- First Contact with C. H. Spurgeon
IN the morning of Sunday, December 18th, 1853, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, then a gauche country youth of nineteen years, preached for the first time in the pulpit of New Park Street Chapel. Susannah Thompson was staying with old Mr. and Mrs. Olney, but she did not go to the service although like many others the much-talked of experiment of asking a lad from a rural village to occupy the historic pulpit of Benjamin Keach, Dr. Gill and Dr. Rippon interested her. The members of the Olney family when they returned from the morning service, were full of praise for the preacher, and, in common with others of the congregation, they were determined that in the evening the many empty seats which had obviously discouraged and disconcerted the young minister, should be filled. Friends and acquaintances were called upon and urged to go to New Park Street Chapel with the result that in the evening the church was full.
Susannah Thompson was there, more to please her friends than herself, for having rigid ideas as to the proprieties of the pulpit, she entertained no prepossessions in favor of one — and he a mere youth — who dared to break those proprieties. The chapel was filled, a hush fell upon the multitude, and all eyes, including those of the young maiden, were turned towards the pulpit. At last the door in the wall opened and the preacher entered briskly. Miss Thompson was shocked. This was quite contrary to her ideas of what a preacher should be. Young Charles Haddon Spurgeon was evidently from the country; she could have told that in a moment even if she had not known. His clothes had the village tailor marked upon every part of them; round his neck he wore a great stock of black satin, and in his hand he carried a blue handkerchief with white spots! What business had such a youth in the pulpit of Dr. Gill and Dr. Rippon? and with that thought in her prejudiced mind Susannah Thompson settled down to hear what he had to say. “Ah!” wrote Mrs. Spurgeon in after years, “how little I then thought that my eyes looked on him who was to be my life’s beloved; how little I dreamed of the honor God was preparing for me in the near future! It is a mercy that our lives are not left for us to plan, but that our Father chooses for us; else might we sometimes turn away from our best blessings, and put from us the choicest and loveliest gifts of His providence. For, if the whole truth be told, I was not at all fascinated by the young orator’s eloquence, while his countrified manner and speech excited more regret than reverence. Alas, for my vain and foolish heart! I was not spiritually-minded enough to understand his earnest presentation of the Gospel and his powerful pleading with sinners; — but the huge, black satin stock, the long badly-trimmed hair, and the blue pocket handkerchief with white spots which he himself has so graphically described, — these attracted most of my attention and I fear awakened some feelings of amusement. There was only one sentence of the whole sermon which I carried away with me, and that solely on account of its quaintness, for it seemed to me an extraordinary thing for the preacher to speak of the ‘living stones in the Heavenly Temple perfectly joined together with the vermilion cement of Christ’s blood.’”
When C. H. Spurgeon finally accepted the pastorate of New Park Street Chapel, Miss Thompson often met him at the house of Mr. and Mrs. Olney, although neither the preacher nor his wife could ever recall their first introduction to one another. The young maiden seems to have soon got over her prejudices and often went to hear the new minister. It was not long before his earnest pleadings aroused her and she realized that her life of indifference and non-service was far front being what it should be.
“Gradually I became alarmed at my back-sliding state and then, by a great effort, I sought spiritual help and guidance from Mr. William Olney (‘Father’ Olney’s second son, and my cousin by marriage), who was an active worker in the Sunday School at New Park Street, and a true Mr. Greatheart and comforter of young pilgrims. He may have told the new Pastor about me, —I cannot say; — but one day I was greatly surprised to receive from Mr. Spurgeon an illustrated copy of The Pilgrim’s Progress, in which he had written the inscription ‘Miss Thompson, with desires for her progress in the blessed pilgrimage, from C. H. Spurgeon, April 20th 1854.’ “I do not think,” continues Mrs. Spurgeon, “that my beloved had at that time any other thought concerning me than to help a struggling soul Heavenward; but I was greatly impressed by his concern for me, and the book became very precious as well as helpful. By degrees, though with much trembling, I told him of my state before God and he gently led me, by his preaching, and by his conversations, through ‘the power of the Holy Spirit to the cross of Christ for the peace and pardon my weary soul was longing for.”
From this time the intimacy and friendship of the young couple grew, although on Miss Thompson’s part, at any rate, there was no thought of love. She tells us, however, that she was happier than she had been since the days at the Poultry Chapel when she was first brought to the feet of Christ, and it is clear that the preacher who had taken London by storm, had proved of real spiritual blessing to this quiet young girl who now sat pretty regularly in his congregation.