The first service held at the New Tabernacle was on Monday morning, 15th March, 1861, more than a thousand persons being present. Mr.
Spurgeon presided, and the time was profitably spent by this vast number of people in praise and prayer. The first sermon was preached on the following Monday to a crowded audience by the pastor, from Acts 5:42, “And daily in the temple and in every house they ceased not to teach and to preach Jesus Christ,” the sermon being but the forecast of what was to be the essence of the preacher’s ministry. After a month’s opening services, the Church commenced its regular work, in this cathedral of non-conformity, free of debt. The total cost of this building was 31,332 pounds 4 shillings and 10 pence, nearly half of which was raised by the pastor’s unaided efforts, by preaching special sermons in every part of Great Britain.
To hear Mr. Spurgeon preach, especially in his own commodious Tabernacle, was to feel his marvelous power, even though it was difficult to understand and explain it. He owed little to things purely adventitious for his success. The service at the Tabernacle was utterly devoid of such accessories of worship as good music and imposing ritual, and yet Sabbath after Sabbath that great congregation of 6,000 souls assembled for more than thirty years. Without undue exaggeration, we can affirm that his record as a preacher is absolutely without parallel in the history of the world, for in addition to the crowds that waited upon his ministry, his sermons have been printed, translated into other languages, and widely circulated in many lands. It is no doubt as a preacher that Spurgeon is best known, and it is to his unrivaled power in the pulpit that he owes his renown. None better than himself was aware that the methods he adopted represented a departure from the prevailing fashion, to which the majority of people still adhered as the only standard of propriety. “We have most certainly departed from the usual mode of preaching,” he remarked, “but do not feel bound to offer even half a word of apology for so doing, since we believe ourselves free to use any manner of speech which is calculated to impress the truth upon our hearers.”
That Mr. Spurgeon was thoroughly conscientious in his pulpit ministrations was evidenced by the remarkable sermon he preached on “Baptismal Regeneration.” Wherever he saw sin he rebuked it, or a wrong he condemned it. This sermon raised a storm of reproach against the champion of the truth. Having delivered his soul upon this vital question, he was perfectly regardless as to consequences. No less than two hundred thousand copies of this sermon was sold.
A large volume might be made up of the various special services which Mr.
Spurgeon from time to time was engaged in. During the renovation of the Tabernacle in 1867, he preached in the Agricultural Hall, when it is computed that not less than 20,000 persons for five consecutive Sundays assembled to hear the greatest preacher of his time. Speaking of the literature issued from this busy pen, the Christian World says, “Including the weekly sermon, and his many articles in the Sword and Trowel, Mr.
Spurgeon’s printed works have probably been more voluminous than the productions of any modern author. The weekly sermon, beginning with the first week of 1855, has completed 36 yearly volumes. The average circulation has been maintained at 25,000 weekly. The monthly magazine has also completed 26 yearly volumes. Of the ‘Treasury of David,’ in seven volumes, something like 130,000 volumes have been sold. Of ‘Lectures to my Students,’ and ‘Commenting and Commentaries,’ between sixty and seventy thousand volumes have been disposed of. Then ‘John Ploughman’s Talk’ and ‘Pictures’ together show a circulation of half a million volumes.
The other works are very numerous, all being more or less popular.” What a wonderful testimony do these statistics furnish of the indomitable will and heroic perseverance of the famous preacher. In these lines are given us the work of any six ordinary men, and yet, in addition to all this and very much more beside, he was to the front in every good word and work. Assuredly such a career has been altogether unselfish; there was much of self-denying in his life, but no self-seeking. Where shall we find any other teacher whose printed sermons would be read week after week, and year after year, by tens and hundreds of thousands. not only over England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, but in the backwoods of Canada, on the prairies of America, and in the remotest corners of the civilized world? And echo answers, Where? A Herculean task like this has no parallel. Not only did he preach to his church of over five thousand members, but by these published sermons he has been preaching week by week, for these thirty years past, to a larger audience than could be gathered even in that spacious Tabernacle. Where his voice was never heard, where his face was never seen, in languages which he could not speak, his sermons were read; and, doubtless, he has met many in heaven whose conversion, unknown to him, has been brought about instrumentally by his words, and who, with many more, are “his joy and his crown of rejoicing.”
One of the foremost enterprises of which Mr. Spurgeon was the founder, and in which he displayed a great interest, is the Pastors’ College, which was commenced in 1856. Like many other great institutions, it had a small beginning. At the first one young than was placed under the tutorial care of the Rev. G. Rogers, of Camberwell; this one was soon increased to forty, who were all maintained from Mr. Spurgeon’s private purse — but the numbers multiplied so rapidly that this source of income was soon found insufficient to meet the necessary expenditure. The weekly offerings system was next adopted, but even this failed to meet the demand. At one time Mr. Spurgeon’s college purse had only one pound remaining to its credit.
