Blessed is that man to whom the Lord has said, 'The blood shall be to you for a token.' Death's terrors are gone to him who has the blood for a token. Lay me down on my bed! There let me endure the allotted pain and weakness, till the clammy sweat stands on my brow, and needs to be constantly wiped away: lay me down, I say, and I will calmly fall asleep like a child tired with a day's play.
'A token,' say you, 'what is it? Is it some line extracted from the golden book of God's election? Is it a gem taken from the diadem which is prepared for him in heaven?' No, no, it is not this. 'Has he in his sleep beheld a vision and seen the shining ones walking the golden streets, or has he heard an audible celestial voice saying to him, "Thou art mine"?' No, he has none of these, he has neither dream nor vision nor anything that men call superhuman, but he is resting in the precious blood, and this blood is the token of friendship between God and his soul; by this he knows the love of God, and by this God communes with him. They meet at the blood. God delights in the sacrifice of Christ, and the believing soul delights in it too; they have thus a common love and a common joy, and this has bound the two together by a bond which never can be broken. This it is which makes some of us sing
The Last Year
THE first Sabbath after his return from the sunny South--February 8, 1891--the Pastor preached at the Tabernacle from Isaiah 62:6, 7, using both the Authorized and Revised Versions, as he had done when speaking upon that passage at Mentone. On that occasion, he said to his secretary, 'You need not transcribe your report, for I expect to have this subject again when I get home.' He had been specially struck with the Revisers' rendering of the text: 'Ye that are the Lord's remembrancers, take ye no rest, and give Him no rest, till He establish, and till He make Jerusalem a praise in the earth.' The sermon was intended to be the key-note of the year's service for God; it was a powerful call to prayer and testimony, yet probably even the preacher himself did not then fully realize how appropriate was his message in preparing the people for that long season of almost ceaseless intercession while he was enduring the heaviest affliction of his life, and from which he was never really to recover.
Although there were ominous indications that his health was by no means all that could be desired, he did not spare himself, but laboured with the utmost earnestness and zeal to extend his Master's Kingdom. A brief 'Note' in The Sword and the Trowel of that period gives just a glimpse of the great spiritual prosperity which was being enjoyed only a little while before the startling breakdown which proved to be 'the beginning of the end': 'The month of March has been a memorable one for the church in the Tabernacle. Pastor C. H. S. continued to see persons who wished to join the church, and out of these he had eighty-four to propose for fellowship. How much of joyous labour all these involved, is best known to the Pastor and the sympathizing reapers who shared his delightful toil. To God alone be glory.
The last College Conference at which Spurgeon was present was held from Monday, April 20, to Friday, April 24. In the June number of The Sword and the Trowel, the Editor inserted the following 'Note' concerning the Sabbath night after the meetings: 'To the President, the week of Conference was one of exhausting delight. Every day, everything went well. . . . Of course, there was a reaction for the one who was the centre of all this; and, for the first time in a ministry of forty years, we entered the pulpit on the Sunday evening, and were obliged to hurry out of it; for a low, nervous condition shut us up. Happily, Mr. Stott could take up the story there and then and he did so.' It was very remarkable that, in his letter, written to Mr. Stott, four months previously, concerning his appointment as assistant-minister for the year 1891, Spurgeon said: 'It would be a great, relief to me if l knew that someone was on the spot to take the pulpit should I suddenly fail.' That expression almost implies a premonition of what took place on that Sabbath night, April 26, 1891.
This unprecedented experience was an indication of a very serious state of affairs; yet the following Lord's-day morning, May 3, the Pastor was in his pulpit again; and he delivered the discourse which he had prepared for the previous week, prefacing it with a reference to the 'overpowering nervousness' which had then oppressed him, and pointing out the lessons which that strange occurrence was probably intended to teach to himself and his hearers. He preached again at night; on the following afternoon, he was at the Tabernacle, seeing enquirers and candidates for church-fellowship; and in the evening, he presided at the prayer-meeting. In the course of the proceedings, he asked for earnest supplication on behalf of the special services in which he was to be occupied during the week. These comprised the annual sermon to Sunday-school teachers, at Bloomsbury Chapel on the Tuesday evening; a Sermon at the Tabernacle, on the Thursday night, in aid of the British and Foreign Sailors' Society, preceded by a prayer-meeting in the lecture-hall; and two meetings at Hendon, on the Friday, in connection with the "Fraternal" of which Spurgeon was a member. In the June number of The Sword and the Trowel the Editor gave a brief account of all these gatherings, and some others that followed shortly afterwards; and his 'Notes' indicate that the long illness had commenced, although he was not then aware of its serious nature or its probable duration. The concluding paragraphs were as follows:
'Friends will note that all the above meetings were held in one week, which also included two Sabbath services and the great communion at the Tabernacle, beside all the regular homework, correspondence etc. In addition, the Lord's-day morning sermon had to be revised, and published the following Thursday; and the sermons to Sunday-school teachers and sailors were received for revision, and duly attended to. Is it any wonder that the worker gets weary, and has to beg friends not to impose further burdens on one who is already terribly overladen?
