What a satisfaction it is to know that during the last twelve years of his life, Mr. Spurgeon and his wife were able to enjoy such a delightful residence as that which they secured at Westwood.
In August of 1880, they moved to Beulah Hill, a suburb of London, and into a residence which Mr. Spurgeon had been enabled to purchase through the rise in value of his old home at Nightingale Lane, and which he called "Westwood." This beautiful country home, with its thirty acres of lawn, gardens, fields and woodland, came to Mr. Spurgeon as a result of some sensible advice given to him by one of his deacons nearly twenty-five years before. The house in Nightingale Lane had been for sale for some time when Mr. Spurgeon moved into it. The owner offered to sell it to him on very easy terms, but he discarded the idea entirely of owning any property himself until the deacons very decidedly assured him that it would be a sin not to provide for his own, saying, "He that provideth not for his own, and especially for them of his own household, has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel." So he purchased the residence.
Having a great horror of debt, and from the first receiving a reasonable income, he was able very soon to pay for the home, and enjoy it free of encumbrance. But the house was situated in that portion of London which was growing very fast, especially in business enterprises, and as they crowded around his little homestead they shut out the light, but increased the value of his possessions.
At last, in 1880, a growing fear that the locality was unhealthy, both for Mrs. Spurgeon and himself, led him to consider the possibility of moving to some other locality. An unexpected offer of a high price for the old homestead, combined with especially favorable opportunities to purchase the lands and house at Westwood, led him to believe that the hand of Providence was directing him for his wife's sake to a healthier and more beautiful locality.
Westwood has often been described by those
who have visited it; and The Philadelphia press, as late as 1892, gave us a bit of
description worth inserting here:
He (Mr. Spurgeon) was a man of taste, even of artistic and luxurious taste in some particulars. Many a millionaire might well have envied him his home. This was at Westwood, on what is known as Beulah Hill, in Sydenham, which is one of London's fairest suburbs. Here he had a large and handsome mansion, situated in a spacious park; so that, although within a few minutes' ride of the teeming streets of London, it was as rural and as secluded as though in the heart of a wilderness. Passing the lodge gates, the visitor found himself amid an expanse of well-kept lawns, diversified with shrubbery and groves.
A small lake was near the house, and elsewhere was a fountain containing many goldfish, of which pets Mr. Spurgeon was exceedingly fond. Bees were another of his fads, and a dozen or more hives were always humming and buzzing in the garden. There was a profusion of flowers also, mostly pinks and other familiar varieties. These were not grown for the bees, nor yet because Mr. Spurgeon himself was particularly fond of them, but to supply the floral mission of his church, for distribution among the sick and poor of the city.
There were arbors and shaded seats in plenty about the grounds, and there were also plenty of open sunny spots. Of these latter Mr. Spurgeon was most fond. He had a waterproof mattress, which he would place on the sunniest spot he could find, and on which he would lie for hours, simply basking in the rays of the sun. This was the greatest physical luxury in the world to him, and his fondness for Mentone and the Riviera was 'because there was so much sunshine there.'
Even indoors he sought to have as much sunlight as possible. His mansion was planned and built with that end in view. No trees were allowed to shade it, and the windows were as large as possible. Perhaps the most interesting room was the library, the walls of which were lined with crowded bookshelves. Here were forty volumes of Mr. Spurgeon's own printed sermons, in English, and dozens of other volumes of his works translated into other tongues.
Here were several volumes of collected tracts and pamphlets, written by others about him, and arranged chronologically. The earliest were nearly all abusive, many of them actually scandalous in tone. The latter were as generally eulogistic, and the gradual transition from the one extreme to the other presented a most interesting study. Some large scrapbooks contained copies of all the caricatures of the preacher published since he was in the ministry. There were thousands of them, of all possible shades of artistic merit, and of all imaginable spirits, from good-natured humor to sheer malevolence.
Other volumes contained thousands of clippings from newspapers about Mr. Spurgeon, presenting the same variety of tone. In all these Mr. Spurgeon took a philosophic interest. Praise did not tickle him, nor abuse annoy him. And on the whole his observations led him to regard the world with increasing kindliness of spirit.
However, the best way to look in upon domestic scenes at Beulah Hill is to take the unique description which Mrs. Spurgeon has herself given of their home experiences, under greatly varying circumstances. To read the extracts from her letters concerning their home life, and relating to her work at Westwood, is like passing by the windows of a home, with the invitation from the occupants to look in at each opening as we pass, and catch what glimpses we may of the arrangement and beauty within.
Mrs. Spurgeon continued her work with the Book-Fund with; greater earnestness at Westwood, and there Mr. Spurgeon arranged his library, received his friends, and attended to his manifold correspondence. It was a charming ten years of domestic life. He was frequently called from it on missions in preaching the gospel, and sometimes was compelled to endure a prolonged absence at Mentone, in southern France, to which place the physician imperatively sent him.
Mrs. Spurgeon usually remained at Westwood during his absence and cared for the correspondence and managed the household, experiencing that loneliness, those fears, those anxieties, which come to every affectionate wife during the prolonged absence of her husband, especially if he be absent because of illness.
