BUILDING FOR THE LORD
It would require as many volumes as we have allowed pages to give all the varied incidents of Mr. Spurgeon's remarkable life which would be of interest to some classes of readers; but in no division of his great work was there shown more distinctly the unaccountable power of faith than in the enlargement of the New Park Street Chapel and in the building of the Metropolitan Tabernacle.
The difference between building a Church and establishing a secular business is so widely divergent that the methods adopted in the one seem never to be applicable to the other. Yet, after all, the business principles which should conduct to success a large manufacturing concern or a commercial enterprise are necessarily blended with that faith in the unseen which makes Christian enterprises successful.
They who build a church enter into contracts and assume obligations, "seeing the invisible;" for it is a rare thing in the history of church building for such enterprises to be started with the capital all in the bank. The builders are obliged to assume that miraculous agencies will work with them in their undertaking, and accomplish in church building what would never be expected in ordinary affairs of business. They believe that somewhere in the world is the gold and the silver belonging to the Lord, which will be pushed forward, by mysterious agencies, into their hands, for the uses of the religious undertaking.
Hospitals, schools, colleges, mission houses, chapels, and churches can be counted by the score which began entirely in the faith of some individual who had far less money than enthusiasm for the good of his kind.
There seems, however, to be a limit beyond which faith in God becomes presumption, and the presumptuous sin brings its reward in failure and disgrace. Just where the line is between a sublime faith and reckless presumption is one of the most difficult matters to decide, and differs with every possible occasion.
It seems, however, clearly true that wherever a careful man or woman of calm judgment, and acquainted with business ways, sees the necessity for a great Christian charity or the construction of a church, there is always somewhere the means with which to carry on the work or to rear the structure. The demand is always accompanied with a supply, just as in, the body, there is no appetite without the existence somewhere of the means to satisfy it. It is one of the best evidences of a future state of spiritual existence that man everywhere has a desire or an appetite for eternal life, and, reasoning by analogy, there is no just ground for supposing that such a universal and strong natural appetite will be justify unsatisfied.
So when a community is sinking into sin and crime, or when fearful diseases rage, there is somewhere a means of reform and an antidote provided by nature's God which the faithful servant of the Lord is almost certain to find. In exceptionable cases, benevolent individuals have established alone great charities, and have supplied the capital from their extensive possessions. But usually such undertakings have been begun by some person, having himself but little money, and yet endowed with great faith, and the waiting benefactors have reinforced or sustained the movement with their gifts of money or property. Some churches have such a worldly fear of debt as to practically declare by resolution and action that they will only trust in the Lord when they have the money in their pockets. While others, as wrongfully extreme, without measuring the need, run recklessly into debt and greatly harm the cause which they desire to sustain. Mr. Spurgeon was one of those men who was especially endowed with broad common sense, having a much larger degree of faith in the personal care of God than many of his acquaintances; yet always most carefully conservative, weighing well the consequences and considering closely the probabilities, guided by the unerring finger of the providence of God.
If a door opened he entered in. If one debt was unexpectedly paid, it did not encourage him to contract another until he saw the need which was equal to the first, and be gathered up the fragments with most scrupulous care after every undertaking, that nothing should be lost.
The New Park Street Chapel was crowded to the door from the very opening of his pastorate, and the multitudes who could not secure admission, so persistently pressing at the portals, awakened in his mind great anxiety to reach the multitudes who so apparently desired to hear of the Saviour. An over-flow service was suggested and tried, but the people came to hear Mr. Spurgeon and not to attend an ordinary service, and consequently they returned to their homes or went to worse places, while he was preaching to the few, comparatively, who secured a seat or standing room inside.
As this crowded condition was so evidently permanent, young Spurgeon suggested to the deacons, at one of their meetings, that it might be necessary very soon to enlarge the Chapel so as to occupy the entire lot. But that first proposition was received by them as a visionary scheme, having no foundation in reason. He asked some of the members of the Church to pray over the matter, but they considered the matter altogether beyond the reach of prayer. The Church was composed largely of elderly people who stood by the old place because of its associations. Many of them were satisfied and others poor and had no ambition or desire to enter into a new enterprise of this kind. They had not faith enough in it even to ask God for direction. Many of them were in love with the old place, and had that natural conservative feeling that they would not be at home in the new Church. They could not endure the thought of having the pews they had occupied so long change in their relation to the pulpit, or have the walls or windows architecturally remodeled, lest it should make the place seem to them less home-like and sacred.
