The Prophet of the People
MAY, 1854DECEMBER, 1859
ROM THE BEGINNING there were those who recognised the young London preacher as a prophet for his time, and as the weeks went on the discovery was made by increasing numbers. Their estimate was a true one, for in retrospect today no more fitting words can be found to describe him than "There was a man sent from God." Before he attained his majority he was conscious that he was a man with a mission, and such a man always bears a charmed life.
A greater Baptist than Mr. Spurgeon had to pass through all the stages he had passed through in popular estimation. A reed shaken with the wind, a nine days' wonder, a flash in the pan, a little momentary flutterthat was the first step. Then the man clothed in soft raiment, seeking for himself, feathering his own nest, making a good thing of itthat was the next step. But a prophet, yea, more than a prophetthat was the last step in the process, and to that step Mr. Spurgeon has come.
But Mr. Spurgeon was a prophet all along. Like Paul, he could in his measure say that the Gospel he preached was not after man. "For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but [it came to me] by revelation of Jesus Christ." Like the elder Pitt, he leaped full-grown upon the stage, an acknowledged prince amongst his fellows, wielding his tools with skill, and fulfilling his task with ease.
"He was not 'dandied and cosseted by a superfine education' into a great preacher, any more than Edmund Burke was prepared by similar advantages to become a distinguished legislator and orator. Nitor in adversum was the motto of both." Even a Jewish writer could recognise the seal of God on such a ministry. "Spurgeon was a powerful instance of the difference between scholastic attainment and genius," he says. "There was much of the Old Hebrew Prophet about him, and, like all Puritans, his soul was saturated with the Old Testament."
It was an Anglican journal that declared, at his death, that "every now and then some one takes the world by storm. Without succeeding to anybody else's post, the newcomer makes for himself a definite place in the world's consciousness, and a recognised influence, for good or for ill, in some department of the world's work. He may be statesman, soldier, poet, artist or preacher, but he is unique. That is the type of man whose influence lives on, and whose figure becomes historical. If we mistake not, Mr. Spurgeon belongs to this small class of persons whose career seems independent of circumstances just as their genius is independent of training."
His prophetic gift became daily more evident. Wider and wider grew the circle of his influence, steadier and steadier the light shone. While ecclesiastics debated, and journalists laughed, the people eagerly sought for the building that seemed as if it had been placed in that South London byway to elude their search. But, like his Master, Spurgeon could not be hid. The scene when he was preaching there in those early days was recalled in a vein of friendly banter by a society journal, famous for its caricatures, when seventeen years afterward it selected him as its subject. "In 1853," it said, "the fame of his natural oratory won for him the position of minister of New Park Street Chapel, which soon overflowed with his audiences, so that the narrow streets were blocked, and the public houses were crowded with those who could not find room in the chapel, or who, on leaving it with an awakened sense of sin, felt it to be a relief to quench the spirit in a mug of beer."
That half humorous, half true description by a man of the world reflects the heterogeneous conditions of the time. After a few months it became quite evident that the chapel was all too small for the congregations that gathered in increasing volume. Not only the seats, but the aisles, and even the windowsills were crowded, and hundreds lingered at the doors in the hope of hearing snatches of the sermon. Of course the atmosphere became stifling, and from the beginning that was a thing he could not endure. "His eyes continually hungered for the sight of green fields, and his homestead in later years was always so situated that his ear could drink in the song of the morning lark, and the mating strains of the nightingale, and his heart feel the sweet and refining influence that comes from wood and vale." But though he urged the deacons to improve the ventilation of the place, nothing was attempted until one morning it was discovered that some one had been round the building and had broken a good many of the windows. It was suggested in the officers' meeting that a reward should be offered for the discovery of the person who had dared to do such a thing, but Spurgeon dissuaded them from this course, and the offender was never discovered, though several persons made a shrewd guess as to his identity. If the offer of the reward had been successfully made, Spurgeon himself would, of course, have been both the winner and the culprit. The nearest he ever came to a confession was when he showed a stout stick "that might have done it." Anyhow, the deacons were stirred to action.
The young preacher was never scared by the assumptions of officials. Once in those early days he was somewhat late for an engagement, an exceptional occurrence, and a pompous deacon met him, severely holding out his watch with the face toward Spurgeon as he approached. As if quite unconscious of the implied rebuke, Spurgeon took the watch in his hand, examined it carefully, and handed it back saying that it really was a very good watch, but seemed somewhat out of repair.
But the crowning audacity was witnessed one Sunday when the preacher, turning to the wall behind the pulpit, declared, "By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, and by faith this wall shall come down too." It was certainly an entirely unconventional way to suggest an enlargement of the premises. The deacons were aghast at the proposal, and one of them did not hesitate to tell him that they must not hear of it again. In spite of that, a little later he carried the church with him, and two thousand pounds were spent in throwing schools and vestries into the chapel, and building a new school at the side with sliding windows, so that it might be used if necessary for the congregation. This work occupied from February 11 to May 27, 1855, and during the alterations the services were held in Exeter Hall.
