- Continued Success of the Book Fund
TO give anything like a history of Mrs. Spurgeon’s Book Fund in these pages is quite out of the question. Those who wish for a detailed account of how the work grew and thrived and developed year after year will find it in the volumes of reports which Mrs. Spurgeon herself prepared, “Ten Years of My Life” and “Ten Years After.” That the work did grow and did thrive and did develop a comparison of the statistics for succeeding twelve months will clearly show. Thus in 1881 the number of volumes distributed was 7,298, and 10,517 single sermons by C. H. Spurgeon were sent off in parcels for free distribution. In 1883 the books for the year had increased to 1,351; in the following year the number stood at 9,149 and the sermons at 11,981, whilst three years later the annual distribution included 10,311 volumes and 21,227 sermons.
The numbers have varied in the different years since that time according to the state of the finances, and owing to the growing infirmity of Mrs. Spurgeon the work has receded somewhat from its high-water mark of 1883. The last report issued by her, that for the years 1901 and 1902, showed that 10,113 volumes had been distributed during the two years, and that in the twenty-seven years since the Fund was started a total of 199,315 valuable theological works had been put into the hands of ministers, preachers and missionaries too poor to purchase them. It is indeed a marvelous record of service done by an invalid lady, and to find a parallel would be difficult. The whole of the work entailed by the Book Fund and its branch organizations was attended to by Mrs. Spurgeon personally, and some idea of how heavy was the correspondence alone may be gathered from the fact that the average number of letters received per month was about five hundred, and in two periods of four weeks each the numbers were 657 and 755 respectively. Nor was the work all composed of “pleasant fruit and flowers,” for, as Mrs. Spurgeon tells us, in referring to the fact that her lemon tree had developed a few sharp thorns, there were in connection with the Book Fund some thorns concealed here and there which wound the hand that inadvertently touches them. Some ministers, whose behavior showed either that they greatly misunderstood the nature of the 52 Book Fund or that their characters were strangely out of keeping with their office, would write in such a strain as practically amounted to a demand for books whilst others quite ignored the conditions on which the volumes were given and loftily declined to say whether their incomes were under the £150 per annum, which was laid down as the limit. One man, who had requested a grant without saying anything as to his financial condition, when asked kindly whether his income brought him within the sphere of the work, replied angrily, “Permit me to say I have no wish to be considered a pauper.” “Ever since the Master gave me this charge to keep,” wrote Mrs. Spurgeon when mentioning the above incident, “He knows I have tried to minister in gentle, kindly fashion to His servants, but occasionally the spirit of my service is overlooked by them, and my gifts are either claimed as a right or disdained as a charity. Few and far between are these ugly thorns on my beautiful tree; tender and loving acknowledgments of my work are the rule and when an exception comes I can well afford to forgive and forget it. Were it not that a chronicler is required to be faithful and give fairly both sides of the history he is writing, I should have left unrecorded this painful part of a most pleasant and blessed service.
It is truly wonderful that being so often prostrated, Mrs. Spurgeon was able to keep the Book Fund in so flourishing a condition. Over and over again she was completely laid aside, and when once more convalescent her weakness was such that none but a woman whose whole being was given up to service for the Lord could have sustained the mental and physical stress of such a great work. In his preface to “Ten Years of My Life,” the substantial profits from which owing to the generosity of the authoress and publishers were given to the Book Fund, C. H. Spurgeon wrote: “I gratefully adore the goodness of our Heavenly Father in directing my beloved wife to a work which has been, to her, fruitful in unutterable happiness. That it has cost her more pain ‘than it would be fitting to reveal is most true; but that it has brought her a boundless joy is equally certain. Our gracious Lord ministered to His suffering child in the most effectual, manner when He graciously led her to minister to the necessities of His servants. By this means He called her away from her personal grief’s, gave tone and concentration to her life, led her to continual dealings with Himself, and raised her nearer the center of that region where other than earthly joys and sorrows reign supreme. Let every believer accept this as the inference of experience that for most human maladies the best relief and antidote will be found in self-sacrificing work for the Lord Jesus.”
The writer went on, however, to say that his wife’s increasing weakness was not equal to continuing the work at its present increasing rate. “From this date the beloved worker feels that she must slacken. The business has overpowered her: the wagon is running over the horse. A measure of this ministry must pass into other hands, for, to my great sorrow, I have seen that overpressure is now causing a growing sense of weariness. It cannot long be possible to wake up every morning with a dread of that pile of letters; to sit all day with scarce an interval, writing and bookkeeping; and to go to bed at night with a sigh that the last stroke has hardly been made before the eyes have closed. However brave an invalid may be, love will not always allow such incessant toil to grind down a willing spirit. As the embodiment of loving prudence I feel that I must place an urgent veto upon the continuance of this labor at its present rate.”
