College, Orphanage, Colportage Association, and Society of Evangelists, might any one of them be regarded as works of Christian inventiveness, but it would be by far the smaller half of the truth to look at them from that point of view. These enterprises have succeeded each other, by a natural rule and order of Providence, as inevitably as the links of a chain follow one another. We have heard kind friends speak of 'genius for organization' and 'great practical common sense' as abiding in the leader of these various works for the Lord; but, indeed, it would be far nearer the truth to say that he followed with implicit, and almost blind confidence what he took to be the intimations of the Divine will, and hitherto these intimations have proved to be what he thought them. At the close of twenty-five years, we see a vast machinery in vigorous operation, in better working condition than ever it was; and, as to means and funds, perfectly equipped, although it has no other resources than the promise, 'My God shall supply all your need, according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.' Gratitude bows her head, and sings her own song to her Well-beloved, to whom it belongs.--C.H.S., in Preface to 'The Sword and the Trowel' volume for 1878.
The Growth of the Institutions
THE last decade of Spurgeon's life proved to be a prolific period both for the Tabernacle Church and the various Institutions connected with it. These Institutions and agencies were now manifold and the Pastor gave attention to them all, although it was the College which remained his first concern. Writing at the time of the Down-Grade controversy he said: 'It costs me one solid day each week to prepare for my men, to spend the afternoon in the classroom in lecture and exposition, and then to see one by one such men as need special direction. Friday is to me a heavy but happy day. . . . I would cheerfully die a hundred times over to see in this our land a sure succession of sound and able ministers of the New Covenant. On all sides there is a falling away from the truth of the gospel and a tendency to seek out some new thing. . . .This is my great longing: to see men go forth who will preach the gospel, and commit it in their turn to faithful men who will teach others also.
For some fourteen years after the opening of the Tabernacle the College classes were held in various rooms below the sanctuary but growing numbers made the accommodation inadequate and in the 1870's ground close by was purchased from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners; in his own characteristic fashion Spurgeon told the brethren at one of the Annual Conferences that he had secured the parson's garden, behind the Tabernacle, as the site for the new College, and he was going to cultivate it for him by growing Dissenters on it! The new College buildings became a vital part of the Tabernacle's facilities. Shortly after their erection an incident occurred which was soon talked of in South London. A deputation from the local council authority visited the new premises to decide the amount at which they should be rated. While conducting these gentlemen through the different rooms, the President briefly narrated the history of the Institution, and recounted various instances in which the money necessary for carrying on the work had come directly in answer to prayer. The chairman of the deputation, who evidently did not believe that the funds came in any such way, said, 'That is your idea, Mr. Spurgeon, but the fact is, certain good people have confidence in you and therefore they send you contributions for your College and Orphanage.' 'Yes,' replied the Pastor, 'there may be some truth in that remark, but if the good people did not think of me, God would send the devil with the money rather than let His cause suffer.' No further reference was made to the matter until the men had finished their investigations and consulted as to the value to be fixed for rating purposes, when the chairman, speaking for his colleagues, said to Spurgeon, 'We have been greatly interested in all that we have seen and heard, and we look upon this College as a valuable addition to the educational advantages of the parish. We should be very glad if we could let it go without being rated at all, but we have a duty to perform to the public, so that is not possible. We have agreed to fix the amount at----, which we think you will consider satisfactory; and, personally, I think it is such a capital Institution that I shall be glad if you will accept ten pounds towards its maintenance.' The President thanked him very heartily, and then added, 'You said that it was the good people who gave me the money; I hope that adjective applies to you?' 'Oh, dear no!' replied the gentleman, 'certainly not;' and his companions appeared very surprised at the whole transaction. Afterwards, whenever anyone in the local council wanted to raise the question of the rating of the College, he always said, 'Well, if you like to go to see Spurgeon about it, you may; my last visit cost me ten pounds, and I am not going again, and I should advise you to leave the good man alone. He is a benefactor to the whole district, and ought to be encouraged, and not hindered.'