Such a course would today cause slight comment. Then it was considered quite extraordinary that a congregation should meet for Christian worship in a public hall. If any hall might have been counted suitable for the purpose, it was the already famous gathering place of the May Meetings, but the proprieties of the time seemed to be seriously compromised by the action. Spurgeon was not indeed the first to hold religious services in secular buildings, any more than Columbus was the first to cross the Atlantic, but previous attempts had been chiefly provincial and inconspicuous. Now in the very heart of the metropolis and under the eye of the London Press this invasion was witnessed, and the leader of the movement had to accept the honour and the opposition which are the usual lot of pioneers.
The hall was crowded from the beginning, the Strand was blocked with carriages, and Spurgeon began to be the talk of the town. Slanders and fables grew with the crowd, nothing seemed too absurd to contribute to the gossip of the hour. Some of the criticisms were amusing, many of them ill-natured, and they need not be recalled; their authors probably were afterward ashamed of them. On March 4, 1855, he wrote to his father about one "slanderous libel," and said, "For myself I will rejoice, the devil is roused, the church is awakening, and I am counted worthy to suffer for Christ's sake. Good ballast, father, good ballast."
To this period belong several of the most effective of the legion of caricatures that have enlivened the records of his life. One of them represents a bishop drawing a coach with two horses, "Church and State"; the other, the young preacher with flowing hair seated on a locomotive engine, "The Spurgeon"the titles being "The Slow Coach" and "The Fast Train." Another, entitled "Brimstone and Treacle," represented two preachers, one with eyes and mouth wide open and hands extended, the other in his robes with simpering smile. A third, "Catch-em-alive o'," represents Spurgeon with a tall hat of flypaper, the people as flies. A fourth, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Mr. Spurgeon as conductors on rival omnibuses. It is evident, at any rate, that Spurgeon was counted as different from the ordinary run of preachers.
These things told upon him severely at first. For instance, he wrote to the lady who was to be his wife: "I am down in the valley partly because of two desperate attacks upon me, but all the scars I receive are scars of honour, so, faint heart, on to the battle."
The deep heartsearching that these attacks caused him may be guessed from a passage in one of his sermons two years later. "I shall never forget the circumstances," he says, "when a slanderous report against my character came to my ears, and my heart was broken in agony because I should have to lose that in preaching Christ's Gospel. I fell on my knees and said, 'Master, I will not keep back even my reputation from Thee. If I must lose that too, then let it go; it is the dearest thing I have, but it shall go, if, like my Master, they shall say I have a devil and am mad; or, like Him, a drunken man and a winebibber.'" But soon the reproaches came so thick and fast that they wrought their own cure, and a little while after we find him in a different mood. "This I hope I can say from my heartif to be made as the mire of the street again, if to be the laughingstock of fools and the song of the drunkard once more, will make me more serviceable to my Master, and more useful to His cause, I will prefer it to all this multitude, or to all the applause man can give." And to the end he was able to bear blame as well as praise. He valued the goodwill of people as much as the rest of us, and yearned for friendship, but early he had learned the worthlessness of merely human applause or blame. In a very good sense he was hidden in God's pavilion from the strife of tongues. "I grew inured to falsehood and spite. The stings at last caused me no more pain than if I had been made of iron, but at first they were galling enough."
"I was reading some time ago," he said on one occasion, "an article in a newspaper, very much in my praise. It always makes me feel sadso sad that I could cryif ever I see anything praising me; it breaks my heart; I feel I do not deserve it, and then I say, 'Now I must try to be better, so that I may deserve it.' If the world abuses me, I am a match for that; I begin to like it. It may fire all its big guns at me and I will not return a solitary shot, but just store them up, and grow rich upon the old iron."
To his friend to whom he wrote at intervals during the early years, speaking of the early success at New Park Street, and the enlargement of the chapel, he says in a pithy sentence, "Our harvest is too rich for the barn." Later he writes, "Really, I never seem to have an hour to call my own. I am always at it, and the people are teasing me almost to death to let them hear my voice. It is strange that such power should be in one small body to crowd Exeter Hall to suffocation, and block up the Strand, so that pedestrians have to turn down byways, and all other traffic is at a standstill." "I believe I could secure a crowded audience at dead of night in a deep snow." The extent of his labours at this time may be guessed by a reference in a subsequent letter. "Eleven times this week have I gone forth to battle, and at least thirteen services are announced for next week. Congregations more than immense. Everywhere, at all hours, places are crammed to the doors. The devil is wide awake, but so too is the Master."
