Chapter 11 – The Book Fund Grows

    The Book Fund Grows

    A FEW months before the Book Fund originated, Mrs. Spurgeon had sown in a large garden flower-pot some lemon pips, hoping that one at least of them would spring up and grow into a healthy plant. Sure enough, one did take root, and a frail stern with two tiny leaves made its appearance, and was tenderly cared for by its owner. In a happy moment Mrs. Spurgeon’s mind associated her Book Fund, then a “tender plant,” whose continued existence might be precarious, but which had splendid possibilities in it, with the little lemon tree, and as the latter flourished and increased, she determined to regard it as something in the nature, of an augury of the prosperity of her Fund, each leaf representing a sum of a hundred pounds, which sooner or later would surely come to hand. The growth of the tree was steady and continuous, and, curiously enough, the Fund kept pace with it. As fresh leaves were formed, so new subscribers came forward to help on Mrs. Spurgeon’s labor of love, and all through their history the Book Fund and the lemon tree were associated in the mind of the lady, to whom they were both so dear.

    Although subscriptions were not solicited, there was no lack of funds. Between August, 1876, and January, 1877, no less than £926 was received, and by the end of the second year more than £2,000 had come in and been expended. The progress of time only served to show how widespread was the need, and the letters which Mrs. Spurgeon received by the score each week formed pathetic reading, whilst the gratitude expressed by recipients of books was quite painful in its intensity. She had been trained in her husband’s school of faith, and it was to God and not to man that she looked both for the money to carry on her mission and for the health and strength to enable her to cope with the ever growing work of correspondence and organization. “The Book Fund has been nourished and fed from the King’s Treasury,” she wrote in 1877, “and I must make my boast in the Lord that all needful supplies for the carrying on of the work have plainly borne the stamp of Heaven’s own merit. I say this because I have never asked help of anyone but Him, never solicited a donation from any creature, yet money has always been forthcoming and the supplies have constantly been in due proportion to the needs. Once only during the year did the Lord try my faith by allowing the grants of books to outnumber the gifts of money, and then it was only for a small moment that a fear overshadowed me. The dark cloud very speedily passed away, and fresh supplies made me more than ever satisfied with the resolution I had formed to draw only on the unlimited resources of my heavenly Treasurer. None of the friends whose hearts have ‘devised liberal things’ on behalf of my work will reproach me with ingratitude towards them when I lay my first loving thanks at His feet; they will rather join me in praising Him for so sweetly inclining their hearts to help His needy ones, and will joyfully say, ‘O Lord, of Thine own have we given thee.’

    “I recall with very’ glad satisfaction the first donation which reached me ‘for sending books to ministers.’ it came anonymously, and was but five shillings’ worth of stamps, yet it was very precious, and proved like a revelation to me, for it opened up a vista of possible usefulness and exceeding brightness. The mustard seed of my faith grew forthwith into a ‘great’ tree, and sweet birds of hope and expectation sat singing in its branches. You’ll see, I said to my boys, the Lord will send me hundreds of pounds for this work. For many a day afterwards mother’s hundreds of pounds became a household word of good-humored merriment and badinage. And now the Lord has made me to laugh, for the hundreds have grown into thousands, He has done ‘exceeding abundantly above what I could ask or even think,’ and faith, with such a God to believe in and depend upon, ought surely to smile at impossibilities and say ‘it shall be done.’”

    The work which Mrs. Spurgeon had undertaken did not for very long confine itself exclusively to the supply of books. At the beginning of 1877 a friend placed at her disposal a sum of money from which she could draw such amounts as were necessary for the relief of poor ministers in dire financial straits, and, her husband and other friends adding to this sum, a very useful and much-needed Pastors’ Aid Fund was founded, which has proved a valuable auxiliary and supplement to the Book Fund. At the end of the year, too, a number of Christian ladies undertook to supply warm garments and other suitable clothing for the families of poor pastors, and this branch of the work has also gone on increasing to the present time.

    Still another advance was made when two friends provided the means for sending The Sword and the Trowel regularly for a year to each of sixty ministers who could not afford to purchase a religious magazine for themselves. Perhaps these developments of Mrs. Spurgeon’s original idea were foreshadowed by the announcement which the gardener made to her some time earlier: “Your lemon tree is brought up to the house, ma’am. It is making a great deal of new wood.”

    In 1878, Mrs. Spurgeon’s malady reached an acute stage, and indeed so serious was her condition that her son Thomas, who was then in Australia, received an urgent cable to return at once. For some time her life was despaired of, but the crisis was passed successfully, and, although still an invalid, she was able once again to give all her attention to the Book Fund. The work, however, did not diminish on account of the illness, for the arrears were soon made up and the year was the most successful since the inauguration. Those periods of pain and weariness, which Mrs. Spurgeon was called upon to suffer, never led her to despair or to rebel against the strange providence that had so marked out a hilly path for her. If for a moment the mystery of life perplexed her, she quickly found comfort and consolation by trusting to Him who doeth all things well.

