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A Marvellous Ministry

Chapter 10

"Dinna Forget Spurgeon"

The following interesting reminiscence, written by Dr. John Watson (Ian Maclaren) was felt to be so picturesque that permission was obtained to re-publish it in this volume.*

IS VARIED CHARGE was given to the good man on the morning of market day as he brought the mare out from the stable, as he harnessed her into the dogcart, as he packed the butter basket below the seat, as he wrestled into his top coat, worn for ceremony's sake, and as he made the start—line upon line and precept upon precept as he was able to receive it; but the conclusion of the matter and its; crown was ever the same, "Dinna forget Spurgeon."
    "There's twal pund o' butter for the grocer, the best ever left this dairy, and he maun gie a shillin', or it's the laist Andra Davie 'ill get frae me; but begin by askin' fourteenpence, else it's eleven ye'll bring back. He's a lad, is Andra, an' terrible grippy.
    "For ony sake tak' care o' the eggs, and mind they're no turnips ye're handlin'—it's a fair temptin' o' Providence to see the basket in yir hands—ninepence a dozen, mind, and tell him they're new laid an' no frae Ireland! there's a handfu' o' flowers for the wife, and a bit o' honey for their sick laddie, but say naethin' o' that till the bargain's made.
    "The tea and sugar a've markit on a bit paper, for it's nae use bringin' a bag' o' grass-seed, as ye did fower weeks ago; an' there's ae thing mair I micht mention, for ony sake dinna pit the paraffin oil in the same basket wi' the loaf sugar; they may fit fine, as ye said, but otherwise they're no gude neeburs. And, John, dinna forget Spurgeon."
    Again and again during the day, and in the midst of many practical operations, the good wife predicted to her handmaidens what would happen, and told them, as she had done weekly, that she had no hope. "It's maist awfu' hoo the maister 'ill gae wanderin' and dodderin' thro' the market a' day, pricing cattle he's no gaein' tae buy, an' arguin' aboot the rent o' farms he's no gaein' to tak', an' never gie a thocht tae the errands till the laist meenut.
    "He may bring hame some oil," she would continue, gloomily, as if that were the one necessity of life to which a male person might be expected to give attention; "but ye needna expect ony tea next week"—as if there was not a week's stock in the house—"and ye may tak' ma word for it there 'ill be nae Spurgeon's sermon for Sabbath."
    As the provident woman had written every requirement—except the oil, which was obtained at the ironmonger's, and the Spurgeon, which was sold at the draper's—on a sheet of paper, and pinned it on the topmost cabbage leaf which covered the butter, the risk was not great; but that week the discriminating prophecy of the good man's capabilities seemed to be justified, for the oil was there, but Spurgeon could not be found. It was not in the bottom of the dogcart, nor below the cushion, nor attached to a piece of saddlery, nor even in the good man's trouser-pockets—all familiar resting-places—and when it was at last extricated from the inner pocket, of his top coat—a garment with which he had no intimate acquaintance—he received no credit, for it was pointed out with force that to have purchased the sermon and then to have mislaid it was worse than forgetting it altogether.
    "The Salvation of Manasseh," read the good wife; "it would have been a fine like business to have missed that, a'll warrant this 'ill be ane o' his sappiest, but they're a' gude": and then Manasseh was put in a prominent and honorable place, behind the basket of wax flowers in the best parlor till Sabbath.
    It was the good custom in that kindly home to ask the "lads" from the bothle into the kitchen on the Sabbath evening, who came in their best clothes and in much confusion, sitting on the edge of chairs and refusing to speak on any consideration. They made an admirable meal, however, and were understood to express gratitude by an attempt at "gude nicht," while the foreman stated often with the weight of his authority that they were both "extraordinar' lifted" by the tea and "awfu' ta'en up" with the sermon. For after tea the "maister" came "but," and having seen that every person had a Bible, he gave out a Psalm, which was sung usually either to Coleshill or Martyrdom—the musical taste of the household being limited and conservative to a degree. The good man then read the chapter mentioned on the face of the sermon, and remarked by way of friendly introduction:
    "Noo we 'ill see what Mr. Spurgeon has to say the nicht."
    Perhaps the glamor of the past is on me, perhaps a lad was but a poor judge, but it seemed to me good reading—slow, well pronounced, reverent, charged with tenderness and pathos. No one slept or moved and the firelight falling on the serious faces of the stalwart men, and the shining of the lamp on the good gray heads, as the gospel came, sentence by sentence, to every heart, is a sacred memory and I count that Mr. Spurgeon would have been mightily pleased to have been in such meetings of homely folk.
    It was harvest-time however, when Manasseh was read, and there being extra men with us, our little gathering was held in the loft, where they store the corn which is to be threshed, in the mill. It was full of wheat in heavy, rich, ripe, golden sheaves, save a wide space in front of the machinery, and the congregation seated themselves in a semi-circle on the sheaves. The door through which the corn is forked into the loft was open and, with a skylight in the low dusty roof, gave us, that fine August evening, all the light we needed. Through that wide window we could look out on some stacks already safely built, and on fields, stretching for miles, of grain cut and ready for the gathering and, beyond, to woods and sloping hills towards which the sun was westering fast. That evening, I remember, we sang

"I to the hills will lift mine eyes,"

and sang it to French, and it was laid on me as an honor to read "Manasseh." Whether the sermon is called by this name I do not know, and whether it be one of the greatest of Mr. Spurgeon's I do not know, nor have I a copy of it; but it was mighty unto salvation in that loft, and I make no doubt that good grain was garnered unto eternity. There is a passage in it when, after the mercy of God has rested on this chief sinner, an angel flies through the length and breadth of Heaven, crying, "Manasseh is saved, Manasseh is saved." Up to that point the lad read, and further he did not read. You know, because you have been told, how insensible and careless is a schoolboy, how destitute of all sentiment and emotion . . . and therefore I do not ask you to believe me. You know how dull and stupid is a plowman, because you have been told . . . and therefore I do not ask you to believe me.
    It was the light which got into the lad's eyes, and the dust which choked his voice, and it must have been for the same reasons that a plowman passed the back of his hand across his eyes.
    "Ye 'ill be tired noo," said the good man; "let me feenish the sermon," but the sermon is not yet finished, and never shall be for it has been unto life everlasting.
    Who of all preachers you can mention of our day could have held such companies save Spurgeon? What is to take their place, when the last of those welt-known sermons disappears from village shops and cottage shelves? Is there any other gospel which will ever be so understanded of the people, or so move human hearts as that which Spurgeon preached in the best words of our own tongue? The good man and his wife have entered into rest long ago, and of all that company I know not one now; but I see them as I write, against that setting of gold, and I hear the angel's voice, "Manasseh is saved," and for that evening and others very sacred to my heart I cannot forget Spurgeon.

* From "His Majesty Baby." By Ian Maclaren (Hodder & Stoughton, London).

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