Voices which gave a friendly note were not wanting. One wrote: "It was a remarkable sight to see this round-faced country youth thus placed in a position of such solemn and arduous responsibility, yet addressing himself to the fulfilment of its onerous duties with a gravity, self-possession and vigour that proved him well fitted to the task he had assumed." Another, "We found him neither extravagant nor vulgar. His voice is clear and musical; his language plain; his style flowing yet terse; his method lucid and orderly; his matter sound and suitable; his tone and spirit cordial; his remarks always pithy and pungent, sometimes familiar and colloquial, yet never light nor coarse, much less profane. To the pith of Jay and the plainness of Rowland Hill, he adds much of the familiarity of the Huntingtonian order of ultra-Calvinistic preachers." Still another, "His appearance and labours in this metropolis have excited in all religious circles, and even beyond them, attention and surprise, if not admiration. Scarcely more than a youth in years, comparatively untutored, and without a name, he enters the greatest city in the world, and almost simultaneously commands audiences larger than have usually listened to her more favoured preachers."
"Beyond a doubt," says Edwin Paxton Hood in The Lamps of the Temple, "the lad is impudent, very impudent; were he not, he could not, at such an age, be where he is, or what he is. It must be admitted that among all the popularities there is no popularity like his. Among thisremarkable or not, according to the reader's ideasis the treatment of the young preacher by his brethrenshall we say brethren?in the ministry. We understand they have generally agreed to treat him as a black sheep. He is said to imitate Robert Hall and William Jay. We should give him a different location. He has the unbridled and undisciplined fancy of Hervey without his elegance; but instead of that the drollery of Berridge and the ubiquitous earnestness of Rowland Hill, in his best days. He who determines never to use a word that shall grate harshly on the ears of a refined taste, may be certain that he will never be extensively useful; the people love the man who will condescend to their idiom, and the greatest preachersthose who have been the great apostles of a nationhave always condescended to this. Bossuet, Massillon, Hall, Chalmers, McAll, were the doctors of the pulpit; at their feet sat the refinement, the scholarship, the politeness of their times; but such men as Luther and Latimer, St. Clara and Keen, Whitefield and Christmas Evanssuch men always seized on the prevailing dialect, and made it tell with immense power on their auditors." As to Spurgeon, "he is the topic and theme of remark now in every part of England; and severe as some of his castigators are, he returns their castigations frequently, with a careless, downright hearty goodwill."
One of Mr. Spurgeon's earliest and staunchest friends was Mr. James Grant, editor of The Morning Advertiser, a paper that then ranked with The Times in circulation and influence. After the second service in Exeter Hall, he wrote, "It will easily be believed how great must be the popularity of this almost boyish preacher, when we mention that yesterday both morning and evening the large hall, capable of holding from four thousand to five thousand people, was filled in every part. There can be no doubt that Mr. Spurgeon possesses superior talents, while in some of his happier flights he rises to a high order of pulpit oratory. It is in pathos that he excels, though he does not himself seem to be aware of that fact. He is quite an original preacher; has evidently made George Whitefield his model; and like that unparalleled preacher, the prince of pulpit orators, is very fond of striking apostrophes."
In the following year Mr. Grant reverted to the same comparison. "Never since the days of George Whitefield," he said, "has any minister of religion acquired so great a reputation as this Baptist preacher in so short a time. Here is a mere youth; a perfect stripling, only twenty-one years of age, incomparably the most popular preacher of the day. There is no man within her Majesty's dominions who could draw such immense audiences; and none who, in his happier efforts, can so completely enthral the attention, and delight the minds of his hearers. Some of his appeals to the conscience, some of his remonstrances with the careless, constitute specimens of a very high order of oratorical power. When pronouncing the doom of those who live and die in a state of impenitence, he makes the vast congregation quake and quail in their seats. He places their awful destiny in such vivid colours before their eyes that they almost imagine they are already in the regions of darkness and despair."
The shrewdness of this appreciation may be admitted when we find Spurgeon himself writing in 1879, "There is no end to the interest that attaches to such a man as George Whitefield. Often as I have read his life, I am conscious of a distinct quickening whenever I turn to it. He lived, other men seem only to be half alive; but Whitefield was all life, fire, wing, force. My own model, if I may have such a thing in due subordination to my Lord, is George Whitefield; but with unequal footsteps must I follow his glorious track."
To Spurgeon we might apply the words of John Wesley, when, preaching the funeral sermon of George Whitefield, he spoke of his unparalleled zeal, his indefatigable activity, his tenderheartedness to the poor, deep gratitude, tender friendship, frankness and openness, courage and intrepidity, great plainness of speech, steadiness, integrity. "Have we read," he said, "of any person since the apostles who testified the gospel of the grace of God through so widely extended a space, through so large a part of the habitable world? Have we read of any person who called so many thousands, so many myriad's, of sinners to repentance?"
