The study of any successful man's biography, whatever his profession, business or trade, is helpful to every other man in any other station. For the same great causes which carry a man to success in one part of our civilization are necessary to the accomplishment of great purposes in any other position. The fact that Mr. Spurgeon was a preacher, need not make his life any less useful in the most practical sense, to the farmer, the mechanic, the merchant or the lawyer. There is, however, one discouraging feature in using the life of Mr. Spurgeon for the purposes of imitation, in the fact to which reference has already been made, viz.: that some of the events which led to his promotion are beyond explanation, and remain in the realm of the miraculous. No study nor reasoning, no contemplation of facts seems to clear up the wonderful mystery.
Let us nevertheless devote a short time to the study of the natural causes and influences which may not be considered mysterious and which will be very helpful to every reader who desires to make the most possible of his life.
Many of the most trustworthy biographers ascribe a large share of all human success to the influence of early education others make equally prominent the inheritance of hereditary traits carrying with them the force of genius. Some writers upon Mr.. Spurgeon's career, like that most excellent Christian, Rev. James J. Ellis, ascribed much to his family and ancestry. This is quite natural to an Englishman, trained under a hereditary monarchy.
The evangelist George C. Needham and also Mr, Stevenson, Mr. Spurgeon's most excellent biographers, lay considerable stress upon his inherited mental characteristics. But to an American, taught by American literature and with a life-long association with a leveling, democracy, these kindly, efforts to give great credit to the long line of good men which preceded him appear to be rather strange and often quite absurd. Some men are born great, but families are not. To be a great man's son gives no patent on human greatness. More often we find that the great man was the son of a poor man, and often a descendent of the ignorant or of the very commonplace. Families like the Peels in England and the Adams of America are exceedingly rare, and as a usual thing there is no hope of genius nor is great intellectual force expected in the second Generation of any great man. It is said that Mr. Spurgeon's ancestors were among the religious reformers of Holland, who under the fearful scourge of the Duke of Alva, suffered such privation as to induce them to fly from their native land and find domicile in England. That they were good men and noble Christians among those who thus justify their native land in the time its trial there is no question, and no one can doubt but that the ancestors of Mr. Spurgeon are all they are represented to be, and specially noteworthy is the fact that two hundred and more years ago they were imprisoned for daring to worship God according, to the dictates of their own conscience. But no one seems to claim for them any special genius, and in fact had they possessed it, or the marvelous acuteness which is sometimes hinted at, the forefathers would have remained in Holland and fought out the battle of Christian freedom there.
They were evidently plain people of the peasant classes who saw no opportunity of being useful to their native country and consequently acted wisely when they sought a new home in a free land. Certainly the Spurgeon families of Essex and Sussex which in these after days have been locally very influential and especially noble in their Christian character, have not taken great interest in the history of their ancestors, and appear to know but little concerning their achievements.
Through the three or four Generations with whom the reading public is now somewhat familiar, the Spurgeon families have been characterized for their plain common sense, sturdy industry, and stubborn adherence to certain Christian doctrines, and to have led a quiet, homely life. Neither his grandfather James Spurgeon at Stambourne, nor his father John Spurgeon of Cold-Chester and London were ever especially distinguished for their educational attainments. They were scholars of the old Congregational school, who read carefully a few standard books, who, thought deeply, but whose reading was not extensive.
While it is true that almost any man with the most ordinary powers may be able to preach a classical sermon and adorn it with quotations from Cicero, Demosthenes, Augustine, and Luther, and while it is also true that it requires both genius and most extensive learning to speak simply and clearly in plain English, yet his father and his grandfather exhibited those qualities as a result of a peculiar inherited character, rather than that of extensive education. They were not copyists, they were distinguished for their odd originality. They were often humorous and witty, presenting truth occasionally in a grotesque dress which could never be forgotten, and which more often accomplished the ends for which they spoke than the most polished essay could have done.
There are blunders which are victories, and there are truly great orators whose language is ungrammatical and unrhetorical.
The Spurgeon family has remained quite closely identified with the country villages in which its earliest English ancestry took up its abode. They have not been a migratory people, have sought no ambitious station, but have been specially remarkable for clean Christianity, and the English disposition to be solid, earnest, and Godly. Yet in this they are not to be distinguished above a thousand other families like them who have resided and still reside in the country towns of dear old England.
