The year 1853 was an eventful one to Mr. Spurgeon. One Sabbath morning he had walked from Cambridge to Waterbeach to officiate at his beloved meeting-house. On this especial morning the pastor was all aglow with his brisk walk, and quite ready for his pulpit exercises. Sitting down in the “table pew,” a letter was placed in his hands bearing the London post-mark. Referring to this incident twenty-five years afterwards, Spurgeon remarks, “It was an unusual missive, and was opened with some curiosity. It contained an invitation to preach at New Park Street Chapel, Southwark, the pulpit of which had been formerly occupied by Dr. Rippon; the very Dr. Rippon whose hymn book was then before me, and out of which I was to choose my hymns for the service.” The shadow of the good Dr. Rippon seemed to hover over Park Street Chapel, and led the subject of our sketch to view it with a considerable amount of awe. He passed the epistle over to the deacon, remarking that “it must have been sent to him in mistake, and was no doubt intended for a namesake of his resident in Norfolk.” The deacon quietly replied he feared it was no mistake. The fact being, he had expected some of the large adjacent churches would rob them of their shepherd; never dreaming his fame as a preacher had already reached the ears of Metropolitan Baptists. But it was time to begin the service, so the letter was laid on one side to be answered the next day. The correspondence which ensued resulted in the “boy preacher” receiving an invitation to supply the New Park Street Chapel.
Spurgeon’s first impressions of the great city, like those of many others, were far from favorable. That was indeed a trying Saturday night for the youthful preacher. One of the deacons directed him to his apartments, where he met with other young clergymen. We are not surprised that they wondered at the audacity of this young countryman in coming to preach to the City folks. Evidently his dress was not the ideal of what a cleric’s should be. Like Eliab of old, so did these brethren in the ministry wonder at this young David’s pride and haughtiness of heart in presuming to foist himself upon their notice as a teacher of the London people. Verily, they were indeed Job comforters to this stripling stranger. Ah, they knew not of the sling and stone of prayer and faith hidden in the secret of that young heart. Little thought they that in that youth they saw one whose name, in the days to come, was to be a household one in that great city. His first night in London was an anxious and troubled one. In the morning he wended his way through the streets to Park Street Chapel dreading to meet the worthy dignitaries of that important edifice. The ordeal was indeed a trying one, but depending upon the arm of Jeshurun’s God, the “boy preacher.... came, saw, and conquered.” The morning service was only sparsely attended, but at night, his fame having spread, a true London audience had to be faced; the lions he so much dreaded had to be and were confronted; and henceforth Spurgeon cared as little about facing a company of Londoners as he did meeting a few simple folks in a country village. The tremor of the early morn had for ever vanished; the “fear of than which bringeth a snare,” had been removed; and when he returned that evening to his lonely lodgings, he did so a stronger and a braver man for the ordeal through which he had passed.
It is needless to say the outspoken utterance of the boy-preacher created a profound impression; and these first services were highly appreciated. The second Sabbath services were even more strikingly successful (for the fame of this youthful expositor had spread abroad), and when the four probationary Sundays were over, Spurgeon went back to Cambridge confident of the fact that he had moved his hearers; whether that should lead Park Street Church to move him remained to be seen. It was soon manifest that even the youth of nineteen sunliners was to become a successor to the renowned Dr. Rippon, and other celebrated preachers who had been his forerunners in that pastorate. The attendance at Park Street Chapel had so much improved, and so greatly had God honored the work of His youthful servant. that the prayer meetings were attended by larger numbers than had formerly been seem at the public preaching services.
Who shall say what a mighty influence on the great preacher’s life was exercised by the prayer meetings held in those early days in Park Street. On 28th April, 1854, Mr. Spurgeon accepted the pastorate of Park Street Chapel.
Within twelve months Park Street Chapel had to be enlarged. It was admitted on all hands that an original genius had appeared in the English pulpit, and such crowds flocked to hear him that not even standing room could be obtained. So dense were the crowds that the atmosphere of Park Street Chapel was compared by the preacher to “the Black Hole of Calcutta.” So crowded was the sanctuary on Sabbath nights that Spurgeon exclaimed, “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, and by faith this wall at the back shall come down too.” An aged and prudent deacon, at the close of the service, in somewhat denouncing terms said to him, “Let us never hear of that again, sir;” upon which the great preacher promptly replied, “You will hear no more about it when it is done, therefore the sooner you set about doing it the better;” and they did set about it early in 1855, the congregation meeting meanwhile in Exeter Hall.