In the midst of these labours, it was little wonder that his voice was overtaxed; he had not learned yet its perfect use. The services in Exeter Hall proved almost too much for him. His wife records:
Sometimes his voice would almost break and fail as he pleaded with sinners to come to Christ, or magnified the Lord in His sovereignty and righteousness. A glass of chili vinegar always stood on a shelf under the desk before him, and I knew what to expect when he had recourse to that remedy. I remember with strange vividness the Sunday evening when he preached from the text, "His name shall endure for ever." It was a subject in which he reveled, it was his chief delight to exalt his glorious Saviour, and he seemed in that discourse to be pouring out his very soul and life in homage and adoration before his gracious King. But I really thought he would have died there, in face of all those people. At the end he made a mighty effort to recover his voice; but utterance well nigh failed, and only in broken accents could the pathetic peroration be heard"Let my name perish, but let Christ's name last for ever! Jesus! Jesus! JESUS! Crown Him Lord of all! You will not hear me say anything else. These are my last words in Exeter Hall for this time. Jesus! Jesus! JESUS! Crown Him Lord of all!" and then he fell back almost fainting in the chair behind him.
When the congregation returned to the enlarged chapel on May 31, it was discovered that the expenditure on it was almost wasted, for while several hundreds more gained admittance, the disappointed crowds were greater than ever, and after a year's trial Exeter Hall had again to be requisitioned. Meanwhile, as occasion served, Spurgeon, like Whitefield, took to the fields. Writing to Mrs. Spurgeon before their marriage on June 3 of the same year, he says about a service in a field at Hackney:
Yesterday I climbed to the summit of a minister's glory. My congregation was enormous, I think ten thousand, but certainly twice as many as at Exeter Hall. 'The Lord was with me, and the profoundest silence was observed; but oh, the closenever did mortal man receive a more enthusiastic oration! I wonder I am alive! After the service five or six gentlemen endeavored to clear a passage, but I was borne along, amid cheers, and prayers, and shouts, for about a quarter of an hourit really seemed more like a week! I was hurried round and round the field without hope of escape until, suddenly seeing a nice open carriage, with two occupants, standing near, I sprang in, and begged them to drive away. This they most kindly did, and I stood up, waving my hat, and crying, "The blessing of God be with you!" while from thousands of heads the hats were lifted and cheer after cheer was given. Surely amid these plaudits I can hear the low rumbling of an advancing storm of reproaches; but even this I can bear for the Master's sake.
Nor was he mistaken. His friend W. P. Lockhart, at his death, recalled some of the phases of the storm so soon to break:
One remembers that long years ago, on the occasion of some popular demonstration in London, his carriage was driven through the crowd, and when its occupant was recognised he was heartily hooted by the mob, and one remembers also the scornful notices of a portion of the press, which drew from him one of the most striking things he ever uttered"A true Christian is one who fears God, and is hated by the Saturday Review." Perhaps one of the most remarkable criticisms in those early days was that of Lord Houghtonthen Monckton Milneswho said of him, "When he mounted the pulpit you might have thought of him as a hairdresser's assistant; when he left it, he was an inspired apostle." The people might frown or fawn, it mattered little to him, not one jot did he abate of what he believed to be the truth of God. His Pauline Calvinism, his sturdy Puritanism, his old-fashioned apostolic gospel, remained unchanged to the end.
For a year all the services continued in the enlarged chapel at New Park Street. The two outstanding occasions, when all the gatherings were wonderful, were the Watch Night Service at the end of 1855, and his marriage on January 8, 1856.
One of his earliest friends was John Anderson, the minister of Helensburgh, and he visited London this year. His attention was first attracted to him by the reading of one of his printed sermons. "I had no sooner read a few paragraphs of it than I said, 'Here at last is a preacher to my mind, one whom not only I but Paul himself, I am persuaded, were he on earth, would hear, approve, and own.' I remember well saying to myself, 'I would rather have been the author of that sermon than of all the sermons, or volumes of sermons, published in my day.' I had lately before this been reading Guthrie and Caird, but here was something entirely different and, to my mind, in all that constitutes a genuine and good Gospel sermon, infinitely superior."
By the courtesy of a police officer, Mr. Anderson, because he had come from Scotland, was admitted to the chapel, already crowded when he arrived.