The glimpses into that home which we have gathered from her writings, not only show how they lived in comfort, peace and heavenly harmony, but also give us many hints as to their thoughts, feelings, perplexities and domestic arrangements.
December 2 1880, she wrote:
Those dear friends who have been interested in my work from the commencement will not think the record of the year is complete without a word about the lemon tree. From the time when in a little pot, in my sick-chamber, two tiny leaves, no bigger than a pin's head, emerged from the black earth and were tenderly covered by a medicine glass, to the present day when it stands in fair proportions, and boasts a height of seven feet or more, it has been closely identified with the Book-Fund, and in some mysterious manner believed to be an emblem of my work. Friends used to cherish the pretty fancy, and send their gifts as 'a few drops of water for the lemon plant,' or 'another leaf for your tree'; but though that pleasant fashion has fallen into disuse, there are many who constantly remember my favorite, and will be delighted to hear that its removal to 'Westwood' has greatly contributed to its health and beauty. I do not, however, intend now to enlarge upon its charms, but rather to use an unpleasant peculiarity it has, in order to 'point a moral and adorn a tale' I have to tell.
Attentively considering it the other day, I saw with some surprise that it bore a few very sharp thorns. 'Ah !' I said, 'dear emblem tree, are you so true to your mystical character as all that?' For, dear friends, Book-Fund work is not all composed of pleasant fruit and flowers; there are some thorns concealed here and there which wound the hand which inadvertently touches them. Sometimes, I receive an answer to the necessary inquiries I have to make, which hurts me sorely, and makes me wince. 'Permit me to say I have no wish to be considered a pauper, wrote an angry man a day or two since, because I asked him kindly whether he came within the limits of my work, and possessed an income under £150 per annum.
Ever since the 'Master' gave me this charge to keep, He knows I have tried to minister in gentle, kindly fashion to His servants; but occasionally the spirit of my service is overlooked by them, and my gifts are either claimed as a right or disdained as a charity. 'Few and far between' are these ugly thorns on my flourishing, beautiful tree; tender and loving acknowledgments of my work are the rule, and when an exception comes I can well afford to forgive and forget it. Were it not that a chronicler is required to be faithful, and give fairly both sides of the history he is writing, I should have justify unrecorded this painful part of a most pleasant and blessed service. The flowers of Paradise will doubtless be thornless, but here on earth one cannot gather many roses without pricking one's fingers, nor have a splendid lemon tree without seeing and bewailing its sharp spikes, nor possess any unmingled good but God's love.
But, apropos of skylarks' songs, I must tell you, dear reader, what happened the other day, and how beautifully a sweet singer's confidence was rewarded, when fearlessly leaving her earthly treasures in. our Father's keeping (Matt. vi., 26), she mounted upward to pay her full debt of daily orisons at 'Heaven's Gate.' You may find, perhaps, some 'linked sweetness' between the little story and our present subject, or even, failing that desired end, may not be displeased with me for introducing the homely incident to your notice.
"We were making a tour of the garden and pastures, admiring the beauty of the young year's fresh lifenoting with tender interest all the charming details of newly-awakened responsibility in every living thingmarking the sweet, impatient growth of leaves still rumpled and creased from their recent unfoldings, and rejoicing in the whispered promise of golden days to come which trembled on every scented breath of the perfumed air.
Down in the Dale field we came across a skylark's nest, built in the long grass, a lovely little soft-lined cup of cosiness, with three pretty brown eggs in it. The sweet songstress had flown at the approach of human footsteps, and thus revealed the secret place of her wee home to inquisitive but kindly eyes. We looked with profound admiration on her happy work, and then quietly retraced our steps, having loving sympathy for the poor little fluttering heart which might perchance fear the despoiling of its treasures. A day or two afterwards the visit was repeated; but imagine our consternation when, on opening the gate of the field, we saw that the cows had been let into that pasture! How would the great, clumsy, sweet-breath'd creatures treat the little home in the grass? Would it not be crushed and trampled by their unheeding feet? We had placed an upright stick near the nest to show its position, and very doubtfully we made our way across the field, fearing to find ruin and desolation where we had justify peace and prosperity.
When we reached the spot, our surprise and delight were great to find the home intact, and the wee birds safely hatched; for though the cows had munched the grass close down to the ground all round the nest, not a hoof had touched the little inmates. So, there they were, three cunning mites, with stubby bodies, and big downy heads, cowering close together in instinctive fear of the human presence which overshadowed them. The cows grazed quietly by, and overhead the pretty mother trilled forth her delicious carol in the morning sunshine, pouring out her heart's gratitude and gladness in libations of song! And there, till the little birds were feathered and flown, the cows were every day pastured, yet never a hurt came to the wee nest in the grass! Who watched over the mother in her peril as she sat upon the eggs? Who guarded the nestlings in their hourly danger when the slight protection of her tender body was removed? Who shielded the tiny birds from the tread of the great beasts' feet? Did Daphne know that the nursery on the ground-floor must be cared for and respected? Or did Strawberry's mother-instinct tell her that little living hearts beat as truly in that wool-lined cup as in the sweet hay-crib where her own darling was lying? I cannot tellthe matter is too deep for me; but the lark knew all about it, and it may be that, could our ears have been opened to understand the language of her hymn of praise, as she rose higher and higher in the calm blue sky, we might have caught, here and there amidst the joyous notes, some such words as these:
Not one of them,
In the sight of God.
