“Sow in the morn thy seed, At eve hold not thy hand, To doubt and fear give thou no heed, Broadcast it o’er the land; And duly shall appear, In verdure, beauty, strength, The tender blade, the stalk, the ear, And the full corn at length.” We do not measure great men by their specific opinions on this or that question, or by their adherence to this or that dogma. We rather estimate them by their volume of moral and spiritualizing power, by the essential qualities of their manhood, by the leavening influences for righteousness that emanate from their own lives. Does true greatness consist in the accident of birth? Verily, no. This is a matter over which we have no control, and which brings with it only power and responsibility. Greatness is not hereditary. Hence we find the sons of some of our greatest men have only been “shadows of a mighty name.” “What can ennoble fools and cowards?
Not all the blood of all the Howard’s.
Honor and shame from no condition rise; Act well thy part, there all the honor lies.” It was such a greatness that was so strikingly manifested and beautifully set forth in the busy life-work of him who forms the subject of this brief sketch.
No man can occupy a prominent position for forty years, with the full blaze of public scrutiny directed on him and his work, and yet stand the test, and approve himself “a workman that needeth not to be ashamed;” a man of mighty power and religious influence over his fellows, without being in its highest sense, and Divinest meaning, endowed with the elements of true greatness. Such a man has passed from our midst in the person of the beloved and revered Charles Haddon Spurgeon, and no matter what our individual opinions may be, we all instinctively recognize that a great man has departed this life — a prince has fallen in Israel.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon was born in the old-fashioned village of Kelvedon, in Essex, on the 19th of June, 1834, and it is somewhat remarkable that throughout his whole life he always displayed a strong partiality for the county of his birth. To mingle with those he knew in his boyhood, and now and again to re-visit the scenes of his early days, was indeed to him a pleasure and delight. The Spurgeons come of an old Puritan stock, and they were a race of sturdy nonconformists. It is said that the founders of the family in Norfolk and Essex came from the Low Countries to escape the persecution of the bloodthirsty Duke of Alva, in the sixteenth century. There was certainly no lack of moral stamina, or of unflinching courage for “conscience’ sake” in these lowly refugees from the Netherlands, who came to settle in our eastern counties. Thus we hear of one sturdy ancestor, Job Spurgeon, who, in the reign of Charles II., lay in Chelmsford goal for fifteen weeks, rather than be a traitor to his convictions. It is somewhat remarkable that this family were all Paedo-Baptists, until the subject of our sketch, and his brother James, declared for believers’ baptism by immersion.
Stambourne had a singular attraction for Mr. Spurgeon and this is certainly no cause for wonder, when we remember it was there, under the training and tuition of that godly Puritan grandfather, that the formation of his character was laid, and the seed sown, which was in after years to bring forth such an abundant harvest. His parents were blessed with seventeen olive branches to adorn their home; and with but scant means for their support, it was doubtless a great relief to them for their first-born to make, in a large measure, his grandfather’s parsonage his home.
HOUSE AT KELVEDON WHERE MR. SPURGEON WAS BORN The grandfather of Mr. Spurgeon was a man of sparkling wit, in whom local tradition afterwards discerned the original of “John Ploughman.” We are not surprised at this conjecture when we read the following description of the deceased minister: — “The Rev. James Spurgeon. is still well remembered by many persons of our acquaintance as an elderly gentleman who dressed after the manner of the old-fashioned school, and who was of spare habit and rather short in stature. Retaining till the last a predilection for the old school of Calvinistic theologians, this veteran also at times could deal in that species of wit which is supposed to be characteristic of a Puritan ancestry.” He was a Puritan all over, as was instanced in the rare spiritual force of his preaching. He accepted the pastorate of the Independent Church at Stambourne in 1810, and for more than half a century ministered to these simple village folk in holy things. And here it was that Charles was taken to live with his grandfather, as soon as he was old enough to leave home. There he spent a very happy childhood. He would spend hours in his grandfather’s study in reading. He tells us how in those early days the thirst for knowledge made itself already felt. “It was in that dear old study,” he says, “that I first made acquaintance with ‘Foxe’s Martyrs,’ ‘Bunyan’s Pilgrim,’ and, further on, with the great masters of Scriptural theology, with whom no moderns are worthy to be named in the same day. Even the old editions of their works, with their margins and old-fashioned notes, are precious to me. It made my eyes water a short time ago to see a number of these old books in the new manse. I wonder whether some other boy will love them, and live to revive that grand old divinity, which will yet be to England her balm and benison?”
We get a glimpse of a happy combination of good will existing in this old Essex village between the Squire, the Parson, and the Dissenting Minister.
