LONG ILLNESS. “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” — This has long been the motto fixed before our eye upon the wall of our bedchamber, and in many way,; it has also been written on our heart. It is no mean thing to be chosen of God. God’s choice makes chosen men choice men .... We are chosen, not in the palace, but in the furnace. In the furnace, beauty!is marred, fashion is destroyed, strength is melted glory is consumed; yet here eternal love reveals its secrets, and declares its choice. So has it been in our case ....
Therefore, if to-day the furnace be heated seven times hotter, we will not dread it, for the glorious Son of God will walk with us amid the glowing coals. — C. H. S., in “The Cheque Book of the Bank of Faith.”\parTHE first Sabbath after his return from the sunny South, — February 8, 1891, — the Pastor preached at the Tabernacle from Isaiah 62:6,7, using both the Authorized and Revised Versions, as he had done when speaking upon that passage at Mentone. On that occasion, he said to his secretary, “You need not transcribe your report, for I expect to have this subject again when I get home.” He had been specially struck with the Revisers rendering of the text, Ye that are the Lord’s remembrancers, take ye m)rest, and give Him no rest, till He establish, and till tie male\,. Jerusalem a praise in the earth.” The sermon was intended to be the key-note of the year’s service for God; it was a powerful call to prayer and testimony, yet probably even the preacher himself did not then fully realize how appropriate was his message in preparing the people for that long season of almost ceaseless intercession while he was enduring the heaviest affliction of his life, and from which the was never really to recover.
Although there were ominous indications that his health was by no means all that could be desired, he did not spare himself, but labored with the utmost earnestness and zeal to extend his Master’s Kingdom. A brief “Note in The Sword and the Trowel of that period gives just a glimpse of the great spiritual prosperity which was being enjoyed only a little while heft)re the startling breakdown which proved to be “the beginning’ of the end “ “The month of March has been a memorable one for the church in the Tabernacle. Pastor C. H. S. continued to see persons who wished to join the church, and out of these he had eighty-four to propose for fel1owship. How much of joyous labor all these involved, is best known to the Pastor and the sympathizing reapers who shared his delightful toil. To God alone be glory.”
The last College Conference, at which Mr. Spurgeon was present, was held from Monday, April 20, to Friday, April 24. In the May number of The Sword and the Trowel, the Editor inserted the following “Note” concerning the Sabbath night after the meetings .... “To the President, the week of Conference was one of exhausting delight. Every day, everything went well .... Of course, there was a reaction for the one who was the center of all this; and, for the first lime in a ministry of forty years, we entered the pulpit on the Sunday evening, and were obliged to hurry out of it; for a low, nervous condition shut us up. Happily, Mr. Stott could take up the story there and then; and he did so.” It was very remarkable that, in his letter, written to Mr. Stott, four months previously, concerning his appointment as assistant-minister for the year 1891, Mr. Spurgeon said — ” It would be. a great relief to me if I knew that someone was on the spot to take the pulpit should I suddenly fail.” That expression almost implies a premonition of what took place on that Sabbath night, April 26, 1891.