Not one of them,
Shall fall to the ground
Without your Father.
FEAR YE NOT, THEREFORE,
Are not ye
Of much more value
Did she not do well thus to sing and trust? Oh, sighing and doubting reader, cast away your fears, and follow her fair example; you shall not only joyfully leave your earthly cares with your heavenly Father, but you shall get nearer to God's throne than you have ever been before!
In June, 1884, she said:
From the breezy heights of Beulah Hill we command a lovely and uninterrupted view,. not of the fair earth merely, but of the fairer firmament above it; our windows are observatories whence many a longing, loving glance is cast heavenwards, and one of the chief pleasures of restful or contemplative hours is found in silently watching the ever-changing aspect of the sky, and noting the manifold glories of that wonderful cloud-land which divides our earthly home from the promised inheritance on high. I never tire of gazing on the beautiful mysteries of the clouds. I love to watch the grand and solemn rolling of black and rugged masses, when storms are abroad, and the wind is marshalling them to a dread convention of brooding tempests ; and equally well I love to see them when, in summer days, the cloudlets float like flakes of driven snow across the deep blue ether, and lose themselves at the feet of mountains that rival the Alpine peaks in beauty and sublimity. Sometimes the watcher will see a cloud of such celestial beauty that to his enamored fancy it looks
'As though an angel, in his upward flight,
Had justify his mantle floating in mid-air.'
Or anon, with pensive pleasure, he may mark
'Clouds on the western side
Grow gray and grayer, hiding the warm sun.'
But under all aspects they are enchanting and suggestive; their very movements are restful to my spirit; they always speak to me of the Lord's great power and love, and many a time have burdens of care been lifted from my heart, and carried away, by these celestial chariots, 'as far as the east is from the west.'
This is rather a lengthy preface to the relation of an incident which was remarkable for its brevity; but I have been betrayed into such rambling by the fascination of the subject, and the fact that it was whilst engaged in my favorite recreation that the following pleasant portent presented itself to my admiring eyes.
We were standing at the window, my dear husband and I, noting the splendid effects of the sunset upon a bank of fleecy clouds which skirted the horizon, when all at once we noticed an unusual object in the sky, and perceived that a winged creature of uncommon size was sailing slowly and wearily towards us from the southwest. As it drew nearer, we could see that it was a large sea-bird of some kind, and with the greatest possible interest we watched the stranger's flight, till, in passing over our house, he was hidden from view. The sight stirred my heart strangely. 'That must be our darling's harbinger,' I said, 'bringing us a message from our home-coming boy.' 'Your "Sea-gull" will be with you soon,' its brief presence seemed to say; 'the waves are bearing him swiftly home, and the God who guided me here will bring him safely to your embrace.' Surely it was a happy omen; it comforted me to think that the Hand that
'Wings an angel, guides a sparrow,'
had directed this sea-bird's course, and bidden the beat of his heavy pinions speak a language of love to my longing heart. But, please God, my "Sea-gull," when he comes, will not pass away as quickly as did this herald from the ocean. He will fold his white wings for a little while, and nestle by his mother's side, and gladden her life with his sweet presence, and bless and be blessed in his own dear home.
"Blow softly, O propitious gales,and ye rolling billows, bear securely on your mighty shoulders the good ship which carries this beloved son across the world of waters. Let there be no 'sorrow on the sea' to this dear voyager, O Lord; but do Thou give the winds and waves a charge concerning him, to bring him safely to his desired haven ; and may every ocean breeze waft the sweet message to Westwood, 'I am comingI am coming home!'
About 10 p. m., my darling son was in my arms, and the sweet and long-anticipated joy of seeing his dear face, and hearing his loving words, and rejoicing in his welcome presence, was granted to his waiting and expectant parents; and I really think that the pain of five years' absence was almost annihilated by the pleasure of the first fond kiss! 'Mother's Sea-gull' has returned again, the Lord has brought home His banished, and while our mouths are filled with laughter, and our tongues with singing, every word we speak seems tender with gratitude, every blissful moment of reunion bears up to God a tribute of thanksgiving for so great and choice a mercy.
My 'Diary' may not record all the details of this rapturous meeting, for a Book-Fund report should not be altogether an autobiography; but it cannot be quite silent on the subject which has brought me such exceeding gladness, nor can it refuse to score some notes of praise, while the joybells are ringing so merrily in my heart. Sixteen thousand miles to come home to see father and mother! Weary work these long journeys are, and 'Sea-gull's' wings grow very tired; but goodness and mercy have followed him all the way, and the love, and light, and welcome of home more than make up for it all.
