An Intimate Interlude
by W. Y. Fullerton
IT WAS SCARCELY to be expected that Spurgeon, different from other men in so many ways, would act like an ordinary lover. Nor did he. We have seen that the lady who was to be his wife, Miss Susannah Thompson, was present at his first Sunday evening service in London, and that she was scarcely prepossessed in his favour. She was already seeking to follow Christ, and the ministry of Mr. Spurgeon was much blessed in leading her to fuller devotion to His service, and naturally enough her early prejudices so vanished.
She has herself told the story.1 One day there arrived at her home, 7 St. Ann's Terrace, Brixton Road, an illustrated copy of The Pilgrim's Progress, inscribed "Miss Thompson, with desires for her progress in the blessed pilgrimage, from C. H. SpurgeonApril 20, 1854." It was a sign of growing interest, as well as of pastoral care, and her own deepening sentiment gradually led her to consult Mr. Spurgeon as to her state before God. So the friendship steadily grew.
When the Crystal Palace was opened on June 10, 1854, a party of friends, including Miss Thompson and Mr. Spurgeon, were present at the inauguration, sitting on some raised seats where the great clock is now fixed. They were in a merry mood, and while they waited for the ceremony Mr. Spurgeon handed her a copy of Martin Tupper's Proverbial Philosophy, open at a passage to which he pointed as he asked her the question, "What do you think of the poet's suggestion in those verses?" She read:
Seek a good wife from thy God, for she is the best gift of His providence;
Yet ask not in bold confidence that which He hath not promised;
Thou knowest not His good will: be thy prayer then submissive thereunto,
And leave thy petition to His mercy, assured that He will deal well with thee.
If thou art to have a wife of thy youth, she is now living on the Earth;
Therefore think of her, and pray for her weal.2
It was a singular wooing. "Do you pray for him who is to be your husband?" he softly whispered to the trembling, blushing girl at his side, who said nothing, could say nothing, and saw nothing, but with beating heart felt that heaven was coming near. When the ceremony was nearly over, another whisper came, "Will you come and walk around the palace with me?" and breaking away from the others, who perhaps were not so obtuse as they looked, the two went out into the enchanted ground. He was wise enough to delay the definite proposal of marriage for some weeks, until on August 2, 1854, in her grandfather's garden, they gave themselves to each other, she with her adoring heart, and sweet face framed in the curls that fell on each side of it, he with his clear eye, swift brain, high collar, white tie, and protruding tooth.
In anticipation of church membership she addressed to her pastor a letter setting forth her Christian experience, to which he responded in a letter dated January 11, 1855, couched in old-world phraseology. Here is a sentence: "Dear purchase of a Saviour's blood, you are to me a Saviour's gift, and my heart is full to overflowing with the thought of such continued goodness." He baptised her at New Park Street on February 1, 1855.
The courtship lasted another year, but the lover was a busy man and sometimes absentminded. He generally spent Monday morning with his fianc? revising his sermon, she keeping quiet the while, and perhaps thinking the more. Once when she accompanied him to a service he forgot all about her, and justify her struggling with the crowd while he slipped into the vestry. She went home indignant, but when the service was over he came running to the house seeking her, and after remonstrance by her mother, the lovers were reconciled.
During the year they collaborated in choosing the selections which were afterwards published under the title Smooth Stones Taken from Ancient Brooks. On December 22 he sent her a copy of The Pulpit Library, the first published volume of his sermons, with the inscription, "In a few days it will be out of my power to present anything to Miss Thompson. Let this be a remembrance of our happy meetings and sweet conversations.C. H. SPURGEON."
The wedding day was January 8, 1856. About two thousand persons were crowded into the chapel, and the adjoining streets were thronged. Dr. Alexander Fletcher of Finsbury Chapel performed the ceremony, and then bride and bridegroom justify for a brief visit to Paris. Twelve days later the preacher was back in his pulpit, and subsequently Mr. and Mrs. Spurgeon were publicly welcomed by the congregation.
