Lord whom we serve will not allow our unavoidable lack of service to be a serious injury to the church which is His joy and care. . . . We leave amid a sound of abundance of rain.
January, 1889: On the last Sabbath of the year . . . friends at the Presbyterian Meeting-room (i.e. at Mentone) held their Communion Service, and according to our custom our own service was absorbed thereby, that we might in no way divide, but ever unite the family of our Lord. Having given a word from the heart to the hearts of those around the table, our work was done. This left the Sabbath afternoon quite free; and in order to enjoy as complete a rest as possible, four of as walked a short distance from the hotel to an empty villa where we could sit, and sing, and read, and pray, and no one could visit us, because no one knew where we were. During that afternoon, sitting upon the covered balcony, we had the rolling sea below us, and the smiling hills around us, and enjoyed hearty Christian fellowship. The rising of a cold and blustering wind rendered it expedient to retire within . . . I quietly led the way downstairs . . . I trusted to my walking stick; it slipped, as it was most natural that it should do, upon the smooth marble and down went the massive form which was so little prepared for the consequent descent. The more those who were present reflect upon the incident of that one ill step, the more are they amazed that it led to nothing worse. With bowed head the sufferer from that fall adores the Lord, who has said, "Underneath are the everlasting arms". [After speaking of lost teeth and trembling limbs, Spurgeon continues] Our friends were in sad concern, and we rallied them with a cheery word about 'painless dentistry, sat down upon a chair, and joined with them in singing praise to God for so special an escape. The Sabbath evening closed in with no great evil to deplore; a bruised knee seemed to be the only evil token. But soon the Scripture, which assures us that, if one member suffers, all the other members suffer with it, had a very emphatic illustration in our flesh, and bones, and tendons and nerves. And in a day or two we also learned how intimate is the connection between flesh and spirit. To anguish of body followed shattering of mind, so that thought was confused. We now tell the story with a running pen, but a week ago we could not have written a line without blundering, or even forgetting what we had intended to have said . . . I felt called on to telegraph to the beloved congregation at the Tabernacle . . . and the writing which was delivered to the clerk was in terms of dearest accuracy . . . I gave for a text, Matthew 6:34, "Take therefore no thought for the morrow. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof". Alas! it pleased the movers of the wires to resort to the fifth instead of the sixth chapter, and consequently my brethren received the admonition, "Swear not at all" a superfluity, to say no more!
The good hand of the Lord is with us, and let His Name be praised. Tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and the experience of one is for the profit of many, and the glory of God. I hope to be back as soon as I can walk, and to preach as soon as I can think out a sermon and stand long enough to preach it.
March, 1889: I can walk a moderate distance. How great is the goodness of God in granting me this happy restoration. . . . Will those members of the Christian public who are making up their minds to ask for a sermon, a lecture, a speech, a bazaar-opening, or something or other, be so very gracious to me as to note the following letter which I have received from the deacons of the Tabernacle [the letter urges him to desist from overmuch work]. I think I must obey their thoughtful admonition, for what will become of all order and discipline if a minister does not pay heed to his deacons! I have frequently gone a little beyond my tether, and have suffered a month's pain in consequence; and as soon as I have been half-well, somebody else has pleaded with me almost to tears to do the same thing again. I must this year be a little hard-hearted and let the pleaders plead in vain. If I do my home-work, it is more than enough for one mortal man. I would indeed be grateful if friends would and could believe that I have not the strength of earlier years, and would excuse me when I cannot grant their requests. It is constantly the case that I have to write several letters before they will accept my answer in the negative; and this is one of the inflictions which I think I ought to be spared. It is painful to me to say 'No' once; but it adds to the burden when another and another letter or deputation come with the same plea.
October, 1889: Some years ago my death was reported, and a kind friend improved the occasion with a funeral address, which turned out to be rather premature. Now the papers announce that I am about to retire from my post, and one of them even proceeds to arrange for my early death and distribution of my worldly goods. . . . Now all this is utterly untrue. I hope to work on for many years, if my life be spared, and if the present age be continued. . . . I have had nearly eight months' continuous preaching, and it is long since I have been favoured with so great a privilege. The fall of the year has come, and with it symptoms that the old enemy is lurking about. . . . I have had a better year than usual.'