My friend and I thought ourselves happy, like Eutychus of old, in being permitted to sit "in a window;" with a dense crowd in the passage at our feet. I asked a man near me if he came regularly. He said he did. "Why, then," I asked, "do you not take a seat?" "Seat!" he replied, "such a thing is not to be had for love or money. I got a ticket for leave to stand." The Church, I am told, is seated for fifteen hundred, but what with the schoolroom and passages, which were choke-full, there could not have been fewer in it than three thousand. The service commenced with the singing of a hymn. Never did I hear such singing; it was like the voice of many waters, or the roll of thunder. Then came the prayer. Phrenologically speaking, I should say that veneration is not largely developed in Mr. Spurgeon; yet that prayer was one of the most remarkable and impressive I have ever heard. He prayed for the unconverted. Some, he said, were present who were in that state, who in all likelihood would never be in that or any other church againwho were that night to hear their last sermonwho, the next Lord's day, would not be in this world, and where would they be? There was but one place where they would bein Hell. He then said, or rather cried out, "O God! must they perish? Wilt thou not save them and make the sermon the means of their conversion?" The effect was overwhelming: many wept, and I am not ashamed to say I was one of them.
Mr. Anderson afterward became Mr. Spurgeon's warm friend and treasured a book presented to him in which was the following inscription:
To my dear friend John Anderson, whose boundless generosity compels me to add an injunction to all men, women and children on the face of the earth, that none of them dare accept this volume of him when he shall offer it, seeing that this is a small token of the undying love of
As to the question of conceit, that criticism followed him all his life, and in later years he gave a sufficient answer. "A friend of mine was calling upon him some time ago," wrote one after his death, "and happened to say, 'Do you know, Mr. Spurgeon, some people think you conceited?' The great preacher smiled indulgently, and after a pause said, 'Do you see those bookshelves? They contain hundreds, nay, thousands of my sermons translated into every language under heaven. Well, now, add to this that ever since I was twenty years old there never has been built a place large enough to hold the numbers of people who wished to hear me preach, and, upon my honour, when I think of it, I wonder I am not more conceited than I am.'" Upon which the writer remarks, "That is the kind of bonhomie that disarms criticism."
Thirty-five years afterward, Sir William Robertson Nicoll took down the volume of Mr. Spurgeon's Sermons preached in 1855, and this is what he said:
The life in Mr. Spurgeon's book, its red-hot earnestness, at once impresses the reader. Those who think of the preacher as in early days little more than a buffoon, might be challenged to find in his first volume of sermons anything to provoke a smile. The burden of all is "Flee from the wrath to come; lay hold on eternal life." The order is intentional, for the supreme thoughts in the preacher's mind is the imminent peril of his hearers. He does not shrink from the terrible pictures of the damned in their misery and despair; but the earnestness of his pleading with men is even more awful. Flee from the wrath to come; this burden is hardly found now, not even in the sermons of the same distinguished preacher. There is something soporific in the air. But if the object of preaching is to reproduce the New Testament, a change must come, and perhaps it may come from an unexpected place. Perhaps the interpreters of natural law may yet tell us that punishment is in its nature everlasting, and then Christianity will come with its gospel declaring that the sentence of the law may be reversed.
About this time a pamphlet was issued by a Doctor of Divinity which caused a great stir in religious circles. It was entitled "Why So Popular? An Hour with the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon." It was addressed to Mr. Spurgeon himself, and said:
Your ministry has attained the dignity of a moral phenomenon. You stand on an eminence which, since the days of Whitefield, no ministerwith a single exception, if indeed there be oneof any church in this realm has attained. You have access to a larger audience than the magic of any other name can gather. You have raised a church from obscurity to eminence, perhaps I might add (rumor is my authority) from spiritual indigence to affluence.
At length arrangements were made to return to Exeter Hall for the evening service, the morning service being continued in the chapel. The first Exeter Hall service in this second series was on June 8, 1856, and the crowds were, if possible, greater than beforeso great indeed that it became clear that a larger building was necessary. So on October 6 a meeting was held to initiate the enterprise; the structure was spoken of as likely to be "the largest chapel in the world," and a fund was started for its erection. The need became all the more apparent when the proprietors of Exeter Hall intimated that it was impossible for them to rent their building continuously to one congregation.
Some temporary expedient was necessary. Happily at this time the Surrey Music Hall, capable of holding ten thousand to twelve thousand people, became available. It was erected in the Royal Surrey Gardens for concert purposes, and the bold idea occurred to several people that it might be utilised for Mr. Spurgeon's services. Some thought it would be too large, others that it would be very unsuitable to hold divine service in a place of worldly amusement. This aspect of the question would present no difficulty to us in the present day, so many ventures of a similar nature have since been made, but nothing of the kind had up to then been attempted.
The news that Spurgeon was to preach in the Concert Hall ran through London like wildfire. "In the squares, the streets, the lanes, the alleys, as well as in the workshops and counting houses, and all the chief places of concourse, it has been, through each successive day, the one great object of thought and converse." On the Sunday evening, October 19, 1856, the crowds that had been gathering since the afternoon were enormous. The streets in the vicinity were packed with people. Ten thousand persons were in the hall and another ten thousand in the gardens unable to enter. The sight of the people at first unnerved the preacher, but he soon rallied, and took his place in the rostrum to pass through the ordeal of his life.