The union was a joy in both lives, though for most of her married life the wife was an invalid, and the husband was at frequent intervals tormented with gout. "Put your foot in a vice," he said, "and turn the screw as tight as you canthat is rheumatism; give it an extra turn, and that is rheumatic gout." These physical troubles and his incessant labours kept them a good deal apart, but the love that bound them together never slackened; indeed, it grew in beauty and tenderness with the years. To the "Tirshatha," as she called him, Mrs. Spurgeon ever gave a reverent homage, even when for his good she ruled him with a gentle despotism. To him, she was ever "our angel and delight," and he was never happier than in inventing some new method of giving her joy.
Twin sons were born to them on September 20, 1856, in their first London home, 217 New Kent Road. The elder was named Charles, after his father, the younger Thomas because he was the twin. Thomas once gave a different reason; he said that as his mother's maiden name was Thompson, it was quite natural that he should be Son Tom. The story that their father, when he heard of their birth, exclaimed, "Not more than others I deserve, but God has given me more," is apocryphal; probably somebody suggested that it was what he might have said. But he was quite elated at the event; his father to the end laughed when he recalled that on the letter his son sent him announcing the birth of his twin boys, the figure 2 was written five times outside the envelope.
The Sabbath month after the boys' birth was not over before the home was shadowed by the tragedy at the Surrey Gardens Hall. Their father, as we have seen, spent a while at Croydon, and when at length he overcame the horror that had enwrapped him, mother and boys joined him there, and the parents joyfully dedicated their children, as far as they might, to the Lord and to His service.
In the family Bible there is an entry in their father's writing that his twin sons were born at Bengal Place, New Kent Road, September 20, 1857, and then below, in another ink, "By some strange mistake I have put 57, it should have been 56.C. H. SPURGEON." Even Jove nods sometimes.
At the beginning the young couple had to stint themselves a good deal in order to support the college, which was then in a state of embryo, but things became easier, and they were able to move, in 1857, to their second home, Helensburgh, Nightingale Lane, at that time quite rural in its surroundings. It was an old house, originally an eight-roomed cottage, but altered and enlarged by its previous owners, and it had a garden which greatly delighted its new occupants.
Here in 1858 came John Ruskin, who was a frequent attendant at the Surrey Gardens Music Hall, to inquire after Mr. Spurgeon, who had been seriously ill. It was the first day of the patient's convalescence, and Mr. Ruskin "threw himself on his knees and embraced him with tender affection and tears." He had brought two charming engravings and some bottles of wine of a rare vintage to comfort the sufferer, though whether the wine was the best medicine for the gout may be doubted. On the occasion of another visit, having brought nothing, he justify the invalid for a while, and returned with a volume of Tennyson, all he had been able to buy in the neighbourhood. He also sent him an original set of Modern Painters, and he contributed ?100 to the Tabernacle Building Fund.
Two letters that passed between these two men show the footing on which they stood towards each other. J. Ruskin, "affectionately yours," wrote from Denmark Hill on November 25,1862:
MY DEAR FRIEND,
I want to have a chat with you. Is it possible to get it quietlyand how, and where, and when? I'll come to youor you shall come hereor whatever you like. I am in England only for ten daysbeing too much disgusted with your goings onyours as much as everybody else'sto be able to exist among you any longer. But I want to say "Good-bye" to you before going to my den in the Alps.
Upon which "yours ever most truly and affectionately, C. H. Spurgeon," replied:
MY DEAR MR. RUSKIN,
I thought you had cast me off; but I perceive that you let me alone when all is right, and only look me up when you are getting disgusted with me. May that disgust increase if it shall bring me oftener into your company!
I shall be delighted to see you tomorrow, here, at any time from ten to twelve, if this will suit you. I wish I had a den in the Alps to go to; but it is of no use for me to grow surly, for I am compelled to live among you sinners, and however disgusted I may get with you all, I must put up with you, for neither Nature or Providence will afford a den for me.
Of the disgust with things in general which Ruskin felt during those years a sample is given by Mr. Spurgeon himself. He said:
Mr. Ruskin came to see me one day, and among other things he said that the Apostle Paul was a liar and that I was a fool! "Well," I replied, "let us keep the two things separate; so first of all tell me how you can prove that the Apostle Paut was a liar!"
"He was no gentleman, and he was a liar too," answered Mr. Ruskin.