On Friday evening, May 15, Mr. Spurgeon spoke at the Presbyterian missionary meeting at Exeter Hall. It was a time of peculiar bodily weakness, and of special spiritual strength. God bless our friends who so kindly received the message and the messenger!
On Sunday evening, May 17, Mr. Spurgeon could not preach; and on the Monday, the doctor found him laid aside with congestion of the lungs and other matters, which forbid his quitting his chamber for some little, time to come. "My times are in Thy hand." We would always be preaching: howbeit, the Lord thinketh not so.
The text quoted by the Pastor was the subject of his Sabbath morning sermon on May 17, which many have supposed to be his last discourse in the Tabernacle. It was not, however, for there was one more message which he was to be permitted to speak to the great congregation before that 'long silence' which was only temporarily broken at Mentone on the following New Year's Eve. On Lord's day morning, June 7, 1891, Spurgeon stood for the last time on that platform which, for thirty years, had been his pulpit throne, and from which he had proclaimed the gospel to at least twenty millions of hearers, while, by means of the printed page, he had been brought into communication with a far greater number of readers in all quarters of the globe. His-text, on that ever-memorable morning, was I Samuel 30. 21-25; and the sermon was published, as No. 2,208 in the regular weekly issue, under the title, 'The Statute of David for the Sharing of the Spoil.' The whole discourse was a noble conclusion to the Pastor's ministry in the beautiful sanctuary which was ever to him what, Zion was to the Jews; but the final sentences were specially noteworthy:
'If you wear the livery of Christ, you will find Him so meek and lowly of heart that you will find rest unto your souls. He is the most magnanimous of captains. There never was His like among the choicest of princes. He is always to be found in the thickest part of the battle. When the wind blows cold He always takes the bleak side of the hill. The heaviest end of the cross lies ever on His shoulders. If He bids us carry a burden, He carries it also. If there is anything that is gracious, generous, kind, and tender, yea, lavish and superabundant in love, you always find it in Him. His service is life, peace, joy. Oh, that you would enter on it at once! God help you to enlist under the banner of JESUS CHRIST!
On the following morning, Spurgeon went into the country, to be the guest of Mr. Gurteen, of Haverhill (Suffolk), in order that he might again visit Stambourne and its neighbourhood, that his photographer friend might take the views which he wished to have reproduced for his little volume, Memories of Stambourne. In the course of the week, however, a renewal of his malady set in and on the Friday he was compelled to hurry home; then, for three months, he was completely laid aside.
For a while, all that medical skill, patient watching, and careful nursing could do, appeared to be of no avail; and, with the use of all means that seemed wise and right, prayer was being offered, unceasingly, by believers all over the world. The Tabernacle Church, beginning with a whole day of intercession for the suffering Pastor, continued to meet, morning, noon, and night, to plead for his recovery. In hundreds and perhaps thousands of Nonconformist places of worship, sympathetic petitions were presented on his behalf. The Chief Rabbi of the Jews, although holding very different views from Spurgeon's, remembered him in the Synagogue service during his season of suffering. Many of the clergy of the Established Church, with their congregations, were equally earnest in praying for him, the ecclesiastical dignitaries officiating at St. Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey joining with the Archbishops and many of the Bishops in interceding on his behalf.
The secular and religious press of our own and other lands devoted much space to accounts of his illness, and particulars of his work--not always accurate, though, on the whole, exceedingly kind and appreciative. Telegrams, letters, and resolutions of sympathy poured into 'Westwood' in a continuous stream, while those who called or sent to enquire after the sufferer were of all ranks, from the Prince of Wales and a great proportion of the nobility of the country to the poorest of the poor. The progress towards a measure of recovery may be briefly traced. On August, the following letter, the first written by the Pastor's own hand after his long illness, was read to the congregation at the Tabernacle, and was received both as an answer to prayer, and an encouragement to continued intercession:--
The Lord's Name be praised for first giving and then hearing the loving prayers of His people! Through these prayers my life is prolonged. I feel greatly humbled, and very grateful, at being the object of so great a love and so wonderful an outburst of prayer.