His friend Dr. Campbell, who was present, wrote:
Ecclesiastically viewed Sunday last was one of the most eventful nights that have descended on the metropolis for generations. On that occasion the largest, most commodious and most beautiful building erected for public amusement in this mighty city was taken possession of for the purpose of proclaiming the gospel of salvation. There, where for a long period wild beasts had been exhibited, and wilder men had been accustomed to congregate, in countless multitudes, for idle pastime, was gathered together the largest audience that ever met in any edifice in these Isles to listen to the voice of a Nonconformist minister.
The service began before the appointed time. After a few words of greeting there came a prayer, a hymn, and the Scripture reading, with a running comment, according to the general custom. After another hymn, prayer was again being offered when suddenly there was a cry of "Fire! The galleries are giving way, the place is falling." It may have been hysterical excitement, much more probably it was the criminal work of miscreants bent on plunder. A terrible panic ensued, many of the people rushed for the doors, stumbled, fell, were piled on each other; the balustrade of the stairs broke and people toppled over. Seven lost their lives, and twenty-eight were taken to the hospital seriously injured.
In the midst of it all, the preacher, ignorant of the extent of the disaster, unconscious that there had been any fatal accident, endeavoured to quell the tumult. Many of the people resumed their seats when it became apparent there was no cause for alarm, and in response to repeated cries, Mr. Spurgeon endeavoured to preach. He told them that the text which he had intended to take was in the third chapter of Proverbs, the thirty-third verse, "The curse of the Lord is upon the house of the wicked; but he blesseth the habitation of the just," and asked the people to retire gradually. There was renewed disturbance, and a hymn was sung. Again the preacher urged the people to retire, and then he himself was carried fainting from the pulpit, and the next day, stunned and helpless, taken to a friend's house in Croydon that he might escape callers and in quietness recover his mental balance. As he was being assisted from the carriage at Croydon a workingman saw him, and stammered: "It's Mr. Spurgeon, isn't it? It must be his ghost, for last night I saw him carried out dead from the Surrey Gardens Music Hall."
If he had been dead his enemies would have rejoiced, but, being alive, he was traduced and slandered by almost the entire newspaper press. The Saturday Review excelled itself in vituperationthe wonder was that such a personage could be notable at all, it was almost useless to hold up Mr. Spurgeon as a very ordinary impostor: "We do not see why Mr. Spurgeon should have a monopoly of brazen instruments south of the Thames. Whitefield used to preach at fairs. In these days of open competition we perceive no reason why the practice should not be inverted. The innovation would only be the substitution of one set of amusements for another; or rather, an addition to our list of Sunday sports." "This hiring of places of amusement for Sunday preaching is a novelty, and a powerful one. It looks as if religion were at its last shift. It is a confession of weakness, rather than a sign of strength. It is not wrestling with Satan in his strongholdsto use the old earnest Puritan languagebut entering into a very coward truce and alliance with the world." Nearly all the London papers joined in the chorus of condemnation.
Meanwhile Mr. Spurgeon, unconscious of most of it, spent days of depression and heartsearching in his retirement; no light shone upon him until, on walking in his friend's garden, suddenly the message came to his heart concerning his Master: "Wherefore God has highly exalted him, and given him a name that is above every name," and straightway he was comforted. It mattered nothing what became of Spurgeon if Jesus was exalted and praised. So with only an interval of one Sunday, he was back again, discoursing on the text in New Park Street Chapel on November 2, 1856. He declared his forgiveness of those whose malice had caused the accident, but asserted his determination to preach in the place again.
He describes these days of darkness in his first book, The Saint and His Saviour:
Who can conceive the anguish of my sad spirit? I refused to be comforted: tears were my meat by day and dreams my terror by night. My thoughts were all a case of knives, cutting my heart in pieces until a kind of stupor of grief ministered a mournful medicine to me. I sought and found a solitude which seemed congenial to me. I could tell my griefs to the flowers, and the dews could weep with me. My Bible, once my daily food, was but a hand to lift the sluices of my woe. Prayer yielded no balm to me. There came the "slander of many"barefaced fabrications, libelous slanders, and barbarous accusations. These alone might have scooped out the last drop of consolation from my cup of happiness, but the worst had come to the worst, and the utmost malice of the enemy could do no more.
Two more Sundays elapsed, and then he was back to the scene of the tragedy. But not now in the evening. It seemed to be the safer course, although it was even more daring, to hold the morning service in the Music Hall, and from November 23, 1856, to December, 1859 this arrangement was continued. The smallest acquaintance with church matters will make it apparent that this was a far severer test of the preacher's power over the people than the service on the Sunday evening. But they came in unceasing crowds, and an entirely new set of people were touched. The matter cannot be put better than it was, thirty years later, by one of the leading London newspapers, which at the time of the accident had not a hard enough word to say of him:
Curiously enough, it was an accident of a serious nature that first drew the attention of the world in general to the rising influence of Mr. Spurgeon. The young preacherhe was then very younghad already secured an immense following on the south side of London. But the world on the other side, the world north of the Thames, the world of society and of the clubs and the West End, the world of Bloomsbury and Fitzroy Square, the world of Maida Vale and Highgate, all these various microcosms knew little or nothing of the powerful young preacher whose congregations had already far outgrown the capacity of New Park Street Chapel in Southwark.
