FATHER’S FURLOUGH, AND HOW HE SHARED IT.
BY PASTOR THOMAS SPURGEON.
The text which for years has been our consolation is that which saith, “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” Happy enough is the man who is chosen of God; he may not ask a question as to when or where. Yet we could wish it were otherwise in our case, and that zeal and fervor were not restrained and hampered by being yoked to painful infirmities of the flesh. We could do more, and we think we may add, without self-confidence, we would do more, if we were not laid prostrate at the very moment when our work requires our presence. However, unto the Lord be the arrangement of our health or disease, our life or our death; but while we live, we will leave no stone unturned for the increase of His glorious Kingdom in the earth. Every interval of relief shall be laid out in His service. The time is short, it must therefore be spent all the more economically; the work is great, the Lord must be trusted the more simply.
During the Pastor’s illness, the pulpit at the Tabernacle has been five times occupied by Mr. Thomas Spurgeon, and once by Mr. Charles; and it has been a delight of no ordinary kind for both of the sick parents to hear on all hands the highly-favorable judgments of God’s people as to the present usefulness, and ultimate eminence, of their sorts. Godly parents should be encouraged by our experience to pray for and expect the salvation of their offspring.—C. H. S., in “Notes” in “The Sword and the Trowel” before leaving for the furlough described in this chapter.
Let me describe certain Baptists in this hotel. (I) A father and son;—the father, rather lame; the son, very attentive,, to the father; in fact, a model; father improving as to health, but nothing to boast of. These were, of course, the dear writer himself and “Son Tom.”—S. S.I (2) An old man-servant with a grey beard,—an odd customer, commonly called “Old George.” (3) Mrs. Godwin, daughter of Dr. Acworth, of Rawdon, and wife to the son of Dr. Godwin, of the same place. With her are two daughters, once pupils of Miss Dransfield, excellent ladies. (4) An old round-faced Dutchman, a Mennonite, with his daughter, another Mennonite;— haters of baby-baptism, and very glad to see Mynheer Spuurjeoon!—C. H. S., in letter written home during the furlough. MOTHER WORSE RETURN, was the sad, brief message that hurried me home from Australia in 1878. How joyful was the discovery, on arriving at Plymouth, that the crisis of her illness was past! But, alas! alas! dear father soon fell sick; and what with helping to nurse him at home, and attempting to take his place at the Tabernacle, it really looked as if it was on his account, rather than on mother’s, that Providence had led me back. This surmise was further strengthened when, much to my surprise, it was proposed that I should accompany the convalescent to Mentone.
It might be thought that I should have jumped at such a privilege; but, if the truth is told, I must admit that I was by no means keen on going.
Perhaps I was a little weary of travelling; may be, I wanted to get at some permanent employment; perchance, I was loth to leave my mother, still so sorely sick. I fancy, too, that I had pardonable fears that I could not provide for my father such companionship as he deserved and desired. I had yet to learn how easy it was to please him. As it happened, I had not been a week with him ere I could write, “What a good father he is, to be sure! I loved him much although away from him, and now my affection will increase by being with him.” So, indeed, it did. Three months at Mentone, under the varying experiences of earnest work and happy recreation, of growing health and sad relapse, of fair and stormy weather, gave me an insight into his character such as I could not have gained in any other way.
Many a time, since then, have the memories of that sojourn in the sunny South, with the dear man of God, been an inspiration to me.
I am not sure that, after the lapse of twenty years, I could have ventured to recite the story of that memorable visit, had not the letters that I wrote home been fortunately preserved, Dear mother has treasured them all these years, and they have greatly refreshed my memory. I only wish I had written more than these thirty missives; and that, in them, I had spoken more in detail of the sayings and doings of my beloved parent during those glad and golden days. Perhaps, the better way is to rejoice that I wrote so much. We were supposed to take it in turn to correspond with home.
Father called my part of the work my book, and gave me “full permission to write fifty thousand sheets.” How little either of us dreamed what a purpose these notes would eventually serve!
