LOVE, COURTSHIP, AND MARRIGE (CONTINUED ).
AT this time, the Crystal Palace was a favorite resort with us. It possessed great attractions of its own, and perhaps the associations of the opening day gave it an added grace in our eyes. In common with many of our friends, we had season tickets; and we used them to good purpose, as my beloved found that an hour or two of rest and relaxation in those lovely gardens, and that pure air, braced him for the constant toil of preaching to crowded congregations, and relieved him somewhat from the ill effects of London’s smoky atmosphere. It was so easy for him to run down to Sydenham from London Bridge that, as often as once a week, if possible, we arranged to meet there for a quiet walk and talk. After the close of the Thursday evening service, there would be a whispered word to me in the aisle, “Three o’clock to-morrow,” which meant that, if I would be at the Palace by that hour, “somebody” would meet me at the Crystal Fountain. I was then living at 7, 2St. Ann’s Terrace, Brixton Road, in the house which my parents, Mr. and Mrs. R. B. Thompson, shared with my uncle, H. Kilvington, Esq., and the long walk from there to Sydenham was a pleasant task to me, with such a meeting in view, and such delightful companionship as a reward. We wandered amid the many Courts, which were then chiefly instructive and educational in character; we gazed with almost solemn awe at the reproductions of Egypt, Assyria, and Pompeii, and I think we learned many things beside the tenderness of our own hearts towards each other, as the bright blissful hours sped by.
The young minister had not much time to spare from his duties, but he usually came to see me on a Monday, bringing his sermon with him to revise for the press; and I learned to be quiet, and mind my own business, while this important work was going on. It was good discipline for the Pastor’s intended wife, who needed no inconsiderable amount of training to fit her in any measure for the post she was ordained to occupy. I remember, however, that there was one instance of preparation for future duty, which was by no means agreeable to my feelings, and which, I regret to say, I resented. As a chronicler must be truthful, I tell the story, and to show how, from the very beginning of his public life, my dear husband’s devotion to his sacred work dominated and even absorbed every other passion and purpose of his heart. He was a “called, and chosen, and faithful” servant of Christ in the very highest degree; and during all his life he put God’s service first, and all earthly things second. I have known him to be so abstracted, on a Sabbath morning at the Tabernacle, just before preaching, that if I left his vestry for a few moments, he would, on my return, rise and greet me with a handshake, and a grave “How are you?” as if I were a strange visitor; then, noting the amused look on my face, he would discover his mistake, and laughingly say, “Never mind, wifey dear, I was thinking about my hymns.” This happened not once only, but several times, and when the service was over, and we were driving home, he would make very merry over it.
But I must tell the promised story of the earlier days, though it is not at all to my own credit; yet, even as I write it, I smile at the remembrance of his enjoyment of the tale in later years. If I wanted to amuse him much, or chase some gloom from his dear face, I would remind him of the time when he took his sweetheart to a certain service, and there was so preoccupied with the discourse he was about to deliver, that he forgot all about her, and left her to take care of herself as best she could. As I recalled the incident, which really was to me a very serious one at the time, and might have had an untoward ending, he would laugh at the ludicrous side of it till the tears ran down his cheeks, and then he would lovingly kiss me, and say how glad he was that I had borne with his ill manners, and how much I must have loved him.
This is the story. He was to preach at the large hall of “The Horns,” Kennington, which was not very far from where we then resided. He asked me to accompany him, and dined with us at St. Ann’s Terrace, the service being in the afternoon. We went together, happily enough, in a cab; and I well remember trying to keep close by his side as we mingled with the mass of people thronging up the staircase. But, by the time we had reached the landing, he had forgotten my existence; the burden of the message he had to proclaim to that crowd of immortal souls was upon him, and he turned into the small side door where the officials were awaiting him, without for a moment realizing that I was left to struggle as best I could with the rough and eager throng around me. At first, I was utterly bewildered, and then, I am sorry to have to confess, I was angry. I at once returned home, and told my grief to my gentle mother, who tried to soothe my ruffled spirit, and bring me to a better frame of mind. She wisely reasoned that my chosen husband was no ordinary man, that his whole life was absolutely dedicated to God and His service, and that I must never, never hinder him by trying to put myself first in his heart. Presently, after much good and loving counsel, my heart grew soft, and I saw I had been very foolish and wilful; and then a cab drew up at the door, and dear Mr. Spurgeon carne running into the house, in great excitement, calling, “Where’s Susie? I have been searching for her everywhere, and cannot find her; has she come back by herself?” My dear mother went to him, took him aside, and told him all the truth; and I think, when he realized the state of things, she had to soothe him also, for he was so innocent at heart of having offended me in any way, that he must have felt I had done him an injustice in thus doubting him. At last, mother came to fetch me to him, and I went downstairs.