But when the accident happened
Mr. Spurgeon became famous at once. Society went out of its way, put itself to trouble, to hear the young preacher whose admirers could not be contained in a building of less size than the Great Music Hall.
All that was to some extent true, but Mr. Spurgeon had compelled even the highest in the land to listen. True, his appeal was chiefly to the middle class. At the time of the accident one London newspaper seized on this point. Commenting on the ordinary congregationsand it might almost be dealing with the conditions of todayit asks:
But where are the artisan classes? So very scanty is their attendance upon the most noted preachers, that it is their adhesion to Mr. Spurgeon which has made that gentleman a prodigy and a phenomenon. In the list of killed and wounded at the Music Hall are journeymen painters, tanners, and milliners' girls. It is worthwhile to ask the reason why.
Dr. Campbell again spoke in defence of the young preacher:
Mr. Spurgeon is in all respects original, a preacher of Heaven's own formation; and hence all is nature and all is 1ife, while that life and that nature are among the millions a power. Is he abrupt, blunt, direct? It is nature. Is he idiomatic, colloquial, playful, dramatic? It is nature. Nature is power; artifice impotence. Without nature no man can please much and please long. Nature responds only to nature; it turns a deaf ear to all that is contrary. Art may captivate the fancy; nature alone can subdue the heart. What, then, is the source of this unprecedented attraction? It is primarily in the soul of the man, a soul large, liberal, and loving.
For three years the services in the Music Hall continued with unabated success, and the current of public opinion gradually changed. Even The National Review gave him a good word. Quoting one of his sayings, it said there was nothing vulgar in it, though it was grotesque as a gargoyle; and contrasting his style with much of the ornate and hazy preaching of the day, it declared:
If we must choose between the two, we do not know whether it is not less bad to handle spiritual truths as you would handle a bullock, than to handle them as you would handle a mist.
A fruit seller of Kennington, questioned in 1908, remembered Spurgeon in the Surrey Gardens days: "He was a stout man and wore a broad-brimmed hat. People used to say that he ran down the theatre, and yet he copied a lot of his antics from there."
To gain entrance to the services, tickets were necessarythis in order to prevent the entrance of people bent on mischief. All sorts of folk applied for these tickets. A service in 1857 is described by an eyewitness: "Every seat was occupied by half-past ten o'clock, when the doors were opened to the public. Then there was a rush of excited and hurried people, and in ten minutes every inch of standing room was occupied. Dr. Livingstone sat on the platform, and the Princess Royal, as well as the Duchess of Sutherland, were said to be present." Lord Palmerston on one occasion secured a ticket, but was prevented attending by his old enemy, the gout. It was even said that Queen Victoria, disguised, was once present.
A reference in the Greville Memoirs has often been quoted. It bears date February 8, 1857.
I have just come from hearing the celebrated Mr. Spurgeon. He is certainly very remarkable, and undeniably a fine character; not remarkable in person; in face resembling a smaller Macaulay; a very clear and powerful voice was heard through the hall; a manner natural, impassioned, and without affectation or extravagance; wonderful fluency and command of language abounding in illustration, and very often of a familiar kind, but without anything ridiculous or irreverent. He preached for about three-quarters of an hour, and, to judge by the use of handkerchiefs and the audible sobs, with great effect.
Principal Tulloch, himself a famous preacher, visited the Surrey Music Hall in May, 1858, in company with Professor Ferrier, the metaphysician, and in the story of his life, written by Mrs. Oliphant, the following descriptive passage occurs, Mr. Spurgeon being described by the authoress as "one of the wonders of society, competing with Mr. Charles Kean, if not surpassing him, in public interest." Mr. Tulloch, as quoted by Mrs. Oliphant, wrote:
We have just been to hear Spurgeon and have both been so much impressed that I wish to give you my impressions while they are fresh. As we came out we both confessed, "There is no doubt about that," and I was struck with Ferrier's remarkable expression, "I feel it would do me good to hear the like of that, it sat so close to reality."
