BUILDING “OUR HOLY AND BEAUTIFUL HOUSE.”
How can the poor have the gospel preached to them, if they cannot come and listen to it? And yet how many of our places of worship there are into which they cannot come, or into which, if they are admitted, they only come as inferior creatures l They may sit in the back seats, but they are not to be known and recognized as being like other people. Hence the absolute necessity of having places of worship large enough to accommodate the multitude; and hence, moreover, the obligation to go out into the highways and hedges. If the poor are to have the gospel preached to them, then we must take it where they can hear it. If I wanted to preach to English people, it would be of no use for me to go and stand on one of the peaks of the Himalayas, and begin preaching; they could not hear me there. And it is of little avail to build a gorgeous structure for a fashionable congregation, and then to think of preaching in it to the poor; they cannot come there any more than the Hoftentofs can make the journey from Africa, and listen to me here. I should not expect them to come to such a place, nor will they willingly enter it.
The gospel should be preached, then, where the poor will come.
We should have houses of prayer where there is accommodation for them, and where they are regarded and respected as much as any other rank and condition of men. It is with this view alone that I have labored earnestly to be the means of building a large place of worship, ‘because I feel that, although the bulk of my congregation in New Park Street Chapel consists of poor people, yet there are many in the humbler ranks of soc!iety who can by no possibility enter the doors, because we cannot find room for the multitudes that desire to come.
You ask me, perhaps, why I do not preach in the street. I reply. I would do so, and am constantly doing so in every place except London; but here I cannot do it, since the enormous crowds that would probably assemble would be likely to cause a breach of the peace. I trembled when I saw twelve thousand persons on the last occasion when I preached in the open air; therefore I have thought it best, for the present at least, to desist, until haply there shall be fewer to follow me. — C. H. S., in sermon preached at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens, January 25, 1857, from the text, “The poor have the gospel preached to them.” IN June, 1856, the Building Committee for the proposed new Tabernacle was appointed. Their first meeting was held on June 16, and they were able so far to put their recommendations into practical form that it was possible to hold the first public meeting in aid of the project in New Park Street Chapel, on Monday evening, September 29. In view of the ultimate expenditure of over £31,000, it is interesting to read the official account of that early gathering, and the estimate then formed as to the probable financial responsibility the church and congregation thought of incurring: — ”Resolutions were unanimously passed (1) that a Tabernacle, holding S,000 sittings, should be erected, and (2) that subscription lists should be opened. Upwards of £3,000 was promised, and the Committee are very sanguine in their expectation that: the sum of £12,000 (the amount required) will be speedily forthcoming. They earnestly solicit the hearty cooperation of the Christian public in this undertaking. Their chief object in this movement is the welfare of the masses, who hitherto have been neglectful of their souls. Steady, earnest assistance is required, that the building may be erected. It would be gratifying to the Committee if every church in the kingdom had a brick or a beam in the new Tabernacle.”
No one in the densely-crowded and enthusiastic audience, on that Monday evening, could have imagined that, just three weeks later, a sorrowstricken assembly would be gathered in the same place, without the beloved Pastor, who had been utterly prostrated by “the great catastrophe” at the Surrey Gardens Music Hall. Among the many comments and criticisms of that trying period, several newspapers, including The Times, The Daily News, and The Saturday Review, stated that the contemplated new Tabernacle was to hold 15,000 people; so, at the first service in the Music Hall, after the accident, Mr. Spurgeon corrected this exaggeration, and explained the need for a large permanent home for his church and congregation He said:— “There have been a great many rumors abroad respecting the new chapel, the building of which has been contemplated by a number of my friends. It has been asserted that we want to erect a Tabernacle capable of holding I5,000 people. With respect to that assertion, I will only say that some truthful (!) person has thought fit to put a ‘ x ‘ before the ‘ 5,’ for we have never entertained even a thought of building such a place. ‘It has, however, been judged that a place of worship capable of accommodating about 5,000 persons is necessary. For my own part, I have no wish for such a large sanctuary; only I cannot bear to see, Sabbath after Sabbath, as many people go away as are able to enter the chapel where we have been accustomed to assemble for worship. It is the will of people to come in great multitudes to listen to my proclamation of the truths of the gospel; I have not asked them to come, it is of their own free will that they meet with us; and if it is a sin for me to have so many hearers, it is at least an uncommon sin, which many others would like to commit if they could. It has; been said, ‘ Let those who wish to hear Mr. Spurgeon pay for their seats;’ but that method would defeat the object I have in View. I want to preach to those who cannot afford to pay for seats in a chapel, and it is my wish to admit as many of the general public as possible. Many of my friends, I know, are most anxious on the subject of a larger place of worship than we have at present, and would give double what they have done if they could afford it. It is much to the inconvenience of my congregation to attend here. We have a comfortable place of worship at New Park Street. There we are very happy together, and I have as many hearers and church-members as any man need desire:. It is only with a view of winning more souls to God that we have come to this larger building, and that we wish to erect our proposed Tabernacle. Should we be charged with seeking any other objects, the judgment-day will declare what our motives have truly been.”
The next large meeting in aid of the Building Fund was held on Monday evening, March 23, 1857, at New Park Street Chapel, which was again quite crowded. The chairman was W. Joynson, Esq., of St. Mary Cray, whose donations, during the evening, reached altogether f200. The amount paid in or promised at the meeting was over f500, making the total to that date about f4,500. Mr. Spurgeon, in his address, recounted the history of the enlargement;at New Park Street, and of the services at Exeter Hall and the Surrey Gardens Music Hall. Of the latter gatherings, and of the need of the new Tabernacle, he said: — “In the Music Hall, we have reason to believe that the Lord has gathered great numbers to His Heavenly Shiloh. Few have witnessed the teeming multitudes who have assembled there to join in the praises of God, but have done so with tears; and it has well-nigh overpowered me many a time.