"Oh, indeed," I rejoined. "How do you make that out?"
"Well," he said, "there was a Jewish gentleman came to him one day, and asked him a polite question, 'How are the dead raised up, and with what body do they come?' Paul began by saying to him 'Thou fool,'which proved that the apostle was no gentlemanand then he continued, 'That which thou sowest is not quickened except it die; which was a lie."
"No," I answered, "it was not a lie. Paul was speaking the truth."
"How do you prove that?" asked Mr. Ruskin.
"Why," I replied, "very easily. What is death? Death is the resolution into its elements of any compound substance which possessed life."
Mr. Ruskin said, "That is the most extraordinary definition of death that I ever heard, but it is true."
"Yes," I said, "it is true, and that is what happens to the seed when it dies. It is resolved again into its original elements, and the living germ which is within it becomes the center and source of the new life that springs out of it."
"Then," said Mr. Ruskin, "what do you mean when you talk of the death of the soul?"
"I mean," I replied, "the separation of the soul from God; it was originally with God, and when it is separated from Him it dies to God; that is its death, but that death is not nonexistence. The separation of the soul from the body is the separation from that which quickened it, and it falls back into its original condition."
"Well," said Mr. Ruskin, "you have proved that Paul spoke the truth, but you have not proved him to be a gentleman."
"At all events," I answered, "the apostle was as much a gentleman as you were just now when you called me a fool."
"So you are," said Mr. Ruskin, "for devoting your time and talents to that mob of people down at Newington when you might employ them so much more profitably upon the intellectual and cultured few, like that Jewish gentleman who came to Paul, and others that I might name."
I replied, "I always like to be the means of saving people whose souls are worth saving, and I am quite content to be the minister of that mob down at Newington, and let those who want to do so look after the cultured and refined."
The early students at his College used to come to his house an hour or two on Saturday mornings for informal talk, and many a person in trouble came to him for comfort. In 1869, by the kindness of some friends, the house was rebuilt, and while the work was in progress the family removed to Brighton. Here, in the hope of restoring Mrs. Spurgeon's health, an operation was performed by Sir James Y. Simpson. He journeyed twice from Edinburgh, and when questioned as to his fee answered, "Well, I suppose it should be a thousand guineas, and when you are Archbishop of Canterbury I shall expect you to pay me. Till then let us consider it settled by love."
Leaving the boys at school at Brighton, Mrs. Spurgeon returned to Nightingale Lane, much better in health, to find that in the renovation and refurnishing her every desire for herself and her husband had been anticipated. A room adjoining her husband's study had been specially fitted up for her, the lawn had been laid out so that it was suitable for the game of bowls, always a favourite pastime of Mr. Spurgeon's. In one of the trees the old pulpit from New Park Street had found a resting-place, the stairs leading up to a quiet eyrie where the preacher could retire when he wished to be quite alone.
Mr. Spurgeon was in those early days often away from home. One morning, as he was preparing to start on a journey, he noticed his wife in tears, and asked her a question which startled her. It was whether any of the children of Israel, when they brought a lamb to the Lord's altar as an offering to Him, wept when they saw it laid there. "Why, no," she replied. And then he suggested that she was giving him as they gave their sacrifice, and so the tears were dried. If ever afterward there was a sign of sorrow at his absence, he would bring the smiles instead of tears by the question, "What! Crying over your lamb?"
On one of these occasions he asked her if there was anything he could bring her on his return and, with the whim of an invalid, she replied that she should like an opal ring and a piping bullfinch. He laughed as he bade her good-bye; there was little likelihood of her desire being granted. But the Lord is very pitiful to His tired children. An old lady whom Mr. Spurgeon had once visited had meanwhile sent a note to the tabernacle that she wished someone to call on her, as she wanted to send Mrs. Spurgeon present. When it arrived, behold, it was the opal ring, and he brought it back to her with triumph. Soon afterward came the visit to Brighton, and one day, on his return from London, Mr. Spurgeon brought a cage containing the piping bullfinch. He had visited a dying man who was somewhat disturbed by the piping of the bird, and his wife had begged him to take the bird to Mrs. Spurgeon, declaring she would entrust it to nobody else, and expressing her hope that its songs would cheer her when she was so often justify alone. So the Lord condescends not only to meet the needs of His children but also their wishes!