No man, and that man a preacher of the Gospel, was more vilified and traduced than was Mr. Spurgeon at this time. Every man has to pay his price in some shape or form for popularity. Mr. Spurgeon was no exception. The treatment he received will ever be a standing disgrace to us as a people. We boast of our civilization in this nineteenth century, but the common hangman was treated with more respect than was rendered by a large portion of the nineteenth century Babylonians to the sacred office held by Mr. Spurgeon. Who at this time would have dared to prophesy that this was the man who, in a few years, should command the respect of Royalty itself, and be favored with the friendship of the most gifted leaders of the Church? Oh! the vacillation of the world in which we live; it is wonderful; it is marvelous indeed! Today it greets the man with the most opprobrious shouts, and the coarsest jeers; tomorrow, it sings its hosannas of praise and eulogy to him.
The advent of Mr. Spurgeon to the metropolis was the occasion of sundry remarks of onlookers, which were neither charitable, Christianlike, or Christly, many affirming that the flush of success would be but a nine-days wonder; wiseacres prophesied various calamities; and even some of his own ministerial brethren thought — was the thought father to the wish? — the presumptuous boy would ere long have a most humiliating fall. But all these prophets prophesied falsely! Comments, of anything but a flattering nature, appeared in various journals. Caricatures entitled “Brimstone and Treacle,” “Catch ‘em alive O,” etc., adorned the publisher’s windows.
Then arose a host of critics, votaries of the pencil and the pen, some of whom were friendly, some were neutral, others (and they a great multitude) were bitterly antagonistic. The most villainous stories were circulated; the most cruel falsehoods were invented; nevertheless, the work of God prospered, the multitude increased, and numbers were added to the Church.
Beside this outside persecution, there were other matters that were pressing heavily upon the mind of this youthful and devoted pastor. His experience at that time was a peculiar one; and he tells it in that characteristic way that no other could do. A paragraph from his “Treasury of David,” on Psalm 91, most graphically describes this trying period. “When I had scarcely been in London twelve months, the neighbor-hood in which I labored was visited by Asiatic cholera, and my congregation suffered from its inroads. Family after family summoned me to the bedside of the smitten, and almost every day I was called to visit the grave. I gave myself up with youthful ardor to the visitation of the sick, and was sent for from all corners of the district by persons of all ranks and religions. I became weary in body and sick at heart. My friends seemed falling one by one, and I felt or fancied that I was sickening like those around me. A little more work and weeping would have laid me low among the rest. I felt my burden was heavier than I could bear. and I was ready to sink under it. As God would have it, I was returning mournfully home from a funeral, when my curiosity led me to read a paper which was wafered up in a shoemaker’s window in the Dover road. It did not look like a trade announcement, nor was it, for it bore in a good bold handwriting those words: ‘Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the Most High, thy habitation, there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.’ The effect upon my heart was immediate.
Faith appropriated the passage as her own. I felt secure, refreshed, girt with immortality. I went on with my visitation of the dying in a calm and peaceful spirit; I felt no fear of evil, and I suffered no harm. The Providence which moved the tradesman to place these verses in his window I gratefully acknowledge, and in the remembrance of its marvelous power, I adore the Lord my God.”
One more instance of “the trial of his faith” which befell this mighty man of God, must be given ere we pass on to a brighter picture.
New Park Street Chapel, when enlarged, soon became far too small for the crowds which came to hear Spurgeon; and the deacons took the largest available building in London — the Royal Surrey Gardens Music Hall; and in October, 1856, he began his ministry there, and continued it till the Metropolitan Tabernacle was opened. What is so well known as the Surrey Gardens accident cost Mr. Spurgeon a serious illness, in fact. it is questioned by some whether he ever fully recovered the shock which it gave to his whole system. The following is an extract taken from the church book describing this terrible catastrophe: — “Lord’s day, October 19th, 1856. — On the evening of this day, in accordance with the resolution passed at the church meeting, held October 6th, the church and congregation assembled to hear our pastor in the Music Hall of the Royal Surrey Gardens. A very large number of persons (about 7,000) assembled on that occasion, and the service was commenced in the usual way by singing, reading the Scriptures, and prayer. Just, however, after our pastor had commenced his prayer, a disturbance was caused (it is supposed by some evil persons acting in concert), and the whole congregation was seized with a sudden panic. In the stampede that ensued. seven persons were killed outright, and twenty-eight others seriously injured. This lamentable occurrence produced very serious effects on the nervous system of our pastor. He was entirely prostrated for some days, and compelled to abandon his preaching engagements.
Through the great mercy of our Heavenly Father, he was, however, restored, so as to be able to officiate in his own chapel, on Sunday, October 31st, and gradually recovered his wonted health and vigor.
The Lord’s name be praised.”
