The Young Soul-winner at Waterbeach

DID you ever walk through a village notorious for its drunkenness and profanity? Did you ever see poor wretched beings, that once were men, standing, or rather leaning, against the posts of the alehouse, or staggering along the street? Have you ever looked into the houses of the people, and beheld them as dens of iniquity, at which your soul stood aghast? Have you ever seen the poverty, and degradation, and misery of the inhabitants, and sighed over it? "Yes," you say, "we have." But was it ever your privilege to walk through that village again, in after years, when the gospel had been preached there? It has been mine. I once knew just such a village as I have pictured--perhaps, in some respects, one of the worst in England--where many an illicit still was yielding its noxious liquor to a manufacturer without payment of the duty to the government, and where, in connection with that evil, all manner of riot and iniquity was rife.

There went into that village a lad, who had no great scholarship, but who was earnest in seeking the souls of men. He began to preach there, and it pleased God to turn the whole place upside down. In a short time, the little thatched chapel was crammed, the biggest vagabonds of the village were weeping floods of tears, and those who had been the curse of the parish became its blessing. Where there had been robberies and villainies of every kind, all round the neighbourhood, there were none, because the men who used to do the mischief were themselves in the house of God, rejoicing to hear of Jesus crucified. I am not telling an exaggerated story, nor a thing that I do not know, for it was my delight to labour for the Lord in that village. It was a pleasant thing to walk through that place, when drunkenness had almost ceased, when debauchery in the case of many was dead, when men and women went forth to labour with joyful hearts, singing the praises of the ever-living God; and when, at sunset, the humble cottager called his children together, read them some portion from the Book of Truth, and then together they bent their knees in prayer to God. I can say, with joy and happiness, that almost from one end of the village to the other, at the hour of eventide, one might have heard the voice of song coming from nearly every roof-tree, and echoing from almost every heart. I do testify, to the praise of God's grace, that it pleased the Lord to work wonders in our midst. He showed the power of Jesu's name, and made me a witness of that gospel which can win souls, draw reluctant hearts, and mould afresh the life and conduct of sinful men and women.

[The village here referred to is, of course, WATERBEACH, where Spurgeon first preached in October, 1851, as the following letter proves:

I received your most welcome note, and beg pardon if you think me negligent in returning thanks. I have been busily employed every Lord's-day; not at home once yet, nor do I expect to be this year. Last Sunday, I went to a place called Waterbeach, where there is an old-established church, but not able to support a minister. I have engaged to supply to the end of the month. They had, for twenty years, a minister who went over from Cambridge in the same way as you go to Tollesbury. After that, they tried to have a minister, but as they could not keep him, he has left, and they will have to do as they used to do. There is rail there and back, and it is only six miles.

I am glad you have such good congregations. I feel no doubt there is a great work doing there--the fields are ripe unto the harvest, the seed you have sown has yielded plenty of green, let us hope there will be abundance of wheat. Give my love to dear Mother; you have indeed had trials. I always like to see how you bear them. I think I shall never forget that time when Mother and all were so ill. How you were supported! How cheerful you were! You said, in a letter to me.

I trust that you are all well, and that the clouds are blown away. I am quite well, I am happy to say. Where is Aunt? It is four months since I have heard anything from her, or about her. We have no settled minister yet, nor do we expect any. I thank you much for your sermon; it will just do for me.

How greatly must I admire the love that could choose me to speak the gospel, and to be the happy recipient of it! I trust my greatest concern is to grow in grace, and to go onward in the blessed course. I feel jealous lest my motive should change, fearing lest I should be my own servant instead of the Lord's. How soon may we turn aside without knowing it, and begin to seek objects below the sacred office!