The proposition to enlarge was one of the most dangerous experiments which Mr. Spurgeon ever tried in his Church life. In all his subsequent propositions of the kind he always found a very strong party of friends so attached to him that they would have undertaken anything he suggested, however absurd it might appear to be to them. But in this case it was very different. The old deacons boasted of their forty years in Christian experience and of the great variety of their past Church work, and very naturally claimed the right of the aged to curb the ardor of the young. He was but a boy, only twenty-one years of age ; they were men who bad grown gray in practical service.
But the preacher brought to bear upon the Church the demands of people outside of its circle who claimed that they desired to hear the Gospel and that the Church of Christ was under sacred obligations to furnish it to those who so much needed it. This had a growing influence upon the membership, and, although beginning in a very small way, gradually increased in volume with a pride in their young pastor until quite a strong party in the Church were in favor of the enlargement. One day Mr. Spurgeon arose in the pulpit, after having spent a large portion of the previous night in prayer, and declared to the congregation that the Chapel was to be enlarged. He spoke of it with the decision of one who has already, in faith, seen the thing done. He unhesitatingly represented it to be the will of the Lord "that these walls are to be extended. God hath said it, no man can hinder it."
His audacity won friends, his faith aroused confidence, and his evident willingness to sacrifice with them to any extent in order that the Church might be enlarged soon brought over to his position almost the entire Church.
There were several, however, who regarded the matter as so preposterous that they refused to have anything to do with it, and justify the Church which they believed would soon be overwhelmed in debt. A good sister, who had always been regarded as one of the pillars of the Church, having been a liberal giver and a devoted Christian, arose in the midst of one of the most enthusiastic meetings and quoted the saying of the Saviour, which urged the people to sit down and count the cost, lest they should not be able to finish, and she urged the brethren not to undertake to destroy this present Church until they had the means with which to build another.
A young man who had but little to give at the. time, but afterward became a very generous donor, surprised the meeting by taking an opposite and extreme position, and declaring most excitedly that the enlargement of the Chapel would be only a waste of time, as a very much larger place would then be greatly needed after the enlargement as it was before.
When the Church was at last, led up where it voted to enter into the changes which Mr. Spurgeon desired, there was not a shilling on hand toward the enterprise. To undertake so expensive a matter without capital would appear to a careful business man to be very reckless, if there was not to be taken into consideration in connection with such a movement the fact that the providences of God are always to be counted as partners.
The time was set for the remodeling to begin and Exeter Hall was engaged in which to hold the services during the enlargement, before the subscriptions or gifts were sufficient even for the removal of the furniture. But the money came as it was needed and paid the debts as they became due. Like the manna in the wilderness, there was a supply for each day, but none justify for the morrow. Often when the accounts were settled and the workmen paid, there was justify in the treasury of the Church less than five dollars, and at two different times only one shilling. Yet at no time did the work cease, or was it hindered for lack of funds. They were obliged to enter into contracts, which of course would place them under great obligations, provided no money should come in before the stipulations were due, yet no obligations did mature without there being money on hand to pay It was the needed discipline for the Churcha most valuable instruction, fitting them for the greater work they had still before them. It taught faith in God. Possibly none of them could have been persuaded in reason to have undertaken the greater work which followed a few years later had they not been so remarkably sustained by God's providence in this, the lesser undertaking.
The walls were torn out, enlarged foundations put in, and the structure carried upward day by day to the surprise of the unbelieving, but to the great delight of those engaged therein.
In the meantime enormous crowds, numbering more than the enlarged Chapel would hold by four or five times, were regularly in attendance upon the preaching in Exeter Hall. The external walls of the enlarged building were not firmly in place before it was clear to the larger part of the Church that they had undertaken altogether too small things for God. When they returned to the refitted structure there was an apparent sense of disappointment on the part of the congregation, because their inability to accommodate the anxious inquirers at the door was far greater than it had been before they "lengthened their cords."
At the close of the first service, after Mr. Spurgeon's very powerful sermon, which was a sublime expression of the congregation's thanksgiving, it was heard on every side among the people as they passed out, "this Chapel is too small after all, we must begin anew and construct a tabernacle."
On Mr. Spurgeon's twenty-first birthday he received a small gift accompanied by a letter, saying, "I would much enjoy the thought of being the first contributor toward the purchase of a hall, or the building of a tabernacle which should accommodate as many hundreds as our Chapel now holds scores."