    Her diaries or note-books contain many entries which tell of her experiences of soul during the most trying periods of her life. Referring to this time of crisis she writes: “At the close of a very dark and gloomy day I lay resting on my couch as the deeper night drew on, and though all was bright with in my cozy little room, some of the external darkness seemed to have entered into my soul and obscured its spiritual vision. Vainly I tried to see the hand which I knew held mine and guided my fog-enveloped feet along a steep and slippery path of suffering. In sorrow of heart I asked, “Why does my Lord thus deal with His child? Why does he so often send sharp and bitter pain to visit me? Why does he permit lingering weakness to hinder the sweet service I long to render to His poor servants?’ These fretful questions were quickly answered, and though in a strange language, no interpreter was needed save the conscious whisper of my own heart. “For a while silence reigned in the little room, broken only by the crackling of an oak log burning on the hearth. Suddenly I heard a sweet, soft sound, a little, clear, musical note, like the tender trill of a robin beneath my window. ‘What can it be? “I said to my companion, who was dozing in the firelight; ‘surely no, bird can be singing out there at this time of the year and night!’ We listened, and again heard the faint plaintive notes, so sweet, so melodious, yet mysterious enough to provoke for a moment our undisguised wonder. Presently my friend exclaimed, ‘ It comes from the log on the fire!!’ and we soon ascertained that her surprised assertion was correct. The fire was letting loose the imprisoned music from the old oak’s inmost heart. Perchance he had garnered up this song in the days when all went well with him, when birds twittered merrily on his branches, and the soft sunlight flecked his tender leaves with gold; but he had grown old since then and hardened; ring after ring of knotty growth had sealed up the long-forgotten melody until the fierce tongues of the flames came to consume his callousness and the vehement heat of the fire wrung from him at once a song and a sacrifice. “Oh! thought I, when the fire of affliction draws songs of praise from us, then indeed are we purified and our God is glorified!

    Perhaps some of us are like this old oak log; — cold, hard and insensible; we. should give forth no melodious sounds were it not for the fire which kindles round us, and releases tender notes of trust in Him, and cheerful compliance with His will. As I mused the fire burned and my soul found sweet comfort in the parable so strangely set forth before me. Singing in the fire! Yes, God helping us if that is the only way to get harmony out of these hard, apathetic hearts, let the furnace be heated seven times hotter than before.” How the suffering ‘wife had caught the spirit and faith of her husband, who, in his sufferings, later on, wrote words almost to the same effect as the foregoing!

    The story of the Book Fund in its financial department during these early days, and indeed up till the present, is very much like that of the Stockwell Orphanage or the Pastors’ College, on a small scale. Unsolicited the money would come in from the most unexpected sources just when it was needed, and would be spent without delay in the full and faithful expectation that more would follow to take its place. An entry in Mrs. Spurgeon’s note-book a month or two after that which records the message, of the burning oak log says, “My heart praises and extols the goodness of the Lord, and my hand shall at once record the mercy which, like a blessed rain on a thirsty land, has so sweetly refreshed my spirit. This afternoon a constant and generous friend brought £100 for the Book Fund. This was cause for devout thankfulness and great joy, for lately an unusually large number of books has been going out week by week though funds have flowed in less freely. But it was not till a few hours after receiving this noble donation that I saw fully the Lord’s tender care and pitying love in sending me this help just when he knew I should most sorely need it. By the late post that night came my quarterly account for books, and so heavy was it, that in fear and haste I turned to my ledger to see the available balance, and with an emotion I shall not easily forget, I found that, but for the gift of £100 a few hours previously, I should have been £60 in debt. Did not the Father’s care thus keep the sparrow from falling to the ground? A sleepless night and much distress of spirit would have resulted from my discovery of so serious a deficit in my funds, but the Lord’s watchful love prevented this. ‘Before I called He answered,’ and though trouble was not very distant, He had said, ‘It shall not come nigh thee.’ O my soul, bless thou the Lord and forget not this His loving ‘benefit’! A tumult of joy and delight arose within me as I saw in this incident, not a mere chance or a happy combination of circumstances, but the guiding and sustaining hand of the loving Lord, who had most certainly arranged and ordered for me this pleasant way of comfort and relief. ‘I am poor and needy, yet the Lord thinketh upon me..’ A fresh revelation of His wonderful love seemeth to be vouchsafed to my soul by this opportune blessing and a check became an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.

