GLIMPSES OF ESSEX CAMBRIDGESHIRE 1853.
It has been my privilege and joy, sometimes, to tarry for a little season amongst the lowly. I have had a seat given me in the chimney corner, and, by-and-by, as the time to retire for the night drew nigh, the good man of the house has said to me, “Now, sir, will you kindly read for us to-night, as you are here?” And I have noticed the faces of the little group around me, as I have read some portion like this, “Truly, God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart.” Then I have said to the father of the family, “I will not lead you in prayer this time; you must be priest in your own house, and yourself pray.” So the good man has prayed for his children, and when I have seen them rise up from their knees, and kiss their parent for the night, I have thought, “Well, if this is the kind of family that the religion of Jesus Christ makes, ‘ let the whole earth be filled with His glory.’ For the present blessedness and for the eternal happiness of man, let God’s Kingdom come, and let His will be done on earth even as it is done in Heaven.” — C. H. S.
IWAS delighted, one Sabbath evening in the year 1853, when driving from the village where I had supplied for a minister, to see in one place a father, with four or five little ones about him, sitting on a small plot of grass before the cottage door. He had a large Bible on his knee, and the children also had their Bibles; and he in the midst was holding his finger up, with all solemnity and earnestness, in simple style endeavoring to enforce some sacred truth. It was a road but little frequented on the Sabbath-day, and I Should hope that scarcely a rumbling or rattling noise was heard there on the holy day of rest, saving the gig bearing the minister to and from the place of his labor, or other vehicles carrying devout worshippers to the house of God. It appeared almost a sacrilege to drive by, — although I was returning from a sacred errand, — it seemed a pity to break the spell even for a moment, and to take the eyes and the attention of the little ones for an instant from such sweet employment. A little further was a house which had a small workshop adjoining it. The door was open, so I could see that no one was inside; but there stood a chest, and on it lay a Bible of the largest kind, and on the floor below was a cushion which still bore the impress of knees which, I trust, had been bent in wrestling prayer. Perhaps a Mother had there been begging at the Redeemer’s hands the souls of her dearly-beloved children; or, possibly, some son, in answer’ to that Mother’s prayer, had been secretly pouring out his heart, and crying for mercy from the hands of God. Yet once more, I saw a little girl spelling over to her parents the words of the Book of Truth, and I felt constrained to pray that the daughter and the lowly pair might all be able to read their titles clear to mansions in the skies. I have seen hills and forests, vales and rivers, fine buildings and romantic ruins, but never, never have I seen a sight more simple, more beautiful, nor more sublime. Blest households, of which these things can be written! May you not be solitary instances, but may God raise up thousands like unto you!
Household piety is the very cream of piety. There is no place in which religion so sweetly opens all its charms as in the family gathered round the hearth. Who does not admire the house where, at the hour of prayer, all are assembled, and the head of the household reads from the sacred page the Word of Inspiration, and then all on bended knee seek for a blessing on themselves that day, or in joyful strains give thanks to Heaven for the manifold mercies so freely and so constantly dispensed? Who, on the other hand, can refrain from pitying the family where the day is a round of duties begun and ended without one prayer to God, — no place where all may come together in supplication, and feel as one, — no way for the parent to express his thoughts of love for the souls of his offspring? I know the sweetness of kneeling at eventide beneath the paternal roof, and hearing my father say, “Lord, we bless Thee that our son has again returned to us in health and strength; and, after an absence from each other, we praise Thee that we now meet an unbroken circle. Oh, our God, we beg most earnestly of Thee that we may all meet: around the throne in Heaven, not one being left behind!” The father’s words are all but choked in their utterance whilst he weeps tears of joy to think that his first-born is walking in the ways of God, and the Mother sobs aloud, and her tears are falling, big with gratitude, that once more she is kneeling beside her son, the delight of her eyes, whilst the whole tribe are around her secure from death and ill.
I pity the wretch without a chair or bed on which to rest his weary limbs; I pity the miserable creature who shivers in the wintry blast, and finds no fire to give the needed heat; but I pity far more the homeless creature, for he is truly homeless, — who has no altar, no family prayer. Half the happiness is absent where this is neglected. I despise unmeaning formality, but this is no form. Spoiler, lay not thy ruthless hand on this most sacred thing! Rather let the queen of night forget to rise with all her train of stars than that family devotion should even begin to be neglected. The glory of Britain is her religion, and one of religion’s choicest treasures is the Christian home.