There does not seem to be space in this month's pages for anything but the joy of this merciful home-coming. So much am I in love with 'Son Tom,' that, like David Copperfield, to whose enraptured senses 'the sun shone Dora, and the birds sang Dora, the south wind blew Dora, and the wild flowers in the hedges were all Dora's to a bud,' the charm of this long-absent son's presence sheds a new and special brightness over life and its many blessings.
'My Sea-bird' has flown. My son's bright visit is ended. Laden with loving gifts, satisfied with favor, crowned with success in his enterprise, and followed by the fervent prayers of all who know and love him, he has gone to the land of his adoption, and if the Lord will spare his life, we look forward to a grand future of usefulness for him in Auckland. I am 'sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.' He is so precious that to lose him must needs be a bitterness, yet because he is so precious; the sorrow is almost turned into joy. 'Therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord.'
"Happy mother! whose two beloved sons count it their highest honor to 'spend and be spent' in the service of their father's God!
In opening her annual report of the Book-Fund for 1885, she
My dear reader:Will you pay me an early visit on this first morning of the New Year, and taking the most comfortable chair to be found in my cosy sitting-room, sit by the side of the blazing wood fire, while I proceed with the business of the day-opening and answering the goodly pile of letters which are awaiting my attention? It may interest all who love the Book-Fund work to know exactly what I have to do, and how I do it; so on this auspicious morning I will take my friends into full confidence, and let them peep into every letter as I open it; sharing with me the pleasure or pain, the content or the anxiety, to which the correspondence may give rise. Before us lies a day's work we shall not get through till sundown; are you willing and able, dear friend, to spend such a busy day with me?
A tiny square box, addressed to me in my son Charles' handwriting, first claims my notice. I wonder what it can contain, and on opening it, I find, to my great surprise and pleasure, a pretty little sovereign purse, with one of those satisfactory coins inside, and a morsel of paper with a memorandum to the following effect: 'A New Year's gift to dear Grandmamma's Book-Fund, from Susie and Dora.' It is a new and very amusing experience to have my son's little ones helping in my life-work! True, the wee mites do not know much about it at present; in the blissful ignorance of childhood, such tender, sheltered blossoms are all unaware that out in the world, cold winds are blowing, and biting frosts are reigning; let them enjoy the warmth, and gladness, and couleur de rose, as long as possible. But at least this New Year's gift promises well for future training and bringing up in the way they should go, andwho can tell?in days to come they may take up 'Grandma's' work when she is at rest, and carry it on more extensively, and not less lovingly, than she has done! 'Grandmamma!' Ah, me! How the days are going by! It seems but as yesterday that the father of these two little maidens was my own bonnie baby, laughing, ay, and weeping too, in what I then thought a most wonderful and exceptional fashion; yet so many years have flown away, and he has traveled so far on life's journey, that now his babies crow and cry even as he once did, and make sweet childish music in his house, and call me 'Grandmamma'!
With a sigh we say it,
That the early freshness of the dawn,
Rosy-tinted, rich in thoughts and fancies,
Seemeth farther at each birthday morn.
Joyously we say it,
Reaching onward to immortal youth,
And the fount of bliss that never endeth,
Promised us by Him who is the Truth'
It will not do, however, to grow prosy over my venerable position, as a maternal ancestor. I must wear my honors meekly. 'I must persuade the rosebuds to lie lovingly by the side of the 'sear and yellow leaf,' and teach the dimpled fingers to smooth away the wrinkles and the coming crow's-feet, and be as wise and tender a grandmother as the Lord would have me be. So a letter is written to the dear son whose love for his mother is one of the joys of her life, thanking him for the sweet remembrance on behalf of his wee maidens, and invoking God's rich blessings on him and his; and thus ends the examination and reply to our first New Year's missive.
But there lies on my table, awaiting completion, a letter to that other darling son, who at this moment is on the mighty waters, sailing away from mother and from home, to go and serve his God and his people in the distant colonies. Before I open another epistle, this one must be finished; it is to meet him at Naples, where his ship touches, and must carry a word of comfort and of lingering farewell, and assure him once again of mother's fervent prayers for his safety. It is with a great yearning over him in my heart, and eyes that grow dim with tears as the pen runs on, that I fill up the last pages of my love letter to my absent boy, and sealing it with a sigh, which is, in reality, a prayer, I drop it into the post-basket, and then turn to engage resolutely in the business of the day.
In 1886, she made this memorandum:
When the master of the housethe 'houseband 'is away, we lonely ones at 'Westwood' realize in an especial manner. our complete dependence on the Lord for safeguard and protection both night and day. We know that the tender committal of home and its inmates to the Father's care, when the farewells are said, is always renewed and repeated by our absent one; and at our own evening worship the prayer that He will 'hide us in the shadow of His hand' while we sleep, and guard us from all evil, is never likely to be forgotten or omitted.
But, notwithstanding this actual appeal to the Preserver of men, and a conscious belief in His love and power, I had lately acquired a foolish habit of lying awake in the night-watches, with ear intent to catch the faintest sound, heart ready to beat wildly if but a window-sash shook in its frame, and every nerve on the alert to assert itself in throes of painful alarm at the least indication of any unusual movement.