I have not strength to say more. Let the Name of the Lord be glorified
Even after the first signs of improvement were manifest, a long and wearisome time followed, hopeful advances alternating with disappointing relapses. At last, the patient was able to be carried downstairs, and to be wheeled round his garden, where the fresh air seemed to work wonders for him. On entering his study, for the first time, and catching sight of the final proofs of John Ploughman's Almanack and Spurgeon's Illustrated Almanack and then asking for copies of the recently-issued sermons and magazine, he exclaimed, 'Why! you have carried on everything just as if I had been here.' Those who were responsible for the work felt that, if possible, nothing must be allowed to suffer during his absence; and it was a great joy to them to find how highly their services were appreciated by the Pastor.
As the autumn advanced, and the patient's weakness remained, it became certain that he must go to Mentone for the winter if he could journey so far. 'The renewed offer of Dr Pierson, to cross the Atlantic if he could be of any service to the Pastor, appeared to everyone another providential arrangement; and, ultimately, it settled that he should commence his service at the Tabernacle on Lord's-day, October 25. In order to test the invalid's power to travel, an experimental visit was paid to Eastbourne from October 3 to 16. This proved most satisfactory, and it also further indicated the absolute necessity of a prolonged rest in the sunny South. Accordingly, on Monday, October 26, Pastor and Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, Pastor and Mrs. J. A. Spurgeon, and Joseph Harrald started on their thousand miles' journey, arriving at their destination on Thursday, October 29.
It was a tender token of the Lord's loving kindness that husband and wife were, for once, permitted to travel together to Mentone, and to spend there three months of perfect happiness before the sorrowful separation which had been so long dreaded, but which came at last almost without warning. Spurgeon's oft-expressed longing--'Oh, that my dear wifey could see all the beauties and glories of this land of sunshine and flowers!'--was at length realized; and he had the joy of pointing out to her the many scenes with which he had been familiar for years, but which became doubly precious to him under such delightful circumstances. The rooms in the Hôtel Beau Rivage, which he and his friends had occupied year by year, soon began to give evidence of a lady's presence in them. A special improvement was made in the large sitting-room which had become a peculiarly hallowed spot to all the members of the Pastor's Mentone circle because of the morning gatherings there for the reading of the Word and prayer, and the still more sacred Sabbath afternoon meetings around the table of the Lord.
Mr. Spurgeon's weakness prevented him from resuming those much-prized hotel services, during his last sojourn 'on the sunny shore,' except on the memorable occasions hereafter mentioned; but he lost no time in beginning such literary work as he felt able to accomplish, and would never admit that he was doing too much for an invalid. His chief employment was the continuation of his Exposition of the Gospel according to Matthew. Articles for The Sword and the Trowel, with 'Notes' and reviews of books, also came from his busy pen; but he expressly said that he only occupied the editorial chair while he wrote the Preface to the magazine volume for 1891. The important work of sermon-revision was also left almost entirely in the hands of those upon whom it had devolved during his long illness, the only exceptions being the two notable discourses, 'Gratitude for Deliverance from the Grave,' and 'A Stanza of Deliverance,' intended for reading on the first and last Lord's-days in January, 1892.
The December number of The Sword and the Trowel opened with an article by Spurgeon under the suggestive title, '? ? ?'. In his usual graphic fashion he described his own physical condition, and made use of it in suggesting enquiries concerning his readers' spiritual state. In that paper, he referred to the two things which were characteristic of a great part of his time of partial convalescence--the deceptive appearance of a return to health, and the fact that the deadly disease was still firmly entrenched within his system, and ready at any moment to end his earthly existence.
One great help to him was the bright sunshine in which he was able to spend so much of his time. He almost lived in the open air, usually going for a drive in the morning, and in the afternoon having a ride in a Bath chair, along the Promenade St. Louis. This was the scene of the walking exercise in which he engaged so perseveringly in the winter of 1890-1.
A favorite route for a short drive was, around the Boulevard Victoria, and along the breakwater, as Spurgeon always admired the view of the old town across the harbour. One of the longest and latest drives that the Pastor and Mrs. Spurgeon took together is mentioned on a post card, written to Mr. Passmore, which reads as follows:
'I have only good news to send you. I have not gone backward, but doctor says I am a shade better as to my disease. In other respects I feel up to the mark, Mrs. S. is well. Beautiful ride this morning. Weather has been bad, but today is heavenly. Snow on the mountains just makes us the more grateful. . . . I sent telegram of sympathy to Sandringham. I could not help it, as the Prince had so kindly thought of me. May the Lord save all you love from this fell disease'.