Mr. and Mrs. L. are well, and send their respects; Grandfather has asked me to go to Stambourne, but I cannot afford to go his way. With love to you, dear Mother, and all at home,

The text of Spurgeon's first Sermon at Waterbeach was Matthew i. 21. One of the deacons, Robert Coe, later described his impression of the youth from Cambridge at the beginning of the service: "He sat on one side of the table-pew and I on the other side. I shall never forget it. He looked so white, and I thought to myself, he'll never be able to preach--what a boy he is. I despised his youth, you know, and thought all this while the congregation was singing. Then when the hymn was over, he jumped up and began to read and expound the chapter about the Scribes and Pharisees and lawyers, and as he went on about their garments, their phylacteries, and long prayers, I knew that he could preach." The following is the outline of the first Sermon at Waterbeach:


"Thou shalt call His name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins." --Matthew i. 21.

The two parts of this Salvation are Justification and Sanctification.


1. Victory over--(1) our natural depravity, (2) the habits of sin, (3) temptations, (4) backslidings.

When I began to preach in the little thatched chapel at Waterbeach, my first concern was, Would God save any souls through me? They called me a ragged-headed boy, and I think I was just that; I know I wore a jacket. After I had preached for some little time, I thought, "This gospel has saved me, but then somebody else preached it; Will it save anybody else now that I preach it?" Some Sundays went over, and I used to say to the deacons, "Have you heard of anybody finding the Lord under my ministry? Do you know of anyone brought to Christ through my preaching?" My good old friend and deacon said, "I am sure somebody must have received the Saviour; I am quite certain it is so." "Oh!" I answered, "but I want to know it, I want to prove that it is so."

How my heart leaped for joy when I heard tidings of my first convert! I could never be satisfied with a full congregation, and the kind expressions of friends; I longed to hear that hearts had been broken, that tears had been seen streaming from the eyes of penitents. How I did rejoice, as one that findeth great spoil, one Sunday afternoon, when my good deacon said to me, "God has set His seal on your ministry in this place, sir." Oh, if anybody had said to me, "Someone has left you twenty thousand pounds," I should not have given a snap of my fingers for it, compared with the joy which I felt when I was told that God had saved a soul through my ministry! "Who is it?" I asked. "Oh, it is a poor labouring man's wife over at such-and-such a place! She went home broken-hearted by your sermon two or three Sundays ago, and she has been in great trouble of soul, but she has found peace, and she says she would like to speak to you." I said, "Will you drive me over there? I must go to see her;" and early on the Monday morning I was driving down to the village my deacon had mentioned, to see my first spiritual child. I have in my eye now the cottage in which she lived; believe me, it always appears picturesque. I felt like the boy who has earned his first guinea, or like a diver who has been down to the depths of the sea, and brought up a rare pearl. I prize each one whom God has given me, but I prize that woman most. Since then, my Lord has blessed me to many thousands of souls, who have found the Saviour by hearing or reading words which have come from my lips. I have had a great many spiritual children born of the preaching of the Word, but I still think that woman was the best of the lot. At least, she did not live long enough for me to find many faults in her. After a year or two of faithful witness-bearing, she went home, to lead the way for a goodly number who have followed her. I remember well her being received into the church, and dying, and going to heaven. She was the first seal to my ministry, and a very precious one. No mother was ever more full of happiness at the sight of her first-born son. Then could I have sung the song of the Virgin Mary, for my soul did magnify the Lord for remembering my low estate, and giving me the great honour to do a work for which all generations should call me blessed, for so I counted and still count the conversion of one soul. I would rather be the means of saving a soul from death than be the greatest orator on earth. I would rather bring the poorest woman in the world to the feet of Jesus than I would be made Archbishop of Canterbury. I would sooner pluck one single brand from the burning than explain all mysteries. To win a soul from going down into the pit, is a more glorious achievement than to be crowned in the arena of theological controversy as Dr. Suffcientissimus; to have faithfully unveiled the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ will be, in the final judgment, accounted worthier service than to have solved the problems of the religious Sphinx, or to have cut the Gordian knot of Apocalyptic difficulty. One of my happiest thoughts is that, when I die, it shall be my privilege to enter into rest in the bosom of Christ; and I know that I shall not enjoy my heaven alone. Thousands have already entered there, who have been drawn to Christ under my ministry. Oh! What bliss it will be to fly to heaven, and to have a multitude of converts before and behind, and, on entering the glory, to be able to say, "Here am I, Father, and the children Thou hast given me."