Of our journey to the land of sunshine, little need be said. The dear invalid began to improve directly we started. He seemed better at Folkestone, and better still at Paris. Even the long night-journey to Marseilles did not unduly tire him. Ere we left the gay capital, “we had knelt in prayer, asking for peace and pleasure on our way; and, at the very start, we had an answer in the shape of a pleasing interview with a converted Jew who was acting as Cook’s agent. He spoke very earnestly about the blessed Book, and his dear Savior Jesus Christ. On the journey, father amused us for some time with arithmetical puzzles, in which, of course, he had the best of it.” The night was bitterly cold,—our breath froze on the carriage windows,—yet the sick preacher took no harm. “Our prayers were answered most graciously; we had journeying mercies rich and rare.” I should have said that our party consisted of father and son, Mr. Joseph Passmore,—that kindest and most genial of travelling companions,—and “Old George,” or, as I find I used to style him, “Father Christmas.”
A brief halt at Marseilles was helpful, but the rest of the journey proved slow and wearisome. How shall I speak of the joy with which the Pastor hailed his chosen resting-place? What though the weather was so unfavorable, for a while, that he had constantly to say, “This is not Mentone,” the very sight of the hills, and the olives, and the sea, revived his spirit. He knew that, when the sun did shine on them, they would be surpassingly lovely. The closing days of January were “as fine as fine could be,” so, though the limbs were not yet strong, it was possible to get to Dr. Bennet’s garden, or to watch the fishermen draw in their seine, and even to saunter up one or other of the charming valleys. But progress was all too slow, and an alarming relapse, supervened. It was a black Thursday when I had to send word home, “Dear father’s right foot is wrong, and he is fearful that it will get worse.” On the first of March, the most that could be said was, “Where the path was pretty level, he managed well enough alone, but every now and then he had to lean upon my shoulder.” There was gladder tidings a week later, “All is full of mercy with us. Dear father still continues to improve though his knees are certainly not hurrying to fullness of strength.” However, he gradually rallied. Great was my grief that the closing week was stormy and dismal. I had so hoped that he could be in the healing sunshine “just to receive the finishing touches.” On the fourth of April, I had the joy of recording, “Father pronounces himself better than ever this morning.” That was the last bulletin. I was particularly struck with the welcome accorded by all to the great preacher. It was hardly the sort of welcome usual in such cases. There was no undue familiarity in it, but it was hearty, spontaneous, and, I might even say, affectionate. Everybody was delighted to see him. The foreigners, who called him “Meester Sparegen,” vied with Englishmen in assuring him of their joy at his return.
He had a genial smile and a cheery word for all. The Hotel de la Paix was still more peaceful when he became its guest. Old acquaintances, and ministers of the gospel, had a specially hearty reception from him. Even the clergyman, who claimed to be “a friend of more than twenty ‘years’ standing, because,” said he, “I have been cribbing from you all that time” was favored with quite a large slice of attention. Most to his mind, however, were the King’s three mighty men, George Muller, John Bost, and Hudson Taylor. In the company of these kindred spirits, he literally revelled. Was I not honored to be an onlooker?
Family worship was a delightful item of each day’s doings. It was, of course, usually conducted by C. H. S. but he sometimes asked others to take part. His unstudied comments, and his marvelous prayers, were an inspiration indeed. I did not wonder that requests were received for a share in this privilege. I find, in my journal, the fol1owing interesting entry for March 3:—“We had two fresh arrivals to morning prayers. Strangers to father, they had requested, through the waiter, admission to our worship, so a stately mother and a tall daughter from Belgrave Square were made right welcome.”
It was often directly after breakfast that the work had to be seen to for it must be known that C. H Spurgeon’s holidays were by no means altogether devoted to so-called pleasure-taking. He found his truest delight in active service. Sometimes, if the truth must be told, it appeared to all of us that he rested insufficiently. There were those ceaseless letters; how they worried me, for he would answer them himself, when I wanted him to be by the sea, or under the olives! How he loved the olive trees, chiefly because they told him of his Lord and of Gethsemane!
