|Twenty-five Years Ago|
by C. H. Spurgeon
From the January 1879 Sword and Trowel
WENTY-FIVE years ago we walked on a Sabbath morning, according to our wont, from Cambridge to the village of Waterbeach, in order to occupy the pulpit of the little Baptist Chapel. It was a country road, and there were four or five honest, miles of it, which we usually measured each Sunday foot by foot, unless we happened to be met by a certain little pony and cart which came half way, but could not by any possibility venture further because of the enormous expense which would have been incurred by driving through the toll-gate at Milton. That winter's morning we were all aglow with our walk, and ready for our pulpit exercises. Sitting down in the table-pew, a letter was passed to us bearing the postmark of London. It was an unusual missive, and was opened with curiosity. It contained an invitation to preach at New Park Street Chapel, Southwark, the pulpit of which had formerly been occupied by Dr. Rippon,the very Dr. Rippon whose hymn-book was then before us upon the table, the great Dr. Rippon, out of whose Selection we were about to choose hymns for our worship. The late Dr. Rippon seemed to hover over us as an immeasurably great man, the glory of whose name covered New Park Street Chapel and its pulpit with awe unspeakable. We quietly passed the letter across the table to the deacon who gave out the hymns, observing that there was some mistake, and that the letter must have been intended for a Mr. Spurgeon who preached somewhere down in Norfolk. He shook his head, and observed that he was afraid there was no mistake, as he always knew that his minister would be run away with by some large church or other, but that he was a little surprisal that the Londoners should have heard of him quite so soon. "Had it been Cottenham, or St. Ives, or Huntingdon," said he, "I should not have wondered at all; but going to London is rather a great step from this little place." He shook his head very gravely; but the time was come for us to look out the hymns, and therefore the letter was put away, and, as far as we can remember, was for the day quite forgotten, even as a dead man out of mind.
On the following Monday an answer was sent to London, informing the deacon of the church at Park Street, that he had fallen into an error in directing his letter to Waterbeach, for the Baptist minister of that village was very little more than nineteen years of age, and quite unqualified to occupy a London pulpit. In due time came another epistle, setting forth that the former letter had been written in perfect knowledge of the young preacher's age, and had been intended for him, and him alone. The request of the former letter was repeated and pressed, a date mentioned for the journey to London, and the place appointed at which the preacher would find lodging. That invitation was accepted, and as the result thereof the boy preacher of the Fens took his post in London.
Twenty-five years agoand yet it seems but yesterdaywe lodged for the night at a boarding-house in Queen Square, Bloomsbury, to which the worthy deacon directed us. As we wore a huge black satin stock, and used a blue handkerchief with white spots, the young gentlemen of that boarding-house marveled greatly at the youth from the country who had come up to preach in London, but who was evidently in the condition known as verdant green. They were mainly of the evangelical church persuasion, and seemed greatly tickled that the country lad should be a preacher. They did not propose to go and hear the youth, but they seemed to tacitly agree to encourage him after their own fashion, and we were encouraged accordingly. What tales were narrated of the great divines of the metropolis, and their congregations! One we remember had a thousand city men to hear him, another had his church filled with thoughtful people, such as could hardly be matched all over England, while a third had an immense audience, almost entirely composed of the young men of London, who were spell-bound by his eloquence. The study which these men underwent in composing their sermons, their herculean toils in keeping up their congregations, and the matchless oratory which they exhibited on all occasions, were duly rehearsed in our hearing, and when we were shown to bed in a cupboard over the front door, we were not in an advantageous condition for pleasant dreams. Park Street hospitality never sent the young minister to that far-away hired room again, but assuredly the Saturday evening in a London boarding-house was about the most depressing agency which could have been brought to bear upon our spirit. On the narrow bed we tossed in solitary misery, and found no pity. Pitiless was the grind of the cabs in the street, pitiless the recollection of the young city clerks whose grim propriety had gazed upon our rusticity with such amusement, pitiless the spare room which scarce afforded space to kneel, pitiless even the gas-lamps which seemed to wink at us as they flickered amid the December darkness. We had no friend in all that city full of human beings, but we felt among strangers and foreigners, hoped to be helped through the scrape into which we had been brought, and to escape safely to the serene abodes of Cambridge and Waterbeach, which then seemed to be Eden itself.