This unprecedented experience was an indication of a very serious state of affairs; yet, the following Lord’s-day morning, May 3, the Pastor was in his pulpit again; and he delivered the discourse which he had prepared for the previous week, prefacing it with a reference to the “overpowering nervousness” which had then oppressed him, and pointing out the lessons which that strange occurrence was probably intended to teach to himself and his hearers. He preached again at night; on the following afternoon, he was at the Tabernacle, seeing enquirers and. candidates for churchfellowship; and in the evening, he presided at the prayer-meeting. In the course of the proceedings, he asked for earnest supplication on behalf of the special services in which he was to be occupied during the week. These comprised the annual sermon to Sunday-school teachers, at Bloomsbury Chapel, on the Tuesday evening; a sermon at the Tabernacle, on the Thursday night, in aid of the British and Foreign Sailors’ Society, preceded by a prayer-meeting in the lecture-hall; and two meetings at Hendon, on the Friday, in connection with the “Fraternal” of which Mr. Spurgeon was a member. In the June number of The Sword and the Trowel, the Editor gave a brief account of all these gatherings, and some others that followed Shortly afterwards; and his “Notes” indicate that the long illness had commenced, although he was not then aware of its serious nature or its probable duration. The concluding paragraphs were as follows — “Friends will note that all the above meetings were held in one week, which also included two Sabbath services and the great communion at the Tabernacle, beside all the regular home-work, correspondence, etc. In addition, the Lord’s-day morning sermon had to be revised, and published the following Thursday; and the sermons to Sunday-school teachers and sailors were received for revision, and duly attended to. Is it any wonder that the worker gets weary, and has to beg friends not to impose further burdens on one who is already terribly overladen? “On Friday evening, May 15, Mr. Spurgeon spoke at the Presbyterian missionary meeting at Exeter Hall. It was a time of peculiar bodily weakness;, and of special spiritual strength. God bless our Friends who so kindly received the message and the messenger! “On Sunday evening, May 17, Mr. Spurgeon could not preach; and on the Monday, the doctor found him laid aside with congestion of the lungs and other matters, which forbid his quitting his chamber for some little time to come. ‘ My times are in Thy hand.’ We would always be preaching howbeit, the Lord thinketh not so.”
The text quoted by the Pastor was the subject of his Sabbath morning sermon on May 17, which many have supposed t,, be his last discourse in the Tabernacle. It was not, however, for there was one more message which he was to be permitted to speak to the great congregation before that “long silence” which was only temporarily broken at Mentone on the following New Year’s Eve. On Lord’s-day morning, June 7, 1891, Mr. Spurgeon stood for the last time on that platform which, for thirty years, had been his pulpit throne, and from which he had proclaimed the gospel to at least twenty millions of hearers, while, by means of the printed page, he had been brought into communication with a far greater number of readers in all quarters of the globe. His text, on that ever-memorable morning, was 1 Samuel 30:21-25; and the sermon was published, as No. 2,208 in the regular weekly issue, under the title, “The Statute of David for the Sharing of the Spoil.” The whole discourse, was a noble conclusion to the Pastor’s ministry in the beautiful sanctuary which was ever to him what Zion was to the Jews; but the final sentences were so noteworthy that they are inserted here, in full, to correspond with “C. H. Spurgeon’s First Word, at the Tabernacle,” given in Vol. 3.
C. H .SPURGEON’ S LAST WORDS AT THE TABERNACLE If you wear the livery of Christ, you will find Him so meek and lowly of heart that you will find rest unto your souls. He is the most magnanimous of captains. There never was His like among the choicest of princes He is always to be found in the thickest part of the battle. When the wind blows cold He always takes the bleak side of the hill,The heaviest end of the cross lies ever on His shoulders, If He bids us carry a burden. He carries it also if there is anything that is gracious, generous, kind, and tender, yea lavish and superabundant in love, you always find it in Him His service is life, peace, joy. Oh, that you would enter on if at once God helps you to enlist under nea ner ofJESUS CHRIST!
On the following morning, Mr. Spurgeon went into the country, to be the guest of Mr. Gutteen, of Haverhill, in order that he might again visit Starebourne and its neighborhood, that his photographer friend might take the views which he wished to have reproduced for his little volume, Memories of Stambourne. The gout-mischief that was lurking in his system, with the deadly effects of the mysterious malady so strangely misnamed influenza, combined to produce such alarming symptoms that he had to hurry home on the Friday; and then, for three months, he. was completely laid aside.
One of the additional trials of the early part of his illness was; the fact that he was unable to preach or speak in connection with the opening of the Surrey Gardens Memorial tall, which had been erected partly with the view of providing Sunday suitable accommodation for the workers connected with the Carter school, but also as a permanent memorial of the Pastor’s ministry in the Surrey Gardens Music Hall. On October 20, 1890, Mr. Spurgeon and Mr. S. R Pearce had laid the foundation stones of the new building Mr. W. Higgs had erected it in his usual excellent and generous fashion; and in the meantime, the whole of the amount required to pay for it had been raised. The opening services were postponed from June 2, to June 23, in the hope that the Pastor might be sufficiently restored to take part in the in; but by that time, his illness had assumed so serious a form that the hope had to be abandoned, and the premises had to be set apart for the Lord’s service under the shadow of an impending calamity which threatened to add still greater solemnity to the memorial character of the work.