Quietly he let me tell him how indignant I had felt, and then he repeated mother’s little lesson, assuring me of his deep affection for me, but pointing out that, before all things, he was God’s servant, and I must be prepared to yield my claims to His.’
I never forgot the teaching of that day; I had learned my hard lesson by heart, for I do not recollect ever again seeking to assert my right to his time and attention when any service for God demanded them. It was ever the settled purpose of my married life that I should never hinder him in his work for the Lord, never try to keep him from fulfilling his engagements, never plead my own ill-health as a reason why he. should remain at home with me. I thank God, now, that He enabled me to carry out this determination, and rejoice that I have no cause to reproach myself with being a drag on the swift wheels of his consecrated life. I do not take any credit to myself for this; it was the Lord’s will concerning me, and He saw to it that I received the necessary training whereby, in after years, I could cheerfully surrender His chosen servant to the incessant demands of his ministry, his literary work, and the multiplied labors of his exceptionally busy life. And now I can bless God for what happened on that memorable afternoon when my beloved preached at “The Horns,” Kennington. What a delightfully cosy tea we three had together that evening, and how sweet was the calm in our hearts after the storm, and how much we both loved and honored mother for her wise counsels and her tender diplomacy!
Some little time afterwards, when Mr. Spurgeon had an engagement at Windsor, I was asked to accompany him, and in forwarding the invitation, he referred to the above incident thus: — ”My Own Darling, — What do you say to this? As you wish me to express my desire, I will say, ‘Go;’ but I should have left it to your own choice if I did not know that my wishes always please you. Possibly, I may be again inattentive to you if you do go; but this will be nice for us both, — that ‘Charles’ may have space for mending, and that ‘Susie’ may exhibit her growth in knowledge of his character, by patiently enduring his failings.” So the end of this little “rift in the lute” was no patched-up peace between us, but a deepening of our confidence in each other, and an increase of that fervent love which can look a misunderstanding in the face till it melts away and vanishes, as a morning cloud before The ardent glances of the sun.
Two tender little notes, written by my husband sixteen years later (1871), will show what an abundant reward of loving approval was bestowed on me for merely doing what it was my duty to do: — “My Own Dear One, — None know how grateful I am to God for you. In all I have, ever done for Him, you have a large share, for in making me so’ happy you have fitted me for service. not an ounce of power has ever been lost to the good cause through you. I have served the Lord far more, and never less, for your sweet companionship. The Lord God Almighty bless you now and for ever!” “I have been thinking over my strange history, and musing on eternal love’s great river-head from which such streams of mercy have flowed to me. I dwell devoutly on many points; — the building of the Tabernacle, — what a business it was, and how little it seems now! Do you remember a Miss Thompson who collected for the enlargement of New Park Street Chapel as much as £100? Bless her dear heart! Think of the love which gave me that dear lady for a wife, and made her such a wife; to me, the ideal wife, and, as I believe, without exaggeration or love-flourishing, the precise form in which God would make a woman for such a man as I am, if He designed her to be the greatest of all earthly blessings to him; and in some sense a spiritual blessing, too, for in that also am I richly profited by you, though you would not believe it. I will leave this ‘good matter’ ere the paper is covered; but not till I have sent you as many kisses as there are waves on the sea.”