On the New Year's Eve and the following morning, Mr. Spurgeon gave to a privileged circle of friends the two addresses, which he afterwards revised for publication in the magazine, under the title, 'Breaking the Long Silence.' He also conducted two short services in his sitting-room, on January 10 and 17, when he was persuaded not to attempt to give a new address, and rather reluctantly consented to read portions of his early sermon on Psalm 73:28, and his Exposition of Matthew 15:21-28. On the second Sabbath evening--January 17, 1892--before offering the closing prayer at the final service in which he took part on earth, he gave out the last hymn he was ever to announce to a company of worshippers here below. If he could have foreseen what was to happen only a fortnight later, he could hardly have chosen a more appropriate farewell than the poem founded on some words of Samuel Rutherford--
On the two following days, the wind was very rough, so Mr. Spurgeon went only for short drives; but on Wednesday morning, he was able to go as far as the little village of Monti. In the afternoon, signs of gout appeared in his right hand; later in the day other serious symptoms were manifest and he had to retire to the bed from which he never again rose. It soon became evident that a crisis was approaching, though there were intervals of improvement which gave ground for slight hope. Towards the end of the week, the Pastor said to his secretary, 'My work is done,' and spoke of some matters in a way that indicated his own conviction that he was not going to recover.
Tuesday, January 26, was the day on which thank-offerings were brought to the Tabernacle, in grateful acknowledgment of the Pastor's partial restoration. By that time, he had become so much worse that he was for a long while only partly conscious; but he had not forgotten the special character of the day, and he sent a telegram which, under the circumstances, was peculiarly significant:--'Self and wife, £l00, hearty thank-offering toward Tabernacle General Expenses. Love to all friends.' That was his last act and his last message; for, shortly afterwards he became totally unconscious, and remained so until five minutes past eleven on the Sabbath night--January 31, 1892--when, like his namesake, Mr. Valiant-for-truth, 'he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.'
Shortly the news was being flashed all over the world, and in every quarter of the globe many felt a sense of personal loss as they read or heard it. The telegraph wires at Mentone were speedily blocked with the multitudes of messages to Mrs. Spurgeon, the Prince and Princess of Wales being among the first to 'desire to express their deep sympathy with her in her great sorrow.'
Flowers in abundance were sent by friends, but Mrs. Spurgeon intimated her preference for palm branches as the most suitable emblems of her husband's victorious entrance into 'the presence of the King.' At the head and foot of the olive casket, were plates bearing the following inscription:
In the early years of his visits to Wotton, in Surrey, the Pastor had always said that he would like to be buried in the churchyard of that village. Later, he expressed the wish to lie in the centre of the Stockwell Orphanage grounds, for he thought that many would come to look at his grave, and then help the orphans in whom he took so deep an interest; but when the Electric Railway caused such a disturbance to the Institution, he abandoned that idea. At one time, he said he would like to be buried at Mentone, but after he had attended the funeral of a friend there he gave up that notion. Last of all, it was mentioned that he had pointed to a site in Norwood cemetery--in a far less conspicuous position than the one ultimately chosen--and asked that it might be reserved for him; so that, in death as in life, he might be surrounded by his church officers and members, many hundreds of whom are buried there. The Tabernacle deacons sent an urgent request to Mrs. Spurgeon, asking that this might be the arrangement, and the matter was so settled.
The memorial and funeral services at the Tabernacle from Sunday, the 7th February to the Thursday following, when the interment took place, were attended as it was estimated by not less than 100,000 people. The Bible on the top of the olivewood casket was that which Spurgeon had so long used at the Tabernacle. It was opened at Isaiah 45:22: 'Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth', the text which on January 6, 1850 had been blessed to his conversion.
Now, when his own preaching of that Word was ended, the number of members on the church roll was 5,311, and during his long pastorate no less than 14,691 had been received into fellowship; At the end of 1891, there were 22 mission stations, and 27 Sunday and Ragged Schools, with 612 teachers, 8,034 scholars, and accommodation for 3,840 worshippers in the various halls used for public services. Comparing this great host with the little company of anxious but praying people to whom 'the boy-preacher' delivered his first discourse, in New Park Street Chapel, on that historic morning, in December, 1853, one can only say, as he said, times without number, when speaking of the blessing which the Lord had graciously vouchsafed to his ministry, 'What hath God wrought!'