Truly, the Lord hath done wonderful things for us, whereby we are laid under solemn obligation to Him. The Lord having given me favor in the eyes of the people, and blessed me with not a little success, the number of members has so increased as well-nigh to fill this place; indeed, we have 300 more friends, whose names are on the church-book, than are able to sit down in the area of the chapel to partake of the communion; and if the Lord should continue to bless my labors in the years to come, as He has done in those that are past, very soon there will not be room for an unconverted sinner to get into the chapel. What should I do then? ‘Oh!’ you say,’ there is the work of building up God’s people.’ I know there is, but I also know what it is to travail in soul for the unsaved, and I cannot bear the thought of not having sinners to speak to. Therefore it becomes me to look for a large place where they can be permanently gathered. The Music Hall has been made a trap for many a soul; but, then, it would not do always to worship there. Many of the converts want to join the church, and to come regularly under my ministry; but we have no room for them here; our chapel is altogether out of proportion to the crowds that gather with us at the Surrey Gardens. Where do they spend their Sabbath evenings? It is my duty to look after them. Long ago, I made up my mind that either a suitable place must be built, or I would resign my pastorate: you by no means consented to the latter alternative; yet I sternly resolved that one or the other must be done, — either the Tabernacle must be erected, or I would become an evangelist, and turn rural dean of all the commons in England, and vicar of all the hedge-rows. Some nobleman, speaking or writing of this matter, said, ‘ Who knows whether the place will ever be built?’ I wrote to him, and said, ‘ You need not ask that question, my lord; there’s a man alive who will earn the money.’ Yes, it shall be had. I have prayed to the Lord, and I shall keep on praying; and I know He will not refuse my request.”
A newspaper canard, in The Morning Star, June 10, 1857, might have checked the flow of contributions for the Tabernacle; but the Pastor promptly contradicted the story, and so neutralized its effects. A contemporary suggested that, instead of Mr. Spurgeon being “done” by the person referred to, it was the Editor of the Star who had himself been “done” by a penny-a-liner. The paragraph was as follows: — “MR.SPURGEON DONE BY APICKLE-SELLING TARTUFFE. — Most persons have observed in the newspapers, and on the walls of the metropolis, announcements of a reward for the apprehension of Mr.____ , an oil and pickle merchant in the Borough, who has not surrendered to his bankruptcy, but has left the country in company with, it is said, his governess. It may not be known that, in Mr.____ we have to add another to the unhappily long list of persons who have traded on religion for the purpose of deluding the world in general. Mr.____ , who was accustomed to wear a white neckclofh among his other personal adornments, was Treasurer of the funds in process of collection for the new chapel about to be erected for Mr. Spurgeon, — by whose teaching, it would seem, he has profited but little; — and has absconded, it is said, with over f2,000 of the popular young Baptist’s money.”
Mr. Spurgeon wrote the following letter, which the Editor at once published: — “Nightingale Lane, “Clapham, “June 10, 1857. “Sir, “I beg to call your immediate attention to several errors in an article in this morning’s Slat, headed ‘ Mr. Spurgeon done by a pickleselling Tartuffe.’ I cannot imagine the origin of so extraordinary a statement, for it might as well have been said that Adam robbed my orchard as that Mr.____ had appropriated our funds. I am happy to say that the moneys for the new Tabernacle are ‘preserved’ in the London and Westminster Bank, in two good names, and have never been placed in any jeopardy up to the present. It is very probable that Mr.____ was a hearer of mine; for, in a congregation of such magnitude, he may have been sometimes included; but he was not a member of my church, he did not hold a seat, nor did he regularly attend. He may have worn a white neckclofh, but he did not purchase it out of our funds, for he was in no way whatever connected with us beyond being an occasional attendant. If ever your informant has been under the sound of my ministry, I can only regret that I must put him down, with , as one who did not hear to profit. Men should be cautious in their repetition of unfounded tales, and especially so in cases where the sacred name of religion is concerned. “I am, “Yours faithfully, “C. H.SPURGEON.”
On September 7, 1857, a meeting was held at New Park Street Chapel, for the double purpose of giving thanks to God for the success that had attended the Pastor’s labors; in gathering funds for the new Tabernacle, and of encouraging the people to do their utmost for the same object. On this -occasion, Mr. Spurgeon said that the many thousands of hearers, who regularly worshipped at the Music Hall, proved that, as soon as a building could be erected to seat 5,000 persons, that number of friends might be safely calculated upon to fill it, and they would then have the best and strongest church in London. Sir Morton Peto had promised to get his agent to look out for a suitable site, and he had also guaranteed substantial help to the Building Fund, which continued to grow, though not as rapidly as the young Pastor desired.
The following resolution, preserved in the church-book, shows that, in July, 1858, the time appeared to have arrived for making a further advance in connection with the much-needed new Tabernacle: — “Meeting of the male members of the church, “Monday, July 26th, 1858. “Our Pastor convened this meeting in order to acquaint the church with the position of the great design for erecting a new Tabernacle, and also to obtain the opinion of the church as to immediate progress. “The church unanimously resolved, — That the Committee be desired to proceed with all prudent speed, and agree that our Pastor should leave us alternate months, if he saw it necessary to do so, in order to collect the needful funds. “The meeting afforded a. most pleasing proof of the unity and zeal of the brethren.”
This was the memorable gathering of “the men members of the church” (in accordancewith the provisions of the Trust Deed), to which Mr. Spurgeon often referred when relating the history of the building of the’. Tabernacle.
His account of it will be found, with other autobiographical paragraphs, at the close of the present chapter.