I confess that I begrudged him the time he spent in corresponding with all save dear mother and the Tabernacle Church. This is how I wrote at the time concerning this matter —“As to his other letters, I wish folk would not bother him with nonsensical epistles. I must admit that it does not seem any great labor to him to answer them; still, the time would be far better spent in the sunshine; but what can’t be cured must be endured.” I think I understand better, by this time, why he answered almost everyone. He knew so well the power of letter-writing. He knew also how glad the recipients would be, and what life-long friends he would secure. Quite recently, a venerable saint, in his eighty-ninth year, sent me, “just to look at,” a letter he had received from dear father at Mentone. It was in answer to a message of gratitude for a sermon in The Christian Herald, and ran like this — “My Dear Brother, “I thank you for your word of good cheer. It is a great joy to be the means of comfort to an aged believer. You will very likely get home before I shall, but tell them I am coming as fast as the gout will let me. The Lord will not leave you now that hoary hairs have come, but will now carry you in His bosom. Peace be unto you! “Yours heartily, “C. H.SPURGEON.”
Who can tell the joy that brief, bright, brotherly note brought the octogenarian, who, after all, was not the first to “get home”?
But there was other work to be done. The weekly sermon had to be revised, and the magazine edited. Here is a striking holiday item —“He is; very busy with the magazine, and fears he cannot write to you today.”
Moreover, there was generally some book on the stocks, and since he who would write books must read them,—a maxim which obtained even with so original a thinker as he was,—it is written in my diary “We have beguiled many of our hours by reading, and father has been culling flowers of thought to be arranged in fragrant nosegays by-and-by.’ The only mishap on our journey to Mentone was the temporary loss of a bag full of books; but a more serious loss than that seemed scarcely possible to the author and devourer of books. He was as a workman bereft of his tools.
He was in terrible distress, and refused to be comforted till the satchel was forthcoming. “Great was the Pastor’s joy on finding his peculiar treasure.”
With very special delight I recall the fact that I, too, was set to work, and that I had the President of the Pastors’ College as my private tutor. Let me give a few quotations which will sufficiently indicate the curriculum of the Mentone branch of that Institution—“I read Chapter I. of a French history from which father questioned me afterwards. I then stuck to Hodge till dinner-time, and by tomorrow I hope to get into real working order. It is very good of dear father to interest himself so in my welfare. I shall do my very best to prevent him ever regretting it.” “Father and son worked at history and Hodge. The driest matter bursts into a blaze when C. H. S. puts some of his fire to it.” “Father is now on a sofa, at an open window, inspecting a primer of political economy, prior to my study of it. I wonder if this College course extraordinary will admit me to the Conference; I greatly hope so.” “I have just completed an examination in history, and am, as usual, top of the class. A still more interesting way of studying French history was introduced yesterday. Father borrowed Carlyle’s French Revolution, and read it to us!” There follows a hint that Mr. Passmore seemed to appreciate this method of instruction (even) more than Hodge.
But, oh, it was glorious to hear C. H. Spurgeon read Carlyle!
Every day when the weather favored, and health permitted, we had an outing of some sort. It often consisted only of a drive up one of the valleys, and a stroll back; but we generally took our lunch, and “Old George” was sorely tried because there was no spot sufficiently level for his cloth, and no center-piece more elegant than an orange; but these were trifles which our sharpened appetites scorned. How the dear Pastor gloried in the freedom of these rambles! The spring flowers and the trap-door spiders, no less than the towering hills and dashing rills, filled his soul with prayer, and praise, and poetry. The prayer and praise constantly found expression, and once at least the poetry overflowed. “We lunched beneath the fir trees.
Meanwhile, the birds were singing to us. No wonder, then, that the poetic fire burst forth, and C. H. S. gave vent to his delight in extempore rhyme.
It should be perhaps explained that we had been reading Cowper together before the meal.”
Five times we went up the Gorbio valley, and declared that “fifty times would hardly tire us of the lovely place.” Longer, but scarcely more enjoyable expeditions were made to Bordighera,— “the place where the sun seems always; shining;”—to Nice, and Monaco, and Roquebrune, and Ventimiglia, and Dolce Acqua.