A minister will never, I should think, forget his earliest converts. He lives to see hundreds begotten unto God by his means, but of these who were the children of his youth he still treasures delightful memories, for are they not his first-born, his might, and the beginning of his strength? I can recall an elderly woman who had found peace with God through my youthful ministry, and especially do I recollect her wail of woe as she told of the days of her ignorance, and the consequent godless bringing up of her children. Her words were somewhat as follows, and I write them down for the good of mothers who labour hard out of love to their dear ones, and provide them with all necessaries for this life, but never think of the life to come: "Oh, sir!" said she, "I should be quite happy now, only I have one sore trouble which keeps me very low. I am so sad about my dear children. I was left with eight of them, and I worked hard at the washtub, and in other ways, morning, noon, and night, to find bread for them. I did feed and clothe them all, but I am sure I don't know how I did it. I had often to deny myself, both in food and clothing, and times were very hard with me. Nobody could have slaved worse than I did, to mend, and clean, and keep a roof over our heads. I cannot blame myself for any neglect about their bodies, but as to their souls, I never cared about my own, and of course I never thought of theirs. Two of them died, I dare not think about them. God has forgiven me, but I can't forget my sin against my poor children; I never taught them a word which could be of any use to them. The others are all alive, but there is not one of them in the least religious. How could they be when they saw how their mother lived? It troubles me more a good deal than all the working for them ever did, for I'm afraid they are going down to destruction, and all through their cruel mother."

Here she burst into tears, and I pitied her so much that I said I hardly thought she was cruel, for she was in ignorance, and would never intentionally have neglected anything that was for her children's good. "Don’t excuse me," said she, "for if I had used my common sense, I might have known that my children were not like the sheep and the horses which die, and there's an end of them. I never thought about it at all, or I might have known better, and I feel that I was a cruel mother never to have considered their souls at all. They are all worldly, and none of them go to a place of worship, year in and year out. I never took them there, and how can I blame them! As soon as I was converted, I went down to my eldest son, who has a large family, and I told him what the Lord had done for me, and entreated him to come here with me to the services, but he said he wondered what next, and he had no time. When I pleaded hard with him, he said he was sure I meant well but 'it was no go,'--he liked his Sunday at home too well to go to hear parsons. You know, sir, you can't bend a tree; I ought to have bent the twig when I could have done it. Oh if I had but led him to the house of God when he was little! He would have gone then, for he loved his mother, and so he does now, but not enough to go where I want him. So, you see, I can do nothing with my son now. I was a cruel mother, and let the boy go into the fields, or the streets, when he should have been in the Sunday-school. Oh, that I could have my time back again, and have all my children around me as little ones, that I might teach them about my blessed Saviour! They are all beyond me now. What can I do?"

She sat down and wept bitterly, and I heartily wish all unconverted mothers could have seen her, and heard her lamentations. It was very pleasant to know that she was herself saved, and to see in her very sorrow the evidence of her genuine repentance; but, still, the evil which she lamented was a very terrible one, and might well demand a lifetime of mourning. Young mother, do not, as you love your babe, suffer it to grow up without Divine instruction. But you cannot teach your child if you do not know the Lord Jesus yourself. May the good Lord lead you to give your heart to Christ at once, and then help you to train your dear little ones for Heaven!