It was not long after this time that the public announcement was made concerning the purchase of the freehold site for the new sanctuary; and on December 13, 1858, New Park Street Chapel was once more crowded with an eager and expectant audience, which had assembled “to hear a statement of the progress made, and to devise steps for recruiting the funds necessary for building the proposed Tabernacle.” The venerable Deacon James Low, presided; and Deacon Thomas Cook, the Honorary Secretary, presented a report which contained the following information with regard to the financial and other progress made by the Building Committee:— “Their first efforts were directed to adopt measures for raising funds, and obtaining a site for the building, in both of which they have met with abundant success. Since the opening of the account, in September, 1856, to the present date, a period of 27 months, the sum of £9,418 19s. 7d. has been received, or an average of £348 17s. per month. The object, however, of paramount importance to the Committee was obtaining an eligible site for the building. This was, indeed, surrounded with innumerable difficulties, which seemed at times to be beyond the power of the Committee to overcome. At length, however, their labors were crow,led with complete success, and they were rewarded for their long and tedious negotiation by obtaining the promise of the Fishmongers’ Company to sell a portion of their land at Newington. F20 In announcing this, the Committee cannot refrain from expressing their high appreciation of the service rendered by W. Joynson, Esq., of St. Mary Cray, who, when it was stated that an Act of Parliament would, in all probability, be required to legalize the sale of the land, in the most generous manner offered to meet the expense which might be incurred in so doing, to the extent of f400. The Committee feel that the completion of this great and important work, which is now brought to so satisfactory a state, must rest entirely with the Christian public; and it only remains for those who desire to see the Kingdom of Christ extended in this our world of sin and iniquity, to co- operate with them, and the house shall be built; and long may the sure and certain message of salvation echo within its walls!”
After several other ministers had addressed the meeting, Mr. Spurgeon said: — “I do not feel in speaking order to-night, because I seem to have something in my heart so big that I am not able to get it out. I cannot, however, resist the temptation of saying a few words on a topic which you may think far remote from the object of the meeting. The times in which we live are most wonderful; and I wish that this church should be in the future what it has been in the past, — the advance-guard of the times. I cannot help observing that, during the last four or five years, a remarkable change has come over the Christian mind. The Church of England has been awakened.
How has this been accomplished, and what means have been used? I cannot help remembering that God honored us by letting us stand in the front of this great movement. From our example, the blessed fire has run along the ground, and kindled a blaze which shall not soon be extinguished.
When I first heard that clergymen were to preach in Exeter Hall, my soul leaped within me, and I was ready to exclaim, ‘Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace!’ When I heard that Westminster Abbey was opened on Sunday evenings for the preaching of the gospel, and then St.
Paul’s Cathedral, I was overwhelmed with gratitude, and prayed that only the truth as it is in Jesus might be preached in those places; and that the ministers might travail in birth for souls, that Christ might be formed in them the hope of glory. I never felt such union to the Church of England as I now do. The fact, is that, when a youth in the country, I was accustomed to associate with the name of clergyman, fox-hunting and such-like amusements; I abhorred them, for I thought they were all like that. Now I see them anxious to win souls to Christ, I cannot help loving them; and as long as they go on to feel the value of souls, I shall continue to pray for them. Now, seeing that the Lord has thus honored us to be leaders of others, we must continue to lead; we must not take one step backwards, but must still be the very van of the army. What if God should spread the late revival, and let the New Park Street Church still go on as the advanceguard of the host? “Now, as to the Tabernacle, I am quite certain that it will be built, and that I ‘shall preach in it; and I have no doubt that the money will be forthcoming, — that matter is no burden to me. Some of you have done a great deal, but you ought to have done a great deal more. There are others who, if measured by oughts, ought not to have done so much. We have not done badly, after all; for, after paying f5,000 for the site, we have a balance in hand of £3,600. I hope that you will all agree that the spot is a most eligible one; though some recommended Kensington, others Holloway, and others Clapham. Having secured the ground, the next thing we did was to advertise for plans, and the following is the circular issued to architects: — “‘ The Committee for building the new Tabernacle for the congregation of the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon give notice that they are prepared to receive designs or models from architects or others, for the erection of a building on land situate near “The Elephant and Castle,” Newington, for which they offer the following premiums: — £50 for the best design, f30 for the second, and £20 for the third. The following are the conditions: — The building to contain on basement floor (which is to be five feet below the level of footway) school-rooms, twelve feet high, for boys and girls, and lecture-hall to seat 800 persons. The chapel above to seat 3,000 persons, with standing-room for not less than 1,000, and with not more than two tiers of galleries. Each sitting to be not less than two feet six inches by one foot seven inches. Gothic designs will not be accepted by the Committee.
The plan of the Surrey Music Hall has proved to be acoustically good, and will be decidedly preferred. The total cost, including architect’s commission, warming, ventilation, lighting, boundary walls, fences, paths, fittings, and every expense, to be about £16,000. If the architect, to whom a premium may be awarded, shall be employed to superintend the execution of the work, he will not be entitled to receive such premium.
Each architect to state the commission he will require on outlay, — such commission to include all expenses for measuring, superintendence, etc.
The designs in respect of which premiums may be given are, thereupon, to become the property of the Committee. The designs to be addressed to the Building Committee, New Park Street Chapel, Southwark, and delivered, carriage free, on or before the 31st day of January, 1859. Each design to be inscribed with a motto, and an envelope, — with the same motto on the outside, — containing the name and address of the competitor, to be also sent to the Committee. The envelopes will not be opened until the premiums are awarded. The architects competing will be requested to act as judges, and to award the first and third premiums. The second premium to be awarded by the Committee. No architect will be allowed to select his own design.’ More than 250 architects have applied for this circular, all of whom appear desirous to build the place; so that I anticipate we shall have a very pretty Tabernacle picture-gallery by-and-by. There are many friends with us to-night who attend the Music Hall; they cannot get in here on a Sabbath evening, so they are obliged to be content with half a loaf. For their sake, I want to see the new chapel built, for I cannot bear the thought that so many should come here Sabbath after Sabbath, unable to get inside the doors. “Brow, as to money; we say that the building is to cost about f16,000; but depend upon it, it will be f20,000. Someone asks, perhaps, ‘ How are we to get it?’ Pray for it. When I thought of the large sum, I said to myself, ‘ It may as well be twenty thousand as ten; for we shall get one amount as readily as the other.’ Brethren, we must pray that God will be pleased to give us the money, and we shall surely have it. If we had possessed more faith, we should have had it before now; and when this Tabernacle is built, we shall find money enough to build a dozen. Look at what Mr. Muller, of Bristol, has done by faith and prayer. When this land was threatened with famine, people said, ‘What will you do now, Mr. Muller?’ ‘ Pray to God,’ was the good man’s answer. He did pray, and the result was, that he had an overwhelming increase. Do you ask, ‘ What is required of me to-night?’