Extracts of a similar nature may also be found in earlier issues of The Sword and the Trowel, for Spurgeons fear in 1871 that his malady would be 'our cross till death' had proved correct. 'My disease is like original sin in the regenerate: it is there even when it does not manifest itself.' During the last twenty-two years of his life illness was never far from him and when attacks came they frequently brought with them a bout of depression. 'During the time that I have been preaching the gospel in this place,' he said in 1879, 'I have suffered many times from severe sickness and rightful mental depression, sinking almost to despair. Almost every year I have been laid aside for a season; for flesh and blood cannot bear the strain, at least such flesh and blood as mine. I believe the affliction was necessary to me and has answered salutary ends; but I would, if it were God's will, escape from such frequent illness: that must be according to His will and not mine.'
While the physical tendency to depression was the accompaniment of his disease there can be no doubt that it was aggravated by the unique circumstances of his ministry. His presence was so much needed, and the necessity of being out of his pulpit so repeatedly troubled him deeply. In 1871 he wrote to his people: 'The highest medical authorities are agreed that only long rest can restore me. I wish it were otherwise. My heart is in my work, and with you; but God's will must be done . . . I try to cast all my cares on God; but, sometimes, I fear that you may get scattered. O my dear brethren, do not wander, for this would break my heart!' Again, in 1879, 'If I should grow worse and worse, and be even more frequently unwell, have patience with me . . . I always will be at my post when I can.' In 1885, 'It would be well if I could write without mentioning myself, and for your edification only. Forgive the need which there is of alluding to my health; it would best please me if I could work right on, and never have the least item of self to mention . . . Our frequent illnesses are very trying to the Church and its progress; but if all at home will pray and watch and work, as they have often done before, there will be less falling off than there might otherwise have been.'
Notwithstanding the affectionate letters which came to the Pastor from his church-officers during the periods of absence, and their reassurances that the pulpit was being well supplied, he knew the difficulty of providing the great congregation with such preaching as had previously drawn them together. Furthermore, a sudden return of illness would not infrequently leave him with no time to announce his absence beforehand and scarce time to call upon his brother, or someone else, to undertake a service for him. Among the letters which James Spurgeon received from his elder brother there were a number like the following:
'Dear Brother, I am attacked with such violent neuralgia in my head that I cannot keep up, and must beg you to preach for me tonight. I will come if I get better, but fear there is no hope. I took cold in a dreadful crowd and draught last night.--Yours lovingly'
'Dear Brother, I feel a great nausea this afternoon, and my legs are heavy with the gout feeling. I shall not be up to the meeting at six; please go down to it. Perhaps I may come at seven. If not, take up all the works separately, and pray hard.--Yours lovingly.
Dear Brother, I am feeling better, but Barrett told me that if I stood upon the foot on Thursday I might make a bad case of it and be laid up on Sunday.
I believe it will pass away, and that I shall preach on Thursday; but I cannot, unless the red swelling somewhat abates.
I am anxious to preach, and will never lay on you what I can do myself, but at this moment I cannot be sure.
Blue pill and black draft have had a fair trial, and I think will carry me through; but it is a huge foot and full of fire, and I cannot be sure of a swift deliverance.
Be ready, and I will be there if I can do so safely.--Your loving brother.'
With so much uncertainty over who would occupy the Tabernacle pulpit there was justification for Spurgeon's concern in case the attendance began to fail. Even in 1879 he had said at the semi-jubilee of his ministry that if the time came when he was 'too often ill' he would wish 'to leave the position to an abler occupant'. This thought was preying upon his mind when he lay bed-ridden at Benmore, Scotland, in July, 1883. The following letter to his brother is not characteristic of Spurgeon but it reveals the anxiety with which he had to struggle when the disease brought him low:
DEAR BROTHER, I am very distrustful of my mental powers; indeed, I should not like to give a decision upon anything, for I am so entirely broken down and crushed; but I cannot, by the use of my strongest imagination, conceive of an argument for the postponement of the time of cleaning the Tabernacle. That seems to me to have been settled upon by us all with great judgment and deliberation; and I have been looking forward to preaching at Exeter Hall, and praying to be re-established in time for that event. There will now be a fortnight to be spent by me in a sort of shuttle-cocking, preaching to a people who will not know where to go to hear me, as I shall be reported to be both at Exeter Hall and the Tabernacle. I think that last fortnight will be the ounce which will settle the camel's back for ever. I should have been so glad to have got at the work, and to have got it over. Is it supposed that its horrors will diminish by being dangled before my eyes for another fortnight. But I leave it. I would think the course of action wise if I knew of any way in which to place it in which it reflected a scintilla of common sense. I am, however, so utterly ill that I do not want my judgment to weigh with you at all. Do what seems good in your eyes.
'As to the cost of cleaning the Tabernacle, I am thunderstruck. I thought it was done on one occasion for £600, and on another for £800. My judgment upon that can be of no value to you whatever. All I can do is to say, 'Get it done, omit anything that can be omitted, but let it be done thoroughly.