The total cost of the new building and furnishing was £15,000, largely raised by Spurgeon's own endeavours. In later years the President expressed an objection to providing an endowment to secure the future of his College, on the grounds that such a provision would be no safeguard to preserving a succession in soundness of doctrine. None the less he was, in a very singular way, and quite unintentionally, the means of providing a large portion of the funds for its maintenance for several years after he had been 'called home.' The story greatly amused him when he heard it related; it was to this effect. The conductor of an omnibus, while waiting on the City side of London Bridge, endeavoured to attract passengers by shouting out, 'Over the water to Charlie!' A gentlemen enquired what he meant by this unusual cry, and he explained that the 'bus was going over the Thames, and past the Tabernacle, where C. H. Spurgeon was announced to preach. It happened that the stranger had never heard the Pastor; indeed, as the tale is told, it appears that he was not in the habit of attending any place of worship; but he went on that occasion, and for the rest of his life he was a diligent reader of the printed sermons. When he made his will, he bequeathed a large sum to Spurgeon for the Pastors' College.
At the end of 1878, over five hundred students had been trained in the Institution, of whom twenty-five had been called home.' Of the four hundred and fifty then engaged as Baptist pastors, evangelists, and missionaries less than three hundred filled up the statistical forms, which showed that, during the year, they had baptized 3,600 persons; and during the previous fourteen years there had been a net increase to the churches of 33,319 members. The sons of the College had also found their way into all four quarters of the globe and the President's prayer that the missionary spirit should be increased among the brethren was being graciously answered, for some of them had gone forth to India, China, Japan, Africa, Spain, Italy, the West Indies and South America, beside a considerable contingent in the Australasian and Canadian colonies and the United States.
The Pastors' College Missionary Association was formed to support the men overseas but due to an insufficiency of funds this did not go beyond maintaining two missionaries in North Africa and giving assistance to another two in Spain. Spurgeon was glad that so many of his students were enabled to go to various lands under the auspices of the Baptist Missionary Society, the American Baptist Missionary Union, or the China Inland Mission. 'The day shall declare' what these men did.
Also working in conjunction with the College was the Pastors' College Society of Evangelists, an association of men who were entirely set apart for evangelistic work. It should also be mentioned that long before the College Society of Evangelists was organized there had existed two large and useful companies of so-called 'lay' brethren--the Tabernacle Evangelists' Association and Country Mission--under the leadership of devoted elders of the Tabernacle Church. Many of the students first began to speak for the Lord in connection with one or other of these useful agencies, and, during their College career, they continued, by this means, to help in the evangelization of the metropolis and its suburbs, and the towns and villages in the adjacent counties.
There were both changes and great advances in the College in the last fourteen years of Spurgeon's life, from 1878 to 1892. George Rogers--'Father Rogers'--who was spared to see his first student succeeded by more then eight hundred others, continued to hold the office of Principal until 1881, and he afterwards rendered occasional help at the College until 1884, when he finally retired. Then, after spending seven restful years in his peaceful home at South Norwood, at the ripe age of ninety-two he entered the glory-land only about four months before the Pastor and President with whom he had been so long and so happily associated in the important work of training men for the Christian ministry. Professor Gracey was appointed Principal in 1881, and he faithfully discharged the duties of that responsible position until he also was called home just a year after Spurgeon.
One of the most important events in the later years of the College was the formation, in 1888, of the Pastors' College Evangelical Association. This was one of the direct results of the 'Down-grade' Controversy. When Spurgeon found that many of his own former students had accepted various forms of modern-thought teaching; he felt compelled to withdraw from further fellowship with them in the annual Conferences, at which they were practically his guests for the week. The only method of attaining that end, so far as he could see, was to reorganize the Association, and to define more clearly the doctrinal basis, which had been in existence from its commencement, although there had been no need to call attention to it while all had been heartily united in the 'one faith' as well as the 'one Lord' and the 'one baptism.' It was a great grief to the President that some brethren, who were firmly attached to Evangelical doctrine, remained outside the new fraternal band; but the gap in the ranks which was caused by their absence was quickly filled by an equal number of ministers, who, though not trained in the Pastors' College, were in heart and soul one with Spurgeon, especially in his great protest against error and worldliness in the Church. A special clause was inserted in the constitution of the reorganized fraternity by which they were admitted, as associates, to share the privileges enjoyed by the members.