It was our mutual desire to pay a visit to Colchester, that I might be introduced to Mr. Spurgeon’s parents as their future daughter-in-law; and, after some trouble and disappointment, my father’s consent was obtained, and we set off on our first imporT:ant journey together, with very keen and vivid perceptions of the delightful novelty of our experience. It is not to be wondered at that my memories of the visit are somewhat hazy, although intensely happy. I was welcomed, petted, and entertained most affectionately by all the family, and I remember being taken to see every place and object of interest in and around Colchester; but what I saw, I know not; the joy of being all the day long with my beloved, and this for three or four days together, was enough to fill my heart with gladness, and render me “oblivious of any other pleasure. I think we must have returned on the Friday of our week’s holiday, for, according to our custom, we exchanged letters on the Saturday as usual, and this is what we said to each other: — “75, Dover Road, “April, ‘55. “My Own Doubly-dear Susie, “How much we have enjoyed in each other’s society! It seems almost impossible that I could either have conferred or received so much happiness. I feel now, like you, very low in spirits; but a sweet promise in Ezekiel cheers me, ‘ I will give thee the opening of the mouth in the midst of them.’ (This was in reference to the preparation of sermons for the Sabbath. — S. S.) Surely my God has not forgotten me. Pray for me, my love; and may our united petitions win a blessing through the Saviour’s merit! Let us take heed of putting ourselves too prominently in our own hearts, but let us commit our way unto the Lord. ‘ What I have in my own hand, I usually lose,’ said Luther; ‘ but what I put into God’s hand, is still, and ever will be, in my possession.’ I need not send my love to you, for, though absent in body, my heart is with you still, and I am, your much-loved, and ardently-loving, C. H. S.” “P.S. — The devil has barked again in The Essex Standard. It contains another letter. Never mind; when Satan opens his mouth, he gives me an opportunity of ramming my sword down his throat.” (MY REPLY.) “St. Ann’s Terrace, “April, ‘55. “My Dearest, “I thank you with warm and hearty thanks for the note just received. It is useless for me to attempt to tell you how much happiness I have had during the past week. Words are but cold dishes on which to serve up thoughts and feelings which come warm and glowing from the heart. I should like to express my appreciation of all the tenderness and care you have shown towards me during this happy week; but I fear to pain you by thanks for what I know was a pleasure to you. I expect your thoughts have been busy to-day about ‘the crown jewels.’ (He had talked of preaching on this subject. — S. S.) The gems may differ in size, colour, richness, and beauty, but even the smallest are ‘precious stones’, are they not? “That Standard certainly does not bear ‘ Excelsior’ as its motto; nor can ‘ Good will to men’ be the device of its floating pennon, but it matters not; we know that all is under the control of One of whom Asaph said, ‘Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee; the remainder of wrath shalt Thou restrain.’ May His blessing rest in an especial manner on you to-night, my dearly-beloved; and on the approaching Sabbath, when you stand before the great congregation, may you be ‘ filled with all the fulness of God’!
Good-night. Fondly and faithfully yours, —SUSIE.”
The mention of The Essex Standard, in the foregoing letters, points to the fact that, even thus early in his ministerial career, the strife of tongues had commenced again,;t God’s servant, and the cruel arrows of the wicked had sorely wounded him. He had also begun to learn that some of his severest critics were the very men who ought to have been his heartiest friends and warmest sympathizers. The first reference to this persecution is in a letter to me, written January 1, 1855, where he says: — ”I find much stir has been made by ‘Job’s letter’, and hosts of unknown persons have risen up on my behalf. It seems very likely that King James (James Wells) will shake his own throne by lifting his hand against one of the Lord’s little ones.”
Then, in May, in one of the Saturday letters, there occur these sentences: — ”I am down in the valley, partly because of two desperate attacks in The Sheffield Independent, and The Empire, and partly because I cannot find a subject:. Yet faith fails not. I know and believe the promise, and am not afraid to rest upon it. All the scars I receive, are scars of honor; so, faint heart, on to the battle! My love, were you here, how you would comfort me; but since you are not, I shall do what is better still, go upstairs alone, and pour out my griefs into my Saviour’s ear. ‘ Jesus, Lover of my soul, I can to Thy bosom fly!’“ These were only the first few drops of the terrible storm of detraction, calumny, and malice, which afterward burst upon him with unexampled fury; but which, blessed, be God, he lived through, and lived down. I rio not say more concerning these slanders, as they will be described in detail in later chapters.
When my parents removed to a house in Falcon Square, City, we met much more frequently, and grew to know each other better, while our hearts were knit closer and closer m purest love. A little more “training” also took place, for one day my beloved brought with him an ancient, rusty-looking book, and, to my amazement, ,;aid, “Now, darling, I want you to go carefully through this volume, marking all those paragraphs and sentences that strike you as being particularly sweet, or quaint, or instructive; will you do this for me?” Of course, I at once complied; but he did not know with what a trembling sense of my own inability the promise was given, nor how disqualified I then was to appreciate the spiritual beauty of his favorite Puritan writers. It was the simplest kind of literary work which he asked me to do, but I was such an utter stranger to such service, that it seemed a most important and difficult task to discover in that “dry” old book the bright diamonds and red gold which he evidently reckoned were therein enshrined. Love, however, is a matchless teacher, and I was a willing pupil; and so, with help and suggestion from so dear a tutor, the work went on from day to day till, in due time, a small volume made its appearance, which he called, Smooth Stones taken from Ancient Brooks. This title was a pleasant and Puritanic play upon the author’s name, and I think the compilers were well pleased with the results of their happy work together. I believe the little book is out of print now, and copies are very rarely to be met with; but those who possess them may feel an added interest in their perusal, now that they know the sweet love-story which hides between their pages.
