After a short stay at Newmarket, in 1851, Spurgeon removed to Cambridge to take the office of usher in an important school, under the principalship of a Mr. Leeding. From the testimony of one who lived under the same roof we gather that at this time he was of a very playful disposition, ready for almost any fun and mischief, willing to perpetrate the most outrageous jokes. Though of somewhat indifferent health, yet with a ponderous voice, his merry shouts and hearty laugh were constantly heard to ring through the house. But beneath the seemingly rough exterior, there was a sterling, deep, thoughtful interior. His life was as a diamond of incalculable worth, in its rough and unfinished state; yet one which, when polished and refined, was to occupy a prince’s place in the hearts of the sons of Britain’s worthiest subjects; and also to win the admiration of the world’s greatest statesmen. It was in the early spring of this year that Mr.
Spurgeon was baptized by immersion in the Triune name, according to the sacred command. Singularly enough it was on the birthday of his beloved mother that this Christian ordinance was administered. Not in some quiet, sheltered nook, away from scrutiny and observation; not secretly for fear of man was this solemn rite administered. No. In the river dividing two counties, C. H. Spurgeon publicly confessed his “profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,” by being buried with Him in baptism. Two hours devoted to deep heart-searching, quiet prayer, holy meditation, was a fitting prelude to that which was to follow. For more than forty years a consistent, useful and blameless life testified to his sincerity and wholeheartedness in the Master’s cause, and for whose service he thus proclaimed his discipleship.
It was at Cambridge that his faith seemed to have first been evidenced by his works. The spiritual nature was evidently stirred within him; and having received the “Truth as it is in Jesus,” the natural desire was created to impart that “Truth” to others. The first time Spurgeon was called upon to testify as to his newly found faith was brought about in a very unexpected manner, at least to the then untried, unfledged, inexperienced youth. He was invited one Sunday evening by a gentleman to accompany him to a village preaching station some three miles from Cambridge. Whilst on their journey the question arose as to who was to officiate at the service; after much debate the lot fell upon Spurgeon. Thus it was in a small cottage (in the village of Teversham), with a pulpit in one corner of the room, the late renowned pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, then a lad of sixteen, spoke out of the fullness of his heart of the preciousness of Jesus. “Unto you therefore which believe He is precious,” was the text. There was no breaking down or destitution of ideas in this first sermon. “To our own delight,” says Spurgeon, referring to this memorable incident, “we did not stop short in the middle of the sermon, and at last the desired haven was in view. We made. a finish and took up the hymn book, but, to our astonishment, an aged voice cried out, ‘Bless your dear heart, how old are you?’ Our very solemn reply was, ‘You must wait tilt the service is over before making such inquiries. Let us now sing.” Having once entered upon this solemn duty, and finding acceptance with the people, the youthful preacher laid himself out for one service every evening, after attending to his duties in school during the day. The writer of this sketch, in speaking to a Baptist minister of Wisbech the other day respecting the great loss they had sustained, was agreeably surprised to hear him remark, “I know that little cottage at Teversham well; for it was there. in that little room, that I, like my revered predecessor, preached my first sermon.”
In a very short time the youth of sixteen summers was continually occupying the pulpits of the surrounding villages, and so highly were his services appreciated that his visits generally had to be repeated again and again; and there was a unanimity of opinion that he had “an old head upon young shoulders?’ His reputation spread amazingly, and in a short time he was engaged in week-night services in the pulpits of Cambridge, the first pulpit he occupied in that town being that of the father of the Baptist minister just referred to.
Another feature of his work came to the front at this period. Temperance principles were not so popular then as now, and temperance advocates could boast of few really godly lay helpers (much less clerical), so they were devoutly thankful for any raw recruits. It was rumored that Spurgeon had joined their ranks. The addition of this young orator to their number was an important accession, and almost immediately he was announced to address a meeting on temperance. He did so with the greatest eloquence, and from his manner one would have concluded he had been an upholder of total abstinence all his days. At the close of the meeting a gentleman said, “And, pray, how long have you been a temperance man, Mr. Spurgeon?”
The answer was given with the greatest sang froid and coolness imaginable, “About three weeks, sir.”
The villagers of the various rural districts around Cambridge were soon to lose the ministrations of Spurgeon. and be deprived of the privilege of listening to the “boy preacher” of the Fens. The Baptists of Water-beach gave him a call to be the pastor of their church, promising he should not be overburdened with an exorbitant stipend. Spurgeon, after much prayer and meditation, accepted the call, and went to minister to the people in an old square building, although many of its attendants looked upon it as sacred as the Ark of the Covenant. The position held by Spurgeon was indeed a marvelous one. Picture to your mind the scene in its varied aspects. Here is a youth of seventeen called to be the spiritual instructor to many old enough to be his grandfather. Verily, the hand of the Lord was in all this.
Some there were who boasted they were SOUND in the faith, the elect, according to the foreknowledge of God. Others there were, scrawed with a kind of Calvinism that was enough to make the ghost of Calvin appear among them and reprove them for their narrow-minded bigotry. Some writers have thought that these good souls must have had an important influence on the mind of the young minister; hence this would in some measure account for the very strong Calvinistic tone which pervaded his early sermons, although we should think even his narrowness would not be strong enough for these followers of good John Calvin. Now and again, by a nod of disapproval, or a mournful shake of the head, they would show their non-acceptance of the truth as the preacher presented a full and free gospel for a needy and empty sinner. Be that as it may, for some two years Spurgeon ministered successfully to this village church. Members were added to the church, and their preaching place could not contain the numbers that flocked to hear him. The enormous stipend of forty pounds per annum, with a number of old-fashioned country deacons, and members who demanded three sermons every week, each of which sermons would occupy an hour at the very least, and must have the full weight of sixteen ounces to the pound, were not very tempting elements in a man’s work to induce him to make a very long sojourn; and yet for a considerable period Spurgeon labored harmoniously and contentedly with this people.
It is quite a mistake to suppose that at this time the preacher, young as he was, was hidden in a corner or unknown to fame. The fact is, he was fast becoming one of the most popular preachers in the county. His services were in great requisition and constant request. Well does the writer remember Spurgeon preaching at Somersham at this period. It was at that time he wore the much talked of short jacket and turned-down collar.
During the services he was the guest of the eccentric miller of Houghton, the late W. Porto Brown. Mr. Brown was a good, kind, charitable man; but his eccentricities made him less popular than he would otherwise have been. Speaking of his stay at the old man’s house, Mr. Spurgeon quaintly remarks, “In our youth we preached at Houghton, and had the felicitous misery of being the good miller’s guest.” On Mr. Spurgeon making his appearance in the pulpit at Somersham, the old man was much surprised at his youthful appearance, and did not hesitate at the close of the service to tell him, “that his preaching was very well for an apprentice boy.”
Notwithstanding, this veteran descendant of a Quaker ancestry and the rapidly developing protege of the Stambourne Puritan formed a friendship that continued till the decease of the honest and outspoken miller.
The time was now drawing near that proved the youthful pastor of Waterbeach was destined to occupy a larger sphere, and to cover a large surface with his influence. The talents hidden in his mind were to extend their domain of exercise; the light which was irradiating a mere handful of people was to shine into the understandings of myriads, and the man who was an astonishment to these humble villagers was to excite the wonderment of the world’s greatest intelligences. Yes, sovereign and subjects, rich and poor, wise and unwise, statesmen and senators, peers and peeresses, poet and preacher, philanthropist and philosopher, were yet to sit at his feet and learn of him, listen to his unapproachable eloquence, and acknowledge his unmistakable power.
The two years at Waterbeach must have been an exceedingly happy time, for in the heyday of youth work was indeed to him a pleasure, whilst the results of that work was helpful and stimulating in after years. Often were these early days of his ministry referred to by him who has left us all too soon, as seasons of mighty power, and “times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.” By his ministry there a great reformation had been effected in the lives of the people. Not only had many joined the church, but the Sabbath was kept a holy day — drunkards became sober, the profligate abandoned his sinful life, backsliders were restored, and great power accompanied the ministry of the word. What was the true secret of the successes of this youthful pastor? He not only believed in but he preached as though he believed in the Bible as God’s book, containing God’s revealed will to man. He also was a firm believer in the work and office of the Holy Ghost, in the personal indwelling of that Holy Ghost.
True it was, he lived and preached with a deep personal sense that God lived in him, and through Him in him, and by Him his ministry (as a true soldier of Jesus Christ) was begun, continued, and finally finished, with the sure and certain hope of “the recompense of reward,” As a leading dignitary of the Church of England aptly puts it, “Charles Haddon Spurgeon made the people feel that the Bible was a book never to be suspected, not to be apologized for, but a book to be believed and trusted, and received as the very Word of God.” Here, then, is the secret of the successes of that long and laborious life made manisest. From his childlike faith and whole hearted belief in Israel’s God should spring forth a power that should be felt by his consecrated ministry and life. Here was born that love, begotten by Jesus Christ, that should carry with it an influence that should be felt in the hearts of multitudes long after he had ceased to labor and to work. Here shone forth a sympathy, lighted by the indwelling of the Spirit of “the Prince of Peace,” that shed its luster round about his pathway, “shining more and more unto the perfect day.” Surely from the new-made grave in the quiet God’s-acre at Norwood there comes a voice to every reader of this sketch, “Be not weary in well doing, for in due season ye shall reap if ye faint not.”