Up to the time of the President's death nearly nine hundred brethren had been educated in the Institution, of whom a large number had gone to the foreign mission field or to other distant spheres of service. The statistical account for the year 1891-2 showed that, in the churches under the charge of the ministers who furnished the figures for that Annual Report--and it was never possible to get returns from anything like all of them--nearly 100,000 persons had been baptized since the year 1865, when the statistics were first collected; and after making all deductions, there had been a clear increase of 80,000 members. Truly, if Spurgeon had done nothing beyond founding and carrying on the Pastors' College, it would have been a noble life-work. His own estimate of the importance of such work gives the final explanation why it was so prominent in his ministry Writing in The Sword and the Trowel in 1882 he said:
'When we think of the value of a well-instructed minister of the Gospel, we sometimes think the work of training ministers to be superior to all other services done to the Lord and His church. We wonder not that Colleges should be liberally supported, but the rather we marvel that more lovers of the Lord do not devote their substance to this superior purpose . . . Those who helped the poor boy Luther to pay for his learning made a grand investment of their monies. The possibilities which lie around one single preaching man of God are such as may make the College lecture-hall one of the most solemn spots beneath God's heaven.
Of the several agencies linked to the Pastors' College the most important was the Colportage Association which had its base on the College premises. This work had resulted from an article written by Spurgeon in 1866. 'The Holy War of the Present Hour'. Reflecting upon the growth of Catholic influence, particularly through the teaching of the Anglicans of the Tractarian school (such as E. B. Pusey), he called for this remedy:
'We would urge the propriety of a very large distribution of religious literature bearing upon the Puseyite controversy. Very little has been done in this respect. Tractarianism owed its origin to tracts, as its name implies; why may not its downfall come from the same means, if well used? If several millions of copies of forcible, Scriptural testimonies could be scattered over the land, the results might far exceed all expectation. Of course, controversy would arise out of such a distribution; but this is most desirable, since it is only error which could suffer by the question being everywhere discussed. We should like to see the country flooded, and even the walls placarded, with bold exposures of error and plain expositions of truth. We will take our own share in the effort if any friends should be moved to work with us; at the same time, we shall be equally glad if they will do the work alone; only let it be done, and done well, and at once. If the expense of the tracts should involve a sacrifice, it will be sweet to the true heart to serve the Lord with his substance, and none will desire to offer to Him that which costs them nothing. . . .'
The plea did not fall upon deaf ears, a member of the Tabernacle came forward to support the proposal liberally and accordingly a committee was formed in September, 1866, having as its object, 'to extend the circulation of the Scriptures, and to increase the diffusion of sound religious literature, in order to counteract the evils arising from the perusal of works of a decided Romish tendency.' Once the work began it was speedily discovered that the undertaking was too heavy to be carried out properly by gentlemen who were occupied in their various callings during the day and thus a paid officer of the Association was soon arranged. Ultimately, in 1872, W. Corden Jones was elected secretary, a post which he continued in until 1894.
By the year 1878 there were 94 colporteurs engaged in the work and their sales for the twelve months of that year amounted to £8,276, these sales resulting from 926,290 visits in many parts of the country. The work continued with great steadiness, and from year to year a Report of considerable length was inserted in The Sword and the Trowel. The Report of the last year of Spurgeon's life showed that 95 colporteurs were at work, that 689,284 'visits to families' had been made, that 10,147 'services and addresses' had been engaged in, that the sales of Christian literature totaled £11,255 and that donations and subscriptions almost reached £4,000. The Report recorded 'an immense amount of devoted labour, considering that each man (colporteur) had to travel nearly 2,000 miles during the year to dispose of the goods, which range in price mainly from one penny to one shilling. The salutary influence of so large a quantity of literature scattered over the land must be immense.'
Closely associated with colportage was a work which was equally dear to the hearts of the Metropolitan Tabernacle pastor and his wife. It was known as 'Mrs. Spurgeon's Book Fund' and dated from 1875. By that year Mrs. Spurgeon was a chronic invalid, unable to take any part in public Christian work or to attend a service at the Tabernacle. At times life itself had been in the balance. Many were the prayers that restoration might be granted. This, however, was not the will of the Lord. But in the long-drawn-out weariness of illness He directed her into an activity suited to her state, which gave her great joy and brought her into touch by gift and by letter with a considerable number of Christian workers at home and abroad.