There was one woman in Waterbeach who bore among her neighbours the reputation of being a regular virago, and I was told that, sooner or later, she would give me a specimen of her tongue-music. I said, "All right; but that's a game at which two can play." I am not sure whether anybody reported to her my answer, but, not long afterwards, I was passing her gate, one morning, and there stood the lady herself; and I must say that her vigorous mode of speech fully justified all that I had heard concerning her. The typical Billingsgate fish-woman would have been nowhere in comparison with her. I made up my mind how to act, so I smiled, and said, "Yes, thank you; I am quite well, I hope you are the same." Then came another outburst of vituperation, pitched in a still higher key, to which I replied, still smiling, "Yes, it does look rather as if it is going to rain; I think I had better be getting on." "Bless the man!" she exclaimed, "he's as deaf as a post; what's the use of storming at him?" So I bade her, "Good morning," and I am not sure whether she ever came to the chapel to hear the "deaf" preacher who knew it was no use to give any heed to her mad ravings.

If I could have had a hope of doing her any good, I would have gone into her house, and talked with her, for I certainly went into some queer places while I was in that region. I used to think that, where my Master went, I need never be ashamed to go, and I have gone into some persons' houses, before I came to London, that I should have felt ashamed to enter if they had not invited me on a Sabbath-day. As I have stepped in there for the purpose of giving them religious advice, some have said to me, "What! going into that house?" "Yes, and quite right, too. 'The whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick.'" I have gone after "the lost sheep of the house of Israel", and I have won their hearts because I went there, and talked to them of their sins. But had I stayed away, there would have been something of this spirit, "Stand by, for I am holier than you are; I cannot enter your house, because you are such an outrageous sinner." But when I go and talk to a man, and lay my hand on his shoulder, and ask him questions, he does not mind telling out his state of mind when I am under his own roof; and when I am gone, he says, "That man is not ashamed to speak to his fellows, I like that kind of preacher."

While I was at Waterbeach, I had one man who caused me many bitter tears. When I first knew him, he was the ringleader in all that was bad; a tall, fine, big fellow, and one who could, perhaps, drink more than any man for miles around him--a man who would curse and swear, and never knew a thought of fear. He was the terror of the neighbourhood; there were many incendiary fires in the region, and most people attributed them to him. Sometimes, he would be drunk for two or three weeks at a spell, and then he raved and raged like a madman. That man came to hear me; I recollect the sensation that went through the little chapel when he entered. He sat there, and fell in love with me; I think that was the only conversion that he experienced, but he professed to be converted. He had, apparently, been the subject of genuine repentance, and he became outwardly quite a changed character; he gave up his drinking and his swearing, and was in many respects an exemplary individual. All the parish was astonished. There was old Tom So-and-so weeping, and it was rumoured about that he felt impressed; he began regularly to attend the chapel, and was manifestly an altered man. The public-house lost an excellent customer; he was not seen in the skittle-alley, nor was he detected in the drunken rows that were so common in the neighbourhood. After a while, he ventured to come forward at the prayer-meeting; he talked about what he had experienced, what he had felt and known. I heard him pray; it was rough, rugged language, but there was such impassioned earnestness, I set him down as being a bright jewel in the Redeemer's crown. He held out six, nay, nine months he persevered in our midst. If there was rough work to be done, he would do it; if there was a Sunday-school to be maintained, six or seven miles away, he would walk there. At any risk, he would be out to help in the Lord's work; if he could but be of service to the meanest member of the Church of Christ, he rejoiced greatly. I remember seeing him tugging a barge, with perhaps a hundred people on board, whom he was drawing up to a place where I was going to preach; and he was glorying in the work, and singing as gladly and happily as any one of them. If anybody spoke a word against the Lord or His servant, he did not hesitate a moment, but knocked him over.