On the day of National Humiliation on account of the Indian Mutiny, Mr. Spurgeon preached in the Crystal Palace to a congregation of 23,654 persons, counted in at the turnstiles, and up to that date the assembly was described as "the largest ever addressed by a preacher of the Gospel in Europe or the world"which was perhaps true. The trains began to run at half past seven in the morning, and by noon the immense congregation was ready for the preacher. The collection amounted to £675, including £200 from the Crystal Palace Company, and was "not far short of all the other collections in London put together." The text was from Micah 6:9: "Hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it." The service was acknowledged to be the most memorable thing in connection with the observance of the day, but, of course, there was the usual bout of criticism.
Three interesting incidents may be mentioned.
The first was written by one who was present:
Seated near the pulpit, I observed Mrs. Spurgeon take her place just before her husband appeared, and that she was visibly affected by the mighty concourse of souls, all with upturned faces, and fixed gaze upon one man, and all about to be thrilled to the core by that man's impassioned appeals to them to be saved alive. While Mrs. Spurgeon was concealing her emotion as best she might, I saw the pastor beckon far off with his forefinger to one of the deacons, a stout, gray-haired man of rubicund complexion, and with a defect in one eye. He was in very glossy black, which was the orthodox dissenting uniform in those faroff days, and walked with a limp which made his progress up the pulpit, or rather platform, steps tantalizingly slow. Some brief, but evidently important, instruction was at last whispered by Mr. Spurgeon in the lame man's ear, and twenty-five thousand people were agog with curiosity to know what this could possibly be at such a time, when the whole vast place was quivering with anticipated a suppressed emotional excitement. I happened to be seated so near Mrs. Spurgeon that when the worthy deacon "made for her," in his crab-like, ponderous way, it was unavoidable that I, at least, one of the vast and silent crowd of expectants, should hear what had delayed the pastor, and what the urgent matter was which he had at such a critical moment to communicate. In a hoarse whisper I heard this: "Mr. Spurgeon says, please will you change your seat, so that he will not be able to see you; it ["it" was doubtless Mrs. Spurgeon's emotion] makes him nervous," and the lady immediately moved to another seat not visible from the preacher's place.
The second incident in connection with the service happened some days previous to it, when Mr. Spurgeon went to the Crystal Palace to try the acoustics of the place. Having to say something, he said something worth saying"Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." A workman busy in one of the galleries heard the words (they seemed to come to him from heaven) and, smitten with conviction of sin, put down his tools, and went home, nor did he rest until he was able to rejoice in Christ as his Saviour.
The third incident has a psychological interest. Though Mr. Spurgeon was not conscious of any special strain at the time, he went to sleep that Wednesday night and did not awake until Friday morning!
The turn of the tide in Mr. Spurgeon's favour is marked by a letter which appeared in The Times on April 13, 1857, supported by a laudatory leading article, both probably written by the same hand and that hand not unfamiliar with the editor's writing table. The Times in those days was the mirror of public opinion, and its utterance is therefore the more notable. Apart from its biographical interest, the letter is worth transcribing for its literary flavour. It was entitled "Preaching and Preaching."
In the leading article the question is asked concerning the Establishment
How is it, then, that the Church never has a monster preacher? The reason is that a loud voice requires its proper material to exert itself upon. The voice is notoriously the most sympathetic thing in nature. It cannot be loud and soft indiscriminately. Some things are made to be shouted, and others to be whispered. Nobody shouts out an axiom in mathematics; nobody balances probabilities in thunderNemo consilium cum clamore dat. There must be a strong sentiment, some bold truth, to make a man shout. In religion there must be something extravagant in the way of doctrine. The doctrine of conversion or of irresistible grace can be shouted, but if a man cried ever so hard to shout in delivering a moderate and sensible doctrine on free will he would find himself talking quietly in spite of himself. It admits of question whether a little extravagance and a little one-sidedness might not be tolerated for the sake of a good, substantial, natural, telling appeal to the human heart.
This appeal to the human heart at the Music Hall drew together the crowds for three years. "Spurgeon's eloquence was not the eloquence of literary vanity, but the eloquence of moral power." There were, of course, ebbs and flows in the congregation, especially toward Christmas time, but the numbers at the end were as great as at the beginning. The end came because the proprietors of the place proposed to open the hall for Sunday evening concerts. Their purpose was frustrated at first by the plain intimation that if they did it, Mr. Spurgeon would withdraw, and as the fee for the Sunday morning service was probably the only thing that kept them from bankruptcy, they desisted. But at length the announcement was made that the Gardens would be opened on December 18, 1859, so Mr. Spurgeon preached his last sermon there on the previous Sunday morning, December 11. The Sunday concerts did not prosper, the income from the Sunday services was lost, and in trying to make the best of both worlds they gained neither, becoming bankrupt soon afterward. The site of the gardens has long since been disposed of for building purposes, and is now covered with houses. The Music Hall was destroyed by fire. Mr. Spurgeon later opened "The Surrey Gardens Memorial Hall" near the spot, and there an encouraging mission work was carried forward.
The year before both Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's Cathedral had been thrown open for popular services.
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