Cap Martin was a favorite spot. As soon as the weather cleared, the cheery voice rang out, “Son Tom, I propose a drive to Cap Martin.” I thereupon heartily seconded the resolution, and the friends (for others had joined us by this time,) carried it unanimously. After a breezy drive, “we clambered over the rocks, and watched the pale green coursers foam toward the shore, and dash themselves in spray about us. We were a jolly party, altogether, and who will say that dear father was not the jolliest of all?”
Sometimes, quite, an excursion party was organized, “personally conducted” by C. H.S. Thus we read, in the chronicles of our visit—“We had a splendid trip, the day before yesterday, to Ventimiglia,—a whole party of us, in two carriages. Father was guide, of course, and interested us greatly with his graphic descriptions of the amphitheatre and the cathedral.
You know how much more one can learn when he is at hand to point it out.”
I am tempted to quote largely from the report of a visit to the charming residence of Mr. Thomas Hanbury. As it was fully enjoyed by him whose time of rest I am endeavoring to picture, I cannot pass it by in silence. “March 23, ’79 — The morning was wet and cold; but suddenly, the wind changed, and the sun tried to struggle through the clouds. We were wondering if we might hope for a drive in the afternoon, when Mr. Hanbury’s carriage was announced to be in waiting to convey us; to the Palazzo Orengo. Mr. H. had noticed the change before we did, and was more confident of favorable weather; so he kindly sent for us with a promise to return us when we wished. The prospect of a charming ride, and a lovely stroll in an earthly paradise, (to say nothing of a recherche lunch,) was eagerly jumped at. “From the magnificent gateway on the high road, we walked by an easy decline toward the mansion. At every turn,—nay, at every step,—there was something to admire and marvel at. The walks are spread with tiny blue beach stones, so that, though the plants and shrubs were overflowing with crystal tokens of the recent rain, we went over the garden dryshod.
Mr. H. was our guide, and descanted concerning aloes, and agaves, and eucalypti, and the rare and curious plants which he had gathered from every quarter. I saw quite a number of my Australian friends,—she-oak, wattle, gum, etc.” I well remember that dear father was specially delighted with the wonderful show of anemones. Thousands of these bright flowers, of every hue, sprang from the fresh green grass,—a fallen rainbow, surely!
An aloe, too, pleased him greatly. Much to its owner’s; regret, it was beginning to flower. It was the finest in the garden, and Mr. H. knew only too well that its effort still further to beautify itself must end in death.
But Dr. Bennet’s garden was our chief resort,—“a veritable paradise on the side of a rocky steep.” How many times it was visited, I cannot tell. It was near at hand, and no special invitation was necessary. Father loved to look on the town from this view-point, and desired me to sketch the scene. F1 It was not the first time my pencil had been at his service; and great was my joy to transfer to my sketch-book the scenes which particularly interested him, such as some queer specimens of architecture in the old town, the tunnel-pierced cliff with the Italian guard-house on its brow, the ruined castle and running fountain at Roquebrune, or a specially gnarled and twisted olive tree. Never had aspiring artist a more indulgent patron.
After dinner, there was generally an adjournment to the smoking-room, where father chatted freely ‘with the other visitors at the hotel, who were by no means loth to exchange sentiments with the distinguished preacher.
And he could discourse on almost any theme. How pleased he was to meet an aged Mennonite Baptist there! An Alsatian baron, who had translated some of the sermons, and had come all the way from Cannes to see him, was received, one evening, with due ceremony, in his private sitting-room.
Will anyone be surprised to hear that, on one occasion, Mr. Spurgeon witnessed a conjuring performance? “Vie were entertained at a ‘brillante seance de magie, ’ given by ‘Le Professeur Prestidigitateur, B. Marchelli.’
The performance was very good for that of a strolling conjuror. Dear father seemed to enjoy it mightily, especially when the Professor produced a turtle-dove from ‘Old George’s’ pocket in first-rate style.” Almost every evening, we had some reading of a light description,—The Ingoldsby Legends being a favorite work. It was my privilege, also, to add to the paternal merriment by reading certain humorous sketches of my Australian experiences, sometimes amid a shower of newspapers and other missiles.
