Chapter 9: A Word Portrait
HE EARLIEST WORD PICTURE of Spurgeon we possess is one drawn by himself of the days when he began preaching in Cambridgeshire in the year 1851. “I must have been a singular-looking youth on wet evenings,” he says, “for I walked three, five, and even eight miles out and back again in my preaching work, and when it rained, I dressed myself in waterproof leggings and a macintosh coat, and I carried a dark lantern to show me the way across the fields.”
One of his Cambridge pupils says that “the prevailing fashion and dress never troubled young Spurgeon. Whether people were reminded by the cut of his coat or the shape of his stock of a former generation or of the present was a matter of no concern. Thus on a certain dark and damp winter afternoon, just before breaking-up time, the door of the room opens, and the figure who enters, laughing merrily at what he supposes may be his own somewhat odd appearance, is none other than young Mr. Spurgeon, in the costume of an itinerant preacher of the Fens. Completely enveloped in an oilskin suit, the junior tutor had looked in just to show Mr. Leeding and the lads at their desks what he appeared like when fully equipped for the rain. ‘Here I am, going off to fight the battles of the Lord,’ he remarked, and away he went to keep a preaching appointment in a village.”
As that deals with clothes, it may be said at once that he was never very particular about what he wore, as long as he was comfortable. He generally dressed in broadcloth and wore a frock coat, but he never went to a fashionable tailor. In one of his scrapbooks there is an advertisement taken from a tailoring journal in which he is represented in an immaculate and perfectly-fitting frock coat, the contour of his body being adapted to the necessities of the case. It represents him as he never was. I remember with what mirth, in a familiar talk, he enlarged on what he considered to be the most comfortable garment for travelling in cold weather—a good rug with two cuts crosswise in the centre through which the head could be thrust when warmth of body was needed, while the rug could be spread over the knees just the same for warmth of leg. He declared that he once drove over London Bridge into the city thus arrayed!
Still pursuing the philosophy of clothes, on one of his visits to the Continent with several of his friends he brought up the rear as they entered their hotel in Paris. The others were somewhat stylishly attired. Spurgeon, as usual, carried his wide-brimmed soft hat in his hand, and the porter of the hotel, remembering that he had seen him before, and mistaking him for the courier of the party, beckoned him to his side and asked in a whisper, “Who are these gentlemen you have brought with you this time?”
Mrs. Spurgeon, who as a girl heard him on his first Sunday evening in London, says that “his countrified manners and speech excited more regret than reverence; the huge stock, the badly trimmed hair, and the blue pocket-handkerchief with white spots attracted most of my attention and, I fear, awakened some feelings of amusement.”
One of his warmest admirers wrote in 1859: “His figure is awkward, his manners plain, and his face, except when illumined by a smile, admittedly heavy.” Another on a subsequent occasion writing of him said: “The features so often described as heavy were lighted by a sunny, beautiful smile that seemed to shed over his figure a radiance comparable only to the silver sheen on the bosom of a glassy lake. His form, though not tall, and somewhat rounded at the shoulders, was still erect enough to suggest considerable physical vigour, and was remarkably compact; and when he stood up to speak his feet were solidly placed on the ground, and his entire bearing was such as to indicate a man of firmness and determination.”
Professor Everett, his companion at Newmarket, says of him in his early days: “He was rather small and delicate, with pale but plump face, dark brown eyes and hair, and a bright, lively manner, with a never-failing flow of conversation. He was rather deficient in muscle, did not care for cricket or other athletic games, and was timid at meeting cattle on the road.”
He was, as has been indicated, under medium height, short from loin to knee, so that he never sat far back in a chair, but with body well developed, chest deep and wide (forty-one inches over the waistcoat ), head massive ( twenty-three inches round) and covered with thick dark hair, which afterwards turned iron grey; the ear being remarkable, its orifice opening to the front instead of to the side, like most other ears. From his youth he was stout in build. When he first went to Waterbeach they though him too pale and too young to be much of a preacher, and later on an observer, describing him in the Surrey Gardens Music Hall, said: “He was pallid, without whiskers, with his hair parted down the middle.” But one of the earliest ballads about him when he came to London had a refrain which embodied the popular estimate: “O my plump, my rosy Spurgeon.”