The pain and grief endured at this time by Mr. Spurgeon were greatly increased by the inconsiderate and virulent attacks, and cruel misrepresentations of the press. By one London daily paper, a type of many others, the broken-hearted preacher was described as a ‘ranting charlatan!’ who uttered vile blasphemies, and hurled damnation at the heads of his sinful hearers. It is well known that these calumnies have been long since lived down, and the very newspapers, which twenty-five years ago thus sought to bring him and his work into obloquy and disrepute, are today the upholders of his character, the adherents of his institutions, and the staunchest of his friends. Verily, “Thou wilt make even the wrath of man to praise Thee, and the remainder of his wrath wilt Thou restrain?”
During the period in which Mr. Spurgeon was preaching in the Surrey Music Hall, large numbers of the aristocracy attended his ministry, amongst whom were the Lord Chief-Justice Campbell, the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs of London, Earl Russell, Lord Alfred Paget, Lord Panmure, Earl Gray, Earl Shaftesbury, Miss Florence Nightingale, Lady Rothschild, Dr.
Livingstone, and many other persons of learning and distinction. It was during that interim that Mr. Spurgeon paid one of his visits to Holland, was privileged to preach before the Dutch Court, and had a lengthened interview with the Queen of that country.
On Tuesday, 16th August, 1859, the first stone of the Metropolitan Tabernacle was laid by Sir Morton Peto. The proceedings opened with the singing of the hymn, “Before Jehovah’s awful throne.” After prayer, a history of the church was read by Mr. W. B. Carr. In the evening a tea meeting was held in Rea’s Repository, at which more than 2,000 persons were present. The Lord Mayor, a Colchester man, presided at the evening meeting, and some racy speeches were made. One by Judge Payne contains the following play on Mr. Spurgeon’s initials: — “C. H. S. means a clear headed speaker. who is clever at handling subjects in a cheerful-hearted style; he is a captain of the hosts of Surrey; he is a cold-hating spirit; he has a chapel-heating skill; he is a care-hushing soother; he is a Christ-honoring soldier; and he is a Christ honored servant.”
Truly we may say that now the sun was beginning shine through the clouds, which had so long hung around Mr. Spurgeon. He had fought a fierce battle. There are few men that would not have succumbed to a tithe of the difficulties which had surrounded him. These early years of his ministry had been times of persecution, suffering, and discouragement, but their lessons had been well heeded. Rich, ripe, and varied experience had been treasured up during these years of trial. How much he had had to encourage him in his work of faith and labor of love! When he first preached in London he had 200 hearers, now they numbered 1,178 members. During that period he had received into fellowship by baptism no less than 3,569 persons. None can deny he was a great and successful preacher. None more so. It is not too much to say that even at this time he was the “prince of preachers,” towering high above his fellows. There was only one Spurgeon, and he stood alone in all he said or did. None could imitate or copy him successfully. He possessed one of the most vivid imaginations. He was a real man. To him sin was real; Christ was real; heaven was real; pardon was real. It was this reality that he carried with him into every detail of his life that made him speak “as a dying man to dying men.” He owed not his success or his influence to the chance of circumstances, to his wit and raciness, to his wonderful and striking command of language; no, to none of these things but to his firm and tenacious grasp of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
That the reader may form some idea of Spurgeon’s widely-spread popularity, we give the following instances as a fitting close to this chapter On 7th October, 1857, the day set apart for national humiliation on account of the troubles in India, Spurgeon preached to 24,000 people in the Crystal Palace, when the munificent sum of 686 pounds was collected for the national fund. Some two or three days prior to this great meeting, Mr. Spurgeon went down to the palace to make some special arrangements, and to test the acoustic properties of the vast building Asking a friend that accompanied him to take his stand at the farthest extremity of the building, Mr. Spurgeon mounted the platform, and uttered the words, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world,” every word of which was heard distinctly by his friend. Soon after they left the building and returned home. About twenty — seven years afterwards Mr. Spurgeon was asked to visit a dying man who particularly wished to see him. He at once complied. On entering the sick chamber, the sufferer asked Mr. Spurgeon whether he remembered his visit with his friend to the Crystal Palace. “Perfectly well,” answered Mr. Spurgeon. “Well, sir,” said the man, “on that day I was working just underneath where you stood. I was an unsaved man, living a sinful, wicked life. When I heard you give utterance that day to the words, ‘Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world,’ the Holy Spirit applied those words to my heart, and very soon after I found peace through believing. I thought I could not die till I had told you how God had used you as His instrument in my conversion.”
The joy and pleasure that this death bed testimony gave the great preacher can be better imagined than described.