So he went on for a time, but, at last, the laughter to which he was exposed, the jeers and scoffs of his old companions--though at first he bore them like a man--became too much for him. He began to think he had been a little too fanatical, a little too earnest. He slunk up to the place of worship instead of coming boldly in; he gradually forsook the week-night service, and then neglected the Sabbath-day; and, though often warned, and often rebuked, he returned to his old habits, and any thoughts of God or godliness that he had ever known, seemed to die away. He could again utter the blasphemer's oath; once more he could act wickedly with the profane; and he--of whom we had often boasted, and said, in our prayer-meetings, "Oh! how much is God glorified by this man's conversion! What cannot Divine grace do?"--to the confusion of us all, was to be seen sometimes drunk in our streets, and then it was thrown in our teeth, "This is one of your Christians, is it?--one of your converts gone back again, and become as bad as he was before!" Before I left the district, I was afraid that there was no real work of grace in him. He was a wild Red Indian sort of a man; and I have heard of him taking a bird, plucking it, and eating it raw in the field. That was not the act of a Christian man, it was not one of the things that are comely, and of good repute. After I left the neighbourhood, I asked after him, and I could hear nothing good of him; he became worse than he was before, if that was possible; certainly, he was no better, and seemed to be unreachable by any agency.

Among my early hearers at Waterbeach was one good old woman whom I called "Mrs. Much-afraid". I feel quite sure she has been many years in Heaven, but she was always fearing that she should never enter the gates of glory. She was very regular in her attendance at the house of God, and was a wonderfully good listener. She used to drink in the gospel; but, nevertheless, she was always doubting, and fearing, and trembling about her own spiritual condition. She had been a believer in Christ, I should think, for fifty years, yet she had always remained in that timid, fearful, anxious state. She was a kind old soul, ever ready to help her neighbours, or to speak a word to the unconverted she seemed to me to have enough grace for two people, yet, in her own opinion, she had not half enough grace for one.

One day, when I was talking with her, she told me that she had not any hope at all; she had no faith; she believed that she was a hypocrite. I said, "Then don't come to the chapel any more; we don't want hypocrites there. Why do you come?" She answered, "I come because I can't stop away. I love the people of God; I love the house of God; and I love to worship God." "Well," I said, "you are an odd sort of hypocrite; you are a queer kind of unconverted woman." "Ah!" she sighed, "you may say what you please, but I have not any hope of being saved." So I said to her, "Well, next Sunday, I will let you go into the pulpit, that you may tell the people that Jesus Christ is a liar, and that you cannot trust Him." "Oh!" she cried, "I would be torn in pieces before I would say such a thing as that. Why, He cannot lie! Every word He says is true." "Then," I asked, "why do you not believe it?" She replied, "I do believe it; but, somehow, I do not believe it for myself; I am afraid whether it is for me." "Have you not any hope at all " I asked. "No," she answered; so I pulled out my purse, and I said to her, "Now, I have got £5 here, it is all the money I have, but I will give you that £5 for your hope if you will sell it." She looked at me, wondering what I meant. "Why!" she exclaimed, "I would not sell it for a thousand worlds." She had just told me that she had not any hope of salvation, yet she would not sell it for a thousand worlds!

I fully expect to see that good old soul when I get to Heaven, and I am certain she will say to me, "Oh, dear sir, how foolish I was when I lived down there at Waterbeach! I went groaning all the way to glory when I might just as well have gone there singing, I was always troubled and afraid, but my dear Lord kept me by His grace, and brought me safely here." She died very sweetly; it was with her as John Bunyan said it was with Miss Much-afraid, Mr. Despondency's daughter. Mr. Great-heart had much trouble with those poor pilgrims on the road to the Celestial City, for, if there was only a straw in the way, they were fearful that they would stumble over it. Yet Bunyan says, "When the time was come for them to depart, they went to the brink of the river. The last words of Mr. Despondency were, ‘Fare-well night, welcome day.' His daughter went through the river singing." Our Lord often makes it calm and peaceful, or even joyous and triumphant, for His departing timid ones. He puts some of His greatest saints to bed in the dark, and they wake up in the eternal light, but He frequently keeps the candle burning for Mr. Little-faith, Mr. Feeble-mind, Mr. Ready-to-halt, Mr. Despondency, and Miss Much-afraid. They go to sleep in the light, and they also wake up in the land where the Lamb is all the glory for ever and ever.