During the last twelve years of his life, Mr. Spurgeon had his home at Westwood, Beulah Hill, Upper Norwood. It was somewhat singular how the change was made. Some business took him to the new district, and in passing over the hill he noticed that the house, which could not be seen from the road, was for sale. It had been suggested to him that perhaps if he lived on higher ground his health, and possibly his wife's health, might be better. On his return, in repassing the house, his secretary alighted, read the bill, and discovered that cards were necessary to view the premises. But the impression on his mind was so deep that he sent a message giving his name and asking whether he could see the house without having a card. His name was enough. When he saw the house he exclaimed that it was too grand for him, and yet he could not get the thought of it out of his mind. But he did not send anyone to the sale. On that very day, however, the builder of the house at Nightingale Lane called on him, inquiring whether he had ever thought of selling his present residence, for his next-door neighbour would like it for his son-in-law, who was returning from abroad. Then it was learned that "Westwood" had not been sold, and after some further inquiry it appeared that it could be bought for little more than the price his neighbour was willing to give for Helensburgh House. So without further delay the two bargains were completed. The new home was charming, not too extensive, with garden, lawns, lake, and some small fields bond, where Mrs. Spurgeon afterwards found grazing for two or three cows. There was a fernery, a rosery, a vinery, and some other glass, two large rooms looking on to the garden, one of which made an excellent study, and the other an admirable library. As Mr. Spurgeon in the earlier home had fitted up a room for his wife, she, during one of his visits abroad, had a little room, opening off the study, built for him. In the study he did most of his work, with J. L. Keys, his amanuensis, at one side of the long table, and Joseph Harrald, his "armour-bearer," at the other, he himself at his own table crosswise at the top. The door to the little inner sanctum furnished by his wife was just behind him, so that he could slip in and out as he liked.
His working books were in this room, the biblical volumes arranged in Bible order. The top shelves contained "dummy" volumes, with fancy titles, a number of them suggested by the names of his students. "Eastward Ho!" by A. G. Brown; "Cuff on the Head"; "Pains and Aches" by Feltham; "Tydeman on Cleanliness"; Gange's "Rivers." Others were just witticisms; "Exaggeration" by Jonathan, "Bragging" by John Bull, "The Elevation of Parliament" by Guido Faux, "Hints on Honeypots" by A. B., "The Composition of Milk" by A Dealer, "Absalom on the Mule," "Balaam on the Donkey," "Riding Horses" by Gilpin.
Spurgeon delighted in his garden; he did not botanise, but he knew most of the flowers and plants. A frequent visitor says, "We went into the vinery one day when the tree was in full leaf. He said, sniffing the odour from the branches: 'Well done, Solomon, the vines do give a good smell, there is no fragrance, no perfume, nothing will describe it, but good. You instinctively feel it is healthy to take in the scent of the vine.'"3
Between the library and the dining room was Mrs. Spurgeon's book room, from whence the parcels of books were dispatched to ministers by means of her book fund. Mrs. Spurgeon continued to reside at Westwood till her death on October 22, 1903, and from the beginning of the book fund until that time she distributed over 200,000 volumes, as well as countless copies of her husband's sermons.
The fund began when Mr. Spurgeon handed his wife the corrected proof of the first volume of his Lectures to My Students. When she had read it she declared that she wished she could place a copy in the hands of every minister in England. "Then why not do it?" her husband said, and he added, "How much will you give?" Although she was scarcely prepared for such a challenge, it suddenly occurred to her that she had some money at her disposal, accumulated by her hobby of saving every five-shilling piece that came to her. On counting her hoard she discovered that she had enough money to send out a hundred copies, and so the book fund was born. When its inauguration became known there was a rush of applicants from all parts of the country, as well as from all sections of the church, and the work so approved itself to God's stewards that means were generously forthcoming. It is a question whether there was more joy in the hearts of those who received the books than in the heart of the gracious lady who counted the sending of them her bit of service through her twenty-eight later years. The story is gracefully told in two volumes, Ten Years of My Life and Ten Years After. Mrs. Spurgeon was much helped by her companion, Miss Thorne.