The Book Fund originated at Helensburgh House, Clapham. 'How do you like Lectures to My Students?' Spurgeon said one day to his wife. 'I wish I could place it in the hands of every minister in England' was the reply. 'Then why not do so? How much will you give?' The question caused the wife to ponder, 'How much can I spare from housekeeping or personal expenditure to start such a scheme?' 'Then,' says Mrs. Spurgeon, 'came the wonderful part. I found the money ready and waiting. Upstairs in a little drawer were some carefully hoarded crown pieces which, owing to some foolish fancy, I had been gathering for years whenever chance threw one in my way. These I now counted out and found that they made a sum exactly sufficient to pay for one hundred copies of the work'.
Never was a wife more pleased with her assignment, and in the years which followed tens of thousands of volumes (preferably those written by her husband himself) were dispersed from the home. It was not long after the commencement of the work that she wrote:
'I have been doing a brave business in Wales through the magnificent generosity of a stranger whom now we count as a friend. He sent £100 to Mr. Spurgeon, £50 of which was for my Book Fund. I was greatly gratified at receiving so large a sum at one time and set about spending it as quickly as possible. . . . John Ploughman says that "Spend, and God will Send" is the motto of a spend-thrift. Now I must not dispute this, for dear John is always right, and moreover, knows all about everything, but I should like this motto to be handed over to me at once and for ever for my Book Fund, for again and again has it been proved most blessedly true in my experience. I have spent ungrudgingly, feeling sure that the Lord would send after the same fashion, and indeed He has done so, even "exceeding abundantly above all I could ask or even think . . ."
The friend who gave the £50 wished to give a copy of Lectures to my Students to every Calvinistic Methodist minister, preacher and student in North Wales (of whom there are 500) if I would undertake the "trouble" of sending them. Trouble!! The word was inadmissible! With intense joy and gratitude to God I received the charge, and another £50 to meet expenses! And as soon as 400 copies had been given in the northern part I received authority from the same noble donor to continue at his expense the distribution throughout South Wales also . . . Nor does the matter rest here; other ministers besides Calvinistic Methodists coveted the precious volume and wrote to me asking why they should be left out. I have supplied all who have written and at this present moment; I have promised copies to all the Wesleyan ministers of South Wales, and when they are satisfied, I doubt not their northern brethren will request the same favour . . . These copies of course are provided by my Book Fund, our friend's gift being confined to his own denomination; but you see, dear friends, I never can be the least troubled at a large expenditure because I have the firmest possible faith in my motto, "Spend and God will send".
After the commencement of this work, which Mrs. Spurgeon carried on personally from their home, she composed a report annually for The Sword and the Trowel on its progress. In the 1878 report she wrote: 'I recall with glad satisfaction the very first donation which reached me "for sending books to ministers". It came anonymously and was but five shillings worth of stamps, yet it was very precious, and proved like a revelation to me, for it opened up a vista of possible usefulness and exceeding brightness. The mustard seed of my faith grew forthwith into "a great tree", and sweet birds of hope and expectation sat singing in its branches. "You'll see", I said to my boys, "the Lord will send me hundreds of pounds for this work". For many a day afterwards mother's "hundreds of pounds" became "a household word"!'
A special article in The Sword and the Trowel for May; 1882, commended the Book Fund's Annual Report to readers. Spurgeon wrote: 'It is one of the delights of our life that our beloved wife has made ministers' libraries her great concern. The dear soul gives herself wholly to it. You should see her stores, her book-room her busy helpers on the parcel-day, and the waggon-load of books each fortnight. The Book Fund at certain hours is the ruling idea of our house. Every day it occupies the head and heart of its manager. The reader has scant idea of the book-keeping involved in the book-giving; but this may be said--the loving manager has more than 6000 names on her lists, and yet she knows every volume that each man has received from the first day until now. The work is not muddled, but done as if by clockwork, yet it is performed with a hearty desire to give pleasure to all receivers, and to trouble no applicant with needless inquiries.'