The very build of this man, as in the case of John Bright, marks him out as a man of the people. Physically he has no angles. Note men of this make. Notwithstanding their diversity, they have this in common—they require no introduction anywhere. Whatever the company, they are at their ease. There is no putting them out. This applies whether there be education or not. Where there is education and intelligence, as in the case with which we are now concerned, we see perfect naturalness and facility of movement; the power to rise or stoop to the occasion without the least suspicion of stiffness; the ability to give out and take in, whatever the circumstances or situation might be!
Among living examples of men of this son, Mr. Will Crooks in some manners and movements strangely recalls Spurgeon.
But his personality was so many-sided that as far as outward characteristics went there were many Spurgeons. During his stay at Mentone in 1888 a celebrated portrait painter called at the Hotel Beau-Rivage and suggested that he might be favoured with some sittings. Mr. Spurgeon smilingly replied, “You cannot paint me,” and then, mentioning the name of another artist, he added, “I sat several times at his urgent request. On the fourth or fifth occasion he threw down his brush with the remark, ‘I cannot paint your portrait, Mr. Spurgeon. You have sat to me all these times, and you have never looked twice alike. Your face seems quite altered on each occasion.'” Upon which his Mentone visitor exclaimed, “Well, if he could not paint your portrait, I am sure I cannot”—and that was the end.
A Scotch writer, after Mr. Spurgeon’s death, said that he “had a strong resemblance in his earlier days to John Macdonald of Ferintosh, whom Scottish Highlanders called the Apostle of the North. Dr. Macdonald was the handsomer man, and had especially a fine pair of eyes. But their ways of standing in the pulpit, of rolling out their words in natural and musical intonation, and of filling each paragraph with matter which did not crowd it, were singularly alike. And there were deeper resemblances. Both were Pauline theologians, both had a natural expansiveness and bonhomie, both were born preachers and rulers of the multitude, both believed in preaching, in preaching incessantly, and in not only preaching but unfolding Christ. The only time I ever met Spurgeon I could not help telling him of his resemblance to the great Highlander and to John Bunyan. He could not quite deny the latter. The former he had to take on faith.”
Paxton Hood drew this portrait of Spurgeon in the early days:
We were greatly amazed, as we stood at his chapel doors waiting to enter, to see him as he came and passed along to the vestry respectfully lift his hat and bow again and again to his waiting auditors; there was so much audacious, good-natured simplicity, both in the act itself and on the face of the actor, that we could not help smiling right heartily. It was evident he was not indisposed to appropriate to himself a certain amount of personal homage. His face is not coarse, but there is no refinement in it; it is a square face; his forehead is square; we were wishing, although we are not phrenologists, that it had indicated a little more benevolence of character.
On one occasion a phrenologist did interview him, and published his opinion, giving a table of the comparative sizes of the various organs, comparison, size, weight, benevolence, approbativeness, firmness, hope and individuality being most developed; cautiousness, veneration, conscientiousness, imitation, eventuality and awe coming next and being equal to each other; none of the characteristics being small. This is noted for what it is worth. “I infer,” said the phrenologist, “that he is not pugnacious, but desires distinction. Mr. Spurgeon’s success is attributable in no small measure to laudable ambition.”
“He had a remarkable face and head,” Dr. Joseph Parker wrote. “The head was the very image of stubbornness: massive, broad, low, hard; the face was large, rugged, social, brightened by eyes overflowing with humour and softened by a most gracious and sympathetic smile.”
Dr. Theodore Cuyler, in comparing him with Henry Ward Beecher, said there were only two things they had in common, “both were fat, and both were humorous.”
Spurgeon once playfully remarked to me that he had not a single redeeming feature in his face, but the face itself was eloquent to those who could see. My friend, and his friend, James Douglas said:
Look then at the portrait of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, and what do you find there? Caution marked, certainly, but candor more. You will look a long time on the countenance before you find a trace of reserve. Concealment, in this case, is not one of the fine arts. Where concealment dwells, the lips are not parted in this fashion, but tightly compressed, nor could the eyes, as here, lie so calm in repose.