About that time, Dr. Kidd was called in to consult with Dr. Miller, of Upper Norwood, who had been in attendance upon Mr. Spurgeon since May 18, and Dr. Russell. Reynolds was also consulted. For a while, all that medical skill, patient watching, and careful nursing could do, appeared to be of no avail; and, with the use of all means that seemed wise and right, prayer was being offered, unceasingly, by believers all over the world. The Tabernacle Church, beginning with a whole day of intercession for the suffering Pastor, continued to meet, morning, noon, and night, to plead for his recovery. In hundreds and perhaps thousands of Nonconformist places of worship, sympathetic petitions were presented on his behalf; — the Chief Rabbi being a conspicuous representative of those who held very different views from Mr. Spurgeon’s, but who remembered him at the throne of grace in his season of suffering. Many of the clergy of the Established Church, with their congregations, were equally earnest in praying for him, the ecclesiastical dignitaries officiating at St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey joining with the Archbishops and many of the Bishops in interceding on his behalf.
The secular and religious press of our own and other lands devoted much space to accounts of his illness, and particulars of his work, — not always accurate, though, on the whole, exceedingly kind and appreciative.
Telegrams, letters, and resolutions of sympathy poured, into “Westwood” in a continuous stream, while those, who called or sent to enquire for the beloved sufferer were of all ranks, from the Prince of Wales and a great proportion of the nobility of the country to the poorest of the poor. A volume might be filled with the letters from notable individuals who wrote, during that trying time, (and the period of bereavement that followed it, either to the Pastor or to Mrs. Spurgeon; but space can only be spared here to just a small selection of the most representative communications. The one that probably had the most tender associations connected with it was written by Mr. Gladstone, who had recently lost his eldest son. He was staying with his friend, Mr. Colman, from whose house he sent the following touching epistle — “Corton, “Lowestoft, “July 16, 1891. “My Dear Madam, “In my own home, darkened at the present time, I have read with sad interest the daily account of Mr. Spurgeon’s illness; and I cannot help conveying to you the earnest assurance of my sympathy with you and with him, and of my cordial admiration, not only of his splendid powers, but still more of his devoted and unfailing character. May I humbly commend you and him, in all contingencies, to the infinite stores of the Divine love and mercy, and subscribe myself, — “My dear madam, “Faithfully yours, “W. E.GLADSTONE.” “Mrs. Spurgeon.”
In reply, Mrs. Spurgeon wrote as follows — “Westwood, “July 18, 1891. “Dear Mr. Gladstone, “Your words of sympathy have a special significance and tenderness coming from one who has just passed through the deep waters which seem now to threaten me. I thank you warmly for your expression of regard for my beloved husband, and with all my heart I pray that the consolations of God may abound towards you even as they do to me. Although we cannot yet consider the dear patient out of danger, the doctors have today issued a somewhat more hopeful bulletin. I feel it an honor to be allowed to say that I shall ever be — “Your grateful friend, “S.SPURGEON. (MRS. C. H.)” Mr. Gladstone’s letter arrived at “Westwood” just when Mr. Spurgeon was enjoying one of the brief intervals between the long periods of delirium which were so painful a feature of his illness. He was delighted to hear the great statesman’s epistle read, and said that he should like to add a few words to his dear wife’s grateful acknowledgment of it. Accordingly, with his own hand, he wrote this postscript, — the first words that he had penned for weeks — “P. S. — Yours is a word of love such as those only write who have been into the King’s country, and have seen much of His face.
My’ heart’s love to you. — C. H. Spugeon.”