What if Punchie's fierce bark were to ring through the house in the darkness, or the sharp peal of the alarm should give sudden warning of the approach of danger? What if evil men should try to 'break through and steal,' or a spark unwittingly dropped, and smoldering long, should at last burst into flame, and quickly enwrap us in a fiery and fatal embrace? To tolerate such imaginings was to be tortured by them, and I suffered greatly, till some nights ago the dear Lord ended all this for me, and sent so blessed a ray of enlightenment into my 'dark place,' that at once I laid my head down on the pillow quite comforted. My painful care for the house and its inmates was all gone, because he cared for them; my watchings were over, because He watched; my fears were all allayed, because faith in Him was triumphant and complete!
"And it came about somewhat on this wise: The two texts'What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee,' and 'I will trust, and not be afraid'had been much on my mind during my wearisome nights; but they had evidently not then found entrance into my heart. I had thought of them without fully realizing their depth of blessed meaning; they had lain on the outside of my soul as fair lilies lie on the surface of a pool; but now I was to discover that they were fast anchored by strong roots in the exceeding great and precious promises of my God.
In a moment there dawned upon me the possibility and blessedness of being absolutely without fear because I trusted in Him. 'What time I am afraid.' 'Yes,' said I, 'that is just now, dear Lord, when the creaking of a piece of furniture startles me, and the very thought of the bark of a dog strikes terror into my heart.' 'I will trust in thee.' As I said it, deliverance came. 'Do I really trust in God?' I asked of myself; and I could steadfastly reply, 'Yes, blessed be His Name! I do trust Him; and I know He can keep us in perfect safety; more-over, I am assured that He never fails those who put their trust in Him.' There came a pause, the light had broken in, and I was wondering at the fast-fleeing shadows. 'Now surely, my heart, thou canst go on with the other text, and boldly say, "I will trust, and 'not be afraid.' What sort of trust dost thou call this that wakens, and listens, and imagines all sorts of evil instead of calmly sleeping and resting in the sheltering arms of the Blessed One? If thou dost honestly trust Him, thou shouldest certainly not be afraid; for thy faith should deat a death-blow to all thy fears.' And it did, dear reader; then and there I gave up all my nervous apprehensions. I surrendered myself and all my belongings to the Father's keeping, and I have had no more gloomy fancies, or midnight watchings. I have laid me down in peace and slept, because He only has made me to dwell in safety; or if any wakeful hours have come, my mouth has praised Him with joyful lips, while I remembered Him on my bed, and meditated on Him in the night-watches.
Why do I tell such a simple little tale of personal and private experience? Well, just because it was a real and blessed fact to me, and I think that the relation of such instances of God's tender care and love, in even the minor matters of daily life, not only helps some of His timid and distressed ones to cast their burdens on the Lord, but it is also graciously accepted by Him as a grain of sweet incense laid on the golden altar to His praise and glory by His grateful child.
If any courageous and lion-hearted people fail to understand my terrors, there are others who, having groaned under the pressure of like irrational disquietude, will sympathize with me in my past bondage, rejoice in my emancipation, and take heart of grace themselves to seek from the Lord by simple faith as complete and perfect a deliverance as His mercy has accorded to me.
There are many seasons in a Christian's life when he is 'afraid' with much more need and reason than I could urge for my nervous alarms but there never can be a day, or an hour, or a moment, when he may not 'trust' his God absolutely, perfectly, totally ; and, as surely as he does that, so surely will faith overcome fear-trust will lift him over the trial, confidence in God will end the conflict. Not to the night-watchers only, but to those who, day and night, find fears and foes to fight with, do I lovingly commend my two 'Songs in the Night,' to be sung in any time, and to any tune
'What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee.'
'I will trust, and not he afraid.'
A very pretty and suggestive picture is this week to be seen from the windows of my sitting room. To the uninitiated observer there might appear to be nothing more extraordinary than a dense mass of shrubbery, overhung with a canopy of trees, and exhibiting in one corner a profusion of white flowers of unusually large size; but I will tell the 'little story, and try to enlist your interest. This clump of evergreens has been allowed to luxuriate in unchecked growth during many years, and there is in consequence such an increase in their size and height that they are more like trees than shrubs, displaying a density and superabundance of foliage which is lovely, but undesirable in their position. Down in the heart of this miniature wood or forest, a small Syringa bush had its home, and disliking the darkness and lowliness of its dwelling-place, it took heart of grace, and for five years it has been endeavoring to gain access to the light, patiently pushing its way upward, growing through the laurels, and hollies, and briers, slowly ascending in spite of every obstacle, till now, in all the glory of eighteen or twenty feet of height, it overtops the surrounding trees, joyfully hangs out its snow-white garlands of perfumed blossoms, asserts its right to the lofty place it has attained, and seems to be making up in excessive beauty and luxuriance for the long years of repression and cruel hindrance it has suffered while struggling to reach this climax of growth.
