Strong Meat from the Cook [i]
The first lessons I ever had in theology were from an old cook [Mary King] in the school at Newmarket where I was an usher [a kind of assistant-tutor]. She was a good old soul, and used to read The Gospel Standard. She liked something very sweet indeed, good strong Calvinistic doctrine, but she lived strongly as well as fed strongly.
Many a time we have gone over the covenant of grace together, and talked of the personal election of the saints, their union to Christ, their final perseverance, and what vital godliness meant, and I do believe that I learnt more from her than I should have learned from any six doctors of divinity of the sort we have nowadays.
There are some Christian people who taste, and see, and enjoy religion in their own souls, and who get at a deeper knowledge of it than books can ever give them, though they should search all their days. The cook at Newmarket was a godly experienced woman, from whom I learned far more than I did from the minister of the chapel we attended.
I asked her once, “Why do you go to such a place.” She replied, “Well, there is no other place of worship to which I can go.” I said, “But it must be better to stay at home than to hear such stuff.” “Perhaps so,” she answered “but I like to go out to worship even if I get nothing by going. You see a hen sometimes scratching all over a heap of rubbish to try to find some corn; she does not get any, but it shows that she is looking for it, and using the means to get it, and then, too, the exercise warms her.” So the old lady said that scratching over the poor sermons she heard was a blessing to her because it exercised her spiritual faculties and warmed her spirit.
On another occasion I told her that I had not found a crumb in the whole sermon, and asked how she had fared. “Oh!” she answered, “I got on better tonight, for to all the preacher said, I just put in a not, and that turned his talk into real gospel.”
A former student remembers the fifteen year-old Spurgeon
A fellow assistant-tutor at the small ‘school’, later Prof JD Everett, of Queen’s College, Belfast, remembered Spurgeon with affection:
“In the summer of 1849, when I was not quite eighteen, I went to Newmarket to assist in a school… I was left for a week or so as the sole assistant. I was then relieved of part of my duty by a lad of fifteen, who came as an articled pupil. This was Charles H. Spurgeon, and for the next three months we shared the work between us. We boarded in the house, occupied the same bedroom, took our walks together, discussed our common grievances, and were the best of friends.
He was a keen observer of men and manners, and very shrewd in his judgments. He enjoyed a joke, but was earnest, hard-working, and strictly conscientious. … He was a delightful companion, cheerful and sympathetic ; a good listener as well as a good talker. And he was not cast in a common conventional mould, but had a strong character of his own.”
CHS willing to learn from the most humble
“As to the early history of his theological views, I can add something to what has been already published. In Mr. Swindell’s household there was a faithful old servant,—a big, sturdy woman, who was well known to me and all the inmates as ‘cook.’ She was a woman of strong religious feelings, and a devout Calvinist. Spurgeon, when under deep religious conviction, had conversed with her, and been deeply impressed with her views of Divine truth. He explained this to me, and told me, in his own terse fashion, that it was ‘cook’ who had taught him his theology. … It is no discredit to the memory of a great man that he was willing to learn from the humblest sources.”
When the above article appeared in print, Mr. Robert Mattingly, of Great Cornard, Sudbury, wrote to the same paper: “About twenty-five years ago, I became acquainted with the [the cook], Mary King by name. She was then living in cottage lodgings, facing St. Margaret’s Church, Ipswich, and was a member of the Bethesda Strict Baptist Church, close by. She was a staunch Calvinist, logical, clear-headed, and had a wonderful knowledge of the Bible.
I have often heard from her lips the account of her [conversations] with the youthful Spurgeon, of which she was naturally not a little proud, as he had then attained the height of his marvellous popularity.”
Spurgeon hears of Mary King’s financial troubles and supports her
“During my acquaintance with her, I learned that she had outlived all, or nearly all, of a small income (I do not remember from what source). I wrote to Mr. Spurgeon, acquainting him with the facts, and received from him a prompt reply, thanking me for my letter, sending a hearty greeting to his old friend, and with characteristic generosity he enclosed a cheque for £5, with a request that I would minister to her immediate necessities, pay her 5s. a week, and generally use my discretion in dispensing the amount in his behalf. This I did, and reported to Mr. Spurgeon from time to time, always receiving a fresh cheque when the fund in hand became exhausted, and this was continued until her death about three years later.”[ii]
For the first in this series on CH Spurgeon click here
[i] See Heb 5.12, and 1 Cor 3.2. The King James has ‘strong meat’, although the newer versions tend to have ‘solid food’.
[ii] The Autobiography of Charles H Spurgeon, Vol 1. (1897 London: Passmore and Alabaster) p.53-55
© 2019 Lex Loizides / Church History Review