Chapter 19: The Triumphant End
IN THE LAST HOUR of the last day of January, 1892, the spirit of Spurgeon sped home from his loved Mentone. After forty years of unexampled ministry, he entered into rest. Two or three days before the end he said to his secretary, “My work is done,” and after that he had nothing to do but to wait the summons. There were no raptures, no heroics, nor were there any fears or hesitations. Shortly after ten o’clock Joseph Harrald was sure he saw a company of angels hovering over the Berceau; at five minutes past eleven only the body was left on the bed; before twelve Mrs. Spurgeon led the little group in praise and prayer. It was so quiet, yet it was so triumphant. All the bugles were blown as he departed, and the trumpeters sounded for him on the other side. It was a right enough instinct which made the mourners choose as his text, “I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith.” When it was quoted at the funeral people asked when he said it. He never said it, he did it all the time.
Like John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Jeremy Taylor, George Whitefield and William Tyndale, Spurgeon was fifty-seven when he died, but he was not young, for he began early and he had laboured long, and departed full of days and of grace.
The earliest premonition of the end was on April 26, 1891, when, for the first time for forty years, he was compelled by a fit of nervousness to leave the pulpit after entering it. The next Lord’s Day he was able to preach, on the following Sunday too, and also on the morning of May 17. Then illness overtook him, and only once more on Sunday morning, June 7, did he stand in his pulpit commending Christ to the people. In spite of his weakness he insisted on going that week to Haverhill, that he might revisit Stambourne in preparation for the book of boyhood’s memories which he was writing. There on the Friday his illness reappeared, and he returned to London. For more than a month he lay, most of the time unconscious, sometimes imagining that he was in a strange house and asking to be taken home, only now and then free from the delirium that was such a grief to those who waited round his bed.
During one of these times a letter arrived from Mr. Gladstone for Mrs. Spurgeon, which read—
In my own house, darkened at the present time, I have read with sad interest the daily accounts of Mr. Spurgeon’s illness; and I cannot help conveying to you the earnest assurance of my sympathy with you and with him, and of my cordial admiration, not only of his splendid powers, but still more of his devoted and unfailing character. May I humbly commend you and him, in all contingencies, to the infinite stores of the divine love and mercy, and subscribe myself,
My dear Madam,
W. E. GLADSTONE.
To this Mrs. Spurgeon sent a suitable reply, but the invalid insisted on adding a postscript. This is it:
P.S. Yours is a word of love such as those only write who have been into the King’s Country, and seen much of His Face. My heart’s love to you.
C. H. SPURGEON.
Many other distinguished persons also wrote.
How well I remember the suspense of that anxious month. I was at the Manor House, Newton Harcourt, near my home in Leicester, and every morning a porter from Great Glen Station would come along the canal towpath with the telegram from Westwood giving the doctors’ bulletin. The tide ebbed and flowed. At the tabernacle prayer meetings were held continually, and it seemed as if every promise of the Scripture, and every argument of faith, were used in pleading with God for the patient’s recovery.
“Rarely, if ever,” wrote Dr. Clifford, “has a warmer regard, or a more widespread interest in an invalid been excited. Love is victorious. Convictions are like bands of iron that cannot be broken; but opinions are as the weakest twine snapped in a moment, or burned in the first outleap of the flame of affection.”
On August 9, a letter in the pastor’s own hand was read to the congregation at the tabernacle.
The Lord’s Name be praised for first giving and then hearing the loving prayers of His people! Through these prayers my life is prolonged. I feel greatly humbled, and very grateful, at being the subject of so great a love and so wonderful an outburst of prayer.
I have not strength to say more. Let the Name of the Lord be glorified.
Yours most heartily,
C. H. SPURGEON.
It soon became evident that though he was better there could yet be no thought of resuming work, so in October a fortnight’s change was arranged at Eastbourne. As day after day Mr. Spurgeon went for a drive, respectful crowds would be outside his hotel waiting to see him start. He bore the change so well that, arrangements having meanwhile been made for Dr. A. T. Pierson to occupy the tabernacle pulpit, he started for the South of France on Monday, October 26, accompanied by Mrs. Spurgeon, who after years of illness felt able to undertake the journey, by Dr. and Mrs. James Spurgeon, and the devoted “armour-bearer,” Joseph W. Harrald.