'Are those white roses?' say our friends when their attention is called to the mass of blossom towering above the great arbutus trees. 'No, not roses,' we exclaim, 'but something quite as well worth looking at'; and then the aspiring Syringa is duly admired and applauded, while its heavy bunches of flowers nod and quiver, giving forth their fragrance to every gentle breeze that stirs them, as joyful evidence of fulfilled desire and complete satisfaction.
Pretty, impetuous, ardent, living thing, I love to think how it persevered in its efforts to escape from the surrounding pressure and darkness, how patiently it forced its way through the fretting obstacles which barred its progress to the light; and it does my heart good to go and look at it, as now, revelling in the free and open air of heaven, and the blessed light of the sun, it blooms in unexampled beauty, and showers down its sparkling white petals in a very abandonment of joy.
What does the Syringa say to me as I stand far below it, gazing with pride and pleasure on its loveliness?
I think I hear a whisper from each little twig and spray, 'Learn from us to be brave and patient, think no waiting too wearisome to win a blessing, no toil too great to obtain a triumph; ever turn from the darkness, and seek the light, though hindrances throng around you, and rankling cares, like thorns, would fain obstruct your progress; believe wholly in God, and trust in Him to bring you through all difficulties into the sunshine of His love and favor in His own good time. The days were very dark with us down there when we were growing, and sometimes we almost despaired of obtaining deliverance; yet inch by inch we advanced, the living sap within us enforcing our upward growth; and ever and anon, when the wind swayed the thick branches of the trees above us, we had such bright glimpses of blue sky and golden beams that the darkness became even more distasteful, and the imprisonment more intolerable, while our inward longing for the light lent us faith and courage to struggle bravely on! And see to what strength and beauty our Creator has brought us!'
Dear fellow-Christians, the Syringa has a word for us all. 'Go thou and do likewise,' it says. By the power of Christ's life within you, you can rise above all your trials, and difficulties, and hindrances; you can get up above the darkness of any unhappy surroundings, and walk in the light of God's countenance. Be not content to dwell in the depths where the galling, grieving contact of doubts and fears will well-nigh choke your spiritual life, but, asking God 'that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His spirit in the inner man,' seek to 'grow up into Him in all things,' 'forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,' and glorifying His dear name by bearing, not merely the fine flowers of profession, but the blessed fruit of a holy, consistent, gracious life. Sweet Syringa, now I leave you, pondering, as I go, the apostle's words, which you have so well illustrated'Whereunto I also labor, striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily.
I think it must have been through the attention we bestowed upon the Syringa, and the inquiries we made concerning it, that our eyes were first opened to the folly of our mistaken forbearance in allowing the unrestrained growth of the trees and shrubs in the garden. For it was not that clump of evergreens only, of which I have spoken in the former paragraph, that had escaped the pruning-knife; but everywhere the plantations had grown at their own sweet will, and developed an enormous amount of life and vigor during the five years of our residence at 'Westwood.' When we came to look closely around, we found that these charming neighbors had completely surrounded and shut us in, and that the splendid view we had at first enjoyed and prized was now entirely hidden from us.
We awoke to the fact as from a dream. Where were the distant, but beautifully distinct Surrey hills? Where was the lovely stretch of landscape? Where the ever-varying play of light and shade on all the nearer fields and meadows, and the changeful beauty of the far-off Downs and open country? They were all there truly, but we could not see them, they were effectually concealed from our eyes; and we went from window to window, vainly endeavoring to discover any opening in the leafy screen, through which we might once again gaze upon that glorious prospect which had hitherto so fascinated and delighted us. In the garden itself it was much the same. There were some charming nooks and corners where we had aforetime stood enraptured, watching the effect of every mood and variation of the atmosphere on the landscape; but these were now choked up by a dense mass of foliage, and tall trees waved their luxuriant branches in joyous defiance of the prying eyes which would fain look beyond them.
From the windows of the pastor's study there had been most lovely peeps at the distant hills; Caterham, and Wallington, and Banstead, and Epsom Downs were all spread before the spectator as in a panorama; on a sunny summer's day quivering in a golden haze, or at night putting on a strange, solemn beauty, as one by one the lights in far-away villages and houses twinkled like stars come down to visit earth. Now one could see 'nothing but leaves'; green and beautiful, it is true, but none the less embarrassing and mischievous, since they not only excluded some of the necessary light and air from the house, but did us the great wrong of concealing the loveliest of our lovely pictures.
'How could you have permitted this invasion of our once cherished privilege?' some reader asks. Well, the trees worked subtly, you see; they grew leaf by leaf, twig by twig, so noiselessly, so gradually, that we took no note of their encroachments till the thick barrier was formed, and our glorious view was hidden; and I must confess, also, that the master of 'Westwood,' though a decided Liberal in politics, leans terribly to Conservatism in his own garden, and deems it almost a sacrilege to use knife or axe on any of the precious living things that have taken root in this favored and fortunate spot.
So, even when we became aware of our enclosed condition, no small amount of coaxing and persuasion was required to induce him to allow the first gap to be made in the green barrier; and I verily think that the passage of the saw through those tree-trunks, and the down-crashing of the severed branches, brought for the moment positive physical pain to his tender, sensitive heart.