But although there was a slight diminution in the work, Mrs. Spurgeon remained at her post, and with the exception of one period in the. year 1888, when she was so seriously ill that her severe physical suffering deprived her of all ability to continue her labors or even to open her letters, she carried on the Book Fund to the end of her life. Often the persistent and steady labor taxed her energy to its utmost limit, but the work was done and done well. No distinction as to church or creed was made in the distribution of books, and among the 25,000 or more ministers who have benefited by the Fund up to the present time are those, belonging to the Church of England, the Baptists, the Congregationalists, all kinds of Methodists, the Presbyterians, the Moravians, the Society of Friends, the Unitarians, the Irvingites, the Waldensians, the Nestorians, the Plymouth Brethren, the Lutherans, the Sweden-borgians, the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connection, and the Morrisonians, besides a very large number of evangelists and missionaries.
In the earlier days of the Fund’s history it was always a grief to, Mrs. Spurgeon that she ‘was unable to accede to the pathetic requests for books made by poor local preachers, as the applications from regular ministers were more than sufficient to absorb all her grants. She mentioned this matter in her report for 1887, and, after quoting from a letter, said “This is a real cry for help; will it not touch the heart of any who can respond to it?” The appeal did touch the heart of a willing worker, Mr. Sydney S. Bagster, of the Conference Hall, Mildmay Park, who, organized a successful Auxiliary Book Fund for the free distribution of theological works among poor lay preachers. The work of sending off parcels commenced on May 1st, 1888, and by the end of that year 126 preachers had received 1,142 volumes. Mr. Bagster continued to carry on the Auxiliary Book Fund until 1891, when it was handed over to Mrs. Spurgeon, and became a part of the regular work carried on at her home. On an average, about sixteen hundred volumes have been distributed annually among the poor local preachers up to the present time.
As year followed year there were increasing developments, which added to the labors of the devoted founder of the Book Fund. The monthly grant of copies of The Sword and the Trowel, already referred to, assumed large proportions. Many thousands of C. H. Spurgeon’s sermons and other pamphlets were sent out each year to preachers both at home and abroad, and there have been for a long time past a Fund for General Use in the Work of the Lord which bore the expense of the translation of C. H. Spurgeon’s sermons into foreign languages and their publication, as well as supplying help to preachers and others in need, to chapels handicapped by a debt, and various missions needing monetary assistance.
The Pastors’ Aid Fund became an established institution, and each year Mrs. Spurgeon was able to distribute an average of over three hundred pounds among the pastors and their families who had needs more pressing than ordinary. The grants of bonnets, shawls, and other articles of clothing has also been an important offshoot and auxiliary of the Book Fund. Up to the last Mrs. Spurgeon regarded her lemon tree with a rare affection as being a remarkable symbol of her work. At the conclusion of the volume, “Ten Years After,” she ‘wrote: ‘The great central stem is, metaphorically, The Book Fund itself, out of which all the branches have naturally grown, and with which they all continue to be vitally connected. Springing from the main trunk, and almost rivaling it in strength and usefulness, is the largest limb of the tree, which represents The Pastors’ Aid Fund. This, in its ‘turn, has thrown out the widely-spreading branch from which the well-filled boxes of The Westwood Clothing Society have dropped into many a poor pastor’s home. Peering between the thickly-interlaced foliage I spy a sturdy bough bearing the inscription Home Distribution of Sermons, and an equally vigorous offshoot dedicated to The Circulation Of the Sermons Abroad, while the topmost twigs, on which I can plainly read the words Foreign Translations of Sermons, bid fair to rival in all respects their older companions. To me, their rapid growth is most cheering, for their leaves contain so much of the essential oil of the Tree of Life that they are in a very literal sense for the healing of the nations.
One shoot of the lemon tree, which drooped awhile, but now flourishes as freely as the other branches, symbolizes The Auxiliary Book Fund, another reminds me of The Sword and Trowel distribution, while the many thousands of tracts and pamphlets which are circulated by the Fund are we’ll represented by the twigs and leaves which spring from the larger stems. All through, Mrs. Spurgeon was herself a most generous donor to the Book Fund finances, her personal services being supplemented by monetary gifts far greater than is generally supposed; while by her will the Fund benefits to a considerable extent.