Occasionally Mrs. Spurgeon would invite her neighbours to a service on Sunday evening in the study. I remember addressing them one Sunday. Once the window was opened to freshen the room after one of these services, and it was forgotten. During the night a burglar discovered it, entered and stole a few things, the most valuable being a gold-headed stick presented to Mr. Spurgeon by J. B. Gough. As the gold bore Spurgeon's name it was afterwards the means of identifying the burglar, as he sought the next day to dispose of it. He then wrote to Mr. Spurgeon, saying, among other things, that he did not know it was the "horflings' Spurgeon" who lived there, and ending up by the pithy advice, "Why don't you shut your windows, and keep a dog?" This led to the acquisition of Punch, the pug-dog who gave his master unending pleasure and very greatly interested his visitors.
The news of the robbery led Punch (the journal, not the dog) to publish a humorous page entitled "The Diary of a Burglar." Various exploits in his profession are chronicled: "Last night did a stylish little piece of work. Robbed Spurgeon's house. Not so much for the swag as to create a sensation. Have always been a follower and admirer of his, but shouldn't have been if I'd known how precious few valuables he keeps on the establishment. Nothing but tracts and reports and notes for discourses. Returned these, of course, after reading one or twoespecially one very elegant discourse on 'Theft.' Returned the whole lotwith compliments on the very elegant language of the one I have mentionedapologising for the temporary abstraction. Shall really think of giving up my pewquite disgusted."4 A piece of fooling which was given and taken in excellent spirit.
No account of the home could be complete without a reference to "old George," the faithful servant of many years, who anticipated his master's wants, and often insisted on things that were for his benefit. His second name was Lovejoythe fruit of the Spirit, he would say"Love, joy."
In addition to his winter furlough at Mentone, of which we will speak later, Spurgeon generally spent two or three summer weeks in the Highlands. For one or two years he was guest of Mr. John Anderson, but generally he was entertained by Mr. James Duncan at Benmore, taking a friend or two with him. On these occasions he preached each Sabbath at Rothesay, Dunoon, or on the lawn in front of the house. One year I was a privileged visitor. The first Sunday thousands of people came, and a homely sermon was given, which one of the Glasgow papers the next day criticised somewhat severely, but not unjustly. Spurgeon answered the criticism the next Sunday. On the Monday he telegraphed to his publishers to see whether his last sermon in the tabernacle had been published; the answer was in the negative, so he preached it again. The text was "Mercy shall be built up for ever." The effect in his own pulpit had been great; given in the open air, with an immense crowd drinking in every word, it was astonishing. As the sermon progressed, mercy was built higher and higher, until it pierced the heavens, and sat down on the throne of God. The preacher excelled himself. That was his answer to the newspaper.
There is a record of another great service during his summer furlough. He was announced to preach on Sunday morning, July 28, 1878, at Rothesay. On the Saturday crowds came to the place, and every available room was occupied. About three o'clock Mr. Dunran's yacht arrived in the bay and anchored among the many others that had been attracted there. In a few minutes the news of his arrival had spread over Rothesay. The next morning Spurgeon preached to a crowd of fifteen to twenty thousand persons. After the service he rested for a while in the provost's garden to give the crowds time to disperse, but Mr. A. G. Short, who tells the story, says that they evidently did not intend to leave him quite in that fashion. They knew he would have to leave in a boat to reach the yacht, and they gathered in thousands along the seawall. When Mr. Spurgeon stepped into the boat, and the sailors began to ply their oars, as one looked along the crescent-shaped front, it seemed as if every person in that vast gathering had brought a white handkerchief for the special purpose of waving it in his honour. That was Scotland's way of bidding a Sabbath adieu to the great and good man she loved so well; and not until he was on board the yacht did the farewell signals cease to flutter in the evening breeze.
Adjacent to the house at Benmore Mr. Duncan had built a picture gallery, with the same ground space, approximately, as the tabernacle, and had gathered a great collection of paintings, many of Dore's among them. Here an hour would be spent each evening. During the day there would be walks round the estate, and talks on all sorts of topics: occasionally there would be an excursion.