Let me remind you that all you possess is not your own; it is your Master’s; you are only stewards, and must hereafter give an account of your stewardship.”
Evidently many who were present were touched by the Pastor’s words, for the sums collected and promised during the evening amounted to nearly £1,000.
It will be noticed that the date for sending in plans, models, and estimates, was January 31, — a day which was afterwards to become sadly memorable in the history of the church at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, for on that day, in 1892, its beloved Pastor heard the call, “Come up higher,” and went to join “the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in Heaven.” Careful readers will also note that, although “about £16,000” was the amount the architects were to allow for the total cost of the building and its fittings and surroundings, Mr. Spurgeon said, “Depend upon it, it will be £20,000;” and so it was, and more, too.
In February, 1859, the competing architects’ drawings (sixty-two sets and one model) were exhibited in the Newington Horse and Carriage Repository, and proved exceedingly attractive both to the New Park Street congregation and the general public. By a vote taken among themselves, about forty of the competitors assigned the first premium (£50) to the design submitted by Mr. E. Cookworthy Robins. The following letter from Mr. Spurgeon to Mr. Robins shows that the Pastor himself placed the prize design among the first three, but that the drawings submitted by Mr. W. W.
Pocock had been selected by himself and the Committee: — “Dear Sir, “I am requested by the Committee to forward the enclosed cheque for £50 as the first premium. In so doing, allow me to congratulate you upon the architectural taste which is so manifest in your drawings. In my own personal selection, your design was one of three which I considered to be pre-eminent among the many. We have inspected the designs with great care, and long deliberation; and, although we are compelled to prefer Mr. Pocock’s design as the best basis for our future building, we could not but regret that we were thus compelled to lose your services in the erection. You may not be aware that we have received from private friends of yours, and persons for whom you have erected buildings, the most flattering testimonials of your ability. Since these were unsolicited on your part, and probably unknown to you, we thought them worthy of the highest consideration, and should have felt great pleasure in entrusting our great undertaking to your hands. Wishing you every prosperity, “I am, “Yours heartily, “C. H.SPURGEON.”
The Committee awarded the second premium (f30) to Mr. W. W. Pocock, and the Tabernacle was erected after his design, though with considerable modifications, including the abandonment of the towers at the four corners of the building. When Mr. Spurgeon found that they would probably cost about f1,000 each, he thought that amount of money could be more profitably expended, and therefore had them omitted, and the style of the structure was altered to the form which has since become familiar to hundreds of thousands of earnest worshippers from all quarters of the globe. The motto on the envelope accompanying Mr. Pocock’s drawings was the word “Metropolitan” — a singularly appropriate one, for the building erected under his superintendence was to contain that word in its official designation, — The Metropolitan Tabernacle. F21 When the plans were finally settled, and the tenders were received and opened, it was found that the highest amounted to f26,370, and the lowest to f21,500, with a saving of f1,500 if Bath instead of Portland stone should be used. This was the tender of Mr. William Higgs; and at the net estimate of f20,000, the very figures the Pastor had stated some months before, the contract was signed. Mr. Spurgeon often said that it was one of his chief mercies that Mr. Higgs was the builder of the Tabernacle, and it was a special cause of joy to many that the contract was secured by one of the Pastor’s own spiritual children, who afterwards became an honored deacon of the church, and one of the dearest personal friends and most generous helpers his minister ever had.
All needful preparations for the great building having been made, the foundation stone was laid by Sir Samuel Morton Peto, Bart., M.P., on Tuesday afternoon, August 16, 1859. About 3,000 persons were present at the ceremony, which was commenced with the singing of the hundredth Psalm, and prayer by Mr. Spurgeon; after which Mr. B. W. Cart read the statement, which he had drawn up on behalf of the deacons, rehearsing the history of the church, as summarized in Chapter 28. of the Autobiography.