But, oh! when the sacrifice was once accomplished, and an exquisite gem of a picture was revealed through a frame-work of verdure, with what exclamations of delight did he welcome the beautiful result, and with what readiness did he admit the necessity for like painful but decisive measures throughout our small domain! This first grand and successful venture of mine, this onslaught against the aggressive vegetable kingdom, was made on the dear pastor's birthday, and such a victory did I achieve, so charmed was he with the conqueror's spoils, that he thenceforth began to wage war on his own account, and became almost as enthusiastic for the subjugation of our persevering obstructionists as I had schooled myself to be. Since that day, decidedly Liberal, not to say Radical, views obtain on the 'open space' question in our garden. Notable improvements are everywhere visible, pleasing prospects meet one at every turn; some of the trees that remain are taught to lend themselves to frame-making in the most charming manner, and through these lovely loop-holes we look across miles of hill and dale, while the larger part of our battlements of living green has been sufficiently demolished to throw open again the magnificent view which makes our Hill of Beulah into a true 'Delectable Mountain.'
For some time past, I have been debating in my mind whether or not I should give to my readers the particulars of a pleasant circumstance, which has lately enlivened my quiet life with its interesting details. Today has decided the question, for a donation of £5 to the Book-Fund, the 'First-fruits of the fishing-smack, Susie Spurgeon,' supplies the link to my dear work, which seemed needful to justify the relation of the story.
"To begin at the beginning among the large fleet of vessels which regularly leave the port of Grimsby for the fishing-grounds in the North Sea, there has long been one which bears my husband's honored name, and from time to time we have rejoiced to hear tidings of its voyagings and welfare, while mutual tokens of interest and good-will have passed between the owner of the ship and the owner of the name. The 'Charles Haddon Spurgeon' has done noble work, too; for not long ago it towed a wreck into port! The disabled schooner was a foreigner, and when the crew of the 'C. H. S.' saw her flying signals of distress, they boarded her, and found her full of water; but they' bravely agreed to tow her into Grimsby! This took them three days and nights. During this time, the second and third hands had to remain on board the water-logged vessel, at the risk of her going to pieces any moment, and sinking under them! The good friend who gave me these details feelingly adds, 'I like to think of the "C. H. S." doing this! It is so suggestive! How many wrecked and storm-tossed souls has the pastor, C. H. Spurgeon, been the means of bringing into the haven of rest! How has he toiled to win them to the only place of safety!'
In this last summer, there was another vessel built for the same owner, and it was decided to call her the 'Susie Spurgeon,' to my intense gratification and delight. While she was building, Mr. E. greatly desired that I should be the first to see the 'burgee,' a large flag with the ship's name in; so it was sent up for my inspection, and, on unpacking it, I found to my great surprise a huge 'color,' eight yards long, and two and a-half yards wide, with the smack's name, 'Susie Spurgeon,' in great letters a foot long, marvelously fashioned, and inlaid in the bunting. It was too large to go up anywhere but in the largest room in the house, and there, though it wound itself gracefully round the book-cases, and dropped in voluminous folds from the curtain-rods, it looked as if it pined for the bright blue sea, and felt out of place in a parson's library! As it hung there day after day, waiting till the ship was fitted, a strong desire took possession of me to use it in some way to show my appreciation of the honor done me. But how should I set about this? I lay awake at night, pondering by what means I could make it my messenger to carry a word to captain and crew, of good cheer and good wishes, and give a little evidence of my interest in my ship! At last a 'happy thought' visited me, and I caught it, and cherished it with much care! It occurred to me that it would be a delightful task to work some few words on the flag, which should not only embody my best desires for the brave men who would serve under it, but should also set always before them the only way of safe sailing over the stormy sea of life, something which should not only attract the eye, but find an entrance into the heart! So far, so good; but how to bring my 'happy thought' to a happier interpretation was another embarrassment. What should the few words be? How I puzzled over that question! How many things my mind suggested and then 'declined with thanks,' I cannot tell you. Then, one wakeful night, some rhymes popped into my head, and I cried 'Eureka!' But I have no gift for rhyming, and it took me an inconveniently long time to arrange my undisciplined numbers into the following lines:
This flag shall bear
On high my prayer,
while playful winds enwreathe it;
God save the crew,
Good men and true,
who worship God beneath it!
Now, I must confess I thought this rather good, and was a little bit proud of it, after all the trouble I had expended on it; but my dear husband, being an editor, is also a critic, and rather hard on 'poets,' as a good many people know to their cost; and so, when I, with meekness and fear, showed him this production, he smiled, and shook his dear head, and said it was 'very nice, but it would not do.' The rhymes of the third and sixth lines he could not passI must try again. I did so, with this result:
This flag shall bear
Aloft my prayer,
As it floats in the heavenly blue;
God bless the' S. S.'
Give good success,
And save every one of the crew!