At one placeColintraivea party of four of us found only two rooms available in the little inn, and drew lots to fix our places; mine was with our host, and Mr. Higgs was placed with his pastor. I recall the excitement of a good woman as we walked that evening along the beach. She came running up to two of us, crying out, "Spurgeon's here! Spurgeon's here!" I remember one special day when we went out in the launch to fish in Loch Eck, caught a salmon, cooked it on the lakeside, and feasted in royal picnic fashion. How these memories abide! One Sunday morning I preached at Kilmun. I went upstairs to prepare, and Mr. Spurgeon was among the others downstairs. As I sat in my room, I heard a gentle knock at the door, and when I opened it found him outside. He had climbed the stairs, no very easy task for him, to help me. "I have come to pray with you before you go," he said. Then we knelt down, and he prayed as he might have prayed for himself, that I might be helped to preach in power. But there was another side to the incident, for the next day Spurgeon pointed out the house next door to the church, with a notice exhibited, "Mangling done here," and insisted that that was where I had preached.
The homelife was ideal, chastened indeed by frequent sufferings, but never fretful nor constrained. It was a deep joy to the parents when the sons were baptised, a great gratification when they began to preach in a cottage at Wandsworth. Both had entered upon business careers, one in a city merchant's office, the other as an engraver on wood, but their preaching power developed. Charles, the elder, after pastorates at Greenwich, Noningham, Cheltenham, and Hove, became his father's successor at Spurgeon's orphanage; Thomas, the younger, after his ministry in Australia and New Zealand, became his father's successor at the tabernacle, carried on the work there for fourteen years, and on October 20, 1917, died. Two years afterward, his son, Harold, in unveiling the stained glass window at the orphanage, showed in his speech some Spurgeonic power.
If we may venture to observe the inner life of this man so greatly honoured of God in the world, we shall not find Spurgeon often on his knees; and that not because he did not pray but because he prayed incessantly. In the New Jerusalem there is no temple because it is all temple. Between the closing of one book and the opening of another with Spurgeon there were the shut eyes and the moving lips. "I always feel it well just to put a few words of prayer between everything I do," he once said to an intimate friend. He seldom wrote a letter without raising his heart to God for guidance. Archibald G. Brown tells how in a railway journey with him they kneeled down and spent a time in prayer. Dr. Wayland Hoyt says, "I was walking with him in the woods one day just outside London and, as we strolled under the shadow of the summer foliage, we came upon a log lying athwart the path. 'Come,' said he, as naturally as one would say it if he were hungry and bread were put before him, 'Come, let us pray.' Kneeling beside the log, he lifted his soul to God in the most loving and yet reverent prayer. Then, rising from his knees, he went strolling on, talking about this and that. The prayer was no parenthesis interjected. It was something that belonged as much to the habit of his mind as breathing did to the habit of his body." Dr. Cuyler bears a similar testimony. In one of the Surrey woods they were conversing in high spirits when suddenly Spurgeon stopped and said, "Come, Theodore, let us thank God for laughter." That was how he lived. "From a jest to a prayer meant with him the breadth of a straw."
His idea of prayer was the passing over the counter of a check bearing an honoured name. There was no need for pleading; the name pleaded. It was only necessary to wait till the money was paid. And he acted his faith; there was a calm serenity about him in spite of the burdens he bore. Once, when dining with a gentleman in the neighbourhood of Regent's Park, it transpired that ?1000 was needed the next morning to pay the builder of the orphanage. Mr. Spurgeon said he had prayed about it and had confidence it would come. Dr. Brock, who was also a guest, said he thought that they should speak with caution about such things, and he had scarcely said it when a telegram was handed in saying that somebody had called at the tabernacle and justify ?1000!
He himself told me that he never got so near to God as when he prayed on the tabernacle platform. This was the reason so many were impressed by his public intercessions even more than by his sermons, though they were all of a piece. This the reason, too, why when he preached he preferred to take the whole service himself. In his homely way he said, "I like to get the juice out of the meat."