The closing paragraph, narrating the unparalleled advance made during the five years from 1854 to 1859 at New Park Street, Exeter Hall, and the Surrey Gardens, has been anticipated in the former part of the present volume; but a brief extract from it will show the tenor of the deacons’ testimony to their Pastor’s usefulness throughout the whole period of his ministry among them: — “The antecedents of many generations, and the cherished reminiscences of the older members, prepared for the Rev.CHARLES HADDON SPURGEON that enthusiastic welcome with which he was spontaneously hailed by this church. From the day he commenced his labors in our midst, it pleased the Lord our God to grant us a revival which has steadily progressed ever since. Among the earliest additions to our number, there were not a few disciples of Christ, who, after making a profession under faithful ministers long ago departed to their rest, had wandered about, and found no settled home. Many such were gathered into the fold of our fellowship. Here their souls have been restored, while they have found the presence of the good Shepherd, who maketh us to lie down in green pastures, and leadeth us beside the still waters. But the greater work was that of conversion. So did the Holy Ghost accompany the preaching of the gospel with Divine power, that almost every sermon proved the means of awakening and regeneration to some who were hitherto ‘ dead in trespasses and sins.’ Thus our church became asylum for the aged, as well as a nursery for the babes of our Saviour’s family .... “The prejudice against entering a Nonconformist sanctuary has, in many instances, been laid aside by those who have worshipped within the walls of an edifice that is justly accounted neutral ground, it being sacred or profane according to the temporary use it is made to serve. Every week has borne testimony to the saving influence of the gospel, as it has been proclaimed in the Music Hall to art assembly of 5,000 persons. Still, with so large a congregation, and so small a chapel, the inconvenience of a temporary meeting-place becomes more and more grievously felt. There is, and has been for the past two years, as fair an average of that large congregation, who are devout persons, and regular attendants, as in any sanctuary in London. Yet not one-third of them can find a place under the same ministry for more than one service during the week. The churchmembers far exceed the extent of accommodation in our own chapel to provide all of them with sittings. It is only by having two distinct services that we can admit our communicants to the table of the Lord. Tile necessity therefore for the undertaking that we assemble to inaugurate, must be perceived by all. Every attempt to trace the popular demand for Evangelical teaching to spasmodic excitement, has failed. The Pastor of New Park Street Church has never consciously departed from the simple rule of faith recorded in the New Testament. The doctrines he has set forth are identical with those which have been received by godly men of every section of the Church since the days of the apostles. The services of religion have been conducted without any peculiarity or innovation. No musical or aesthetic accompaniments have ever been used. The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but they are mighty. The history of our progress for five years is patent to the world. The example has been found capable of successfully stimulating other churches in their aggressive efforts to save perishing souls. With earnest individual and united prayer, each step has been taken; and to the exclusive honor and praise of our God, our stone of Ebenezer is this day laid.”
After the reading of the paper, Mr. Spurgeon said: — ”In the bottle which is to be placed under the stone, we have put no money, — for one good reason, that we have none tO spare. We have not put newspapers, because, albeit we admire and love the liberty of the press, yet that is not so immediately concerned in this edifice. The articles placed under the stone are simply these: — the Bible, the Word of God, we put that as the foundation of our church. Upon this rock doth Christ build the ministration of His truth. We know of nothing else as our standard. Together with this, we have put The Baptist Confession of Faith, which was signed in the olden times by Benjamin Keach, one of my eminent predecessors. We put also the declaration of the deacons, which you have just heard read, printed on parchment. There is also an edition of Dr. Rippon’s Hymn Book, published just before he died; and then, in the last place, there is a programme of this day’s proceedings. I do not suppose, that the New Zealander who, one day, is to sit on the broken arch of London Bridge, will make much out of it. If we had put gold and silver there, it is possible he might have taken it back to New Zealand with him; but I should not wonder, if ever England is destroyed, these relics will find their way into some museum in Australia or America, where people will spell over some of our old-fashioned names, and wonder whoever those good men could be who are inscribed here, as Samuel Gale, James Low, Thomas Olney, Thomas Cook, George Winsor, William P. Olney, George Moore, and C.
H. Spurgeon. And I think they will say, ‘ Oh! depend upon it, they were some good men, so they put them in stone there.’ These deacons are living stones, indeed; they have served this church well and long. honor to whom honor is due. I am glad to put their names with mine here; and I hope we shall live together for ever in eternity.”
Sir Morton Peto, having duly laid the stone, addressed the assembly as follows:— “My Christian friends, I congratulate my excellent friend, Mr. Spurgeon, the deacons, the church, and all assembled here, on this interesting event. It is one to which you have. looked forward for some time. It is the commencement of an edifice in which we trust that the era of usefulness inaugurated by your Pastor’s ministry will be continued, and largely increased. That admirable paper, which was read before the stone was laid, gave you a succinct but interesting account of the church up to the present time; we hope that those glories, which have been so remarkably shown in the earlier history of the church, may not only be continued in the salvation of a larger number than has ever yet been known, but that, in years to come, those glories may be even surpassed, and that all who live may have the happiness of feeling that the work, which has been begun to-day, was one which the Lord had eminently blessed. I could not but feel, during the reading of that paper, that the fact there stated, that the church at New Park Street is larger, at the present time, than can be accommodated in the building, that there is practically no room in the chapel for the world, is one which, to every Christian heart, must show that there remained nothing but for the church to arise and build. I know it may be said that the Music Hall, and other large places, might have given Mr. Spurgeon an opportunity of making known the unsearchable riches of Christ; but then there are other institutions in connection with an edifice of this kind, which are of equal importance with that to which I have referred. We have not only the assembly of the church within its walls, but we must have an opportunity of gathering the young for instruction; and when we look to the fact that this new Tabernacle will accommodate about two thousand Sunday-school children, and also place nearly five thousand people in the position of hearing the gospel of Christ, we not only feel that the world will be accommodated to hear, and the church amply provided for, but the young will be trained up in the way in which they should go. When my excellent friend, Mr. Spurgeon — as I have no doubt he will if spared (and I trust he will be spared), — opens this place, and declares the full, free, and finished gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ as the basis of his ministry in years to come, as it has been the basis of his ministry in the past, — I hope that it will be in a chapel free from debt. I know there is no testimony which his loving heart would so freely acknowledge, as that testimony to himself, or rather to his Lord through him, which would enable him to feel, when he first ascends the pulpit of this new chapel, ‘ I am here preaching the gospel to a people who are assembled in an edifice which has no claim whatever to discharge.’ Accept my sincere congratulations on this event, my hearty prayers that every wish of yours may be more than abundantly realized in all the future, that my dear friend, Mr. Spurgeon, and his deacons and friends, may not only live to see this house completed without accident, but that they and you, occupying it together, may have what, after all, is of the greatest importance, a rich baptism of the Holy Spirit, without whom all that we undertake is worthless.”