Twenty-five years ago it was a clear, cold morning, and we wended our way along Holborn Hill towards Blackfriars and certain tortuous lanes and alleys at the foot of Southwark Bridge. Wondering, praying, fearing, hoping, believing,we felt all alone and yet not alone. Expectant of divine help, and inwardly borne down by our sense of the need of it, we traversed a dreary wilderness of brick to find the spot where our message must needs be delivered. One word rose to our lip many times, we, scarce know why"He must needs go through Samaria." The necessity of our Lord's journeying in a certain direction is no doubt repeated in his servants, and as our present journey was not of our seeking, and had been by no means pleasing so far as it had gonethe one thought, of a "needs be" for it seemed to overtop every other. At sight of Park Street Chapel we felt for a moment amazed at our own temerity, for it seemed to our eyes to be a large, ornate, and imposing structure, suggesting an audience wealthy and critical, and far removed from the humble folk to whom our ministry had been sweetness and light. It was early, so there were no persons entering, and when the set time was fully come there were no signs to support the suggestion raised by the exterior of the building, and we felt that by God's help we were not yet out of our depth, and were not likely to be with so small an audience. The Lord helped us very graciously, we had a happy Sabbath in the pulpit and spent the intervals with warm-hearted friends; and when at night we trudged back to the Queen Square narrow lodging we were not alone, and we no longer looked on Londoners as flinty-hearted barbarians. Our tone was altered, we wanted no pity of anyone, we did not care a penny for the young gentlemen lodgers and their miraculous ministers, nor for the grind of the cabs, nor for anything else under the sun. The lion had been looked at all round, and his majesty did not appear to be a tenth as majestic as when we had only heard his roar miles away.
These are small matters, but they rise before us as we look over the twenty-five years' space which has intervened: they are the haze of that other shore between which rolls a quarter of a century of mercy. At the review we are lost in a rush of mingled feelings. "With my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now." Our ill health at this moment scarcely permits us either to hold a pen or to dictate words to another, we must therefore leave till another season such utterances of gratitude as the fullness of our heart may permit us. Common blessings may find a tongue at any moment, but favors such as we have received of the Lord throughout this semi-jubilee are not to be acknowledged fitly with the tongues of men or of angels, unless a happy inspiration should bear the thankful one beyond himself.
The following items must, however, be recorded: they are but as a handful gleaned among the sheaves. To omit mention of them would be ingratitude against which stones might justly cry out.
A church has been maintained in order, vigor, and loving unity during all this period. Organized upon the freest basis, even to democracy, yet has there been seen among us a discipline and a compact oneness never excelled. Men and women associated by thousands, and each one imperfect, are not kept in perfect peace by human means; there is a mystic spirit moving among them which alone could have held them as the heart of one man. No schism, or heresy, has sprung up among as; division has been far from us; co-pastorship has engendered no rivalry, and the illness of the senior officer has led to no disorder. Hypocrites and temporary professors have gone out from us because they were not of us, but we are still one even as at the first; perhaps more truly one than ever at any former instant of our history. One in hearty love to our redeeming Lord, to his glorious gospel, to the ordinances of his house, and to one another as brethren in Christ. Shall not the God of peace receive our humble praises for this unspeakable boon?
That church has continued steadily to increase year by year. There have not been leaps of progress and then painful pauses of decline. On and on the host has marched, gathering recruits each month, filling up the gaps created by death or by removal, and steadily proceeding towards and beyond its maximum, which lies over the border of five thousand souls. One year may have been better than another, but not to any marked extent; there has been a level richness in the harvest field, a joyful average in the crop. Unity of heart has been accompanied by uniformity of prosperity. Work has not been done in spurts, enterprises have not been commenced and abandoned; every advance has been maintained and has become the vantage ground for yet another aggression upon the enemy's territory. Faults there have been in abundance, but the good Lord has not suffered them to hinder progress or to prevent success. The Bridegroom has remained with us, and as yet the days of fasting have not been proclaimed, rather has the joy of the Lord been from day to day our strength.
The gospel of the grace of God has been continually preached from the first day until nowthe same gospel, we trust accompanied with growing expertness and appreciation and knowledge, but not another gospel, nor even another form of the same gospel. From week to week the sermons have been issued from the press, till the printed sermons now number 1450. These have enjoyed a very remarkable circulation in our own country, and in the Colonies and America; and, besides being scattered to the ends of the earth wherever the English tongue is spoken, they have been translated into almost every language spoken by Christian people, and into some of the tongues of the heathen besides. What multitudes of conversions have come of these messengers of mercy eternity alone will disclose: we have heard enough to make our cup ran over with unutterable delight. Shall not the God of boundless goodness be extolled and adored for this? The reader cannot know so well as the preacher what this printing of sermons involves. This is a tax upon the brain of a most serious kind, and yet it has been endured, add still the public read the sermons,best proof that all their freshness has not departed. Oh Lord, all our fresh springs are in thee, else had our ministry long since, been dried up at the fountain, the unction would have departed, and the power would have fled. Unto the Eternal Spirit be infinite glory for his long forbearance and perpetual aid.