This time I was not surprised when I found my dear Mentor could not give his unqualified approval; but I had done my best, and could do no better, so he tenderly undertook to revise the lines, and put them into proper shape for me, and from his unfettered pen they flowed forth thus
This flag shall bear
Aloft my prayer,
That good success attend you;
God save each one,
Through Christ His Son,
And from all ill defend you.
"Hurrah! This was just what I wanted, good wishes and the gospel of the grace of God combined! Thanks to the dear writer, and blessings on his words!
The lemon tree must have a word of remembrance in this closing record of my work. How it has grown! And what a sturdy, healthy tree it is! Yet it has never borne fruit, and in this respect has greatly disappointed me, though it is foolish to be impatient at Nature's dignified deliberation. If it had been grafted, the fruit would have been forced; now it awaits the time of perfection as God ordered it, and as it was arranged when He pronounced all to be 'very good.' So it stands in the greenhouse, flourishing, and extending its branches year by year, and I still hold it in tender estimation as the emblem of my Book-Fund, blessing the Lord that He has allowed the spiritual work to outstrip the leisure of Nature, and come into full fruit-bearing so soon and so happily, to feed and refresh His fainting servants. It is to me a tree of tender memories, for not only has its simple story won sympathy and help for my Fund, and interested friends in my work, but, whenever I look at it, I seem to see again the sick-chamber which was my pleasant prison in Nightingale Lane; the couch where I lay suffering so many months and years; the sunlit window where the little flower-pot was placed, and where the 'pip' grew slowly into a feeble plant; then, looking round upon myself and my present circumstances, I am amazed at the gracious contrast which the Lord's loving hand has wrought. 'Can that fine tree, of eight 'feet six inches high, be the same tiny thing that began its frail life under such unusual conditions?' 'Can I, with this unexpected measure of health and activity, be the same person who then seemed to be passing quickly through the Valley of the Shadow of Death?' 'Tis even so. Then do you wonder that often, as I stand gazing upon this lemon tree, happy tears of thankfulness for God's great tenderness to me should gently blot out the details of that past experience; and then that they should magnify the beauty and brightness of the present blessings?
The Lord has made my time of loneliness to be a season of such intensely busy labor, that the days have not been long enough to enable me to finish all my work; and there has not been a crevice of time into which a dreary, cheerless feeling could intrude itself. Then the news from Mentone has been so encouraging and hopeful, that were it only for that mercy, I ought to sing the Old Year out with a 'Jubilate.' There came this sweet message to me this morning, and it will not be difficult for my readers to imagine that it has made music in my heart all the day:
'From sunny lands my spirit flies to thee,
And doth salute thee in the chilly day:
Long hast thou been a summers Sun to me,
Fain would I chase thy every cloud away.
Though dark thy skies, I would thy light increase
By one short message which my pen can tell,
It brings thy love some little light of peace
To know that with thy husband-ALL IS WELL.'
Perhaps I ought not to give my 'love-letters' in the Book-Fund Report, but this one came on a post card, and by this fact proclaimed itself pro bono publico; besides which, my few previous home confidences have been so tenderly welcomed and cherished, that I could not refrain from sharing with my. readers on this last day of the Old Year the 'little bit of sunshine' which has gilded every hour of it for me. Oh, blessed wedded love, that has grown brighter and clearer after shining on for thirty happy years! Thanks be to God for a love that 'Fonder grows with age, and charms, and charms forever.'
Very soon, if the Lord will, there will be again the joy of the home-coming, when the happiness of reunion will efface all the heartache of separation, and the two lives which, like mountain streams parted for a while by some ponderous impediment, having passed it, meet again with tumultuous current, shall flow on once more in deep and abounding bliss. Then all the routine of the dear happy home-life will begin afresh, and the days, so full of work and service, will fly swiftly on their busy rounds, and the sweet Saturday nightsmy Sabbathswill again crown the week's labor with blessing and holy peace.
Seeing that we began this year with a long account of the doings and the duties of its first :twelve hours, I might have asked my dear readers to 'assist' in the same way at its close; for the letters of to-day have been, to the full, as many and as interesting as those we opened on January 1, 1885. Do they not say that, in a well-concerted piece of music, the final note should correspond to that on which the air commences? Even so, in composing this unpretending little tune of mine, I ought doubtless to have tried to harmonize it rightly, and have played the 'finale' on the same chords as the opening 'aria. But I spare you and myself.
The hand that holds this pen is very weary; and the brain, which tries to think the thoughts that guide it, is jaded and overstrained. Soon the mid-night chimes will be ringing, and 'each breeze that rises from the earth be loaded with a song of heaven.' It is meet and wise to say adieu now, softly and tenderly, to those who have for so many years been partakers with me of the joy of this sweet service, and then to go alone before the Lord, and bless Him for the immeasurable love and goodness which have ensured so blessed an ending to a year of blessing.
'Oh! tired heart
Not you nor I,
Who reach our hands for gifts
That wise love must deny
we blunder, where we fain would do our best
Until a-weary, then we cry, 'Do Thou the rest';
And in His hands the tangled skein we place
Of our poor blind 'weaving with a shamed face
All trust of ours He sacredly will keep;
So, tired heart
Go thou to work or sleep.'
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