Mr. Spurgeon then said: — ”My dear friends, this is; not the first time that I have borrowed light from Sir Morton Peto. I have often cheered the darkness of a long railway journey by a most excellent lamp of his own manufacture, which he kindly presented to me, that I might see to read by it as I was travelling. I am very glad to see him blazing forth again to-day; in the light of his countenance many of us have been made glad. It is my earnest prayer that, while God is pleased to bless him with wealth, and rank, and influence, he may find it quite as easy to serve his God in the future as he has done in the past. We owe him much, as Dissenters, for his great zeal and wisdom in having brought through the House of Commons an Act whereby our chapels are well secured to us. I pray that God may give him grace, every day, that he may know his own title to the Kingdom of Heaven to be clearer and clearer as years come upon him. “Before I speak about the building we are going to erect here, I want just to mention that I had a sweet letter from that eminent servant of God, John Angell James, of Birmingham, in reply to one I had written asking him to come to this meeting. He said, ‘ I would have done so if I had been well enough, but I am unable to travel. My work is almost done, I cannot serve my Master much longer; but I can still do a little for Him. I preach perhaps once on the Sabbath, and I still continue to do what I can with my pen.
What a mercy,’ he adds, ‘to have been permitted to serve my Master so long!’ We frequently exchange notes, and in his last letter to me he said, ‘ My dear brother, be on your watch-tower, and gird your sword on your thigh. The devil hates you more than most men, for you have done so much damage to his kingdom; and, if he can, he will trip you up.’ I am sure what good Mr. James says is true, but I know that he, and you, and many more of the Lord’s people are praying that I may be upheld, and that we may successfully carry through this great undertaking. I never answer any slanders against myself, and very seldom answer any questions about what I mean to do. I am obliged to be a self-contained man, just going on my own way, and letting other people go in their own way. If I am wrong, ][ will be accountable to my own Master, but to no flesh living; and if I am right, the day will declare it. God knows how sincere are my intentions even when 1 may have acted unwisely. “I said, some time ago, when our brethren were half afraid, ‘ The Tabernacle is to be built, and it will be built, and God will fill it with His presence and glory.’ There is no doubt whatever about the money being obtained. I scarcely know that I have asked an individual to give anything, because I have such a solid conviction that the money must come. I suppose that, out of all that is now in our hands, I have myself collected more than half through my preaching; and I daresay that is how the larger part of the remainder will come, through the kindness of the provincial and metropolitan churches, who have almost all treated me with the noblest generosity. I give this day my hearty thanks to all who have helped me; and I do not know but what I may as well add, to all who have not helped me.
Many of them mean to do so, and therefore I will thank them beforehand.
There is one gentleman here to.-day who is to address you.’ I think (albeit that he can speak admirably,) the best part of his speech will be made with his hand, for he has three thousand pounds with him to give as a noble donation from an aged servant of Christ, long sick and confined to his house, but who loves Christ’s ministers, and desires to help Christ’s cause.
He would not like me to mention his name, and therefore I shall not do it. “And now, my dear friends, as to the place to be erected here. I have a word or two to say with regard to its style, with regard to Rs purposes, and with regard to our faith and our prospects. “It is to me a matter of congratulation that we shall succeed in building in this city a Grecian place of worship. My notions of architecture are not worth much, because I look at a building from a theological point of view, not from an architectural one. It seems to me that there are two sacred languages in the world. There was the Hebrew of old, and I doubt not that Solomon adopted Jewish architecture for the Temple, — a Hebrew form and fashion of putting stones together in harmony with the Hebrew faith.
There is but one other sacred language, — not Rome’s mongrel tongue — the Latin; glorious as that may be for a battle-cry, it is of no use for preaching the gospel. The other sacred language is the Greek, and that is dear to every Christian’s heart. Our fullest revelation of God’s will is in that tongue; and so are our noblest names for Jesus. The standard of our faith is Greek; and this place is to be Grecian. I care not that many an idol temple has been built after the same fashion. Greek is the sacred tongue, and Greek is the Baptist’s tongue; we may be beaten in our own version, sometimes; but in the Greek, never. Every Baptist place should be Grecian, — never Gothic. We owe nothing to the Goths as religionists. We have a great part of our Scriptures in the Grecian language, and this shall be a Grecian place of ‘worship; and God give us the power and life of that master of the Grecian tongue, the apostle Paul, that here like wonders may be done by the preaching of the Word as were wrought by his ministry! “As for our faith, as a church, you have heard about that already. We believe in the five great points commonly known as Calvinistic; but we do not regard those five points as being barbed shafts which we are to thrust between the ribs of our fellow-Christians. We look upon them as being five great lamps which help to irradiate the cross; or, rather, five bright emanations springing from the glorious covenant of our Triune God, and illustrating the great doctrine of Jesus crucified. Against all comers, especially against all lovers of Arminianism, we defend and maintain pure (gospel truth. At the same time, I cart make this public declaration, that I am no Antinomian. I belong not to the sect of those who are afraid to invite the sinner to Christ. I warn him, I invite him, I exhort him. Hence, then, I have contumely on either hand. Inconsistency is charged against me by some people, as if anything that God commanded could be inconsistent; I will glory in such inconsistency even to the end. I bind myself precisely to no form of doctrine. I love those five points as being the angles of the gospel, but then I love the centre between the angles better still. Moreover, we are Baptists, and we cannot swerve from this matter of discipline, nor can we make our church half-and-half in that matter. The witness of our church must be one and indivisible. We must have one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. And yet dear to our hearts is that great article of the Apostles’ Creed, ‘I believe in the communion of saints.’ I believe not in the communion of Episcopalians alone; I do not believe in the communion of Baptists only, I dare not sit with them exclusively. I think I should be almost strict-communionist enough not to sit with them at all, because I should say, ‘This is not the communion of saints, it is the communion of Baptists.’ Whosoever loves the Lord Jesus Christ in verity and truth hath a hearty welcome, and is not only permitted, but invited to communion with the Church of Christ. However, we can say, with all our hearts, that difference has never lost us one good friend yet. I see around me our Independent brethren; they certainly have been to AS;non to-day, for there has been ‘ much water’ here; and I see round about me dear strictcommunion brethren, and one of them is about to address you. He is not so strict a communionist but what he really in his own heart communes with all the people of God. I can number among my choicest friends many members of the Church of England, and some of every denomination; I glory in that fact. However sternly a man may hold the right of private judgment, he yet can give his right hand with as tight a grip to everyone who loves the Lord Jesus Christ. “Now with regard to our prospects. We are to build this place, and the prospect I anticipate is, that it will be paid for before it is opened. I think it is likely to be so; because, if we carry out our intention, as a Committee, we have a notion that, if our friends do not give us liberal contributions, we will put up the carcass and roof it in, and allow them to come in and stand.