The following letter from Earl Fortescue is a good specimen of the expressions of sympathy from many of the truly noble men and women of the land — “48, Grosvenor Gardens, S. W., “July 18, ‘91. “Dear Madam, “I had hoped to have called, some days ago, to testify my deep regret, on both public and private grounds, at Mr. Spurgeon’s serious illness, and to express my sincere sympathy with you in your long and terrible anxiety. But I found I unfortunately could not manage, to do so. “I therefore intrude upon you with this line instead, which requires no answer. I will just add that I am, from saddest experience, only too well able both to appreciate your anxiety, and to feel for you under the severe trial with which the Almighty, in His infinite love and inscrutable wisdom, has seen fit to visit you and your honored husband. May God, as He alone can, support and cheer you both, whether He, in answer to the prayers of thousands, shall vouchsafe to prolong that precious life, or whether He shall decide to call up His faithful servant to rest and glory! “Yours truly, “Mrs. Spurgeon. “FORTESCUE.
Quite a number of letters came from Bishops of the Church of England; two of the choicest of them were written by the Bishops of Worcester Dr. Perowne) and Exeter (Dr. Bickersteth). They were as follows — “Hartlebury Castle, “Kidderminster, “23 July, 1891. “Dear Mrs. Spurgeon, “May I ask you to convey, for me to Mr. Spurgeon, if he is able to bear it, the expression of my heartfelt sympathy in his illness, and my earnest prayers that, of God’s great mercy, he may be restored to health? I am very thankful to see, by today’s bulletin, that there is; some slight improvement. God grant that it may continue! “Permit me to offer to you also the assurance of my respectful sympathy in the long and anxious watch that you have had by your husband’s sick-bed. I do not know him personally; but he has written me some very kind letters, and all the world knows him by his work, and every Christian heart must feel for him, and for you, and his family, and pray for his recovery. “Believe me, “Yours very faithfully, “J. J. S.WORCESTER.” “The Palace, “Exeter, “28 July, 1891. “My Dear Madam, “May I venture to assure you that we have mingled our prayers with those of countless others on behalf of your beloved husband in this time of need in a wife and I have prayed for him together, and also with our children and servants. God will be with you; and, as the trial of your faith hats been so long, the consolation of His love will supply all your wants, and breathe the peace of God into your heart and home. “I have ventured to enclose two hymns one of which your husband has so kindly spoken of, and possibly he may like to have them with in reach. “Believe me, “Yours in true sympathy, “Mrs. Spurgeon.” “E. H.EXON.”
The hymn referred to was Bishop Bickersteth’s well-known one, “Peace! perfect peace!” on which Mr. Spurgeon had spoken when visiting a sick friend at Mentone. His address was published in The Sword and the Trowel for July, 1891, just at the most critical period of his own illness; and many readers were comforted by his comment on the lines — “Peace! perfect peace! death shadowing us and ours?
Jesus has vanquish’d death and all its powers.” Archbishop and Mrs. Benson called or sent many times to enquire for the suffering Pastor. The following letter belongs to the period of partial convalescence when Mr. Spurgeon had been able to drive as far as Addington; but it seems to fit in more appropriately after the Bishops’ epistles — “Addington Park, “Croydon, “1 October 1891. “My Dear Mr. Spurgeon. “I was surprised and delighted to see your handwriting, and to see it so firm and clear. I only lamented that, as you were actually here, it had not been my good fortune to see you. We do earnestly hope that when (and may it soon be!) you are able to leave your carriage, and come in, you will do so; or, in the middle of your ride, let us bring you our. a glass of wine or a cup of tea. “We know how much you must have suffered, and we have watched your retardations and advances with hearts full of regard and hope. It has been given to you, not only to labor for Christ, and to bring many souls within the knowledge and feeling of the Atonement; but — it seems to follow with so many of those who have come nearest to Him in that great way, to be drawn into closest sympathy with His sufferings, — to catch the reality of those mysterious words, kai< ajntanaplhrw~ ta< uJsterh>mata tw~n qli>yewv tou~ Cristou~ ejn th~| sarki> mou. No doubt there are also some verses in the Psalms which you can now, more than ever, make your own. “I do greatly rejoice it, according to your own kind thought, it has been possible that expressions of sympathy have been unlocked to you. But you may be quite sure that the sympathy was most genuine in all who have shown it. They had shown it to their Master, long before, in prayer that He would lay His hand on you in healing, and give you yet time for garnering fo Him. “We join in sincerest wishes and sympathies for Mrs. Spurgeon also. Pray let us see you on some other drive. “Yours most sincerely in the one Lord, “EDW.CANTUAR.” “P.S. I think it must have been your sick handwriting on a wrapper of The Greatest Fight before I went away. If so thank you more and more.”