A gentleman now living in America, who was at that time a regular worshiper at Mr. Spurgeon's Chapel, says that Mr. Spurgeon told him after an official meeting, that he regarded that communication as the voice of God, and that a larger building was then more certain than had been the remodeling a few months before. His faith was positive, there was no weakness nor doubt in it. He was as sure of a new and larger building then as he was after he saw its capstone laid. It was a confidence in the unseen that partakes of the miraculous, and is as unaccountable as are many other events in his strange history.
He began at once himself to lay aside for the new enterprise and quietly dropped a hint in the ears of his closest friends, who quietly spread the thought through the Church, until nearly all participated in his own unshaken faith. He seemed to be inspired and we may as well state the whole fact, and say, he was inspired.
He looked back upon the undertaking in connection with the Metropolitan Tabernacle after its completion with a fluttering of heart and with trembling, often saying that it impressed him as having been an almost reckless presumption to have supposed such a thing possible. But never during the raising of the money or the construction of the building did he have any such impressions or even a suggestion of doubt or hesitation. When the occasion for his faith had passed, he sank back again into ordinary things, and the great enterprise appeared to him as it had appeared to the unbelieving before. Even his father often remarked, "if he had not succeeded, what an awful failure it would have been."
In October, 1856, the enlarged Chapel had proved itself so entirely inadequate for the pressing crowds who were determined to hear Mr. Spurgeon preach, that the Church decided to engage the Royal Surrey Gardens, Music Hall. Even his most sanguine friends thought that a hall seating so many thousands would certainly be fully adequate for the needs of the time. But, alas! the number of excited attendants increased in greater proportion than the enlarged accommodations.
The first night they held service in the Music Hall, the building was packed in every portion, every inch of standing room being taken long before the service began. In the midst of the delivery of the sermon some evil disposed persons, who came to the hall for the purpose of raising a disturbance and interrupting the services, raised a cry of "Fire! fire!" It was a most murderous deed. The multitude became at once fearfully excited and pressed toward the doors, running over one another, and making a most appalling scene of havoc and death. Although. Mr. Spurgeon from the desk retained his presence of mind, and loudly called upon the multitude to be calm, yet the uproar was so great, and the excitement was so intense that it was impossible for him to retain control of the assembly. Several were killed in the hall and a vast number injured to a greater or less degree. He attempted to go on with the service, after the police had removed the wounded, dying, and dead, but the excitement could not be easily allayed, and so, with a few words of advice, frank and earnest, he dismissed the service. An event so inauspicious at the opening of the Music Hall and so unexpected to Mr. Spurgeon, as he reasoned upon the strange providence of God, had a most distressing effect upon his spirit, bringing upon him a fever from which he did not fully recover for several months.
But he soon afterward learned, in company with the other members of his Church, that this sad accident, although much to be regretted and awakening deep sympathies, yet did indirectly exercise an enormous influence in securing the great Metropolitan Tabernacle. The demand for a safer place, and one exclusively devoted to preaching was greatly increased by this accident; while the persecutions of the opposing press and of other Christian denominations, who used this accident to decry his preaching, only deepened the determination of his friends to stand by him and do the greatest thing possible.
He was greatly sustained in the proposition to construct a larger house by a great number of people whom he had visited during the previous epidemic of the awful Asiatic cholera. Some of them felt that they owed their very life to the prayers or kindness of Mr. Spurgeon, and others had learned during that scourge to greatly admire his character and love him as a friend, who eagerly sought a kind of martyrdom in his service, either in the matter of giving or in boldly offering themselves for his defense.
It will be interesting to the reader to see Mr. Spurgeon's own account of the cholera scourge and the wonderful manner in which he was sustained in his self-sacrificing labors in connection with it. It is a remarkable fact that during any season of the Asiatic cholera, those who are entirely fearless and associate with it in the greatest recklessness seldom take the disease.
Mr. Spurgeon's faith in the protection of an over-ruling Providence was so great that it scarcely seemed to him possible that he could take the disease. He resembled Caesar and Napoleon then in his unshaken confidence in his own destiny.