Those who want seats can buy them. I am sure my people would soon get me a pulpit, and such is the zeal of our brethren that they would soon build me a baptistery. I leave it open for any generous friend here, who pleases to do so, to engage to provide some part of the Tabernacle, and to say, ‘ I will give that.’ Churchmen give painted windows for their places of worship; and if some of you agree to give different parts of the chapel, it may be so erected. You must understand that our large expenditure is caused partly by the fact that we have immense school-rooms underground, and also a lecture-hall, holding between 800 and persons, for church-meetings. This is necessary, because our church is of such an immense size, and our members come out to every service if possible:; there is no church-edifice in London so well used as ours is; they hack it to pieces. We must build this Tabernacle strongly, I am sure, for our friends are always with us. They love to be at the prayer-meetings.
There are no people who take out their quarter’s seat-money so fully. They say,’We will hear all that we can;’ and, depend upon it, they never give me a chance of seeing the seats empty. But our desire is, after we have fitted up our vestry, schools, and other rooms, that we shall be able to build other chapels. Sir Morton Peto is the man who builds one chapel with the hope that it will be the seedling for another; and we will pretty soon try our hands at it. Our people have taken to chapel-building, and they will go on with it. They built a chapel, that held ‘near a thousand hearers, in Horselie- down,’ for Benjamin Keach; then they built one in Carter Lane, for Dr. Gill; then one in Park Street, for Dr. Rippon; and now we have set about building one here. God sparing my life, if I have my people at my back, I will not rest until the dark county of Surrey is covered with places of worship. I look on this Tabernacle as only the beginning; within the last six months, we have started two churches, — one in Wandsworth and the other in Greenwich, and the Lord has prospered them, the pool of baptism has often been stirred with converts. And what we have done in two places, I am about to do in a third, and we will do it, not for the third or the fourth, but for the hundredth time, God being our Helper. I am sure I may make my strongest appeal to my brethren, because we do not mean to build this Tabernacle as our nest, and then to be idle. We must go from strength to strength, and be a missionary church, and never rest until, not only this neighborhood, but our country, of which it is said that some parts are as dark as India, shall have been enlightened with the gospel.”
Mr. Inskip, of Bristol, said: — ”I appear to-day as the representative of one, who is confined to a sick chamber, and has not seen the outside of the city for some years past; but that chamber is enlivened and enlightened by the bright illumination of the Eternal Spirit. That man’s large fortune has been dedicated to his Lord. He is eighty-three years of age, and he has given away upwards of eighty thousand pounds. And he has sent me here to say that he will give you three thousand pounds,’ and, what is more, if twenty gentlemen will come forward with one hundred pounds each upon the opening of this chapel, I am prepared to put down twenty hundreds to meet theirs. It is not for me to laud the man, and therefore I leave him in his solitude, with an earnest prayer, in which no doubt many of you will unite’., that the Lord will grant to him the bright shinings of His countenance in his last declining hours. As regards this building which is about to be erected, it is a matter of considerable delight to me to be able to forward in the least degree the views of my friend, Mr. Spurgeon. It has been my happiness to hear of many sinners, in the West of England, brought to a knowledge of Christ through his ministry. Let me now place on this stone, in accordance With the mission with which I am entrusted, not a painted window, but a printed piece of paper.”
Many other donations were laid upon the stone, before the assembly dispersed. About two thousand persons sat down to tea in the Repository, and at half-past six the chair was taken by the Lord Mayor, Alderman Wire, when other addresses were delivered, and large additional contributions given, the total proceeds of the day amounting to between f4,000 and f5,000. In due time, the full amount required to claim the extra f2,000 from Bristol was forthcoming, and the generous friend there gave the amount he had authorized Mr. Inskip to promise on his behalf.
At the close of the entry in the church-book, from which the above account is condensed, there is, in Mr. Spurgeon’s handwriting, under date September 5, 1859, the following paragraph:— “As a record of the laying of the first stone, the accompanying report is inserted. We were highly favored with the smile of our Heavenly Father, and desire to raise a joyful Ebenezer in remembrance of the happy event.
May God speed the work, and permit us to meet for His service within the walls of the spacious edifice thus joyously commenced!”
In January, 1860, the total receipts had grown to £16,868 6s. 2d., and on Monday evening, April 2, one more crowded meeting was held at New Park Street Chapel, under the presidency of the Pastor, “to hear a statement as to the progress of the Building Fund, and to adopt measures for obtaining additional contributions.”
Mr. Spurgeon mentioned that the number of members had nearly reached 1,500, and that there was a constant and regular stream of enquirers and candidates for church-fellowship; and he had no doubt that, soon after the new Tabernacle was opened, and all the organizations were in operation, they would have over 3,000 members in full communion with them. Mr. Cook reported that there had been received, up to that date, £18,904 15s. 2d., but it was estimated that a further sum of £12,000 would be required before the Tabernacle could be opened free of debt. Towards this amount, upwards of £500 was contributed that evening. (The remainder of this chapter consists of autobiographical paragraphs which Mr. Spurgeon had intended to use in narrating this portion of his life-story.)