Thus the work continued, year in, year out. Up to 1890, when the Book Fund had been in existence fifteen years, no fewer than 122,129 volumes had been distributed. In that year the recipients numbered 484, including Baptists, Independents, Methodists, Anglicans (the largest group helped), Presbyterians, Lutherans, Moravians, and 'missionaries'. Of the Treasury of David, 1305 volumes were donated, of the Sermons 510 volumes. Lectures to my Students accounted for 668 volumes, My Sermon Notes for 488. 76 copies, of Watson's Body of Divinity were included in the gifts; Selected Sermons numbered 498; smaller works by Spurgeon, 898. 1,134 Books given by friends were also included in the distribution, besides 'smaller quantities of other valuable works'.
Spurgeon commended the 1890 Report to readers in parabolic fashion:
'I saw in my dream a man worn and weary with working the handle of a pump from which no water came. Hard by was his garden, and all the plants and flowers were pining for water; but he had none to give them. Then I saw a woman coming towards him, bearing a pitcher of water. She stopped and spoke cheeringly to the weary one; and anon she smilingly poured the contents of her pitcher down the pump, and immediately it began to work, and pour forth waters of its own. How the husbandman blessed her!
'I think I know that woman; and sure I am that often the reading of a new book, sent from the Book Fund, enables a mind to work with success, which previously had been exhausted by labour in vain in the Lord'.
There is, finally, another agency which must be included in this record of growth, the work of the Orphanage. As a child, Spurgeon had himself benefited largely from the help of older Christians and, in turn, he always acted on the principle that the best way to influence the future was to guide the young. The commencement of the Stockwell Orphanage for boys in 1867 has already been described and the girls' Orphanage, which followed in 1880 has also been referred to. The Pastor had indeed some hesitation before committing himself to the proposal of a girls' work.
He reported his feelings at a meeting in the Tabernacle in 1879:
'A day or two ago, the lady who founded the Boys' Orphanage sent me £50 for the Girls' Orphanage. I wrote to her somewhat to this effect: "I am very grateful for the proposal; but I am not very well, and the times are not very hopeful, so I had rather not begin any new work just yet." I proposed to keep the £50 in case we did build an Orphanage for girls; and if not, to hand it over to the boys. "No" said our friend, "you are right in your judgment, but take the £50 as the first brick, for I am fully assured that many more bricks will shortly be added."'
Probably his hesitation was far less than his words suggest for at the same meeting he proposed that £50 of the surplus of the testimonial, collected for his semi-jubilee, be added to the first £50, and that the inauguration of a Girls' Orphanage would be a good note upon which to start a 'second twenty-five years of pastorate'. Anticipating the probable feelings of some present, he concluded:
'"What next?" says somebody. I cannot tell you what I may suggest to you next; but, you see, I am driven to this Girls' Orphanage. I have this £50 forced upon me, and I cannot get rid of it; would you have me refuse to use this money for poor fatherless girls? No, your hearts would not so counsel me. Thus, of my own free will, compelled by constraining grace, I accept a further charge, and look to see prayer and faith open a new chapter of marvels.'
Thus a girls' home shortly took its place beside that of the boys in Clapham Road, and these together sheltered the helpless children of hundreds of bereaved families. Up to the time of Spurgeon's death, nearly sixteen hundred boys and girls were provided for in the Orphanage and not infrequently there was evidence that the homes had brought not only happiness but spiritual blessing. The following letters from each sex are instances which gave great joy to the President:
'Dear Mr. Spurgeon,
In closing the list, to-day, for March Sword and Trowel, you will, I am sure, be pleased to know that it contains donations from "some of the old boys" (about forty), to the amount of £17.17.0. Every one, in forwarding his subscription, wishes it were ten times or a hundred times as much; and it is accompanied with every expression of gratitude for the benefits received at the Stockwell Orphanage, and of warmest love to yourself--the earthly father to this large orphan family; and they all pray that our Heavenly Father may spare you, for many, many years, to lead and direct this blessed work of caring for the widow and the fatherless.
'Dear Mr. Spurgeon,
You must excuse the liberty I am taking in writing to you; but you will not mind when you know the reason. I must, first of all, tell you that I am one of your old orphan girls; but the Lord having found me, and made me His child, before I left the Orphanage, I knew it would cheer your heart if I wrote and told you. I thought, when my father died, I could never have another to equal him; but when I came to your Orphanage, I discovered my mistake, for I found a better and truer Father, who will never leave me nor forsake me, and to whom I can take my every trouble, however small it may be. It seems almost too good to be true that Jesus was really crucified to save me. When I think of all the years I grieved and pained Him, it only makes me want to try and please Him ever so much more for the future.