Could any face more fully suggest geniality, friendliness, warmth of affection and overflowing hospitality? His greeting was as warm as sunshine. It mattered not what might be the shadow on the spirit, or the trouble of the heart-it vanished away at the voice of his welcome. There was a light on his countenance that instantly dissipated all gloom.
Lavater has placed language in the eye, but what may we not place there? The whole soul looks out of her windows. Mr. Spurgeon’s eye denoted repose, and at the same time intense observation. His is not the dreamy or contemplative eye in the least degree. He is wide-awake, he sees everything there is to be seen. He can tell at a glance who are present and who are absent in his great congregation. His is an eye that in conscious hours never slumbers. He is as quick in perception as he is ready in speech!
Another thing strongly marked in his eye is his mirth; but no photograph can bring this out, for it appears in the twinkle. His is the laughing, gleeful eye. His love of fun stood him to the end, and no saddening of experience could tone it down one jot.
He could not sing at all, and yet his voice was music. Everybody who tried to describe it spoke of it as silvery. Both quality and ease were in its tones, comparable most of all to the clear voices of a company of choirboys. His first notes stilled the largest crowd, and his whisper, which could easily be heard over all the great tabernacle, thrilled his hearers. His modulation and compass, enunciation and emphasis were perfect.
“We remember four beautiful voices,” said a West-country writer. “Mr. Gladstone’s had, and still has occasionally, the sound of a trumpet. Mr. Bright’s was like the vox humana on a fine organ. Professor Maurice, when reading the lessons, was as one inspired, though we can scarcely find a comparison for the pathos of his elocution. Mr. Spurgeon’s voice, however, was probably the finest voice that was ever heard in the pulpit-it was like a flute.”
He could never understand any one needing to be taught elocution, for to him it all came naturally. The only flaw I ever detected in his speech was the quite usual Saxon habit of pronouncing “ah” at the end of a word as if it were “er”—a fault so common that in the modern science of phonetics it is accepted and taught. But there should surely be a distinct difference between the pronunciation of “Noah” and “Noer.”
In his early preaching there was a good deal of gesture and movement. Once I saw him rush across the tabernacle platform as he spoke of Joab fleeing to the temple and clutching hold of the horns of the altar. For the moment he was Joab, and as he cried out to Benaiah that he would not come forth to the sword—”Nay, but I will die here”—the people caught their breath as they looked and listened and felt. But such outbursts were infrequent, entirely absent toward the end. Even at the beginning he was credited with a great deal that never happened. He never slid down the rail of the pulpit stairs to show how easy it was to backslide. One reason was that there were no pulpit stairs visible to the congregation at the time the story was told, although it was actually vouched for by supposed eyewitnesses. In later years he often preached with one knee on a chair, the back of which he held with a hand.
When he came to London first there was an odd mixture of shyness and self-assurance in his character. He dared to say the most astounding things, yet shrank within himself when he was misunderstood. This meant a great deal of silent suffering, and it was only a sense of his vocation which kept him strong. He said, “My success appalled me; and the thought of the career which it seemed to open up, so far from elating me, cast me into the lowest depths, out of which I uttered my Miserere and found no room for a Gloria in Excelsis! I hope I was not faithless, but I was timorous, and filled with a sense of my own unfitness. I dreaded the work which a gracious Providence had prepared for me. I felt a mere child, and trembled as I heard the voice which said, ‘Arise and thresh the mountains and make them as chaff.'”
To the end he was timid to a degree in things which most people face quite easily. For example, he hesitated to cross a road without some one to help him. Yet he used to tell that one day, near the Bank of England, a blind man caught his arm and asked him to guide him over what was probably one of the most dangerous crossings in London. He told him that he was afraid to venture across himself. “But you can see,” said he.
“Oh yes, I can see,” said Spurgeon, “but I am afraid.”
To which the blind man responded, “If you can see, I’ll trust you,” and the trust banished the timidity, and helped both Spurgeon and the blind man across. “I knew I could trust you,” the blind man said when they had crossed over, and Spurgeon declared that to be trusted so completely just lifted him out of himself—he dared not fail such confidence. And then he urged the people to trust Christ and count Him as doubly bound to His promise by their trust.