It seems therefore quite unreasonable to say that the attainments and victories of Charles were due to any unusual prominence in the life or nature of his family inheritance. He illustrates the great lesson which England is now speedily learning, that statesmanship or piety are not to be sought especially in descent, but rather in the individuals whom Providence raises up for the furtherance of its great designs. Mr., Spurgeon himself has said: "The boast of pedigree is common but silly." Families as families, have no right to the landed domain, to palaces, to the castles, to the offices, or to the throne.
These positions must soon be filled only by persons of especial fitness and unusual mental activity, who depend for their influence not upon their descent, but upon their personal ability.
Of course none but an extreme hobbyist could leave out of account, the force of ancestral examples, such as were presented in the life of grandfather James Spurgeon. And specially influential upon his disposition must have been the influence of Charles' grandmother, his Aunt Ann, and of his own sweet spirited Christian mother.
His father is said to have remarked, that as the parent of seventeen children, "I have frequently worn a shabby coat when I might have possessed a good one, had I cared less for my children's education." But the torching sacrifices made by his father seemed to have been excelled by the self-abnegation and devotion of his noble mother.
Mrs. Jackson, the sister of Charles, wrote of their father eight years before he died, saying "in previous biographies very little is recorded of this venerable man of God, who has now attained the ripe age of four-score years. He has always been an embodiment of homeliness, and from the earliest recollections of his children, he imparted a charm to the home life of his family. His sons and daughters were never so happy as when he gathered them around him for recreation, instruction, and devotion. They hailed his return from business and from religious services with delight, for they knew he would not fail to delight them by relating in his own captivating manner the incidents which had come under his observation during the day. Thus 'pleasant evenings' were wisely provided at home, and the temptations which characterize and endanger 'modern society' were avoided. Those early days of happy family life are remembered with devout gratitude."
But a well known incident related by Charles' father, opens a window into the domestic inner life of the family, through which we catch glimpses of a region presided over by one f God's most saintly characters In conversation with Dr. Ford, concerning the domestic life of Charles' early years, John Spurgeon said; "I had been from home a good deal, trying to build up weak congregations, and felt that I was neglecting, the religious training of my own children while I toiled for the good of others. I returned home with these feelings. I opened the door, and was surprised to find none of the children about the hall. Going quietly up the stairs, I heard my wife's voice. She was engaged in prayer with the children. I heard her pray for them , one by one, by name. She came to Charles and specially prayed for him, for he was of a high spirit and daring temper.. I listened until she had ended her prayer, and I felt and said, 'Lord, I will go on with Thy work; the children will be cared for.'"
But reserving for the next chapter observations connected with Charles' early moral and religious education, let us examine somewhat closely the methods by which he obtained such wide, and varied, and useful information. It has often been said that Spurgeon never had a college education While that is technically true, it is far from true in reality. He had a college education. Yea, he had a university education. He was one of the learned men most prominent in these closing years of the nineteenth century. But the fact that a person in Spurgeon's circumstances could secure such extensive information and obtain that necessary discipline of mind to compete with the rushing forces of civilization in this age of the world, without actually attending the college or the university is a very important fact. It is not unreasonable to infer that he would have failed as a great preacher and organizer, if he had taken a course in the college or university.
The stubborn fact that he did reach the highest possible position in his profession, without a college training, must be squarely met by all advocates of modern systems of public instruction. It makes clear to the student that our methods of instruction and our systems of school discipline are at least, not a necessity for the attainment of the highest education.
Something is rotten in the states of Denmark, England, and the United States, when it is possible for boys and girls without money, without fame, without special. hereditary influence, to reach the noblest positions in the world's activities, without the aid of the great endowed, institutions which receive such continued encomiums. That schools and colleges, universities and scientific institutions are of great value goes without the saying. But that they might be of much more value than they are is also certain. For they should combine if possible in their course of instruction the same influences and discipline which comes to a poor boy working his own way upward through thousands of difficulties and under the most discouraging circumstances.
Lincoln would not have been the saviour of his nation and Spurgeon would not have been the Elijah of his age had they received the usual college education. Such a course would nave changed the circumstances and put them in an entirely different relation to the events which molded them into the characters the world so much needed.