The Squire attended the church in the morning and the Independent chapel in the afternoon, and then the trio, which Charles often made a quartette, would adjourn to the kindly Squire’s and fraternize over “the cup which cheers but not inebriates.” One striking instance of the kindly feeling existing between the vicar and his parishioner, James Spurgeon, must be mentioned. Once having a fine joint of beef on the vicarage table, the worthy vicar cut it in halves and sent his man with it to the Independent parsonage while it was yet hot. Happy days! Happy people! Surely examples like these are worthy of imitation by our nineteenth century squires and parsons.
The tact and resolution displayed by Charles even in his youthful days are remarkable. Let the following instance suffice: — One of the members of his grandfathers church was in the habit of frequenting the public house, greatly to the grief of his pastor. Charles saw what trouble the man’s conduct caused, and startled the parsonage by exclaiming, “I’ll kill old Rhodes, that I will!” “Hush! hush! my dear,” said the grandfather; “you must not talk so; it’s very wrong you know; and you’ll get taken up by the police if you do anything wrong” “Oh, but I shall not do anything bad; but I’ll kill him though! that I will.” Soon afterwards the boy came home saying, “I’ve killed old Rhodes; he’ll never grieve my dear grandpa any more” Nothing more could be learned from the boy, but soon Rhodes himself appeared on the scene. “I am very sorry, indeed,” he said, “my dear pastor, to have caused you such grief and trouble. It was very wrong I know, but I always loved you, and wouldn’t have done it, if I’d only thought.” He had been sitting in the public house having his pipe and glass of beer, when the boy stepped in, and pointing with his finger said, “What doest thou here, Elijah! sitting with the ungodly, and a member of a Church, and breaking your pastor’s heart. I’m ashamed of you! I wouldn’t break my pastor’s heart, I’m sure.” The child walked away, but conscience was aroused, and the man was saved. He sought God’s forgiveness and vowed that he would never grieve his minister any more.
Nearly forty years ago the Rev. Richard Knill was a visitor to the Stambourne parsonage, and a strong attachment sprang up between the well-known missionary and the pastor’s grandson. Surely none can say it was mere guess work that led this man of God to express his belief that the boy would grow up to preach to crowds of immense magnitude. These two, like Eli and Samuel, had sweet intercourse. In the early morning they met to speak of a Savior’s love; the elder prayed for the younger, making the garden arbor their sanctuary. When they parted, sixpence was given to Charles on condition that he learnt Cowper’s hymn, “God moves in a mysterious way,” etc., and a further stipulation was made, that should he ever preach in Rowland Hill’s pulpit, that hymn was to be used. Knill’s prophecy was fulfilled. The boy became a preacher to thousands. He lived to occupy the Surrey pulpit, and, needless to add, Cowper’s hymn was sung. Here again we see the seed sown; “the bread cast upon the waters is found after many days.”
Not only at the Stambourne parsonage, but in the old homestead, was there seed sown that was to bring forth precious fruit in due season. John Spurgeon, the father of Charles, was for several years pastor of the Independent Church at Cranbrook, Kent. Both Mr. and Mrs. Spurgeon made great sacrifices to give a good education to their children, and both parents were equally solicitous respecting the spiritual welfare of their offspring. The parents of the popular preacher well maintained the prestige of their family. The mother, who died not very long since, was a devoted Christian woman. She would gather her children around her to pray for them individually, and was accustomed to be especially fervent in asking heaven’s blessing on behalf of her eldest boy. The Rev. John Spurgeon, who is still living, contributes the following touching testimony: — “I had been from home a great deal, trying to build up weak congregations, and felt that I was neglecting the religious training of my own children while I toiled for the good of others. I returned home with these feelings. I opened the door, and was surprised to find none of my children about the hall.
Going quietly up the stairs, I heard my wife’s voice. She was engaged in prayer with the children. I heard her pray for them one by one by name.
She came to Charles and especially prayed for him. I felt and said, Lord, I will go on with Thy work; the children will be cared for.”
Mrs. Spurgeon’s solicitude about her oldest boy was deep and earnest.
One day she said to him, “Ah, Charley! I have often prayed that you might be saved, but never that you should become a Baptist.” To that Charles replied,” God has answered your prayers, mother, with His usual bounty, and given you more than you asked.”
The moral and religious development in young Spurgeon was undoubtedly due to a very great extent to the careful and prayerful training of his devoted mother. Herself a daughter of eminently pious parents, she inherited traits of character, and possessed religious instincts which could not but have a great influence on the minds, character, and dispositions of her children. Few mothers have succeeded so well in their difficult task.
The spiritual prosperity of her children was dearer to her heart than their intellectual progress. Eternity alone will reveal to how large an extent the prayers offered by that pious mother in the little home sanctuary have been answered.