James Douglas wrote:
It was no trouble to him to clothe his thoughts, and to give them in doing so eloquent expression. Words trooped to his service as required, and the thought he had to enunciate shone forth clear as crystal. He was extempore in the true sense of the term, for his notes were but the barest bones of his thought. On the spot he mused and the fire burned. If the thought was sublime, he would give it sublime expression; if homely, he bedecked it accordingly.
He had mental faculty far in excess of the average. He did with ease, and spontaneously, mental feats which men of name struggle in vain to accomplish. Besides, he had what every large brain has not, large method and power of concentration. He could grasp the bearings of a subject, hold this theme well in hand, and display his thought like troops in a tactical movement.
Further, historic memory was about as perfect with him as it could well be, and no tale that he ever had to tell suffered in the telling of it. While he elaborated with ease his ideas, he made them portable and easy to bear away by a happy epigrammatic finish. It is marvellous how, when he had expounded a thought, he could thus make it live for ever in a few terse, pithy words. The same faculty shines forth in his correspondence. He had the power—a power in daily exercise, a power of impromptu, of loading language to a degree we have never seen approached.
Spurgeon has testified that one instant result of his conversion was that the heterogeneous knowledge that he possessed before, jumbled in his brain “in glorious confusion,” as he described it, seemed afterward to be ranged on shelves, so that he was able to lay his hand upon everything just when he needed it; and this power continued through his life.
During his early days in London he invited Mr. J. D. Everett to his home, and they spent half a day together. To him he spoke simply and without affectation of himself, and told him that he could always say exactly what he intended, in the time which he intended. His visitor brought away the impression that his great power was to him a simple matter of fact, of which he had no more reason to be proud than a bird of its power to fly or a fish of its power to swim. One of his most marked characteristics was the consummate ease with which he did his work. This was at the root of what was called his irreverence. “I remember suggesting to him,” Professor Everen says, “that a man ought to feel and show some sense of awe in the presence of the Master,” and his reply was to the effect that such awe was foreign to his nature—that he felt perfectly at home with his Heavenly Father.
Principal Edwards of Bala notes this quality as specially distinguishing him:
In an address on preaching I ventured to say that Mr. Spurgeon was the only preacher I ever heard from whose lips the preacher’s language seemed to me at the time quite adequate to express the truths of the Gospel. Great preachers seem often themselves to be oppressed with an uneasy sense of inability to convey to their hearers the depth and richness of Christian thoughts. It betrays itself sometimes in an exaggerated action, sometimes in the repetition of the same idea in different words. Nothing of this appeared in Mr. Spurgeon. His theology was the hardest of all theologies to couch in ordinary language. One step beyond, it would have plunged him into scholastic metaphysics. Yet he was perfectly at his ease, and seemed to revel in preaching the profoundest mysteries of Christianity to the common people. It was Mr. Spurgeon’s transcendent greatness as a preacher that he could do with apparent ease what many other great preachers cannot do without a painful appearance of effort. What is the explanation of his masterful repose? For one thing, though he was very original in his way, he was not a speculative theologian struggling to give tongue to new thoughts. What he saw, he saw as clear as sunlight, and what he did not see with perfect clearness, he did not see at all. He was like Chalmers, who could walk round an idea, not like Edward Irving, whose ideas “loomed.” Again, he was steeped in the language of the seventeenth century. Whether the Calvinism of the Puritans is true or not, it is a great theology, and Mr. Spurgeon believed it to be not only true, but the whole truth of God. Not, certainly, that he spoke to his own age in the cumbersome if majestic phraseology of Hooker or Howe, but his beliefs were thought and hammered out in the language of a past generation, and whenever the English of Mr. Bright would not express satisfactorily a theological idea which Mr. Spurgeon felt he must preach, he found ample stores to his hand in the Puritan divines. He was really master of two languages: the language of a theological past, and the non-theological language of the nineteenth century.
This brings us up against the oft-quoted opinion that Spurgeon was the last of the Puritans. It might with equal assurance have been said before he came that the Puritan day was already past. We may content ourselves by remarking that whatever the outward guise, there are abiding elements in Puritan thought and practice which are bound to reappear whenever the problems of life and the relation of man to God are seriously considered. For “the Puritan conception of life on the earth has always been that of battle and a march, under watchful heavens, towards superlative issues, with great destinies involved.”