Here, then, is the fact. It is a stubborn thing. It demands the very careful and persistent attention of our great educators. While a college diploma ought to be always a badge of greatness, and ever accompany the history of the most effective intellects, yet it is a startling fact that for some reason it is not practically the certain badge of honor which it should be.
Why should Charles' own younger brother, James, with his more extended opportunities and his especially thorough college training hold so humble a place in the world's estimation, while Charles, securing his education by entirely different methods, is a household word to the farthest reach of the civilized world? The question does arise whether it would not have been far better for even James, if he had entered at once on his life work when he was sixteen years of age and trusted to different methods for the helpful instruction he would need in his profession. We cannot answer this, but we say that the consideration of a life like that of Charles H. Spurgeon will some day revolutionize all our methods of instruction and make them far less weirdly theoretical. It will bring us all down to matters more practical, more in accordance with common sense and with. our daily common needs Be it known that a poor boy even in aristocratic England may secure a college education without attending Cambridge or Oxford. An untitled rustic may acquire all that discipline of mind and stability of character which the best institutions of the world can give, and secure them even amid the homeliest surroundings or in the most distant country village
Charles H. Spurgeon's figure will ever stand in the minds of tens of thousands of young men in rustic life, combined with a most eloquent gesture pointing forward to the highest positions in the world and speaking with distinct tone, saying, "there is hope for the humblest man," Nothing the college gives is impossible to the industrious, to the honest, although he may have no opportunity to sit under the training of gifted minds in the halls of the distinguished centers of learning. His name will ever be the sign of hope and an encouraging inspiration showing the way to magnificent possibilities from the humblest home in the most sparsely settled districts.
Universities are not to be despised, but on the contrary to be faithfully encouraged. But, thank God! Charles H. Spurgeon did not go to college The world needed one such an example to break the crust of a depressing school aristocracy.
His mental training, of course, began at his grandfather's house in Stambourne and we are told that his letters were taught him by his Aunt Ann. She loved to relate in after years many little anecdotes illustrative of his "great mind" as a boy. But an examination of them does not show any special precariousness. They are like all those incidents which are so carefully preserved by mothers, grandmothers, and indulgent aunts about their first-born son, first grandson, or favorite nephew.
His grandfather also occasionally assisted in teaching him to read. But the impress of his grandfather's noble character seems to have been the most important branch of his early learning
Example draws where precept fails,
And sometimes are more read than tales.
Mr. Spurgeon wrote that "Example is the school of mankind, and many will learn at no other. Examples preach to the eye and leave a deeper impress than counsel addressed to the ear. Children like pictures better than letter press, so do men prefer example to precept."
And when speaking directly of his grandfather's influential example he also said: "When a little child, I lived some years in my grandfather's house. In his garden there was a fine old hedge of yew of considerable length, which was clipped and trimmed till it made quite a wall of verdure. Behind it was a wide grass walk which looked out upon the fields, and afforded a quiet outlook. The grass was kept mown, so as to make pleasant walking. Here ever since the old puritanic chapel was built, godly divines had walked and prayed and meditated. My Grandfather was wont to use it as his study. Up and down he would walk when preparing his sermons, and always on Sabbath days, when it was fair, he had half an hour there before preaching. To me it seemed a perfect paradise, and being forbidden to stay there when grandfather was meditating, I viewed it with no small degree of awe. I love to think of the green and quiet walk at this moment, and could wish for just such a study. But I was once shocked, and even horrified by hearing a farming man remark concerning this sanctum sanctorum, "It 'ud grow a many 'taturs if it wor ploughed up." What cared he for holy memories? What were meditation and contemplation to him? is it not the chief end of man to grow potatoes, and to eat them? Such on a larger scale would be an unconverted man's estimate of joys so elevated and refined as those of heaven, could he by any possibility be permitted to gaze upon them."