Who is so foolishly alarmed as ever to suppose that an invading host will ravage our fair shores when the whole land is studded with castles, — not with turret towers, ‘tis true, but yet with places where the God of Jacob dwells, residing as a fire around, a glory in the midst? Go invader, go, the prayer of households will blow thee adown the white cliffs of Albion like chaff before the wind! The flag of old England is nailed to the mast, not by our sailors, but by our God; and He has fastened it there with something stronger than iron, — He has nailed it with the prayers of His people, the fathers, Mothers, sons, and daughters, with whom He delights to dwell.
From’ the tents of Jacob arise the fairfooted sons of Zion, who on the mountains stand declaring good tidings of great joy, and from these tabernacles there is gradually gathering a host, glittering and white, who continually praise God and the Lamb. (The foregoing paragraphs and the two following letters show that Mr. Spurgeon was preaching in his native county of Essex twice, if not thrice, or even oftener, during the year 1853. He had treasured, among his most precious papers of those early days, evidently with a view to inclusion in his Autobiography, this characteristic epistle from his venerable grandfather: — “Dear Charles, “I just write to say that we hope nothing will occur to prevent our exchange on Sabbath, the 14th of August. Will you come by Broxted? If so, your Uncle will bring you to Stambourne. I have hardly made up my mind whether I shall drive through, or leave my pony at my son Obadiah’s; but my intention is to be at Waterbeach on the Wednesday. As you ought to be on the way, and as so many want to see as well as hear you, don’t you stay on my account. I had too much respect manifested to me the last time I was with your good people, so no doubt they will gladly receive me again. I am, and have been for some days, very poorly. I hope, by the blessing of God, I shall soon be all right once more. I must — I ought to expect pains and aches now; yet how natural it is to wish to be free from them! But if this was always the case, it would be bad for us, for we should become cold, careless, glued to the world, — pride and self-righteousness would arise within us. But our Savior’s declaration has gone forth, and cannot be recalled, ‘In the world ye shall have tribulation;… in Me, ye shall have peace.’ “With kind love to you, in which all here, if they knew I was writing, would unite, “Believe me to be, “Your affectionate grandfather, “J.SPURGEON.” “Stambourne, “July 27/53.” “N.B. — Some People Do Not Date Their Letters; I Do, And Think It Quite Right.”) (Two months later, Mr. Spurgeon wrote, to one of his uncles at Stambourne, the letter printed on the next page. This communication is interesting, not only because of its faithful reference to the ordinance of believers’ baptism, but also from its revelation of the intense longing of the young preacher to be doing more for his Lord, either at home or abroad.
Verily, the Holy Spirit, whose coming he so ardently desired, was preparing him for the wide sphere of service which was so soon after to open up for him.) “9, Union Road, “Cambridge, “Sep. 27/53. “My Dear Uncle, “I have two or three reasons for writing to you just at this time. We are going to have a baptizing service on October 19, and I should be so glad to see my uncle following his Master in the water. I am almost afraid to mention the subject, lest people should charge me with giving it undue prominence; if they will do so, the? must. I can bear it for my Master’s sake. I know you love my Jesus; and the mention of His name makes the tear rush to your eye, and run down your cheek. Better than wife or child is our Beloved; you can sing, — “Yes, Thou art precious to my soul, My transport and my trust; Jewels to Thee are gaudy toys And gold is sordid dust.’ “You can lift your eye to Heaven, and, on your bended knee, before the presence of your Redeemer, exclaim, “Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee.’ “Now, my beloved brother in Jesus, can you refuse to perform this one easy act for Him? ‘No,’ you say,’ I do not refuse; I would do it at once if I were sure He had commanded it. I love Him too well to keep back any part of my obedience.’ Ah! but you ARE sure it is your duty, — or, permit me to hint that you may be sure, — for it is clearly revealed in the New Testament. Taking the lowest view of it, suppose it is your duty, only make a supposition of it, — now, can you go to bed happily with the bare supposition that you are refusing to practice an express command of your Redeemer?