The progress towards a measure of recovery may be briefly traced. On August 9, the following letter, the first written by the Pastor’s own hand after his long illness, was read to the congregation at the Tabernacle, and was received both as art answer to prayer, and an encouragement to continued intercession “Dear Brethren, “The Lord’s Name be praised for first giving and then hearing the loving prayers of His people! Through these prayers my life is prolonged. I feel greatly humbled, and very grateful, at being the object of so great a love and so wonderful an outburst of prayer. “I have not strength to say more. Let the Name of the Lord be glorified. “Yours most heartily, “C. H.SPURGEON.”
Even after the first signs of improvement were manifest, a long and wearisome time followed, hopeful advances alternating with disappointing relapses. At last, the dear patient was able to be carried downstairs, and to be wheeled round his garden, where the fresh air seemed to work wonders for him. On entering his study, for the first time, and catching sight of the final proofs of John Ploughman’s Almanack and Spurgeon’s Illustrated Almanack, and then asking for copies of the recently-issued sermons and magazine, he exclaimed, “‘Why! you have carried on everything just as if I had been here.” Those who were responsible for the work felt that, if possible, nothing must be allowed to suffer during his absence; and it was a great joy to them to find how highly their services were appreciated by the Pastor. It was also a providential arrangement by which the issue of the various works was, at first, temporarily undertaken during the dear author’s, illness, for then, when it became necessary to publish them, after his home-going, his helpers had only to continue the plans which had already been for some months in operation.
As the autumn advanced, and the patient’s weakness did not disappear, it became certain that he must go to Mentone for the winter if he could journey so far. The renewed offer of Dr. Pierson, to cross the Atlantic if he could be of any service to the Pastor, appeared to everyone as the providential arrangement; and, ultimately, it was settled that he should commence his service at the Tabernacle on Lord’s-day, October 25. In order to test the invalid’s power to travel, an experimental ‘visit was paid to Eastbourne from October 3 to 16. This proved most satisfactory, and it also further indicated the absolute necessity of a prolonged rest in the sunny South. Accordingly, on Monday, October 26, Pastor and Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, Pastor and Mrs. J. A. Spurgeon, and Mr. Harrald started on their thousand miles’ journey. They were accompanied as far as Calais by two of the Tabernacle deacons, Messrs. Allison and Higgs. It was stated in various newspapers at the time that Baron Rothschild had placed his saloon carriage at Mr. Spurgeon’s disposal. This was not the case, for Messrs.
Alabaster, Passmore, and Sons and Mr.. John M. Cook most generously defrayed the cost of the saloon carriage from Calais to Mentone, and so enabled the whole party to travel in ease and comfort, and to arrive at their destination on Thursday, October 29. After the return to England of Pastor and Mrs. S. A. Spurgeon, Miss E. H. Thorne, who had then been for a quarter of a century Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon’s devoted companion and friend, arrived. Her services had been invaluable throughout the whole of that long period, and especially during the trying experiences of the past summer; and her presence at Mentone was a great comfort and help, particularly in the last anxious days and nights of Mr. Spurgeon’s illness. Blessed with good health, and a bright, cheery spirit, she was able most lovingly and loyally to minister to the clear sufferer right to the end of his earthly life, and then remained to share the sorrow of the bereaved one until together they returned to “Westwood” to carry on the many forms of Christian service still associated with that hallowed home.