To the day-school, taught by Mrs. Burleigh, at Stambourne, reference has already been made. It appears that he learned so little or was altogether so inattentive or mischievous that the school never made any very deep impression upon his memory. It is clear that at that early day in his history, before he was eight years old, he was not to be specially distinguished from many other boys living, in his social position and circumstances. But in his grandfather's family he necessarily saw more of books than other boys in the neighborhood would see, and heard a great deal more of literary matters and intellectual discussion than would fall to the lot of a farmer's son. He learned slowly but remembered long. A lesson once thoroughly comprehended was indelible.
He justify his grandfather's manse and returned to his father's house at Coldchester, where his father kept a shop, when he was seven or eight years of age, and there found an opportunity for excellent school training. But in that school there were some scholars who excelled him, and it is said that he himself did not consider it any special disgrace to be at the foot of the class, provided that it brought him in the winter season nearer the stove.
But the clearness with which these events at that time in his life impressed themselves upon his memory is wonderfully shown in the account which when an elderly man he gave of a little incident while at school. In his "John Plouhman's talks," he assailed debt with peculiar bitterness and said: "When I was a very small boy, in pinafores, and went to a woman's school, it so happened that I wanted a stick of slate pencil, and had no money to buy it with. I was afraid of being scolded for losing, my pencils so often, for I was a real careless little fellow, and so did not dare to ask at home; what then was John to do? There was a little shop in the place, where nuts, and tops, and cakes, and balls were sold, by old Mrs. Dearson, and sometimes I had seen boys and girls get trusted by the old lady. I argued with myself that Christmas was coming, and that somebody or other would be sure to give me a penny then, and perhaps even a whole silver sixpence. I would therefore go into debt for a stick of slate pencil, and be sure to pay for it at Christmas. I did not feel easy about it, but still I screwed my courage up and went into the shop. One farthing was the amount, and as I had never owed anything before , and my credit was good, the pencil was handed over by the kind dame, and I was in debt. It did not please me much, and I felt as if I had done wrong, but I little knew how soon I should smart for it. How my father came to hear of this little piece of business, I never knew, but some little bird or other whistled it to him, and he was very soon down upon me in right earnest. God bless him for it; he was a sensible man, and none of your children-spoilers ; he did not intend to bring up his children to speculate and play at what big rogues call financiering, and therefore he knocked my getting into debt into the head at once, and no mistake. He gave me a very powerful lecture upon getting into debt, and how like it was to stealing, and upon the way in which people were ruined by it; and how a boy who would owe a farthing, might one day owe a hundred pounds, and get into prison, and bring his family to disgrace. It was a lecture indeed; I think I can hear it now, and can feel my ears tingling at the recollection of it, then I was marched off to the shop like a deserter marched into barrack, crying bitterly all down the street, and feeling dreadfully ashamed because I thought everybody knew I was in debt. The farthing was paid amid many solemn warnings, and the poor debtor was free, like a bird let out of a cage. How sweet it felt to be out of debt, How did my little heart declare and vow that nothing should ever tempt me into debt again. It was a fine lesson, and I have never forgotten it. If all boys were inoculated with the same doctrine when they were young, it would be as good as a fortune to them, and save them wagon-loads of trouble in after life. God bless my father, say I, and send a breed of such fathers into old England, to save her from being eaten up with villainy, for what with companies, and schemes, and paper money, the nation is getting to be as rotten as touchwood.
"Ever since that early sickening, I have hated debt as Luther hated the Pope, and if I say some fierce things about it, you must not wonder. To keep debt, dirt, and the devil out of my cottage has been my greatest wish ever since I set up housekeeping; and although the last of the three has sometimes gotten in by the door or window, for the old serpent will wriggle through the smallest crack, yet, thanks to a good wife, hard work, honesty, and brushes, the other two have not crossed the threshold, debt is so degrading that if I owed a man a penny, I would walk twenty miles in the depth of winter, to pay him, sooner than feel that I was under an obligation. I should be as comfortable with peas in my shoes, or a hedgehog in my bed, or a snake up my back as with bills hanging over my head at the grocer's, and baker's, and the tailor's. Poverty is hard, but debt is horrible; a man might as well have a smoky house and a scolding wife, which are said to be the two worst evils of our life. We may be poor yet respectable, which John Ploughman and wife hope they are, and will be; but a man in debt cannot even respect himself, and he is sure to be talked about by his neighbors, and that talk will not be much to his credit. Some persons appear to like to be owing money; but I would as soon be a cat up a chimney with the fire alight, or a fox with the hounds at my heels, or a hedgehog on a pitchfork, or a mouse under an owl's claws. An honest man thinks a purse full of other people's money to be worse than an empty one; he cannot bear to eat other people's cheese, wear other people's shirts, and walk about in other people's shoes; neither will he be easy while his wife is decked out in the milliner's bonnets, and wears the draper's flannels. The jackdaw in the peacock's feathers was soon plucked, and borrowers will surely come to poverty-a poverty of the bitterest sort, because there is shame in it."