They reached the Hotel ad Hotel Beau-Rivage, Mentone, without incident, and there Mr. and Mrs. Spurgeon had, in spite of his weakness, three months of earthly paradise. To his son in New Zealand he wrote in triumph, “And your mother is here!” On the last evening of the year, and on the first of January, he gave two addresses, which were afterward published under the title Breaking the Long Silence. On Sunday evenings, January 10 and 17, he conducted a brief service in his room, reading some of his own writings, and at the close of the second service, he announced the hymn “The Sands of Time Are Sinking.” And that was the end of all service for him on earth. A fortnight more he waited. People at home, anticipating his return, were building a “lift” at the rear of the tabernacle to save him the exertion of walking up the stairs; but they were waiting for him, too, in the unclouded country, and it was thither he went. What a welcome he must have received from the thousands who had already found their way there through his ministry!
In the first of his last two addresses occur the sentences:
During the past year I have been made to see that there is more love and unity among God’s people than is generally believed. I feel myself a debtor to all God’s people upon earth. We mistake our divergences of judgment for differences of heart; but they are far from being the same thing. In these days of infidel criticism believers of all sons will be driven into sincere unity.
The news of his home-going flashed round the world. On Monday the newspapers featured but one story—”Death of Spurgeon,” and it was difficult that day to secure a newspaper, the demand was so great. The only experience at all resembling it was the day during the war when another single announcement sufficed “Death of Kitchener.”
In spite of other suggestions, it was arranged that Spurgeon must be buried among his own people. So on February 4, at the Presbyterian Church, Mentone, the Rev. J. E. Somerville conducted a memorial service there, and then the coffin was conveyed across France, and arrived on Monday, February 9, at Victoria Station, London. It was met by a little group of friends and brought to the Pastor’s College, where it remained that afternoon. At night it was carried into the tabernacle, and there the next day some sixty thousand persons passed through to pay their homage to the dead.
Memorial services, unexampled in their wide expression of sympathy, were held four times on the Wednesday, great interest being given to Mr. Harrald’s account of Spurgeon’s last days. Mr. Ira D. Sankey was present and sang twice. The culminating moment of the day was when Herber Evans, with almost Welsh “hwyl,” said, “But there is one Charles Haddon Spurgeon whom we cannot bury; there is not earth enough in Norwood to bury him—the Spurgeon of history. The good works that he has done will live. You cannot bury them.” None who were there will ever realise more concentrated emotion than then.
Dr. Pierson rose to the occasion with combined wisdom and grace, preaching no less than five sermons during the eight days. The funeral was on the Thursday. One newspaper said that you might have searched London and not have found three women who did not wear black on the street on that day. All along the route to Norwood Cemetery crowds stood in front of the closed shops. At the Stockwell Orphanage the children sat on a raised platform, in deep mourning. At the grave, Archibald G. Brown, the most distinguished of Mr. Spurgeon’s men, and his close friend, pronounced a eulogy by which he will be remembered for ever. Here it is in cold type:
Beloved President, faithful Pastor, Prince of Preachers, brother beloved, dear Spurgeon—we bid thee not “Farewell,” but only for a little while “Goodnight.” Thou shalt rise soon at the first dawn of the Resurrection day of the redeemed. Yet is the goodnight not ours to bid, but thine; it is we who linger in the darkness; thou art in God’s holy light. Our night shall soon be passed, and with it all our weeping. Then, with thine, our songs shall greet the morning of a day that knows no cloud nor close; for there is no night there.
Hard worker in the field, thy toil is ended. Straight has been the furrow thou hast ploughed. No looking back has marred thy course. Harvests have followed thy patient sowing, and heaven is already rich with thine ingathered sheaves, and shall still be enriched through the years yet lying in eternity.
Champion of God, thy battle, long and nobly fought, is over; thy sword, which clave to thy hand, has dropped at last: a palm branch takes it place. No longer does the helmet press thy brow, oft weary with its surging thoughts of battle; a victor’s wreath from the great Commander’s hand has already proved thy full reward.
Here, for a little while, shall rest thy precious dust. Then shall thy Well-beloved come; and at His voice thou shalt spring from thy couch of earth, fashioned like unto His body, into glory. Then spirit, soul, and body shall magnify the Lord’s redemption. Until then, beloved, sleep. We praise God for thee, and by the blood of the everlasting covenant, hope and expect to praise God with thee. Amen.