'Dear brother, my hand and arm do not seem to improve, and the incessant pain is wearing me down. What is to be the end of this perpetually recurring affliction? Cleaning the Tabernacle seems almost a trifling matter. If only this poor tabernacle could be cleaned and repaired, there would be some sense in it. I am evidently occupying a position for which I am not qualified, and serious thought must be given to the imperative need of alterations which will be suggested from without by enemies, if they are not first of all perceived by friends.
'I wish I had been well enough to rejoice in the joy of your household. I did up to the measure of my poor capacity, but how shall mountains of misery break forth into singing in harmony with the high hills of gladness? With hearty love to you all,--I am, your loving brother,
C. H. SPURGEON'
The mood passed and a month later from Westwood he could write to James, 'Ranges of the mountains of gloom are now dissolving though some lesser hills remain.' None the less there could be no relief from the profound sense of responsibility which weighed Spurgeon down. His anxiety for the spiritual prosperity of the Tabernacle was far removed from any regard to the maintenance of his own reputation. What did need to be maintained were the many evangelical agencies and Institutions which depended upon the help of the Church which stood at the centre. His own estimate of himself was brief, 'How unimportant we are! God's cause goes on without us', but in the view of the Christian public he was the leader to whom they would gladly entrust their money for the Lord's work. This being so, the question was a very real one, how the orphans, the students, and the old people in the almshouses were to be provided for if he were not seen to be at the seat of operations. The following words, written at different periods in The Sword and the Trowel indicate how impossible it was for him when incapacitated by illness to lay down this burden of care for others which he had gladly received from God:
'We have received many prescriptions for the gout, both for inward and outward application, and should have been dead long ago if we had tried half of them. We are grateful for the kindness although we cannot utilize it. Those who would really aid in the restoration of our health can best do so by preventing our having any anxiety about either College, Orphanage, or Colportage while we are away.
'For some reason or other subscriptions slacken and almost stop as soon as we leave home, nor do they rally till we return. If this continues we must come back at all hazards, for otherwise we shall have our ships aground. . . . We are sure that the Lord will provide, but when one is ill and weary, it is pleasant not to have faith much tried. At such a time it is a double comfort to be remembered by friends, and to see that they will not allow the holy cause to suffer because the chief worker is laid aside. Satan loses one of his fiery darts when he can no longer whisper, "God forsakes you, and your friends forget you". This weapon is forged out of lies, but he is none the less ready to use it in the dark and dreary hour. 'Oh, for power to pursue our work! Troops of orphans, students, colporteurs and evangelists seem to march through our poor brain both sleeping and waking. All must be left with the Lord. Where could they be better?'
It is not undeserving of mention that the large measure of humour which belonged to Spurgeon's character did not forsake him even in times of pain. His words to his distressed companions, following his fall in Mentone in 1889, recorded earlier in this chapter, are a case in point. Likewise his descriptions of himself to friends at times of illness are altogether characteristic: 'No dealer would buy me except for cat's meat, and I'm not worth so much for that as I was, for I am many pounds lighter.' 'I am doing nothing--can do nothing. I am only a pin cushion of pain-pins;' 'I am creeping on like a snail; but I am going upward with my horns out in hope'. 'How much he suffered,' writes G. H. Pike, 'no mortal knew save himself; yet neither pain nor weakness seemed to be able to repress the flow of his spirits or check his wit. He once remarked to one who had been writing about some phases of London life: 'You might have added the advertisement of the undertaker who said, in large letters, "Why endure the ills of life when you can be comfortably buried for three pound ten?"
Undergirding all Spurgeon's experience in suffering was his conviction that his ill-health was God's gift. He gained from illness a wealth of knowledge and sympathy which he could not have gained elsewhere. In the realms of sorrow he was blessed. With his own experience in view he warned his students near the end of his life against making a mistake over what is a blessing: 'In the matter of faith-healing, health is set before us as if it were the great thing to be desired above all other things. Is it so? I venture to say that the greatest earthly blessing that God can give to any of us is health, with the exception of sickness. Sickness has frequently been of more use to the saints of God than health has. . . . A sick wife, a newly-made grave, poverty, slander, sinking of spirit, might teach us lessons nowhere else to be learned so well. Trials drive us to the realities of religion.'
The benefits which Spurgeon gained, became, under God's providential hand, the possession of many others. In this connection Charles Spurgeon, Junior, wrote: 'I know of no one who could, more sweetly than my dear father, impart comfort to bleeding hearts and sad spirits. As the crushing of the flower causes it to yield its aroma, so he, having endured in the long-continued illness of my beloved mother, and also constant pains in himself, was able to sympathize most tenderly with all sufferers.'