From 1841 to 1844 he attended that excellent school at Coldchester taught by a conscientious and able instructor who interested himself greatly in his students, yet until near the middle of 1844, when he made a summer visit to his grandfather at Stambourne, there was nothing specially remarkable noted either by his parents or his teacher.
But the event of that summer, of which an extended account will be made in the next chapter and which partakes so strongly of the miraculous, appears to have made an entire change in his mental constitution and in his ambitions. It is possible that we know very much more concerning his life from that special period on, because his family and friends began at that point to expect greater things of him and consequently did notice more closely his characteristics and doings.
In 1844 when he was ten years of age he had progressed favorably in writing, reading, arithmetic, and spelling. He had also begun the study of the Greek grammar and Latin grammar and received some lessons in philosophy. But he never became in school an expert scholar in the ancient languages, although he afterward gave considerable attention to New Testament Greek and Hebrew at such odd times as he could secure, in order that he might gain a better understanding of the original languages in which the Bible was written. In 1846 he received a. prize in an examination and competition in the school, although he was several times defeated in the same attempt. His classmates say that he was characterized at that time by unusual practical observation among common things. He saw what no other boy appeared to notice. Valuable instruction was gained from the wayside, from the household scenes, from the fields of grain, from the most ordinary circumstances in the annals of the country people. Things dead to others were alive to him. Inanimate, bodies were instinct with life. The trees had their messages, the rocks their lessons, and the lurking wild beasts their proverbs. He would have obtained a thorough useful education at that time had he lived in a desert. The most helpful education often is found in the examination of every-day events, and in the close scrutiny of the most ordinary things.
In 1849 his father by great sacrifices secured him a place in New Market under care of Mr. Swindell, who was then a noted instructor and especially devoted to the preparation of young men for college.
He was obliged to live in a most meager way and was acutely conscious of the sacrifice his father and mother were making to secure him an education. Hence he worked with a devotion and persistency born more of the heart than of intellectual ambition.
His father, as we have seen, had but little time to devote to the personal care or instruction of his children because he was in the shop in the day and preached evenings in some chapel or mission, and regularly on Sunday as the pastor at Tollesbury. But the father improved every opportunity to secure any interesting and good book for the use of his children, and in that way often placed in Charles' hands very valuable helps in securing a comprehensive education. When his father gave up business altogether and accepted the call of the Congregational Church at Cranbrooke, Kent, he made use of his added income to secure several instructive periodicals for the use of his sons, Charles and James. His fatherly generosity was returned to him a hundred-fold through the indirect influence of Charles, when his popularity began in London, for the church at Fetter Lane having heard of the son, sent a unanimous call to the father to come and be their teacher in London, where he remained until he died in 1876, in a prosperous and affectionate pastorate.
It is, however, often remarked that Mrs. Spurgeon, Charles' mother, was as truly and effectively a pastor in the Church and congregation as her husband, although she was a very quiet old lady, yet she was so continuously engaged in good deeds that the sum of them brought to her great affection and to her husband no small honor. It was a special comfort and delight to Charles thus to have his father and mother near him, to which came an added satisfaction when his brother James was also settled in London as his assistant pastor.
No comprehensive view can he obtained of the education of Charles H. Spurgeon without carefully allowing a large space for the silent influence of the example which such a mother and such a father continually presented for many years after he had actually become a preacher himself.
Many of the public charities, profitable deeds and kindness, as well as the great institutions which will through the coming generations bear his name owe their origin, unquestionably, to the instruction by precept and example which be received from his parents, independent of any institution of learning.
His school-life necessarily held a prominent place in his early career and was always so connected with his religious training that even on days of examination, when he had an oration or essay his subjects were generally upon some questions relating to the Church or upon the subject of missions.