As the casket was lowered into the grave nothing was to be seen but the text at the foot of it about the good fight, and the Bible that lay on the top of it, open at the text that led Spurgeon into the light “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.”
All the services are described in the volume which I edited entitled From the Pulpit to the Palm Branch, and I quote from the Preface my own words:
Since this good gift, which the Giver of all good bestowed upon the church, and upon the world, was to be taken from us, we are constrained to say that he could have gone from our midst in no better way. This is not only a matter of faith, but, having tried to imagine other methods of departure, we are compelled to fall back on God’s way as the wisest and the best.
Had Mr. Spurgeon been called suddenly, we should have been so stunned by the blow as to have been scarcely able to stand upright beneath it; a waiting time was, therefore, in mercy, granted to us, during which the forces at command were organized in such a way that, with the exactness of a machine, all worked smoothly when the terrible tidings at last came.
Had Mr. Spurgeon been taken before such marvelous solicitude was shown around his sickbed, the enemies of the truth would have blasphemed; now they are fain to be silent, seeing that, even in this life, fidelity to the truth and faithfulness to conviction have been so greatly honored.
Had Mr. Spurgeon passed away amid the fogs of London, we should have imagined that, had he only been permitted to live beneath bluer skies, his life would have been prolonged; now we thank God that those three bright months were added to it, and that he was able, with his beloved wife, to have such uninterrupted joy on earth, ere he passed to his reward in heaven.
Had Mr. Spurgeon ended his course in England, for a few days only would people have paused to have asked the secret of his marvelous influence; whereas, under the actual circumstances, for twelve days the attention of the civilized world was centered in the testimony borne, not only to the servant of God but to the Gospel he preached, in column after column of almost every newspaper. Truly, the Lord hath done all things well!
Many years ago, in one of his sermons, published at the time, he attempted to picture the scene at his own funeral, and expressed his own desire concerning it.
“In a little while,” he said, “there will be a concourse of persons in the streets. Methinks I hear someone inquiring—
“‘What are all these people waiting for?’
“‘Do you not know? He is to be buried today.’
“‘And who is that?’
“‘It is Spurgeon.’
“‘What! the man that preached at the Tabernacle?’
“‘Yes; he is to be buried today.’
“That will happen very soon. And when you see my coffin carried to the silent grave, I should like every one of you, whether converted or not, to be constrained to say, ‘He did earnestly urge us, in plain and simple language, not to put off the consideration of eternal things; he did entreat us to look to Christ. Now he is gone, our blood is not at his door if we perish.'”
Far more abundantly than he dared to hope have his wishes been fulfilled, and only in the day when all things shall be revealed, shall it be known how many have been turned to the Lord by the death of the man who was so greatly honored to lead people to the feet of Jesus during his life.
In John Ploughman’s Talk there is a sentence which runs,
Let the wind blow fresh and free over my grave, and if there must be a line about me, let it be—
Here lies the body of
waiting for the appearing of his
Lord and Saviour
A few days before the end, at Mentone, he said, “Remember—a plain slab, with C. H. S. upon it: nothing more.” But love denied the last request; and reverence substituted the name “Charles Haddon Spurgeon” for that of John Ploughman. Then on one side of the tomb is the verse of the hymn he was accustomed to write in albums, and the verse that follows it.
E’er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die.
There is little more to add. Mrs. Spurgeon lived for some years afterward at Westwood, and her body now lies in the same grave as her husband. The tomb of Thomas Spurgeon is nearby. The Tabernacle Church still continues; the college is still training men to preach the Gospel; the orphanage, in a new location, still shelters and educates girls and boys.
For the rest, Spurgeon’s own last words to the little Mentone group shall also be his last words to the readers of his biography:
The vista of a praiseful life will never close, but continue throughout eternity. From psalm to psalm, from hallelujah to hallelujah, we will ascend the hill of the Lord, until we come into the Holiest of all, where, with veiled faces, we will bow before the Divine Majesty in the bliss of endless adoration. Throughout this year may the Lord be with you! Amen.
- Review of the Churches, Vol. I, p. 41.
- Charles Haddon Spurgeon, John Ploughman’s Talk, p. 157.
- Sword and Trowel, 1892, p. 55.
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.