A student of his time has expressed Spurgeon’s debt to the Puritans in words that are worth reading, whether we agree with them or not:
Spurgeon was the one great teacher of the century whose mind was steeped in Puritan ideas, theology and literature. In fact this remarkable man knew more about Puritanism than any of the Puritans themselves. His vast learning consisted almost entirely of this kind of erudition, and in this field he was one of the greatest of masters. T’his was at once the chief strength, and also the only weakness, of his splendid ministry. His mind was early surrendered to the Puritan hermeneutics, and all his homiletic power was modified by the impress of the mediaeval mould in which he preferred to cast his youthful thought. A curious and beautiful study will be furnished for those who are interested in this noble life. They will mark a problem in the higher psychology which will not admit of easy solution. Here was a great soul, a Master in Israel, who used to say, as he profoundly felt, that as every man must have some infallibility, his infallibility was the Bible. And yet, all unconsciously, this great student in the greatest realm of study failed just at this very point; for it was Puritanism, after all, and not absolutely and solely the Bible, which was really the rock of infallibility for his reliance. He never emancipated his intellect from the fascination exercised over him by Charnock, and Owen, and Coles.”
“The Puritan writers were to him what the Primitive Fathers are to trained theologians,” says another critic, whose colour can easily be guessed.
Once, when sitting with him on a Scotch hillside I told him a story of Moody, to whom a young preacher came complaining of the difficulty he had in finding texts. Holding up the Bible, Moody said, “That’s not my difficulty, I’ve a book full of them; my difficulty is to find the sermons to put behind them.” Spurgeon heard the story with interest, and then he said, “My difficulty is to find the text, for when a text grips me I have found the sermon.”
“I confess,” he once wrote, “that I frequently sit hour after hour praying and waiting for a subject, and that this is the main part of my study: much hard labour have I spent in manipulating topics, ruminating upon points of doctrine, making skeletons out of verses, and then burying every bone of them in the catacombs of oblivion, drifting on and on over leagues of broken water, till I see the red lights, and make sail to the desired haven. I believe that almost every Saturday of my life I prepare enough outlines of sermons, if I felt at liberty to preach them, to last me a month. but I no more dare use them than an honest mariner would run to shore a cargo of contraband goods.”
On that same Scotch hillside I quoted to him some bits of Dr. Joseph Parker’s sermons, and then recalled the story, probably apocryphal, that when the City Temple was being planned the minister of the Old Poultry Chapel, on being asked what sort of building he wanted, replied, “Build me a church that when Queen Victoria passes down Holborn she will point to it and ask, ‘What place is that?’ and they will say, ‘That is where Joseph Parker preaches.'” Spurgeon was silent for a minute, and then said, looked at me quizzically, “That is just what I should have felt, but I should have been too proud to say it.”
Perhaps that half humorous estimate of himself had some hidden truth in it. He was proud rather than vain. On March 23, 1855, as a very young man, he wrote: “My pride is so infernal that there is not a man on earth who can hold it in, and all their silly attempts are futile; but, then, my Master can do it, and He will.” At the beginning of his ministry he accepted the title “Reverend”; in middle life he chose to be known without any title; but in later years he suffered himself to be called Pastor C. H. Spurgeon, in deference to a fashion that was then in vogue among Pastor’s College men. Several university degrees were conferred upon him, but he put them aside, and he did not encourage his students to seek academic honours. He did not even attempt to give his sons the opportunity of a university career, though he urged them to seek theological training. The honours of the world, including the intellectual world, he held cheap; intellect he valued and he was always a book-lover, but he ever reached after the eternal things rather than the temporal. His chief ambition might have been phrased in the ancient stanza—
Oh, would I were graduate in that college
Where love is known that passeth knowledge,
Where saints do comprehend and dwell
In love incomprehensible.
Two questions are raised by one of the early criticisms on his work in one of the leading papers. After some rather ill-natured remarks about his success, the writer used him as a foil for some exhortations to the clergy of that day.