Spurgeon himself once gave a striking instance of how his own experience had prepared him to help another. In the course of speaking at a Monday evening prayer-meeting at the Tabernacle on the personal preparation which a soul-winner may have to go through in order to his greater usefulness, he said:
'Some years ago, I was the subject of fearful depression of spirit. Various troublous events had happened to me; I was also unwell, and my heart sank within me. Out of the depths I was forced to cry unto the Lord. Just before I went away to Mentone for rest, I suffered greatly in body, but far more in soul, for my spirit was overwhelmed. Under this pressure, I preached a sermon from the words, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" I was as much qualified to preach from that text as ever I expect to be; indeed, I hope that few of my brethren could have entered so deeply into those heart-breaking words. I felt to the full of my measure the horror of a soul forsaken of God. Now that was not a desirable experience. I tremble at the bare idea of passing again through that eclipse of soul; I pray that I may never suffer in that fashion again unless the same result should hang upon it.
That night, after the service, there came into my vestry a man who was as nearly insane as he could be to be out of an asylum. His eyes seemed ready to start from his head, and he said that he should utterly have despaired if he had not heard that discourse, which had made him feel that there was one man alive who understood his feelings, and could describe his experience. I talked with him, and tried to encourage him, and asked him to come again on the Monday night, when I should have a little more time to speak with him. I saw the brother again, and I told him that I thought he was a hopeful patient, and I was glad that the word had been so suited to his case. Apparently, he put aside the comfort which I presented for his acceptance, and yet I had the consciousness upon me that the precious truth which he had heard was at work upon his mind, and that the storm of his soul would soon subside into a deep calm.
Now hear the sequel. Last night, of all the times in the year, when, strange to say, I was preaching from the words, "The Almighty hath vexed my soul," after the service, in walked this self-same brother who had called on me five years before. This time, he looked as different as noonday from midnight, or as life from death. I said to him, "I am glad to see you, for I have often thought about you, and wondered whether you were brought into perfect peace." I told you that I went to Mentone, and my patient also went into the country, so that we had not met for five years. To my enquiries, this brother replied, "Yes, you said I was a hopeful patient, and I am sure you will be glad to know that I have walked in the sunlight from that day till now. Everything is changed and altered with me." Dear friends, as soon as I saw my poor despairing patient the first time, I blessed God that my fearful experience had prepared me to sympathize with him and guide him; but last night, when I saw him perfectly restored, my heart overflowed with gratitude to God for my former sorrowful feelings. I would go into the deeps a hundred times to cheer a downcast spirit: it is good for me to have been afflicted that I might know how to speak a word in season to one that is weary.
If Spurgeon's sickness brought new wealth to his preaching it is equally true that those silent Sabbaths, when there was disappointment at the Tabernacle at his absence, worked together for the good of that great number in different countries and generations who were to be his readers. As one of the Pastor's favourite Puritans declared, 'Books may speak when the author cannot, and what is more, when he is not.' Spurgeon's literary labours would never have become what they were had it not been for the many periods of enforced absence from the pulpit. In days of illness or convalescence, when in the eyes of the public he was doing nothing, he was, in reality, producing his most enduring work. To the very end of his life he continued to write, and each winter at Mentone brought a new project. In the winter of 1887-8, when Spurgeon had come through many months of heart-ache and trial over the 'Down-Grade' controversy, he solaced himself in writing The Cheque Book of the Bank of Faith, his testimony to the gain which the 'furnace of affliction' had brought to him:
'To the cheering Scriptures, I have added testimonies of my own, the fruit of trial and experience. I believe all the promises of God, but many of them I have personally tried and proved. I commenced these daily portions when I was wading in the surf of controversy. Since then, I have been cast into 'waters to swim in,' which, but for God's upholding hand, would have proved waters to drown in. . . . I do not mention this to exact sympathy, but simply to let the reader see that I am no dry-land sailor. I have traversed those oceans which are not Pacific full many a time: I know the roll of the billows, and the rush of the winds. Never were the promises of Jehovah so precious to me as at this hour. Some of them I never understood till now; I had not reached the date at which they matured, for I was not myself mature enough to perceive their meaning. How much more wonderful is the Bible to me now than it was a few months ago! In obeying the Lord, and bearing His reproach outside the camp, I have not received new promises; but the result to me is much the same as if I had done so, for the old ones have opened up to me with richer stores.'