December 14, 2017

Not an Atom More of Sacred Service (2)

A week in the life of Charles Spurgeon

Mark Minnick

Part One ♦ This is Part Two ♦ Part Three

Pastor Minnick’s introductory paragraphs, repeated from part One:

At his death in 1892 at the age of just fifty-seven, C. H. Spurgeon left behind a church numbering in the thousands, a Sunday school attended by over 8,000 and taught by some 600 instructors, a Pastor’s College, an orphanage housing some 400 children, a magazine (The Sword and Trowel), almshouses, twenty-three missions works, and over thirty other institutions. In addition, his greatest legacy was what grew to be sixty-three volumes of sermons (3,561), the greatest collection of printed sermons in the history of preaching.

In those days before automobiles, telephones, copy machines, office equipment of all kinds, and even ball point pens (!), how did one man accomplish so much in such a short lifetime, months of which were often spent recovering from debilitating illnesses that left him prostrate and unable to preach for weeks at a time?

In one of the most inspirational ministerial biographies ever written, the beloved Pastor’s wife, Susannah, devoted two chapters to his schedule, entitled, “A Typical Week’s Work.” I first read it over twenty years ago and then many more times since. It’s always both a delight and a rebuke. I wish it were possible to include all of the nearly thirty pages here, complete with their interesting pictures of the busy man at work in his study. But perhaps this regretfully much-trimmed version will still provide some encouragement to those who sometimes feel that they simply can’t face another week in the Lord’s work.

[Monday]

By the time he reached his home [Sunday evening], he had certain “earned a night’s repose,” yet his day’s labour was not always finished even then; for, if he was going to preach a long way in the country on the morrow, he was obliged to start at once revising the report of the discourse which he had delivered in the morning. That, however, was quite an exceptional arrangement; and, as a general rule, his first work, every Monday was the revision of the Lord’s-day morning sermon.

This was always a labour of love, yet it was a labour. But the Pastor knew that, to delay the publication even for a week, would materially affect the circulation.

As soon as the messenger brought the reporter’s manuscript, Mr. Spurgeon glanced at the number of folios to see whether the discourse was longer or shorter than usual, so that he might judge whether he had to lengthen or to reduce it in order that it might, when printed, fill the requisite space—twelve octavo pages—and at once began revising it. When about a third of the manuscript was ready, the messenger started off with it to the printers, returning for the second supply, and sometimes even for a third if the work of revision was delayed.

There was little breathing-space for the busy toiler after the boy was sent away with the first portion of the sermon manuscript; but usually, other work at once claimed the Pastor’s attention. His private secretary, Mr. J. W. Harrald, had been busy opening the morning’s letters, and arranging those that required immediate answers. The Pastor occasionally dictated replies to a few of the letters before continuing sermon revising, but, more often, with his own hand, he wrote the answers in full, for he never spared himself if he could give greater pleasure to others. He found it necessary also to have a considerable variety of lithographed letters prepared, ready to send to applicants for admission to the College and Orphanage, or persons seeking situations, asking him to read manuscripts, or to write the Prefaces for new books, or to do any of the thousand and one things by which so many people sought to steal away his precious moments.

It was usually far into the afternoon before the last folio of the sermon was reached, and the messenger was able to start with it to the printing-office. Then there were more letters to be answered, possibly books to be reviewed, magazine proofs to be read, or other literary work to be advanced to the next stage; and it was with the utmost difficulty that even a few minutes could be secured for a quiet walk in the lovely garden that, all day long, seemed to be inviting the ceaseless worker to come and admire its many charms. He could hear the voice of duty calling him in another direction, and soon it was time to get ready to start for the Tabernacle.

The Pastor arranged to be at Newington at half-past five, either meeting the elders, and considering with them the very important matters relating to the church’s spiritual state which specially came under their notice, or presiding at the first part of a church meeting, which often lasted throughout the whole evening, and was mainly occupied with the delightful business of receiving new members. As seven o’clock approached, he left the meeting in charge of his brother, or one of the deacons or elders, that he might be at liberty to begin the prayer-meeting at the appointed hour. All who know Mr. Spurgeon’s writings, know that he regarded the prayer meeting as the thermometer of the church; and judged by that test, the spiritual temperature of the large community under his charge stood very high. The Pastor always gave one or more brief addresses, and never allowed the interest to flag; and, all too soon, half-past eight arrived, and the meeting had to be concluded, for many of the workers had other prayer meetings or services following closely upon that one.

On some Monday nights, an extra service was squeezed in; and, leaving the Tabernacle a little before eight o’clock, the Pastor preached in some other neighboring place of worship or spoke at some special local gathering. When, at last, he was really en route for home, his first question was, “Has the sermon come?” and the second, “What is the length of it?” If the reply was, “Just right,” it was joyfully received, for the labor of adding or cutting out any made the task of revising the proof still more arduous.

[Tuesday]

Ordinarily, the correction of the proof of the sermon was completed by about eleven o’clock on Tuesday morning, leaving a couple of hours for replying to letters, and attending to the most pressing literary work. When there were only four Thursdays in the month, an extra sermon was required to make the usual number for the monthly part, and that entailed heavy labour. The discourses available for this purpose were the shorter ones delivered on the Sabbath and Thursday evenings; and, as a rule, two or three pages had to be added to them.

Tuesday afternoon, with rare exceptions, was devoted to the truly pastoral and important work of seeing candidates and enquirers at the Tabernacle; and in no part of his service was Mr. Spurgeon more happy and more completely at home. On reaching his vestry, at three o’clock, he always found some of his elders ready at their post; and usually they had, by that time, conversed with the first arrivals, and given them cards which were to introduce them to the Pastor. In the course of three or four hours, twenty, thirty, or even forty individuals were thus seen; and anyone who has had much experience in such service knows how exhausting it is. At five o’clock a brief interval was secured for tea; and during that half hour, the Pastor compared notes with his helpers concerning those with whom he had conversed, and related specially interesting incidents which some of the candidates had described to him. Then he returned to the happy task, and kept on as long as any were waiting; and, often, as the crowning of his day’s labour, he went down to the lecture-hall to preside at the annual meeting of one or other of the Tabernacle societies, such as the Sunday-school, the Almshouses Dayschools, the Evangelistic Association, the Country Mission, the Loan Tract Society, or the Spurgeon’s Sermons Tract Society. He frequently said that the number of Institutions, Societies, Missions, and Sunday-schools connected with the Tabernacle was so large that it would have been possible to arrange for an anniversary of one of them every week in the year!

[Wednesday]

Wednesday was the only possible time available as a mid-week Sabbath. Mr. Spurgeon told his secretary to keep his diary clear of all engagements on that day; but, alas! soon one, and then another, and yet others, had to be given up in response to the importunate appeals to which the self-sacrificing preacher had not the heart to say, “No,” although he knew that the inevitable result would be a breakdown in health, and the canceling for a time of all arrangements for extra services. But there were some red-letter days when, with a congenial companion, he would go off for a long drive into the country.

To be continued…


Dr. Mark Minnick is the pastor of Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina, and serves as adjunct professor of preaching and exposition at Bob Jones Seminary.

(Originally published in FrontLine • March/April 2003. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)


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