We quote here his account of the matter:
In the year 1854, when I had scarcely been in London twelve months, the neighborhood in which I labored was visited by Asiatic cholera, and my congregation suffered from its inroads. Family after family summoned me to the bedside of the smitten, and almost every day I was called to visit the grave. I gave myself up with youthful ardor to the visitation of the sick, and was sent for from all corners of the district by persons of all ranks and religions. I became weary in body and sick at heart. My friends seemed falling one by one, and I felt or fancied that I was sickening like those around me A little more work and weeping would have laid me low among the rest. I felt that my burden was heavier than I could bear, and I was ready to sink under it. As God would have it, I was returning mournfully home from a funeral, when my curiosity led me to read a paper which was wafered up in a shoemaker's window in the Dover Road It did not look like a trade announcement, nor was it, for it bore in a good bold handwriting these words: 'Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the Most High, thy habitation, there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.' The effect on my heart was immediate. Faith appropriated the passage as her own. I felt secured, refreshed, girt with immortality. I went on with my visitation of the dying in a calm and peaceful spirit; I felt no fear of evil, and I suffered no harm. The Providence which moved the tradesman to place those verses in his window I gratefully acknowledge, and, in the remembrance of its marvelous power, I adore the Lord my God.
These sincere friends, won by such personal acts of self-sacrifice, formed a very strong party and believed that anything was possible which Mr. Spurgeon would undertake. Hence he found that the very first proposition for the construction of a church large enough to hold fully 5,000 people found many supporters. It does not appear that there was any opposition at all on the part of the membership of his Church. But the idea was taken up with great enthusiasm. There were of course many influential people in the community who ridiculed the undertaking as completely preposterous, and who discouraged responsible contractors who had thought to seek for the job of constructing the building. Even the workmen were approached by very busy individuals, who, under the plea of personal interest for the workmen's welfare, advised them not to engage with the contractors or work for the Church, because they would be very likely to lose their wages.
But while Mr. Spurgeon was laid aside, because of the nervous strain connected with the awful catastrophe in the Surrey Garden Music Hall, he had an excellent opportunity to meditate upon the whole matter and to pray over it frequently. He decided that he was sent of God to carry on the building enterprise, and as soon as health permitted he entered at once upon a personal canvass in favor of the object. He went over the country, and from city to city, and village to village, preaching twice every day, and taking collections for the new Tabernacle, giving half the proceeds of each collection to the local Church where the money was given. Night and day he toiled on, receiving oftentimes only a shilling and at other times several dollars. The fund, at first so small, crept steadily upward into the thousands. As soon as persons of means became convinced that the building was an assured fact, then they came in with larger donations, and the building fund grew with most encouraging rapidity.
For two years his hours of sleep were confined to the time between midnight and sunrise, and often this was encroached upon by special work or by wakeful seasons of anxious meditation.
But on the 16th of August, 1859, he had the great joy to see the corner-stone laid, by Sir Samuel Morton Peto, on a lot which the Church had purchased at Newington Butts. It was very far from being an aristocratic neighborhood, and was located among factories and the humblest dwellings of London mechanics.
There was some difference of opinion in reference to the location, but the arguments of one of its advocates settled the question when he declared that it made no difference in what part of London they placed the Chapel, Mr. Spurgeon was sure to fill it to overflowing.
At the beginning of the construction, while the materials were piled promiscuously around, Mr. Spurgeon called a meeting for prayer, and with a number of his friends and Church officials went there, and kneeling among the timber and stone, he prayed that none of the workmen engaged upon the construction might be killed or injured. And it has been often published that during the entire work, in which so many men were engaged and in dangerous situations, there was not a workman injured directly or indirectly, so far as can be ascertained.
The entire cost was to have been $110,000, but the changes and improvements made in the plans before it was completed carried the cost up to $155,000.
The original plan also shows the intention to have been to seat 4,200 people, but the necessities created by the crowding, compelled them to occupy every possible space with a seat of some kind, and the actual seating capacity was increased to nearly 5,500.
The completed building is 146 feet long and 81 feet wide, having two galleries, as has before been seen in the quotation from Mr. Spurgeon's account.
The methods frequently adopted by Mr. Spurgeon's congregation for the raising of money for their building fund varied somewhat from that which had been used by other Churches in England, and brought down upon them no little criticism. Church fairs, bazaars, and entertainments have a very bad name in many Churches, and Mr. Spurgeon himself has often spoken very decidedly concerning the deleterious influence they often exerted. But he learned by the force of providential necessity that after all, for the worship of God, it is not so much whether it be at Gerizim, or Jerusalem, or after the manners of one country or another; but rather in the spirit in which the service is conducted. He found by experience that even a bazaar, or a Church fair may become a spiritual service rendered unto the Lord, even as a Sabbath service may be made sacrilegious, or the humblest deed made sacred by the purpose or spirit which inspires it. He saw very clearly that social entertainments held in the residences of Christian people, having a double purpose of raising money for the Church and becoming more socially acquainted, would also serve the Lord more effectively than many of the forms of Church themselves.