Surely, a true lover of his Divine Master will never let even a supposed duty rest; he will want to be sure either that it is his duty, or that it is not; and knowing that, he will act accordingly. “I charge you, by the debt — the infinite debt, you owe to Christ, — I charge you, by the solemnity of all our Savior’s commands, — I charge you, by the shortness of time, and the near approach of the awful judgment, — not to trifle with convictions of the rightness of this ordinance, not to put off a serious, prayerful inquiry as to whether it is, or is not, enjoined upon all believers in Jesus, and then to carry out your conscientious conviction. If Christ commands me to hold up my little finger, and I do not obey Him, it looks like a coolness in my love to Him; and I feel assured that I should sustain loss by the neglect. “I will not press the matter as one in authority; I only beg of you, as a friend, and a dear friend, as well as a loving relative, not to forget or trifle with the commands of One dearer still to me. “Now with regard to coming for a week to preach at Stambourne and neighboring villages, I am yours to serve to the utmost; — not on the Sabbath, but all the week. I have a good sphere of labor here, but I want to do more, if possible. There is a great field, and the laborers must work with all their might. I often wish I were in China, India, or Africa, so that I might preach, preach, preach all day long. It would be sweet to die preaching. But I want more of the Holy Spirit; I do not feel enough — no, not half enough, — of His Divine energy. ‘Come Holy Spirit, come!’ Then men must be converted; then the wicked would repent, and the just grow in grace. “If I come, I shall not mind preaching two evenings in Stambourne if you cannot get other convenient places; and I should love to have some good, thoroughly-hot prayer-meetings after the services. I wish it were possible to preach at two places in one evening, but I suppose time would hardly permit me to do that. Consult the friends, send me word, and I am your man. “As to the books, you had better bring them yourself when you come to be baptized. Mr. Elven, of Bury, is going to preach the sermon for me; and, as we have not many candidates this time, we shall all the more value your presence. “If you do not come, — I cross that out, because youMUST, — then send the books when you can. I left some tracts in Mr. Howell’s gig. I should be obliged if you will see after them if you go to Hedingham. I should like to go there, too, if I come. “You may show grandfather all I have written, if you like, for truth is truth, even if he cannot receive it; — still, I think you had much better not, for it is not at all likely he will ever change an opinion so long roofed in him, and it is never worth while for us to mention it if it will only irritate, and do no good. I wish to live in unity with every believer, whether Calvinist, Arminian (if not impossible), Churchman, Independent, or Wesleyan; and though I firmly believe some of them are tottering, I do not like them well enough to prop them up by my wrangling with them. “My best respects and regards to Aunt, — Uncles and Aunts, — cousins, — grandfather, — Mr. Unwin, Will Richardson, and all the good people in Stambourne, not excepting yourself. “I am, “Yours most truly, “C. H.SPURGEON.” (The “Will Richardson” here mentioned was a godly ploughman, at Stambourne, to whom C. H. Spurgeon, while living at his grandfather’s, was devotedly attached; and the friendship between them was continued in after years. The first volume of The New Park Street Pulpit contains the following reference to him: — “I recollect walking with a ploughman, one day, — a man who was deeply taught, although he was a ploughman; and, really, ploughmen would make a great deal better preachers than many College gentlemen, — and he said to me, ‘Depend upon it, my good brother, if you or I ever get one inch above the ground, we shall get just that inch too high.’” This was a favorite utterance of the good man, as appears from the brief sketch of him written by Pastor J. C. Houchin: — “When I came to Stambourne, one of the old men who had overlived their former Pastor, and whose grey hairs adorned the table-pew of the old chapel, was William Richardson, a farm-laborer, and a man of clear and strong mind. He was able to read, so as to make fair use of his Bible and hymn-book, and he had a heartfelt knowledge of the gospel. It is said that ‘ Master Charles’ was very fond of Will, and that Will used to like to talk with the boy, and that the two have been seen walking up and down the field’ together when Will was following the plough. “Will Richardson had a reputation for what they call ‘cramp’ sayings, many of which used to be retailed in the village twenty years ago. On one occasion, when a young minister, just settled in the neighborhood, had occupied the pulpit for the day, in exchange with the present Pastor, he was met at the foot of the pulpit stairs by Will, who, shaking his hand, said, ‘Ah, young man, you have got a good many stiles to get over before you get into Preaching Road!’ Will spoke the truth, as it turned out, but it was pretty straight hitting. “Visiting him, one day, and finding him full of faith, and giving glory to God, on my expressing a strong desire for fellowship with him in those experiences, he remarked that, when the sun shone, and the bees were at work, if there was honey in one skep, there was enough to fill another. Some friends had visited him, and had observed that, if they were blessed with his experiences, they should be beyond all doubt and fear; and he replied that God only gave these great things when His former gifts had been made good use of.
