- Early Years
MRS. SPURGEON was born on January 15th, 1832, and her girlhood days were spent partly in the Southern suburbs and partly in the City of London, which had not then, as now, ceased to be residential. In the political world the times were stirring; there were wars and rumors of wars, but probably little of the turmoil of the nations was known to the young maiden, for English girls were not then allowed to read morning and evening newspapers and encouraged to give their opinions upon the latest events of the day. Her father, Mr. R. B. Thompson, and her mother attended New Park Street Chapel, Southwark, from time to time, and their daughter Susannah used to accompany ‘them, so that with ‘the ministry of the Pastor, James Smith (afterwards of Cheltenham) she was familiar. “A quaint and rugged preacher, but one well versed in the blessed art of bringing souls to Christ,” is how Mrs.. Spurgeon describes him. “Often had I seen him administer the ordinance of baptism ‘to the candidates, wondering with a tearful longing whether I should ever be able thus to confess my faith in the Lord Jesus. I can recall the old-fashioned dapper figure of the senior deacon, of whom I stood very much in awe. He was a lawyer and wore the silk stockings and knee-breeches dear to a former generation. When the time came to give out the hymns he mounted an open desk immediately beneath the pulpit; and from where I sat, I had a side view of him. To the best of my remembrance he was a short, stout man, and his rotund body, perched on his undraped legs and clothed in a long-tailed coat gave him an unmistakable resemblance to a gigantic robin; and when he chirped out the verses of the hymn in a piping, twittering voice, I thought the likeness was complete!”
Those early experiences at New Park Street Chapel were among the most vivid memories of Mrs. Spurgeon’s life. “Well, also,” she continues, “did I know the curious pulpit without any stairs; it looked like a magnified swallow’s nest and was entered from behind through a door in the wall. My childish imagination was always excited by the silent and ‘creepy’ manner in which the minister made his appearance therein. One moment the big box would be empty — the next, if I had but glanced down at Bible or hymn-book, and raised my eyes again, — there was the preacher, comfortably seated or standing ready to commence the service! I found it very interesting and though I knew there was a matter-of-fact door, through which the good man stepped into his rostrum, this knowledge was not allowed to interfere with, or even explain the fanciful notions I loved to indulge in concerning that mysterious entrance and exit. It was certainly somewhat singular that, in the very pulpit which had exercised such a charm over me, I should have my first glimpse of the one who was to be the love of my heart, and the light of my earthly life.”
The young girl’s visits to New Park Street Chapel were no doubt more frequent than they would have, been, from the fact that old Mr. and Mrs. Olney were very fond of her and often invited her to visit them. Naturally on Sundays, during these visits, she usually accompanied Mr. and Mrs. Olney to the chapel and thus she had more than one association with the place which was to play so large a part in her after history. Brought up in a godly family’ and having earnest Christian friends, Susannah Thompson was not indifferent to the importance of religion in the individual life, but it was by means of a sermon from Romans 10:8, “The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart,” preached at the old Poultry Chapel, by the Rev. S. B. Bergne, that the girl was first aroused to a sense of her own personal need of a Savior. “From that service,” she says, “I date the dawning of the true light in my soul. The lord said to me, through His servant, ‘Give Me thy heart, and, constrained by His love, that night witnessed my solemn resolution of entire surrender to Himself.”
In those days there were no Christian Endeavor Societies, and few attempts at encouraging young converts to engage in service for their Lord. The lack of communion with kindred youthful spirits and the absence, of Christian work to occupy the mind and lead to further knowledge of God, were, no doubt, more or less responsible for a state of coldness and indifference which in a short time took the place of the joy and gladness of soul that had followed conversion. “Seasons of darkness, despondency and doubt had passed over me,” she says, “but I had kept all my religious experiences carefully concealed in my own breast,” the hesitancy and reserve in this respect being the cause, in Mrs. Spurgeon’s judgment of the sickly and sleepy condition of her soul. It was at this juncture that she first came under the influence of the man who was in a few years, to become more dear to her than all others.