The fairs might bring together in close companionship a large number of people, a portion of whom were active Christians, filled with the missionary spirit. These if rightly inspired would act, as a leaven in the whole lump, and turn many sinners from the error of their ways, by their social Christian example. Even persons who were prejudiced against the Church, and who were never seen inside the sacred walls, might attend one of these humbler gatherings, and there make the personal acquaintance of Christians whose influence over them would truly be eternal.
The advice of St. Paul with reference to marriage was most excellently applied to this series of Church entertainments, which were frequently held for the purpose of adding to the fund for the construction of the Tabernacle, viz.: "Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers;" in other words, be very sure not to associate with worldly people under circumstances where they will drag you down. If you are so unequally yoked together with an unbeliever that he has more power to pull you under than you have to lift him out, then you may be both foolish and wicked.
But in these social gatherings there was a great predominance of the religious idea, because of the purpose for which they were held, and because of the prayerful spirit which controlled the works and actions of the Christians engaged there in.
In 1860 a monster bazaar was held with the avowed purpose of raising sufficient funds to pay for the entire debt on the Tabernacle which was so soon to be finished, and the receipts exceeded even the expectations of Mr. Spurgeon himself.
This result was due very largely to the manner in which it was conducted and the consecrated worshipful spirit which appeared in all that was done.
Every gift made to the bazaar was received with thanksgiving to God, and as an offering to His service. Everything was excluded from the proceedings which could work harm in a moral or religious point of view. The committees engaged in the undertaking, which often included a large number of ladies and gentlemen who were not members of any Church, frequently met for prayer, that they might be guided by the hand of God. Nearly every person engaged in it felt that it was in a religious service and that the honor of the cause of God had been placed in his hands. In the series of religious revival meetings which followed the opening of the Tabernacle, it was again and again heard from the lips of repentant seekers after God, "I cared nothing for religion until that brother spoke to me concerning my soul's salvation while engaged in the bazaar." The fair was in itself a great revival of religion, although the work was not publicly conducted as a Church service. No special prayer-meetings were held aside from those of the different committees. Yet these days furnished well-improved opportunities for personal conversation with persons who were not Christians, but whose gift toward the cause had created within them a favorable interest in the general subject. Such a gathering might have been a positive curse to the Church, and might have hindered the payment of the debt, if it had been conducted in the worldly spirit which characterizes many such gatherings in other places, where the committees seemed to think of nothing but foolish display, senseless sport, or the squeezing out of their visitors as much money as possible. Where the idea is only to make money, even though it be for a Church, it usually results in far greater damage than good. But where the whole matter becomes, as it was in this case, an enthusiastic service in the name of the Saviour, and where the salvation of others was always kept most prominently in mind, while the gathering of money was made secondary; such meetings of the people become a spiritual blessing and a great financial gain.
A sincere desire to serve Christ, combined with the usual degree of hard English common sense, can be trusted to manage a Church bazaar so as to add greatly to the prosperity of the Saviour's kingdom. Mr. Spurgeon's people became well satisfied of that. And they have since used it in connection with the scores of chapels they have built; with almost unvarying success. The overshadowing and the indwelling of the Spirit of God can only account for the continued success of their undertaking, and for the manner in which many things usually deleterious became positively helpful.
It is said that the committee who cleared away the tables after the bazaar was closed were heard singing most heartily a hymn of praise to God.
The bazaar had given an opportunity to thousands of poor people to give their mite, and each giver followed his effort with affection, feeling ever afterward that he had a personal share in the Tabernacle.
As the mother loves the child for whom she makes the greatest sacrifices, so those Church members always love their Church home the most who have given toward it with the greatest generosity. The blessing of God which follows a cheerful giver is always shown in his greatly increased pleasure in attending the Church services and in his enjoyment of the Church's prosperity.
The subscriptions which followed the bazaar carried the sum up to nearly two thousand dollars above that which was needed to clear the Tabernacle from debt, and in May, 1861, when it was opened, they had paid all their bills and had a balance in the treasury.
Well might such a people sing "Praise God from whom all blessings flow."
The Reformed Reader Home Page
Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved