On a memorable afternoon, in the autumn of 1890, Mr. Spurgeon paid a visit to the Orphanage under circumstances which are not likely to be forgotten by any who were then present. Almost immediately afterwards, he wrote the following account of the “happy scene in a storm,” which may fitly conclude the references to the Orphanage in his Standard Life, for it shows how, right to the last, he sought the spiritual welfare of the children, which had been the principal aim both of Mrs. Hillyard and himself in founding the Institution.
“I went to the Stockwell Orphanage, on Tuesday, September 23, to walk round with an artist, and select bits for his pencil, to be inserted in a Christmas book for the Institution. We had not gone many yards before it began to rain. Umbrellas were forthcoming, and we tried to continue our perambulation of the whole square of the boys’ and girls’ houses but the rain persisted in descending, and speedily increased into a downpour. Nothing short of being amphibious would have enabled us to face the torrent. There was no other course but to turn into the play-hall, where the boys gave tremendous cheers at our advent, — cheers almost as deafening as the thunder which responded to them. Go out we could not, for the shower was swollen into a deluge, so I resolved to turn the season to account. A chair was forthcoming, and there I sat, the center of a dense throng of juvenile humanity, which could scarcely be kept off from a nearness which showed the warmth of their reception of their friend. Our artist, who, standing in the throng, made a hurried sketch, could not be afforded space enough to put in the hundreds of boys. “It was certainly a melting moment as to heat, and fresh air was not abundant; but anything was better than the storm outside. Flash after flash made everybody feel sober, and prompted me to talk with the boys about that freedom from fear which comes through faith in the Lord Jesus. The story was told of a very young believer, who was in his uncle’s house, one night, during a tremendous tempest. The older folk were all afraid; but he had really trusted himself with the Lord Jesus, and he did not dare to fear. The baby was upstairs, and nobody was brave enough to fetch it down because of a big window on the stairs. This lad went up to the bedroom, brought the baby to its mother, and then read a Psalm, and prayed with his relatives, who were trembling with fear. There was real danger, for a stack was set on fire a short distance away; but the youth was as calm as on a summer’s day of sunshine, not because he was naturally brave, but because he truly trusted in the Lord. While I was thus speaking, the darkness increased, and the storm overhead seemed brooding over us with black wings. It was growing dark before its hour. Most appropriately, one of the boys suggested a verse, which all sang sweetly and reverently,
“Abide with me!
fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide!
When other helpers fail, and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me!”
This ended, there followed a word about the ground of the believer’s trust he was forgiven, and therefore dreaded no condemnation; he was in his Heavenly Father’s hand, and therefore feared no evil. If we were at enmity against God, and had all our sins resting upon our guilty heads, we might be afraid to die; yes, and even afraid to live; but, when reconciled to Him by the death of His Son, we said farewell to fear. With God against us, we are in a state of war; but with God for us, we dwell in perfect peace, Here came flashes of lightning and peals of thunder which might well make us start; but no one was afraid. It is true we all felt awed, but we were restful, and somehow there was a quiet but general cry for “perfect peace.” On enquiring what this meant, I was answered by all the boys singing right joy fully,
“Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace,
Over all victorious in its bright increase,
Perfect, yet it floweth fuller every day;
Perfect, yet it groweth deeper all the way.
Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest,
Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.
Hidden in the hollow of His blessed hand,
Never foe can follow, never traitor stand;
Not a surge of worry, not a shade of care,
Not a blast of hurry touch the spirit there.
Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest,
Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.“
This sung, we covered our faces reverently, and the boys were very silent, while I lifted up my voice in prayer. Then we opened our eyes again, and it was very dark, as if night had come before its time. While the flames of fire leaped in through the windows and skylights, the noise of the rain upon the roof and the tremendous thunder scarcely permitted me to say much upon Jesus as being our peace, through His bearing our sins in His own body on the tree.
Yet, as well as I could, I set forth the cross of Christ as the place of peace-making, peace-speaking, and peace-finding, both for boys and men; and then we all sang, to the accompaniment of the storm-music,
“How sweet the Name of Jesus sounds
In a believer’s ear!
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
And drives away his fear.“
Never did the power of that Name to drive away fear appear more sweetly. To me, the words came with a soothing, cheering force, which filled me with intense delight; so we very joyfully and peacefully sang the third verse,
“Dear Name! the rock on which I build,
My shield and hiding-place;
My never-failing treasury, fill’d
With boundless stores of grace.”
Just as we came to “my shield and hiding-place,” there was a peculiarly blue flash, with a sort of rifle-crack, as if something very close to us had been struck. The boys looked at one another, but went on, in subdued tones, singing of the “boundless stores of grace.” Teachers and others were mixed with the little army of boys, but we were all welded together in common emotion. I then reminded them that, to such a Protector, we must give our heart’s love. It was a duty to love one so good as the Lord Jesus, but even more a delight to do so, since He gave Himself For us, and, by bearing our punishment, delivered us from all harm. As if by instinct, someone led off,
“My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine,
For Thee all the follies of sin I resign;
My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art Thou,
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ‘tis now.”
Here was a good opening to press home the question, “Is this true of each one of you? The great desire of all who conduct the Orphanage is to lead you to take Jesus for your gracious Redeemer, that so you may love Him. Oh, that you loved Him now. It may be that, if you leave us unsaved, the Lord will yet bring you in; but it would be far better that you should go out from us ready for the battle of life, and covered with a holy armor, so that you might not be wounded by the arrows of sin.” Then I picked out Mr. May, who is employed at the Orphanage, and bade him tell the boys about himself. May was a boy with us at the Orphanage, — a restless spirit, so he went to sea; and, after many hardships and adventures, he was converted to God at Malta, and then came back to us, and we found him a post at his own school. As the lads knew the most of his story, May did not say very much; and what he did say was rather overborne by the rain on the roof, which sounded like ten thousand drums. The thunder added its trumpet voice, and only allowed us pauses of silence. I went on with the talk till there came a burst of thunder loud and long. I stopped, and bade the children listen to the voice of the Lord. We all hearkened to it with awe and wonder. Then I reminded them of Psalm xxix “The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars; yea, the Lord breaketh the cedars of Lebanon. The Lord sitteth upon the flood; yea, the Lord sitteth King for ever.” I told them how often I had sung to myself Dr. Watts’s verses,
“The God that rules on high,
And thunders when He please,
That rides upon the stormy sky,
And manages the seas:
This awful God is ours,
Our Father and our love;
He shall send down His heavenly powers
To carry us above.
There shall we see His face,
And never, never sin;
There from the rivers of His grace,
Drink endless pleasures in.”
As they did not know the old-fashioned tune ‘Falcon Street,’ to which I had been want to sing the words, we kept quiet till, suddenly, there came another roll of drums in the march of the God of armies; and then, as an act of worship, we adoringly sang together, with full force, the words of the Doxology,
”Praise God, from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all creatures here below,
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host,
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”
This was a grand climax. The heavens themselves seemed to think so, for there were no more thunder-claps of such tremendous force. I need not write more. The storm abated. I hurried off to see enquirers at the Tabernacle, but not till one and another had said to me, “The boys will never forget this. It will abide with them throughout eternity.” So be it, for Christ’s sake! Amen.