- Founding of ‘The Book Fund’
MRS. SPURGEON, had she organized no new work herself, would always have been remembered as the wife of the great preacher, to whom she rendered such valuable help and encouragement, and who, to repeat C. H. Spurgeon’s own words, was indeed as “an angel of God” to him. But, apart from any such associations and the reflected glory from her husband, Mrs. Spurgeon’s name deserves to live for ever in the annals of the Christian Church in connection with her fund for supplying theological books to clergymen and ministers too poor to buy them.
As a branch of Christian effort this work was, and is, quite unique, and its vast importance and necessity to the ministry and to the Church at large, cannot be over-estimated. In his preface to Mrs. Spurgeon’s volume, “Ten Years of My Life in the Service of the Book Fund,” the pastor of the Tabernacle expressed his conviction “that the work was sadly needed, has been exceedingly useful, and is still urgently called for.” “How can many of our ministers buy books?” he asked. “How can those in the villages get them at all? What must their ministries become if their minds are starved? Is it not a duty to relieve the famine which is raging in many a manse? Is it not a prudential measure, worthy of the attention of all who wish to see the masses influenced by religion, that the preachers who occupy our pulpits should be kept well furnished with material for thought?”
Incredible as it may seem, the state of things revealed when the Book Fund was started was so bad that many ministers had been unable to buy a new book for ten years. “Does anybody wonder if preachers are sometimes dull?” was C. H. Spurgeon’s comment on this fact. Like most other important works, the Book Fund grew from a very simple beginning, and there was no idea at the first of the wonderful way in which the movement would develop. In the summer of 1875 Mr. Spurgeon completed the first volume of his “Lectures to my Students,” and, having given a proof copy to his wife, asked her what she thought of the book. “I wish I could place it in the hands of every minister in England,” was the reply, and the preacher at once rejoined, “Then why not do so how much will you give?” This was driving the nail home with a vengeance. Mrs. Spurgeon was not prepared for such a challenge, but she began to wonder if she could not spare the money from her housekeeping or personal account. It would necessitate pressure somewhere, she knew, for money was not plentiful just then. Suddenly a flash of memory made the whole way clear. “Upstairs in a little drawer were some carefully hoarded crown pieces, which, owing to some foolish fancy, I had been gathering for years whenever chance threw one in my way; these I now counted out and found they made a sum exactly sufficient to pay for one hundred copies of the work. If a twinge of regret at parting from my cherished but unwieldy favorites passed over me, it was gone in an instant, and then they were given freely and thankfully to the Lord, and in that moment, though I knew it not, the Book Fund was inaugurated. The next number of The Sword and the Trowel, that for July, 1875, contained an announcement of Mrs. Spurgeon’s intention and inviting poor Baptist ministers to apply for the book. The applications proved far more numerous than was anticipated, and although she could not supply all demands, the generous donor distributed two hundred copies of the book instead of the one hundred which she had at first proposed. In The Sword and the Trowel for August, C. H. Spurgeon referred to the matter again and said, “It has been a great pleasure to our beloved wife to give a book to so many needy servants of the Lord; but it is a sad fact that there should be so many needing such a present. Cannot something be done to provide ministers with books? If they cannot be made rich in money, they ought not for the people’s sake to be starved in soul.” This appeal had due effect, and friends began to forward money, so that by the following month (September) parcels of books were being sent out to ministers every day, and the work was formally designated “Mrs. Spurgeon’s Book Fund.” A gentleman contributed a number of good books for distribution among the poor ministers, and other people, who were unable to send money, followed his example and gave volumes from their libraries. Of course, the acceptance and acknowledgment of gifts in kind led to a good deal of rubbish being sent to Mrs. Spurgeon, who several times had to gently protest against worthless volumes, lit only for the rag-shop, being “presented” to the Book Fund. “I really fear,” she wrote in one report, “that some people think that anything in the shape of a book will do for a minister, or they would scarcely send such things as ‘Advice to Mothers,’ or’ Letters to a Son,’ as aids to pulpit preparation.”
On another occasion she wrote: “There are in this pleasant world of ours many kind and tender-hearted people who, after perusing the report of my Book Fund, straightway rush off to their bookcases and in an enthusiasm of goodwill pull down a pile of old books and pack them off to me for my poor pastors, in the, full belief that they have thus rendered the best possible service to the Fund and the Fund’s Manager and the Fund’s Manager’s needy folk. I should be very sorry to damp any kindly ardor or seem ungrateful for proofs of willing sympathy, but I feel constrained to point out as tenderly as possible to my well-meaning but mistaken friends that such presents are worse than useless to me. I am often puzzled how to get rid of the encumbrances which were meant to be blessings! Usually when good people thus disturb the dusty solitude of their bookshelves the result is as follows: — A large number of volumes of The Evangelical Magazine and The Baptist Record, musty perhaps and always incomplete; some ancient ‘Sermons’ by the venerable pastor they ‘sat under’ half a century ago, a book or two of ‘Poems’ by ‘nobody knows who,’ a few old works on some abstruse notions, a ‘French Grammar and Exercises,’ Magnall’s ‘Questions,’ ‘ Advice to a Newly Married Pair,’ and — I was going to say — a ‘Cookery Book,’ but I think that might be an exaggeration where all else is simple, earnest fact. Now, what could my poor pastors care for rubbish such as this?”