It has always been a subject of satisfaction to me that Newington Butts was the site selected for the erection of the Tabernacle. It appears that, in the old days of persecution, some Baptists were burnt “at the Butts at Newington,” — probably on or near the very spot where thousands have been brought to the Lord, and have confessed their faith in the identical way which cost their predecessors their lives. If this is not actually an instance in which “the blood of the martyrs” has proved to be “the seed of the Church,” it is certainly a most interesting and pleasing coincidence. Our district seems to have furnished other martyrs, for in a record, dated 1546, we read: — ”Three men were condemned as Anabaptists, and brente in the highway beyond Southwark towards Newington.” Though that description is not very explicit, the region referred to could not have been very tar from the place where, these many years, there has been gathered a great congregation of those believe:cs whom some people still erroneously persist in calling “Anabaptists”, though we most strenuously hold to “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”
Our friends were at first not at all agreed as to the position which they thought would be most suitable for the new sanctuary. Some would have liked to go as far West as Kensington, others would have preferred the Northern district of Holloway while some would have gone nearer to Clapham; but, as soon as I found that it was possible for us to obtain the site formerly occupied by the Almshouses belonging to the Fishmongers’ Company, I set my heart upon securing that position. I could see that it was a great advantage to be so near the spot where many great public roads converged, and in a region from which we might reasonably expect to draw a large part of our future congregation.
When the male members of the church were summoned to attend a special meeting for the transaction of important business in connection with the site for the new Tabernacle, the sisters, who were unable to be present on the occasion, were greatly concerned; and when it, somehow, leaked out that the Pastor wished to buy the land in a certain position, and that some of the members of the Building Committee wanted to go elsewhere, every one of our brethren who had a wife, or daughter, or sister, or sweetheart, before he started for that memorable meeting received some such injunction as this: — ”Never you mind what anybody else says, you vote for what the Pastor proposes.” So it came to pass that, as soon as I described the advantages of the Newington Butts site, there was such an emphatic endorsement of my recommendation that it was quite useless for any other position to be mentioned, and the meeting decided accordingly.
I had said to the friends on the Committee who would have preferred some other site, “I have two plans for carrying out my proposal; the first is, to call the male members together, and to consult them about the matter.”
When the special church-meeting had been held, and its verdict was so very decisive, one of the objectors said to me, “You told us that you had two plans for carrying out your proposal; what was the second one? .... Oh!” I replied, “simply that I had made up my mind not to go elsewhere, as I felt sure that we had been Divinely guided to the right spot.” The brother was rather amused at my answer to his question, but he and all the rest soon came round to my way of thinking, and we all rejoiced together that the Lord had so graciously prepared the place on which we were to erect “our holy and beautiful house” to His praise and glory. It was, certainly, by the special providence of God that Mr. James Spicer and other friends were placed upon the Court of the Fishmongers’ Company just when their services were needed to enable us to secure the land; and it was also a matter for sincere congratulation that the Company was able to sell the freehold, for I would never have built the Tabernacle on leasehold or copyhold ground, as so many other places of worship have been erected.
Soon after the building operations commenced, I went to the site with Mr. Cook, the Secretary of our Committee, and there, in the midst of the bricks, and mortar, and stone, and scaffold poles, and so on, we two knelt down, and prayed for the Lord’s blessing on the whole enterprise, and also asked that no one of the many workmen employed might be killed or injured while they were helping to rear our new place of worship; and I was afterwards able to testify that our prayer-hearing God had graciously granted both of our requests.
I have one, among many reasons, for speaking with ‘bated breath as to anything which God has wrought by me, because, in my heart of hearts, I am made to feel that the true honor belongs to unknown helpers, who serve the Lord, and yet have none of the credit of having done so. I cannot help being pushed to the front; but I envy those who have done good by stealth, and have refused to have their names so much as whispered. I do not think I ever told in public, until the night of my pastoral silver-wedding celebration (May 19, 1879), one fact which will ever live in my men:tory.
The Tabernacle was to be built, and some £30,000 would be wanted. We did not know, when we started, that it would be so much; we thought about £12,000 or £15,000 would suffice, and we felt that we were rather bold to venture upon that. When we came to the undertaking of responsibilities, there was a natural shrinking on the part of the Committee with which we started. No one could be blamed; it was a great risk, and, personally, I did not wish anyone to undertake it. I was quite prepared for any risk; but then I had no money of my own, and so was a mere man of straw. There was, in some of our friends, a measure of fear and trembling, but I had none; I was as sure upon the matter as possible:, and reckoned upon paying all the cost. This quiet assurance, however, had a foundation which reflects credit upon one who has for some years gone to his reward.
When I was riding with a friend to preach in the country, a gentleman overtook us, and asked me if I would get out of the trap, and ride with him in his gig, as he wished to speak with me. I did so. He said, “You have got to build that big place.” I said, “Yes.” He said, “You will find that many friends will feel nervous over it. Now, as a business man, I am sure you will succeed; and, beside that, God is with the work, and it cannot fail. I want you never to feel anxious or downcast about it.” I told him that it was a great work, and that I hoped the Lord would enable me to carry it through. “What do you think,” he asked, “would be required, at the outside, to finish it off altogether?” I replied, “£20,000 must do it in addition to what we have.” “Then,” he said, “I will let you have the £20,000, on the condition that you shall only keep what you need of it to finish the building. Mark,” he added, “I do not expect to give more than f50; but you shall have bonds and leases to the full value of £20,000 to fall back upon.”
This was truly royal. I told no one, but the ease of mind this act gave me was of the utmost value. I had quite as much need of faith, for I resolved that none of my friend’s money should be touched: but I had no excuse for fear. God was very good to me; but, by this fact, I was disabled from all personal boasting. My friend gave his £50, and no more, and I felt deeply thankful to him for the help which he would have rendered had it been required. There were others who did like generous deeds anonymously, and among them was the giver of £5,000. If there be honors to be worn by anyone, let these dear brethren wear them.