    “I hastened to my dear husband that he might share my joy, and I found in him a willing listener to the sweet old story of his Master’s grace and power. Then, after a word or two of fervent praise to God on my behalf, he wrote the following letter to the friend by whose liberal hand our gracious God had sent this notable deliverance: — ‘ Dear friend, — I should like you to know why you were sent here this afternoon, and what an angel of mercy you were to my dear wife and so to me. The Lord bless you. Soon after you were gone my wife’s quarter’s bill for books came in for £340, and she had only £28o :apart from your check. Poor soul! she has never spent more than her income before, and if you had not come, I fear it would have crushed her to be £6o in debt. How good of the Lord to send you in the nick of time! We joined our praises together, and we do also very gratefully join our prayers for you. God bless, you, and make up to you your generous gifts above all your own desires. I could not refrain from telling you this; it is one of the sparkling facts which will make happy memories to help to stay our faith in future trials if they come again. God bless you. — Yours heartily, C. H. SPURGEON.’”

    Exactly a week after the above entry in Mrs. Spurgeon’s diary we find another of similar purport. “£20 from a new friend today! My heart keeps whispering, ‘ Indulgent God, how kind!’ At the beginning of this week I had hesitated about sending my usual order for books, having less in hand than would justify a large increase of stock, but I ventured, and lo! the Lord has sent me all I need for present wants, and with it a firm assurance to, my son that ‘those who trust in Him shall never be ashamed.’”

    Money now began to be received in considerable sums. Gifts of twenty-five and fifty pounds from single individuals were by no means uncommon, and from the great Silver Wedding Testimonial presented by tire Tabernacle Church to C H. Spurgeon the Book Fund received £100, and the Pastors’ Aid Fund another £100. Of course there were disappointments, but the trials only increased the faith. Thus after losing an expected bequest of £200, Mrs. Spurgeon wrote: “A legacy of £200 left to the Book Fund by an old and much loved friend becomes null and void in consequence of legal inaccuracies in the will; and thus though the dear deceased’s tender remembrance of me is inalienable, I lose the splendid help to my beloved work which she intended should partly alleviate my grief at her departure and in some measure compensate for the cessation of her constant loving aid. I try to bear my disappointment bravely and sink my own sorrow in sympathy with the President in the far heavier loss sustained in like manner by the Pastors’ College, and though I felt at first to some extent ‘ bowed down’ by the, unexpected failure of my promised good fortune, I am since upholden and comforted exceedingly, for I know that ‘the Lord is able to give me much more than this,’ and this puts all thought of murmuring from me, and enables me to look up again from human help to that infinitely more certain portion with which the Lord supplies all my need as it arises. Perhaps I needed such a lesson, and shall do well to learn it off ‘by heart.’ It is quite possible that I felt too elated on hearing of the generous bequest and counted up my riches with somewhat of carnal pride mingling with the gratification which was allowable; certain it is that I once reckoned upon a grand total at the end of the year quite eclipsing all former amounts, and it may be that the Lord saw this was not good for me, and that the reception of too much treasure laid up on earth would have disturbed and imperiled that lovely posture of constant dependence on my God which He has taught me to delight in, and has so graciously honored and rewarded. I think also I may learn from this untoward event to bless and praise Him more humbly and heartily for His grand and immutable ‘Will’ and that ‘His ways are not our ways.’”

    After her own comparative recovery in 1879 Mrs. Spurgeon’s husband fell ill, and had to go to the South of France, whence frequent bulletins were cabled, giving news of his condition to the anxious wife at home. The work of the Book Fund, however, kept her from brooding over her sorrow. A note-book entry in December says,” Blessed be God! Better news comes now. The telegrams have ceased and letters written with unsteady pen by poor pained hands, yet inexpressibly precious, have arrived. In this trying time hard work has been a benefactor to me, for the urgency of the daily correspondence admits of no comfortable nursing of grief, and Book Fund management knows no cessation while the Lord sends so many needy applicants.”

    The gifts were not confined to poor preachers in Great Britain, although naturally the majority of parcels were distributed in the homeland. But many a missionary has been helped in his work by a grant from the Book Fund, and native preachers in the West Indies, Africa, and elsewhere, have participated in the benefits of the Fund. In June, 1879, the Bishop of Sierra Leone, Dr. Cheetham, who had heard of the good work which Mrs. Spurgeon had instituted and was carrying on, called upon her at Helensburgh House and solicited the gift of “The Treasury of David” for one of his colored pastors. Mrs. Spurgeon readily promised to give these books, and also some others, and the Bishop before he left enrolled his name as at donor to the Fund. In Jamaica the gifts of books were greatly appreciated by both the English missionaries and the native pastors.

    From the book The life of Susannah Spurgeon by Charles Ray


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