Never had the South of London witnessed such a procession as that day, Thursday, February 11, 1892, slowly moved from the Tabernacle to the cemetery; and never had such crowds assembled along that five-mile route to Norwood. More than eighteen years before, the Pastor had given a description of the scene; but probably even he had no conception of the throng that would gather to do honour to his memory. At the close of his sermon, on Lord's-day evening, December 27, 1874, he said: 'In a little while there will be a concourse of persons in the streets. Methinks I hear someone enquiring, "What are all these people waiting for?" "Do you not know? He is to be buried to-day." "And who is that!" "It is Spurgeon." "What! the man that preached at the Tabernacle'" "Yes; he is to be buried to-day." That will happen very soon; and when you see my coffin carried to the silent grave, I should like every one of you, whether converted or not, to be constrained to say, "He did earnestly urge us, in plain and simple language, not to put off the consideration of eternal things. He did entreat us to look to Christ. Now he is gone, our blood is not at his door if we perish." God grant that you may not have to bear the bitter reproach of your own conscience! But, as I feel "the time is short," I will stir you up so long as I am in this Tabernacle.'
Though the scene along the route was striking, that presented at the cemetery was, in some respects, even more so. The long line of ministers, and students, and other friends, all in mourning garb, reaching from the entrance to the grave itself, was a sight that could never be forgotten by those who saw it. At length, the vast throng clustered in a dense mass around and upon the slope outside the cemetery chapel, where the last service was to be conducted. The principal part in the closing ceremony fell to the share of Pastor Archibald G. Brown, and nothing could have been more suitable than his solemn and touching words. They came straight from his heart: they entered thousands of other hearts. With great pathos and many pauses, he said--
'Beloved President, Faithful Pastor, Prince of Preachers, Brother Beloved, Dear Spurgeon--We bid thee not "farewell," but only for a little while "good-night." Thou shalt rise soon, at the first dawn of the resurrection day of the redeemed. Yet is not the "goodnight" ours to bid, but thine. It is we who linger in the darkness; thou art in God's own light. Our night, too, shall soon be past, and with it all our weeping. Then, with thine, our songs shall greet the morning of a day that knows no cloud nor close, for there is no night there.
Hard Worker in the field, thy toil is ended! Straight has been the furrow thou hast ploughed. No looking back has marred thy course. Harvests have followed thy patient sowing, and heaven is already rich with thine ingathered sheaves, and shall be still enriched through years yet lying in eternity.
Champion of God, thy battle long and nobly fought is over! The sword, which clave to thine hand, has dropped at last; the palm branch takes its place. No longer does the helmet press thy brow, oft weary with its surging thoughts of battle; the victor's wreath from the Great Commander's hand has already proved thy full reward.
Here, for a little while, shall rest thy precious dust. Then shall thy Well-Beloved come, and at His voice thou shalt spring from thy couch of earth, fashioned like unto His glorious body. Then spirit, soul, and body shall magnify thy Lord's redemption. Until then, beloved, sleep! We praise God for thee; and by the blood of the everlasting covenant, we hope and expect to praise God with thee. Amen.'
The memorial number of The Sword and the Trowel contained the following paragraphs, which will fitly close the account of that memorable season:
'While we gathered around the grave, a little patch of blue sky appeared, just over our heads, as if to remind us of the glory-land above; and while Mr. Brown was Speaking, a dove flew from the direction of the Tabernacle towards the tomb, and, wheeling in its flight over the crowd, almost seemed to pause. In ancient days, it would have been an augury: to us, it spoke only peace. As the service proceeded, a little robin poured forth its liquid note all the while from a neighbouring tombstone; the redbreast made appropriate music, fabled as it was to have had its crimson coat ever since it picked a thorn from the Saviour's bleeding brow. Well, we do not believe that; but we believe what we sang at the grave, the truth that Spurgeon lived to preach, and died to defend,
Many remarked that the whole of the memorial services, unique as they were, were characterized by a simplicity and heartiness completely in harmony with the entire life of the beloved Pastor; and it was most significant that, when the olive casket was lowered into the vault, not even the glorified preacher's name was visible--it was just as he would have wished it--there was nothing to be seen but the text at the foot of the coffin, and the open Bible. Of course, the Bible was not buried; it is not dead, it 'liveth and abideth for ever and who knows whether it may not prove, more than ever, the means of quickening the dead, now that he, who loved it dearer than his life, can no longer proclaim its blessed truths with the living voice? God grant it!'