I must tell you that I was in the Orphanage seven-and-a-half years, and was very happy indeed, and wish myself back again. Now I think I must close, thanking you for your kindness in giving us such a beautiful home to live in. It will always be something to look back on with pleasure for the rest of our lives, and for which we can never thank you enough. I myself hope shortly to come forward, and, by baptism, publicly let the world know that I have accepted Jesus as my Saviour; or, rather, I should say, that He has accepted me as His child.
One of Spurgeon's last visits to the Orphanage occurred in the autumn of 1890 under circumstances which are not likely to be forgotten by any who were then present. His own account of the afternoon, illustrating as it does so well the motive which had led him to take up so many endeavours, will be a fitting conclusion to this chapter of his Standard Life:
'I went to the Stockwell Orphanage, on Tuesday, September 23, to walk round with an artist, and select bits for his pencil, to be inserted in a Christmas book for the Institution. We had not gone many yards before it began to rain. Umbrellas were forthcoming, and we tried to continue our perambulation of the whole square of the boys' and girls' houses; but the rain persisted in descending, and speedily increased into a downpour. Nothing short of being amphibious would have enabled us to face the torrent. There was no other course but to turn into the play-hall, where the boys gave tremendous cheers at our advent--cheers almost as deafening as the thunder which responded to them. Go out we could not, for the shower was swollen into a deluge, so I resolved to turn the season to account. A chair was forthcoming, and there I sat, the centre of a dense throng of juvenile humanity, which could scarcely be kept off from a nearness which showed the warmth of their reception of their friend. Our artist, who, standing in the throng, made a hurried sketch, could not be afforded space enough to put in the hundreds of boys.
It was certainly a melting moment as to heat, and fresh air was not abundant; but anything was better than the storm outside. Flash after flash made everybody feel sober, and prompted me to talk with the boys about that freedom from fear which comes through faith in the Lord Jesus. The story was told of a very young believer, who was in his uncle's house, one night, during a tremendous tempest. The older folk were all afraid; but he had really trusted himself with the Lord Jesus, and he did not dare to fear. The baby was upstairs, and nobody was brave enough to fetch it down because of a big window on the stairs. This lad went up to the bedroom, brought the baby to its mother, and then read a Psalm, and prayed with his relatives, who were trembling with fear. There was real danger, for a stack was set on fire a short distance away; but the youth was as calm as on a summer's day of sunshine, not because he was naturally brave, but because he truly trusted in the Lord.
While I was thus speaking, the darkness increased, and the storm overhead seemed brooding over us with black wings. It was growing dark before its hour. Most appropriately, one of the boys suggested a verse, which all sang sweetly and reverently,
This ended, there followed a word about the ground of the believer's trust: he was forgiven, and therefore dreaded no condemnation; he was in his Heavenly Father's hand, and therefore, feared no evil. If we were at enmity against God, and had all our sins resting upon our guilty heads, we might be afraid to die; yes, and even afraid to live; but, when reconciled to Him by the death of His Son, we said farewell to fear. With God against us, we are in a state of war; but with God for us, we dwell in perfect peace. Here came flashes of lightning and peals of thunder which might well make us start; but no one was afraid. It is true we all felt awed, but we were restful, and somehow there was a quiet but general cry for "Perfect peace." On enquiring what this meant, I was answered by all the boys singing right joyfully,
This sung, we covered our faces reverently, and the boys were very silent, while I lifted up my voice in prayer. Then we opened our eyes again, and it was very dark, as if night had come before its time. While the flames of fire leaped in through the windows and skylights, the noise of the rain upon the roof and the tremendous thunder scarcely permitted me to say much upon Jesus as being our peace, through His bearing our sins in His own body on the tree. Yet, as well as I could, I set forth the cross of Christ as the place of peace-making, peace-speaking, and peace-finding, both for boys and men; and then we all sang, to the accompaniment of the storm-music,
I need not write more. The storm abated. I hurried off to see inquirers at the Tabernacle, but not till one and another had said to me, "The boys will never forget this. It will abide with them throughout eternity". So be it, for Christ's sake! Amen'.