Mr. Spurgeon is doubtless sincere, but surely the success of such a person in drawing large audiences to listen to him, in rousing them to attention, and in exciting their imaginations and feelings, ought to prove to the clergy of a higher grade who are educated as gentlemen, and have the tastes and manners of their class, and who are accustomed week by week to address congregations boasting of greater refinement than those of Mr. Spurgeon, that if they would cease to drawl and drone, as so many of them, and infuse a little more life and spirit into their discourses, they would greatly increase their own popularity and usefulness. Dullness is almost as fatal a defect in a preacher as in an author, and Mr. Spurgeon, if all accounts be true, is anything but dull. The success of any preacher who would break in, as Mr. Spurgeon has done, upon the prevailing monotony and listlessness, would not be diminished by his being a gentleman and a scholar.
The questions raised by this paragraph are whether Mr. Spurgeon was a scholar and a gentleman. Judging by university standards, one can scarcely contend that he was a scholar, and he never assumed that pose. But Dr. William Wright of the Bible Society, formerly of Damascus, himself a scholar, and Spurgeon’s neighbour at Norwood, has told us how he has found him preparing his sermon with a Greek lexicon on one side of his table and a Hebrew lexicon on the other. Actually, he had a great weight of learning, but he never paraded it. He was an omnivorous reader, had something like Macaulay’s faculty for swift reading, and had an eye so rapid and a mind so acute that he could take in paragraphs as most readers take in sentences, and he could remember what he read. But he was not a technical scholar, and he never pretended to be such; he had no patience with scholarly pretensions.
“He knew so much,” says Dr. Lorimer, “that it was unnecessary for him to make a parade of knowledge, and he saw so deeply into the springs of the human heart and the sources of social changes, and acquired information with such rare facility that he easily outranked most of his enlightened contemporaries. As Thomas Carlyle expressed it, he very early in life acquired strength to stand by himself, and live without and above praise.”
He reminded a man who with great air of learning had told him he was an agnostic that the Latin equivalent was “ignoramus.” Spurgeon was neither an agnostic in the spiritual sphere, nor an ignoramus in the intellectual.
It may also be freely conceded that judged by aristocratic standards Spurgeon was not a gentleman. He came of plain people, and he never gave himself airs. But even The Saturday Review at last acknowledged that “if not very well bred, he was not in the least ill-blooded.” From the beginning he had fine instincts, and early learned the ways of men, developing in matters of taste as the years unfolded. He mixed with the highest as their equal, put the humblest at ease in his presence, said the right word a the right moment, took pains to remember people, was generosity.. itself, both in thought and action, and if “a gentleman is one who does not put his feelings before others’ rights, or his rights before their feelings,” then Spurgeon, the democrat, was a gentleman.
It could be said of Spurgeon as it was said of Wendell Phillips:
His high chair was placed in a Puritan household, which means that he was reared in an atmosphere of high thinking and holy living. It also meant that at the most plastic period of his mental growth he was familiarized with ideals of grace and decorous conduct, that he was taught to esteem lightly the frivolities and pleasures of the time, that he was impregnated with sharply-defined principles of right and wrong, and filled with an almost oppressive sense of personal responsibility for the use made of life and its opportunities.
He was the soul of courtesy. Could anything excel in dainty rebuke the answer he sent to Miss Lydia Thompson, the actress, when, having introduced a song about Mr. Spurgeon into her play, and finding the newspapers inclined to protest, she wrote to him on the subject? “Dear Madam,” he wrote in reply, “I am very grateful for your courteous inquiry, and feel sure that I may leave what is purely a question of taste in your hands.” The song was immediately withdrawn.
An answer as apt was once given to a person who called at his house without an appointment, and when refused an interview, would not take a denial. He sent a second message that “one of the Master’s servants wanted to ‘see him on the Master’s business.” Spurgeon sent a reply that he was very sorry, but at that very moment he was engaged with the Master Himself, and had no time for the servant.
A third retort may find a place here. A self-important individual introduced himself one day, and declared that the Lord had told him that he was to preach in the tabernacle. “That is singular,” said Spurgeon, “for I am in daily communication with the Lord;. and He has said nothing to me about it.” There was nothing more to be said.