He has given us himself a very clear account of the causes which led him to abandon the idea of entering college. It will be most interesting if given in his own words: "Soon after I had begun, in 1852, to preach the Word in Waterbeach, I was strongly advised by my father and others to enter Stepney, now Regent's Park College, to prepare more fully for the ministry. Knowing that learning is never an encumbrance and is often a great means of usefulness, I felt inclined to avail myself of the opportunity of attaining it, although I believed that I might be useful without a college training. I consented to the opinion . of friends that I should be more useful with it. Dr. Angus, the tutor of the college, visited Cambridge, where I then resided, and it was arranged that we should meet at the house of Mr, Macmillan, the publisher. Thinking and praying over the matter, I entered the house at exactly the time appointed, and was shown into a room; where I waited patiently for a couple of hours, feeling too much impressed with my own insignificance and the greatness of the tutor from London to venture to ring the bell and inquire the cause of the unreasonably long delay."
"At last patience having had her perfect work, the bell was set in motion, and on the arrival of the servant, the waiting young man of eighteen was informed that the doctor had tarried in another room, and could stop no longer, so had gone off by train, to London. The stupid girl had given no information to the family that any one called and had been shown into the drawing room, consequently the meeting never came about, although designed by both parties, I was not a little disappointed at the moment; but have a thousand times since thanked the Lord very heartily for the strange providence which forced my steps into another and far better path."
"Still holding the idea of entering the Collegiate institution, I thought of writing and making an immediate application; but that was not to be. That afternoon having to preach at a village station, walked in a meditating frame of mind over Midsummer Common, to the little wooden bridge which leads to Chesterton, and in the midst of the Common, I was startled by what seemed to be a loud voice but which may have been a singular illusion; whatever it was, the impression it made on my mind was most vivid; I seemed very distinctly to hear the words, "Seekest thou great things for thyself seek them not." This led me to look at my position from a different point of view, and to challenge my motives and intentions. I remembered my poor but loving people to whom I had ministered, and the souls which had been given me in my humble charge; and although at that time I anticipated obscurity and poverty as the result of the resolve, yet I did there and then renounce the offer of collegiate instruction, determining to abide, for a season, at least, with my people and to remain preaching the Word so long as I had strength to do it. Had it not been for those words I had not been where I am now. Although the ephod is no longer worn by ministering priest the Lord guides His people by His wisdom, and orders all their paths in love; and in times of perplexity by ways mysterious and remarkable. He says to them, "This is the way, walk ye in it."
A little later he wrote, "I have all along had an aversion to college, and nothing but a feeling that I must not consult myself, but Jesus, could have made me think of it." "I am more and more glad that I never went to college. God sends such sunshine on my path, such smiles of grace, that I cannot regret if I have forfeited all my prospects for it. I am conscious I held back from the love of God and His cause; and I had rather be poor in His service than rich in my own."
If at the time when he abandoned the idea of going to college, he had surrendered his intention to secure all the education those do obtain who go to college, then the position of those simple people who assume that it is just as well to preach without an education, would be clearly established. But the fact remains that he was none the less determined to have all the instruction possible and necessary to equip him for his great life-work; and that he devoted himself to it most assiduously in all his spare hours. Hundreds of young men have entered the ministry thinking they were copying Spurgeon's example by refusing to attend an institution of learning, or pursue at home a systematic course of study, wholly forgetting all that other side of his history wherein he secured his advanced instruction, but under specially unfavorable circumstances.
Perhaps the conditions ought not to be considered unfavorable after all, when we remember that the very difficulties he so bravely encountered only added greatly to his mental power and furnished him with the especially superior weapons in the great difficulties of his after experience. It is never best to secure an education easily; and scholars ought ways to pursue those studies which are the most difficult to them. For the discipline of mind and the enlargement of mental power is of far more conscience than the collection of facts.
Mr. Edward Leeding, who for a time was Spurgeon's tutor, declared that Charles could have received the University degree on examination any time after reaching manhood, had he chosen to make the application. The college degree is a label which is often displaced, but which in Mr. Spurgeon's case would have reflected more honor upon the institution than it could upon him.
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