What was to be done? Mr. Spurgeon solved the difficulty with his usual promptness by declaring his intention of disposing of his horse and carriage sooner than his beloved college should suffer. But there was no need for this willing sacrifice. At this critical juncture a lady sent a cheque for pound, which was followed in a few days by another gift of 100 pound from the same source. And so, the work has grown; it has never lacked for supporters. In July, 1875, Mr. Spurgeon received 5,000 pound for this deserving institution, as a legacy from the late Mr. Mathews. This is only one example of the many ways in which God has answered prayer and rewarded the faith of His servant in this important work. About 845 have gone forth from this college into the world to preach “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” We cannot refrain from saying that, under God, the college owes much of its success to the earnest and devoted labors of the Rev. G. Rogers, its first tutor, and in whose home the students were originally located.
In the year 1866 Mr. Spurgeon published the following remarks in the October number of the Sword and Trowel: — “A sister in Christ has requested me to take care of 20,000 pound, which she desires to consecrate to the Lord’s service by putting it in trust for the maintenance of orphan boys, with a special view to their godly education, in the hope that by Divine grace they may. be converted and become ministers and missionaries m future years. Being weighed down with care, we shall hesitate in this business, but dare not do other than follow the intimation of the Divine hand.”
The donor of this munificent gift was the widow of a clergyman, and an entire stranger to Mr. Spurgeon. Her letter, in which the generous offer was made, fairly took him by surprise, and he was somewhat doubtful of its genuineness. It seemed too good to be true. A friend suggested he should call upon the lady. An interview was arranged. The abode of the donor not giving any evidence of wealth, Mr. Spurgeon said he had called respecting the two hundred pounds she wished to place at his disposal. “Dear me,” replied the lady, “did I write two hundred? I meant twenty thousand.”
Assuring her that she had actually named in her letter the latter sum, Mr.
Spurgeon accounted for the discrepancy by saying, “Concluding that there might be a nought or two too many, I thought I would avoid offense by being on the right side and saying two hundred pounds.” Thus the Boys’ Orphanage was started. One of the most pleasing features of the orphanages is, that they are entirely unsectarian. An orphanage has also been provided for girls. The cost of maintaining these orphanages is about 12,000 a year.
In reference to the Pastors’ College, there are two names associated with it that we feel we must mention, showing as it does that if only these two men had through its training and tuition been raised to the high and honorable position they now occupy, as successful pastors of successful churches, its work has not been in vain.
The Rev. W. Cuff, the energetic pastor of the Shoreditch Tabernacle, says, “Pray let me bear a personal testimony to my beloved friend, Mr.
Spurgeon. Today I feel poor, and sad, and lonely, because he has gone. I owe to him, under God, all I am, all I have done, or shall do in the days that remain. He took me from obscurity into his college when I could scarcely read or write. With marvelous love and untiring patience he nurtured my early faith in Christ and love to men. He touched all the sources of my being, and developed all my character. Whatever I am he made me, and I rejoice to say so.... I claim to know him, for I was with him much in the years gone by, and I say without reserve that he was the most unselfish, generous soul I ever knew. I speak of him as I found him, in all the changing circumstances of all the years, in change in doctrine, in forms of worship, and of controversy. He was always the same definite, kind, firm, generous man..... Never did I appeal to him in vain, and his help was ever given in such a manner as to make one feel it was a delight to him to help all who were in distress. I have abundant proof of this in his letters which I have preserved. The last he wrote me I value beyond gold, and it must be amongst the very last he wrote, for it was written at Mentone only a few days before his fatal illness, and bears date 9th Jan., 1892..... My heart aches and I weep as I write over a loss that can never be replaced in a life of struggle and hard work for God and the good of men.”
The Rev. Archibald G. Brown (whose work in the east of London is only second to that of Mr. Spurgeon in the south), the pastor of the East London Tabernacle, said, “He remembered, in much trembling, going to the Metropolitan Tabernacle to ask Mr. Spurgeon if he would allow him to enter his college, and he seemed to hear again the very sentence the pastor uttered as they entered the vestry, ‘Oh, Brown, I have been looking for you.’.... They would not wonder how he revered Mr. Spurgeon’s memory, if they knew all he had been to him in trouble. Some sixteen years ago, when broken with a sore grief, he went over to the Metropolitan Tabernacle, and how surprised he was to find that Mr. Spurgeon had taken the trouble to prepare a sermon on purpose for him After the sermon Mr.
Spurgeon came down to him, and with a grip of the hand, said, ‘I have said all I could for you, poor fellow.’ God was an awful reality to Spurgeon.....
He lived before God; he acted before God; he spoke before God, and it was not left for the pulpit. He had never known himself spend half-an-hour with Mr. Spurgeon, and how many had he spent, without being brought into the very presence of the Lord Himself.... God satisfied him. The Elijah of the nineteenth century had the characteristic of his forerunner, that of being one who consciously stood before God. Again Jesus was so absolutely and so manifestly his heart’s Lord — wonderfully so..... He never knew a man who had the tear so near the surface for his Lord as Mr.
Spurgeon.... It was wonderful how he lingered at Calvary, — how he would go on talking about the Lord’s unknown agony, the big tears running down his cheeks as he spoke.”
These instances might be multiplied, but space forbids. They need no comment. They teach their own lesson. We regret we can only mention “The Colportage Association;” “The County Mission;” “The Evangelical Society;” “The Alms’ Houses;” “The Tract Society,” and a multitude of other good works, all formed directly or indirectly by Charles Haddon Spurgeon.