He appreciated nice things, delighted in his flowers, admired fine scenery, was proud of his horses and took good care of them. He always said they were Jews, for though they took him to the tabernacle on Sundays, they always rested on Saturdays. He loved to show his friends round his gardens and then sit in a summer house and converse with them, or occasionally play a game of bowls. His tastes in fruits was peculiar: he never tasted a strawberry, but peaches made a strong appeal to him. He insisted on his garden being properly kept; one gardener who professed to have attained religious perfection had to be dismissed for carelessness, and Spurgeon declared that he would have a sinner next time. He had no patience with cant.
Which recalls another incident illustrating his instinct in mingling rebuke with gentleness. When Dr. David Thomas published anonymously his book, The World of Cant, he held up to ridicule the Reverend Falcon Small. The shafts of Dr. Thomas somewhat bitter wit were evidently meant for his neighbour, Dr. Newman Hall, who bore it patiently for some time but, as the book gained currency, wrote a protesting letter in reply, which in strength of invective outdid anything in the book. Having written it, he took it to Spurgeon to ask his opinion. Spurgeon read the letter carefully and, handing it back, declared it was excellent, and that the writer of the book deserved it all. “But,” he added, “it just lacks one thing.” His visitor, quite gratified, was all attention. “Underneath the signature, ‘Newman Hall,’ you ought put the words, ‘Author of Come to Jesus.'” The two saintly men looked at each other for a few minutes. Then Newman Hall tore the letter in pieces.
Though gentle, Spurgeon was not pliant. He would go great lengths in friendship, but he could at times be stern. It was his dictum that if you had to kill an insect it was best to crush it with one effort. He could be blunt and severe and, though naturally trustful, could be indignant and strike hard. His own transparency of character made him liable to be imposed upon, but woe to the deliberate impostor when he was discovered. To the unwitting offender he was all tenderness and grace. The son of one of his deacons, after a prolonged absence from the services at the tabernacle, returned and, meeting the Pastor soon afterward, declared that his conscience would not let him stay away any longer. “Ah!” said Spurgeon, calling him by his first name, “you have a good conscience,” and then he banished the answering smiles of the young fellow by adding, “almost as good as new; for you haven’t used it much.”
In Spurgeon’s character there was a blend of humility and dignity. “To him C. H. Spurgeon was less than the least of all saints, but the minister of the Metropolitan Tabernacle was one of the leaders of the Lord’s hosts, and was not a person to be trifled with. That was the secret of the apparent inconsistency.”
His generosity knew scarcely any bounds. What he once said about Hugh Stowell Brown might have been said of himself: “There was room enough in his heart for all the fleets of Europe to anchor.” That was because the love of God was shed abroad so abundantly in his heart.
Punshon’s estimate of an American clergyman might have been used of Spurgeon too: “Sweep a circle seven feet around the Cross, and you take in all there was of Alfred Cookman.”
My friend Benwell Bird tells how a young photographer in his congregation at Birmingham, where Spurgeon had been invited to preach, requested permission to take Spurgeon’s photograph. Spurgeon seemed disinclined to grant the request, so Mr. Benwell Bird pressed it, told him that he would be driven to the studio and back again, and that if he consented it would help the young man and, give a great deal of pleasure to others. This forced Spurgeon to declare that he devoted the profit from the sale of his photographs to the support of a widow, and that he did not want to interfere with their sale.
In keeping with this was his offer in 1866 to devote the profits on his magazine, The Sword and Trowel, to the encouragement of his students to insure their lives, the money to go to the reduction of the premiums. But this plan came to nothing. Many a five-pound note was sent to his correspondents when they sought his help in need. During one of his visits to Mentone someone sent him a gift of £5 to help in his expenses. The same day he met a minister who had been ordered there for his health, and knowing something of his circumstances he handed the check to him, saying that his own expenses had already been met. He knew the value of money, and was not careless in the spending of it, but there was not a streak of meanness in his nature; he gave with both hands to those in need, and never in niggard fashion.