I quoted the parable of the talents, and he said, ‘That is it.’ “Will was wont to say, ‘Depend upon it, if we get one inch above the ground in our own estimation, we get just that inch too high.’ “On one occasion, I found him excessively weak, but quite sensible, and he said, ‘ Don’t we read of one of old tried in the fire?’ I quoted the passage, and he replied, ‘That is gold indeed.’ He then said that he had felt the two armies of the flesh and the spirit as lively in him now as when he was well and about in the world, and that he was disappointed and grieved to find it so, as it gave the enemy his chief advantage. So Satan had laid all his sins for years past before him, and insinuated that they must end in his destruction. ‘But,’ said Will, ‘ I was enabled to say to him, “God is a gracious and holy God, and what He has put into my heart, He will not take away any more; and He has put love into my heart; and if He were to send me to hell, I must love Him still.” And I told him not to say any more to me about my sins, but to “go to the Lord about them; for He knows whether I be pardoned, and made His child, or whether I be a hypocrite.”
He could not carry such a message. Then there seemed to come a strong voice, which said, “He shall die in the Lord.” And oh, the peace and the joy, I cannot describe to you nor nobody! Oh, that His dear name was known and loved by every person all over the whole world!’ “My last visit, in July, 187o, four days before his death, showed the ruling passion for ‘cramp’ sayings to be strong in death. He was quite sensible, and after conversation, I took up the Bible, and, opening it at the seventeenth of John, I commenced reading, when he shouted aloud, ‘Oh, that is my blood horse! ’ I said, ‘ What do you mean?’ and he replied, ‘ I can ride higher on that chapter than on any other.’ So I read it, and prayed with him for the last time.”) (The uncle, referred to in the following playful note, has kindly sent it for the Autobiography, with another and longer letter which appears in Chapter 30., so that, clearly, he was living .at the time it was written, although he had not answered his nephew’s previous communications: — ) “No. 60, Park Street, “Cambridge, “_____, 1853. “My Dear Aunt, “Can you kindly inform me whether Mr. James Spurgeon, Junr., of the parish of Stambourne, Essex, is yet alive? I have written two letters to the said gentleman, and, as he was a particular friend of mine, I begin to feel somewhat anxious seeing that I have had no reply. If you should find, among the papers he has left, any letter directed to me, I shall feel much obliged by your forwarding the same. “When I was last at his house, he was extremely kind to me, and I flattered myself that, if I should ever have occasion to ask a favor, I should not be refused; or, if denied, it would be in so kind a manner that it would not look like neglect. If he is alive, and not gone beyond the seas, please to give him my kind love the first time you meet him, and tell him I suppose he must have gout in his hands, so that he cannot write. Should it turn out that it is so, keep all wines and spirits from him, as they are bad things for gouty folk; and be so good as to foment his hands with warm water boiled with the heads of poppies. By this treatment, the swelling will subside; and, as soon as he is able, if you find him at all tractable, put a pen in his hand, and make him write his name, and post it to me, so that I may be sure he is alive. Ah, ‘tis a sad thing people will get gouty! “But perhaps he is gone. Well, poor fellow, he was not the worst that ever lived; I felt sorry to part from him the last time, and, as the Irishman said, I hoped he would, at any rate, have let me know that he was dead. I thought you were the most likely person to know him, as I have seen you at his house several times when I have been there. I trust you will just send me a line to let me know how the poor fellow is, if alive at all. “With best love to you and the little ones, “I am, “Yours truly, “CHARLES H.SPURGEON.”