Nursed up at the sides of the church, supported by her liberality fostered by her care, and watched over by her love, hundreds of young men have been, trained for the ministry, and have gone forth everywhere preaching the word. Of these some few have fallen asleep, but the great majority still remain in the ministry at home and in the mission field, faithful to the things which they learned in their youth, and persevering in the proclamation of the same gospel which is dear to the mother church. When we think of the four hundred brethren preaching the gospel at this moment, of the many churches which they have formed, and of the meeting-houses they have built, we must magnify the name of the Lord who has wrought by so feeble an instrumentality.
Evangelists are now supported by the agency at the Tabernacle, and sent forth hither and thither to arouse the churches. Upon this effort a special blessing has rested, enough to fill all hearts with delighted thankfulness.
During a considerable period hundreds of orphans have been fed, and clothed, and trained for time and eternity beneath the wings of the church of God, and many scores of these are now engaged in honorable business, prospering in life, in membership with Christian churches, and delighting to own themselves in a special manner children of the Tabernacle, sons of the Stockwell Orphanage. This is a well-spring of joy sufficient for a life. Those who have labored with us in this holy work have a wealth of satisfaction in looking back upon the way wherein the Lord hath led us in this benevolent enterprise. Both the providence and the grace of God have been abundantly illustrated in this delightful service. If the story could ever be fully writtenas it never can beit would redound to the praise of the faithful, promise-keeping Savior, who said to us at the first, My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus."
Nor is this all, nor can all be told. An army of colporteurs at this present moment covers our country; ninety or more men are going from house to house with the word of God and pure literature, endeavoring to enlighten the dark hamlets, and to reach the neglected individuals who pine alone upon their sick beds. Priestcraft is thus assailed by an agency which it little expected to encounter. Where a Nonconformist ministry could not be sustained for want of means, a testimony has been kept alive which has sufficed to fetch out the chosen of the Lord from amid the gloom of superstition, and lead the Lord's elect away from priests and sacraments to Christ and the one great sacrifice for sin. This work grows and must grew from year to year.
The poor but faithful ministers of our Lord have had some little comfort rendered to them by a quiet, unobtrusive work, which has supplied them with parcels of useful books: a work which is only ours, and yet most truly ours, because it is performed in constant pain and frequent anguish by her who is our best of earthly blessings. The Book Fund has a note all its own, but we could not refrain from hearing it as it swells the blessed harmony of service done during the twenty-five years. "She that tarried at home divided the spoil."
Time would fail us to rehearse the whole of the other enterprises which have sprung up around us, and were we inclined to do so and to become a fool in glorying we should not be able, for bodily weakness plucks us by the sleeve and cries "Forbear." We will forbear, but not till we have exclaimed, "What hath God wrought?" Nor till we have noted with peculiar gratitude that to us is doubly fulfilled the promise, "Instead of the fathers shall be the children." Our sons have already began to fulfill our lack of service, and will do so more and more if our infirmities increase.
It was right and seemly that at the close of this period of twenty-five years some testimonial should be offered to the pastor. The like has been worthily done in other cases, and brethren have accepted a sum of money which they well deserved, and which they have very properly laid aside as a provision for their families. In our case it did not seem to us at all fitting that the offering should come into our own purse; our conscience and heart revolted from the idea. We could without sin have accepted the gift for our own need, but it seemed not to be right. We have been so much more in the hands of God than most, so much less an agent and so much more an instrument, that we could not claim a grain of credit. Moreover, the dear and honored brethren and sisters in Christ who have surrounded us these many years have really themselves done the bulk of the work, and God forbid that we should monopolize honor which belongs to all the saints! Let the offering come by all means, but let it return to the source from whence it came. There are many poor in the church, far more than friends at a distance would imaginemany of the most godly poor, "widows indeed," and partakers of the poverty of Christ. To aid the Church in its holy duty of remembering the poor, which is the nearest approach to remembering Christ himself, seemed to us to be the highest use of money; the testimonial will, therefore, go to support the aged sisters in the Almshouses, and thus it will actually relieve the funds of the church which are appropriated to the weekly relief of the necessitous. May the Lord Jesus accept this cup of cold water which is offered in his name! We see the Lord's servants fetching for us water from the well of Bethlehem which is within the gate, and as we see them cheerfully and generously setting it at our feet we thank them, thank them with tears in our eyes, but we feel that we must not drink thereof; it must be poured out before the Lord. So let it be. O Lord accept it!