C. H. Spurgeon himself, in acknowledging in his magazine the first gift of valuable books from the gentleman above-mentioned, said, “We have on several occasions in days past received parcels consisting of old magazines and the sweepings of libraries, and we have concluded that the donors thought we kept a butter shop, but this friend has sent really standard volumes, which will, we trust, be a boon to some poor preacher.”
During the autumn Mrs. Spurgeon became seriously ill and the distribution of books had to be delayed, but by November she had sufficiently recovered to commence work again, and scarcely a day went by but what some poor minister was made happy by receiving a gift of volumes which his slender means would never have allowed him to purchase. No distinction as to denomination was made, and although · the poverty of Baptist ministers was perhaps more acute than that of others, yet there were hundred’s of preachers in all the Churches quite unable to purchase the books, which, they absolutely needed for their work. It was not long before the valuable volumes of “The Treasury of David” were added to the “Lectures,” and gradually other books were distributed, mostly C. H. Spurgeon’s own writings and sermons, as these were generally asked for by the poor ministers applying.
By January, 1876, without any solicitation, friends had sent in £182, and this had increased in August, one year after the inauguration of the Fund, to upwards of £500, representing a distribution of 3,058 volumes. By a generous arrangement of the publishers of C. H. Spurgeon’s works, the books were supplied for purposes of the Fund at a very low rate, so that £500 in money would purchase about £800 worth of books. The novel and important work was now established on a solid and permanent basis, and the interest in the movement to furnish poor ministers’ libraries was increasing. Quoting from the letters of recipients, who expressed their intense joy and thankfulness at receiving the books Mrs. Spurgeon wrote in The Sword and the Trowel after the first twelve months’ work: “Now this is very beautiful and admirable, but is there not also something most sorrowfully suggestive to the Church of God? Surely these ‘servants of Christ,’ these ‘ambassadors for God,’ ought to have received better treatment at our hands than to have been left pining so long without the aids which are vitally necessary to them in their sacred calling. Books are, as truly a minister’s needful tools as the plane and the hammer and the saw are the necessary adjuncts of a carpenter’s bench. We pity a poor mechanic, whom accident has deprived of his working gear, ‘we straightway get up a subscription to restore it, and certainly never expect a stroke of work from him while it is lacking; why, I wonder, do we not bring the same common-sense help to our poor ministers, and furnish them liberally with the means of procuring the essentially important books? Is it not pitiful to, think of their struggling on from year to year on £100, £80, £60, and some (I am ashamed to write it) on less than £50 per annum? Many have large families, many more sick wives, some, alas! have both; they have’ heavy doctors’ bills to pay, their children’s education to provide for, are obliged to keep up a respectable appearance, or their hearers would be scandalized; and how they manage to do all this and yet keep out of debt (as, to their honor and credit be it said, the majority of them do), only they and their ever-faithful God can know! I never hear a word of complaint from them, only sometimes a pathetic line or two like this: ‘After upwards of sixteen years’ service in ‘the Master’s vineyard I am sorry to say that, with a small, salary and a wife and five daughters to provide for, my library is exceedingly 43 small, and I am not in a position to increase its size by purchasing books.’ Or, again, like this: ‘ My salary is small (£60), and if I did not get some little help from some benevolent societies, I should have very great difficulty in keeping the wolf from the door.’ Are these men to be kept in poverty so deep that they positively, cannot afford the price of a new book without letting their little ones go barefoot? “Fine laborer is worthy of his hire,’ but these poor laborers in the gospel field get a pittance which is unworthy both of the workman and the work, and if their people (who ought to help them more) either cannot or will not do so, we at least, dear friends, will do, all in our power to encourage their hearts and refresh their drooping spirits. This is a digression, I daresay from my authorized subject, but I was obliged to say what I have said, because my heart was hot within me, and I so earnestly want to do these poor brethren good service.”
Mrs. Spurgeon took as her motto the words which her husband put into the mouth of the spendthrift in “John Ploughman’s Talk.” “Spend and God will send,” and before the Book Fund was nine months old she had a remarkable proof of her faith being honored. A gentleman sent £50 for the Fund, the largest gift received up to that time, and it was quickly distributed in the form of books. About six months later the same gentleman (who insisted upon remaining anonymous to everyone else) called upon Mrs. Spurgeon and declared his intention of giving to every one of the five hundred Calvinistic Methodist ministers, preachers and students in North Wales, through the Book Fund, a copy of “Lectures to My Students,” and at the same time he handed over another sum of £50 to meet expenses. Before the distribution in North Wales was completed, the same generous donor gave authority to Mrs. Spurgeon to continue at his expense the despatch of copies to the ministers and preachers in South Wales.
From the book The Life of Susannah Spurgeon by Charles Ray