"It was marvellous to hear his soliloquies at the Lord's Tablehis language there would have been considered extravagant if one did not know how perfectly real it was. From praying he would take to talking, and from talking he would stand and soliloquise about his Lord, and the audience felt that he was simply enraptured with Him."5 How he would weep when he was in close communion with his "Well-beloved," the name he most often used for his Saviour! One of his friends even says that he sometimes needed to drink water to supply his fount of tears.
Only twice in his life did he spend a whole night in prayer. The second time was when, on October 2, 1879, he bade his son Tom good-bye as he went to the Antipodes, never expecting to see him again. The hopes that he had cherished of his sons standing by his side were shattered. He preached in his pulpit that evening about Hannah, "a woman of a sorrowful spirit"the sermon is in the 1880 volumeand then he went home to agonise in prayer. He got the victory, made the renunciation gladly, and never turned back. The other occasion is too sacred for us to intrude upon it, but here too he triumphed. "There are dungeons underneath the Castle of Despair as dreary as the abodes of the lost," he once said, "and some of us have been in them."
Once, in a time of physical suffering, the pain became almost unendurable, and his prayer became a direct challenge to God. He told Him that he, an earthly father, could not bear to see any child of his suffer so intensely, that if he saw him tormented as he himself then he would at any rate put his arms under him to sustain him. He dared to chide the Almighty, and in doing so stilled his heart. When the nurse returned to his room, he declared that he would soon be easier. And sure enough the pain ceased.
He had his ambitions, but they were worthy ones. "I beseech you," he once said, "to live not only for this age but for the next also. I would fling my shadow through eternal ages if I could."6
In the secret of his own spirit he was a mystic, but he never dared to preach beyond what was written. He thundered out the message of the wrath of God, but in an intimate moment he ventured to say, "While I believe in eternal punishment, and must, or throw away my Bible, I also believe that God will give to the lost every consideration, consistent with His love. There is nothing vindictive in Him, nor can there be in His punishment of the ungodly." In fact, though he contended earnestly for the truth in Jesus, he was no bigot, nor did he ever imagine that any finite mind could comprehend, much less systematise, the whole of divine truth. But he knew what he knew, and would not be moved from it. He gloried in the Cross, and in the sacrifice of Christ as a substitute for guilty men, but he recognised the mystery of redemption that lies beyond man's understanding. He often quoted that phrase in the litany of the Greek Church, "Let Thine unknown sufferings atone for our unknown sins."
In one of his morning sermons in 1886, entitled "The Three Hours' Darkness," he said some memorable words. Some of them have been quoted by Dr. Robertson Nicoll in his charming book on mysticism:
The great modern teacher of substitution, the apostle Spurgeon, in his sermon on "The Miraculous Darkness," says that "this darkness tells us all that the Passion is a great mystery into which we cannot pry. I try to explain it as a substitution, and I feel that where the language of Scripture is explicit, I may and must be explicit too. But yet I feel that the idea of substitution does not cover the whole of the matter, and that no human conception can completely grasp the whole of the dread mystery. It was wrought in darkness because the full, far-reaching meaning and result cannot be beheld of finite mind. Tell me the death of the Lord Jesus was a grand example of self-sacrificeI can see that and much more. Tell me it was a wondrous obedience to the will of GodI can see that and much more. Tell me it was the bearing of what ought to have been borne by myriads of sinners of the human race, as the chastisement of their sinI can see that, and found my best hope upon it. But do not tell me that this is all that is in the Cross. No, great as this would be, there is much more in the Redeemer's death. God veiled the Cross in darkness, and in darkness much of its deep meaning lies, not because God would not reveal it, but because we have not capacity to discern it all."7
This breadth of heart was revealed on another occasion when in his prayer at a Thursday evening service he dared to go far beyond his creed, and in his passion for the souls of men cried, "Lord, hasten to bring in all Thine electand then elect some more."
1 Autobiography, Vol. II, p. 7.
2 Proverbial Philosophy, seventeenth edition, p. 213.
3 W. Williams, Personal Recollections, p. 68.
4 Punch, Oct. 30, 1880.
5 Archibald G. Brown in his Memorial Sermon.
6 Williams, Personal Recollections, p. 27.
7 Quoted by W. Robertson Nicoll in A Garden of Nuts, pp. 54-55; Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 1886, p. 217.
The Reformed Reader Home Page
Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved