committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

THE SURREY GARDENS MUSIC HALL MINISTRY

A new concert hall had just been built in the Royal Surrey Gardens, a public park south of the Thames River that boasted spacious lawns, a zoo, picnic areas, a lake, and similar amenities. Large fireworks displays delighted the visitors; even a huge sea turtle that children could ride lumbered about the grounds. The new Hall, the Surrey Gardens Music Hall, could accommodate more than ten thousand people. It was the most commodious and beautiful building for public amusement in the city, save the Crystal Palace. Mr. M. Jullian, the musical conductor of the Hall, on one occasion attracted as many as thirteen thousand for a concert. Someone conceived the idea that Spurgeon could use it for preaching. Objections by the traditional Victorians were, of course, raised from every corner. That would be “worldly,” some criticized. Others cautioned it might be dangerous for such a large crowd to gather for a religious service. One of Charles’ own deacons pleaded with him not to preach in “that devil’s house.” But Spurgeon replied, “We did not go to the music-hall because we thought it was a good thing to worship in a building usually devoted to amusement, but because we had no other place to go. Some even thought Spurgeon could not fill it. Being a place of secular amusement, many said it would never be suited for divine worship. “Preposterous,” cried some people. 

By this time Spurgeon had grown immune to cruel criticism, attacks and outmoded traditionalism. He well realized, as he said, “The tears of affliction are often needed to keep the eye of faith bright.” Along with the Deacon Olney, he surveyed the building and his eye of faith beamed brightly—he thought it ideal for his purposes. The deacons agreed and the decision came down: to the Music Hall they would go. The news immediately spread all over London. Surrey Gardens Music Hall would become host to Spurgeon and his New Park Street Baptist Church! That was as rash a move as London could grapple with. As one put it, “In the squares, the streets, the lanes, the alleys, as well as in the workshops and country houses, and all the chief places of concourse, it has been, through each successive day, the one great object of thought and converse.” The  veining of Sunday, October 19, 1856 would see the first service. To sense how revolutionary this idea was for Victorian London, Spurgeon’s friend Dr. Campbell remarked:

Ecclesiastically viewed, Sunday last was one of the most eventful nights that have descended on the metropolis for generations. On that occasion the largest most commodious and most beautiful building erected for public amusement in this mighty city was taken possession of for the purpose of proclaiming the gospel of salvation. There, where for a long period wild beasts had been exhibited, and wilder men had been accustomed to congregate, in countless multitudes, for idle pastime, was gathered together the largest audience that ever met in any edifice in these Isles to listen to the voice of a Nonconformist minister.

Unfortunately, it became a day of infamy.

THE TRAGEDY

Before the opening day at the Music Hall, Spurgeon had a strange, subtle uneasiness. He said, “I felt over-weighted with a sense of responsibility, and filled with a mysterious premonition of some great trial shortly to befall me.” When Sunday afternoon came, the streets near the Surrey Gardens Music Hall soon filled with people. Ten to twelve thousand eager worshipers squeezed into the Hall when the doors opened at 6:00 p.m. Another ten thousand milled about outside unable to get in. The entire area looked like a surging sea of faces. When Spurgeon arrived, the sight of the mass of humanity at first unnerved him. Campbell was right, the largest crowd ever gathered under a roof to hear a Nonconformist preacher had assembled. Spurgeon took the pulpit ten minutes before the stated hour, composed himself, and began the service. 

After a few words of greeting came a prayer and a hymn. Then, in his usual style, Spurgeon read the Scriptures with a running commentary. He always did this in his New Park Street services; it was a common procedure in many Nonconformist churches. The congregation sang another hymn and Spurgeon began his long prayer. After the “Amen” it happened. “Fire! Fire! Fire! The galleries are giving way! The place is falling! The place is falling!” came shouts from several areas in the vast crowd. Pandemonium broke loose. A terrible panic ensued as people fled from all over the building. They trod upon each other, crushed one another, jumped over the rail of the galleries, while the banisters of one of the stairs gave way and many were trampled over. An eye witness described the mad scene:

The cries and shrieks at this period were truly terrific, to which was added the already pent-up excitement of those who had not been able to make their exit. They pressed on, treading furiously over the dead and dying, tearing frantically at each other. Hundreds had their clothes torn from their backs in their endeavors to escape; masses of men and women were driven down and trodden over heedless of their cries and 1amentaflons.

As people in panic exploded from the Hall, the thousands outside struggled to get in. A wild scene erupted.

 Spurgeon sprang to his feet attempting to quell the crowds. There was no fire, no collapsing galleries, or any real problem at all. “Please be seated,” he Cried. “  There is no cause for alarm! Please be seated!” His resonant voice boomed over the din and almost miraculously the people composed themselves and began to settle down as they sang a hymn. Spurgeon wanted to dismiss the service immediately, even though he did not know that a real tragedy had occurred. The remaining people shouted, “Preach! Preach!” Charles attempted to do so; he did not realize anyone had been seriously injured in the pandemonium. Then a second series of cries went up. This time order was restored quickly and Charles took his text from Proverbs 3:33, “The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked: but he blesseth the habitation of the just.” He probably thought the new text would help the general situation and speak directly to it. But it proved to be a blunder, for now some panicked anew at the thought of judgment and joined the mob at the rear still fighting to get out, or in. He spoke a few words, the hymn “His Sovereign Power Without Our Aid” was sung, and he dismissed the crowd. There were shouts until the service concluded. Charles said to the crowd, “My brain is in a whirl, and I scarcely know where I am, so great are my apprehensions that many persons must have been injured by rushing out. I would rather that you retired gradually and may God Almighty dismiss you with His blessings and carry you in safety to your home!” Sensing now that something serious must have happened, although he knew nothing of the extent of the tragedy, Charles was hurried out by friends almost in a faint.

Something truly terrible had happened. Seven people were dead and twenty-eight had been taken to a local hospital seriously injured. With care, friends led Charles out through a back passage so he would not see the seven corpses laid out on the ground. He did not realize anyone had died. He was graciously ushered to a friend’s house in Croydon, south London, that he might escape the volcanic furor bound to erupt over him. The papers had already virtually crucified him—what would they say now? Later the grisly facts were revealed to Charles and upon hearing the devastating news, he virtually collapsed. It looked like a permanent collapse. Emotionally prostrated, he pined away in deep depression.

The next day, a man saw Spurgeon being helped from a carnage at Croydon and said, “It’s Mr. Spurgeon, isn’t it? It must be his ghost, for last night I saw him carried out dead from The Surrey Gardens Music Hall.”  Rumors of that nature spread all over London.

Charles became so seriously depressed over the tragedy that he almost wished himself dead. The thought that he had in some sense occasioned the death and injury of several people absolutely devastated him. In Spurgeon’s first book, The Saint and His Saviour, he described his agony:

Strong amid danger, I battled against the storm; nor did my spirit yield to the overwhelming pressure while my courage could reassure the wavering, or confirm the bold; but when, like a whirlwind, the destruction was overpast, when the whole of its devastation was visible to my eye, who can conceive the anguish of my sad spirit? I refused to be comforted; tears were my meat by day, and dreams my terror by night. I felt as I had never felt before. ‘My thoughts were all a case of knives,’ cutting my heart in pieces, until a kind of stupor of grief ministered a mournful medicine to me. I could have truly said, ‘I am not mad, but surely I have had enough to madden me, if I should indulge in meditation on it.’ I sought and found a solitude which seemed congenial to me.  I could tell my griefs to the flowers, and the dews could weep with me. Here my mind lay, like a wreck upon the sand, incapable of its usual motion.  I was in a strange land, and a stranger in it. My Bible, once my daily food, was but a hand to lift the sluices of my woe. Prayer yielded no balm to me; in fact, my soul was like an infant’s soul, and I could not rise to the dignity of supplication. ‘Broke in pieces all asunder,’ my thoughts which had been to me a cup of delights, were like pieces of broken glass, the piercing and cutting miseries of my pilgrimage.. . . There came the ‘slander of many’—bare faced fabrications, libelous slanders, and barbarous accusations. These alone might have scooped out the last drop of consolation from my cup of happiness, but the worst had come to the worst, and the utmost knowledge of the enemy could do no more.

Yet he was alive, but what the tragedy itself did not do to prostrate him emotionally, as he himself said, the press finished. The newspapers went after him unmercifully. And his new twin boys were only one month old.