At one time he was offered a competence if he would join a mercantile firm in the city, but he refused. At another time, one of the leading publishers in the city offered him £30,000 for the copyright of his works; but he was disinclined to change from his old firm, though it would have been very much to his financial advantage if he had done so. Once he was left a handsome legacy, but when he found there were relatives of the testator in need and unprovided for, he did not accept it.
It was he who made life for his disciples a more august thing in contact with him, and made them capable of higher efforts and nobler sacrifices. But even those who stood further away knew as if by instinct that Mr. Spurgeon was a man of the stuff of which saints are made. They knew that whoever else might sink into self-seeking, or fall down before the golden image of the world, he never would. They knew that religion was always the prevailing and mastering idea of his life. He was one of those elect few to whom religious cares and interests were what secular cares and interests are to most men. He was self-controlled, observant, and wise, and he had a homely shrewdness and humour which were very refreshing. Mr. Spurgeon played his part well in the practical world, but his life was not there. The growth of the kingdom of grace was his prosperity; the opening of a new vein of spiritual life was his wealth. The one road to his friendship was a certain like-mindedness. This spirituality is so rare in men of great powers that it is invariably the way to influence. It inspires a kind of awe. Men bow before it, feel themselves in the presence of the eternal world, think wistfully of their own state, and are touched for a moment at least by a certain sense of wonder and regret. It was not for nothing that he was known as “The Governor,” but the title was more an indication of love than of authority.
His soul was seen best when he was listening to some one else speaking the praises of his Lord. He would clasp his hands, catch his breath, the tears would fill his eyes and overflow, his face would shine with a radiance other than of earth, and his rapture would communicate itself to those around. The speaker would be touched with the contagion, and at the end Spurgeon would rise to announce a hymn or to lead in prayer. At such times you saw the real man, the man to whom the Lord Jesus Christ was more dear than all the universe, whose boast was in the name of the Lord all the day long.
A rhapsody written in his later years is more truly descriptive of his life than anything else I know.
All my soul was dry and dead
Till I learned that Jesus bled-
Bled and suffered in my place;
Bearing sin in matchless grace.
Then a drop of heavenly love
Fell upon me from above,
And by secret mystic art
Reached the center of my heart.
Glad the story I recount,
How that drop became a fount,
Bubbled up a living well,
Made my heart begin to swell.
All within my soul was praise,
Praise increasing all my days;
Praise which could not silent be,
Floods were struggling to be free.
More and more the waters grew,
Open wide the flood-gates few,
Leaping forth in streams of song
Flowed my happy life along.
Lo, a river clear and sweet
Laved my glad, obedient feet!
Soon it rose up to my knees,
And I praised and prayed wich ease.
Now my soul in praises swims,
Bathes in songs and psalms and hymns:
Plunges down into the deeps,
All her powers in worship steeps.
Hallelujah! O my Lord,
Torrents from my heart are poured!
I am carried clean away,
Praising, praising all the day.
In an ocean of delight,
Praising God with all my might,
Self is drowned. So let it be.
Only Christ remains to me.
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- G. Holden Pike, Life and Work of C. H. Spurgeon, Vol. I, pp. 82, 79.
- George C. Lorimer, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, p. 16.
- Christian World, Feb. 11, 1892.
- James Douglas, The Prince of Preachers, p. 77.
- W. Williams, Personal Recollections, p. 79.
- A. B. in The British Weekly, Feb. 4, 1892.
- E. Paxton Hood, Lamps of the Temple, p. 545.
- Douglas, The Prince of Preachers, pp. 82-84, 86-87.
- Western Morning News, Feb. 1, 1892.
- Douglas, The Prince of Preachers, pp. 86-87.
- Pike, Life and Work of C. H. Spurgeon, Vol. I, p. 107.
- British Weekly, Feb. 4, 1892.
- Richard S. Storrs.
- Christian Commonwealth, Feb. 4, 1892.
- Illustrated London News, Oct. 5, 1856.
- Black and White, Feb. 6, 1892.
- C. H. Spurgeon by One Who Knew Him Well, p. 113.
- W. Robertson Nicoll in Preface to Nelson’s Volume of Sermons.
Source: Charles Haddon Spurgeon: A Biography by W.Y. Fullerton. This book was transcribed for The Spurgeon Archive by Dan Carlson. Collection administered by Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.