We enjoyed our Sundays thoroughly. The Presbyterian Church was not then built, so we worshipped in a room of Mrs. Dudgeon’s villa. Dr. Hanna and others preached, and our Pastor was often an interested listener. He always had unstinted praise for a sermon which exalted Jesus, and proclaimed His dying love. “That was a very sweet sermon,” he used to say when such a discourse had been delivered. How delighted he was to hear George Muller on “Patient waiting upon God.” Especially did he rejoice in the man behind the message. The preacher came to our communion service, and closed it with prayer. I remember that, after asking great things for my beloved parents, he prayed very earnestly for “the dear son in Australia.’ I had great pleasure in informing him that I was the son in Australia; and oh! how warmly did he grasp my hand,—the dear old man!
Little did we dream then that, nine years after, he would help to marry me in New Zealand.
Perhaps I may venture to add, concerning our Sundays, that it was my joyful privilege to conduct several services. On one occasion, the Pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle occupied a seat under the verandah. I told him, afterwards, how fortunate it was that did not happen to address “outsiders.” I cannot forget the loving encouragement he gave me. Not less did I prize the lenient criticisms and valuable hints as to style and delivery. I may be pardoned, too, for treasuring the memory of how, during this happy holiday, he conceived the idea of having me ever with him, and of instituting a Sunday afternoon service that I might conduct. But the Master willed it otherwise.
We had a whole day with George Muller in Dr. Bennet’s garden, and I am able to copy from nay letter of the following date this striking testimony as to the advantage of such fellowship “Dear father declares himself far better able to ‘trust and not be afraid’ through intercourse with Mr. Muller.” The stimulus to faith was greatly needed then. How well God times His aid! In the same epistle, after recording our sorrow at mother’s continued illness, these words occur — “Another source of anxiety is the lack of funds for the Colportage Association. This matter also we have believingly commended to the God of all grace, who will surely not let His servants want. Dear father has been in many straits before, and has always been delivered. In this trouble also the Lord will befriend him, — lot what is £700 to Him?”
For Pastor John Bost, director of the Asylums of La Force, C. H. Spurgeon consented to preside at a public meeting. Besides being deeply interested in his work among the epileptics, father was greatly taken with the mart himself. The Englishman and the Frenchman had something in common, for Pastor Bost was brimful of humor, and withal somewhat stout, He himself said, “Mr. Muller is a great man, John Bost is a big man.”
The meeting was a grand success. “Both speakers mingled plenty of fun with their addresses; and I, for one, was laughing and crying alternately all the time. ‘The dear epileptics were most effectively pleaded for.”
This sketch of C. H. Spurgeon at Mentone would hardly be complete if it did not tell how amused he was by the Carnival procession. I call to mind how interested he was in the various devices, and how heartily he laughed at the grotesque ones. He was specially pleased with a company mounted upon donkeys, and representing candlesticks. The men’s bodies were the candles, their heads the flames, and on their spears they held extinguishers.
I almost wonder that the group did not figure afterwards in Sermons in Candles.
As soon as a measure of health returned, the eager worker looked longingly towards home. His head nurse declared that he was not fit to go back, but the patient was impatient to be in harness again. Here is the official bulletin for March 17:—“He seems, to my mind, hardly strong enough to undertake the thousand duties of his gigantic work; but he will not hear of staying longer, and has already engaged a sleeping-car.’ Urgent representations from the Tabernacle, that he should remain away till thoroughly restored, came to hand; but an extra week was all that the combined efforts could secure. He was as a greyhound in the leash till he was back at his post.
And what a home-coming it was! Nightingale Lane then heard sweeter music than ever Philomel produced,—the music of loving welcome to dear ones mingled with fervent gratitude to God. And when the blessed ministry at the Tabernacle was resumed, there rose to Heaven a doxology, loud as the voice of many waters, from a church and congregation that loved their Pastor almost as well as he loved them.
What a welcome he must have had, thirteen years later, when from the same sunny land he went home to God!