The next morning, October 20, 1856, Daily Telegraph, perhaps the bitterest of all, reported:

Mr. Spurgeon is a preacher who hurls damnation at the heads of his sinful hearers. Some men there are who, taking their precepts from Holy Writ, would beckon erring souls to a rightful path with fair words and gentle admonition; Mr. Spurgeon would take them by the nose, and bully them into religion. Let us set up a barrier to the encroachments and blasphemies of men like Spurgeon, saying to them, ‘Thus far shalt thou come, but no further;’ let us devise some powerful means which shall tell to the thousands who now stand in need of enlightenment,—This man, in his own opinion, is a righteous Christian; but in ours, nothing more that a ranting charlatan. We are neither strait-laced nor Sabbatarian in our sentiments; but we would keep apart, widely apart, the theatre and the church;—above all, we would place in the hand of every tight thinking man, a whip to scourge from society the authors of such vile blasphemies as, on Sunday night, above the cries of the dead and the dying, and louder than the wails of misery from the maimed and suffering, resounded from the mouth of Spurgeon in the music-hall of the Surrey Gardens. And lastly, when the mangled corpses had been carried away from the unhallowed and disgraceful scene—when husbands were seeking their wives, and children their mothers in extreme agony and despair—the chink of the money as it fell into the collection-boxes grated harshly, miserably on the ears of those who, we sincerely hope, have by this time conceived for Mr. Spurgeon and his rantings the profoundest contempt.

"Spurgeon, Prince of Preachers", Lewis Drummond
 

1856

FAITH
GOING HOME-A CHRISTMAS STORY
HEAVENLY WORSHIP
LOVE'S COMMENDATION
MANESSEH
TURN OR BURN

1857

A MIGHTY SAVIOUR
CONFESSION OF SIN-A SERMON WITH SEVEN TEXTS
PREACHING FOR THE POOR
WHY ARE MEN SAVED
SECRET SINS
THE BLOOD SHEDDING
RAHAB'S FAITH
A FAITHFUL FRIEND
CHRIST ABOUT HIS FATHER'S BUSINESS
PARTICULAR ELECTION
THE SNARE OF THE FOWLER
JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH
SPIRITUAL RESURRECTION
THE USES OF THE LAW
REGENERATION
SALVATION OF THE LORD
CHRIST-THE POWER AND WISDOM OF GOD
ELIJAH'S APPEAL TO THE UNDECIDED
PRESUMPTUOUS SINS
ISRAEL IN EGYPT
MERCY, OMNIPOTENCE AND JUSTICE
LOVE THY NEIGHBOR
THE CONDESCENSION OF CHRIST
THE MYSTERIES OF THE BRAZEN SERPENT
FEAR NOT
LIGHT AT EVENING TIME
THE FIRST AND GREAT COMMANDMENT
AWAKE! AWAKE!
THE LOVED ONES CHASTENED
WHAT HAVE I DONE
THE WARNING NEGLECTED
THE FIRST CHRISTMAS CAROL
THE WARNING NEGLECTED
WHAT HAVE I DONE
THE WAR OF TRUTH

1858

GOD, THE ALL-SEEING ONE
HUMAN INABILITY
PARTICULAR REDEMPTION
PAUL'S SERMON BEFORE FELIX
SEARCH THE SCRIPTURES
THE DEATH OF CHRIST
THE GREAT RESERVOIR
THE IMMUTABILITY OF CHRIST
THE PRODIGAL'S RETURN
THE TWO TALENTS
THE SOLAR ECLIPSE
THE GREAT REVIVAL
THE FORM AND SPIRIT OF RELIGION
PROVIDENCE
SOVEREIGN GRACE AND MAN'S RESPONSIBILITY
SELF-EXAMINATION
THE CHRISTIAN'S HEAVINESS AND REJOICING
THE EVIL AND ITS REMEDY
SAMSON CONQUERED
THE MINISTER'S FAREWELL
SATAN'S BANQUET
THE FEAST OF THE LORD
COMPEL THEM TO COME IN
THE BLOOD
LOVE
THE VANGUARD AND REREWARD OF THE CHURCH

1859

FAITH IN PERFECTION
FREE GRACE
PREDESTINATION AND CALLING (ENGLISH)
PREDESTINATION AND CALLING (RUSSIAN)
CHRIST PRECIOUS TO BELIEVERS
WEEK HANDS AND FEEBLE KNEES
LITTLE SINS
NECESSITY OF THE SPIRIT'S WORK
HOLY VIOLENCE
A PSALM OF REMEMBRANCE
JUSTICE SATISFIED
THE BELIEVER'S CHALLENGE
THE STORY OF GOD'S MIGHTY ACTS
THE MEEK AND LOWLY ONE
THE BLOOD OF THE EVERLASTING COVENANT

 
 
 
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