As the days went by, my beloved’s preaching engagements multiplied exceedingly, yet he found time to make me very happy by his loving visits and letters; and, on Sunday mornings, I was nearly always allowed by my parents to enjoy his ministry. Yet this pleasure was mingled with much of pain; for, during the early part of the year 1855, he was preaching in Exeter Hall to vast crowds of people, and the strain on his physical power was terrible. Sometimes his voice would almost break and fail as he pleaded with sinners to come to Christ, or magnified the Lord in His sovereignty and righteousness. A glass of Chili vinegar always stood on a shelf under the desk before him, and I knew what to expect when he had recourse to that remedy. Oh, how my heart ached for him! What self-control I had to exercise to appear calm and collected, and keep quietly in my seat up in that little side gallery! How I longed to have the right to go and comfort and cheer him when the service was over! But I had to walk away, as other people did, — I, who belonged to him, and was closer to his heart than anyone there! It was severe discipline for a young and loving spirit. I remember, with strange vividness at this long distance of time, the Sunday evening when he preached from the text, “His Name shall endure for ever.”
It was a subject in which he revelled, it was his chief delight to exalt his glorious Saviour, and he seemed in that discourse to be pouring out his very soul and life in homage and adoration before his gracious King. But I really thought he would have died there, in face of all those people! At the end of the sermon, he made a mighty effort to recover his voice; but utterance well-nigh tailed, and only in broken accents could the pathetic peroration be heard, — ”Let my name perish, but let Christ’s Name last for ever! Jesus! Jesus! JESUS! Crown Him Lord of all! You will not hear me say anything else. These are my last words in Exeter Hall for this time.
Jesus! Jesus! JESUS! Crown Him Lord of all!” and then he fell back almost fainting in the chair behind him.
In after days, when the Lord had fully perfected for him that silver-toned voice which ravished men’s ears, while it melted their hearts, there was seldom any recurrence of the painful scene I have attempted to describe.
On the contrary, he spoke with the utmost ease, in the largest buildings, to assembled thousands, and, as a master musician playing on a priceless instrument, he could at will either charm his audience with notes of dulcet sweetness, or ring forth the clarion tones of warning and alarm.
He used to say, playfully, that his throat had been macadamized; but, as a matter of fact, I believe that the constant and natural use: of his voice, in the delivery of so many sermons and addresses, was the secret of his entire freedom from the serious malady generally known as “clergyman’s sore throat.” During this first visit to Exeter Hall, New Park Street Chapel was enlarged, and when this improvement was completed, he returned to his own pulpit, the services at the hall ceased, and for a short time, at least, my fears for him were silenced.
But his work went on increasing almost daily, and his popularity grew with rapid strides. Many notable services in the open-air were held about this time, and my letters; give a glimpse of two of these occasions. On June 2, 1855, he writes: — ”Last evening, about 500 persons came to the field, and afterwards adjourned to the chapel kindly lent by Mr. Eldridge. My Master gave me power and liberty. I am persuaded souls were saved; and, as for myself, I preached like the chief of sinners, to those who, like me, were chief sinners, too. Many were the tears, and not a few the smiles.”
Then, on the 23rd of the same month, I had a jubilant letter, which commenced thus: — “Yesterday, I climbed to the summit of a minister’s glory. My congregation was enormous, I think 10,000 (this was in a field at Hackney); but certainly twice as many as at Exeter Hall. The Lord was with me, and the profoundest silence was observed; but, oh, the close, — never did mortal man receive a more enthusiastic ovation! I wonder I am alive! After the service, five or six gentlemen endeavored to clear a passage, but I was borne along, amid cheers, and prayers, and shouts, for about a quarter of an hour, — it really seemed more like a week! I was hurried round and round the field without hope of escape until, suddenly seeing a nice open carriage, with two occupants, standing near, I sprang in, and begged them to drive away. This they most kindly did, and I stood up, waving my hat, and crying, ‘ The blessing of God be with you!’ while, from thousands of heads the hats were lifted, and cheer after cheer was given.
Surely, amid these plaudits I can hear the low rumblings of an advancing storm of reproaches; but even this I can bear for the Master’s sake.”
This was a true prophecy, for the time did come when the hatred of men to the truths; he preached rose to such a height, that no scorn seemed too bitter, no sneer too contemptuous, to fling at the preacher who boldly declared the gospel of the grace of God, as he had himself learned it at the cross of Christ; but, thank God, he lived to be honored above most men for his uprightness and fidelity, and never, to the last moment of his life, did he change one jot or tittle of his belief, or vary an iota of his whole-hearted testimony to the divinity of the doctrines of free grace.