James A. Spurgeon assisted his more famous, older brother, Charles, in the ministry of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in the 19th century. He served in various capacities, including from 1868, that of “co-pastor,” though his duties were primarily administrative. He often helped other churches that were struggling, seeking to encourage their revitalization. One such church that was greatly helped by his ministry was in Croydon. The following account of a dear member of that church was given by James in the Sword and Trowel in 1884. As I read it, I could not help but wonder how many church members today would be assumed dead if they missed two corporate meetings in a row?
At the Prayer-meeting; or Dead
A FEW WORDS SPOKEN AT A TABERNACLE PRAYER-MEETING BY PASTOR J. A. SPURGEON
I HAVE just lost one of the members of my church at Croydon. When I first went there she was an intemperate woman; and the sad part of her life’s story would be very painful indeed. It must be now some ten years ago that, completely poverty-stricken through her drinking habits, though she had a little amount coming in regularly, she was almost starving She had reduced herself to the utmost want, and then she resolved, very wisely, that she would become a teetotaller. Signing the pledge, she became a new woman; she came to the house of prayer, the grace of God reached her heart, and from that time she was always at the chapel whenever the doors were opened. I used to tell her that I thought she really lived on the premises.
There never was a prayer-meeting held without Mrs. W—— being present. Whether I was there or not, she was. Once, about six months ago, she was absent; but when I asked her where she had been, she said, “I came there, and put the books down, although I could not stop to the meeting.” She had come to the chapel, and reported herself, and then gone off to see some one who was ill. That was the only time I ever knew her to be away from a prayer-meeting until last Sunday evening, when I missed her again. I asked my deacons if they had seen her, or heard anything of her, and they said, “We do not know where she is, but she was not with us last Friday night, at the prayer-meeting.” I said that I was sure she was dead, for if she had been alive she would have been certain to have been at the prayer-meeting. Nobody questioned what I said. All felt with me that she would not have missed two consecutive prayer-meetings unless she had been dead, or too ill to leave her house. During the evening service one of the deacons went off to where she lived all by herself, and, not being able to make anybody hear, he obtained assistance, and broke into the house. There he found just what we expected; she was there, upon her knees, dead, in her little parlour, and she must have died in great suffering, and in the act of praying to God.
She was a remarkable character. She visited and gave away tracts in the worst street in Croydon, and she had a singularly happy way of getting hold of very wicked people, to whom she would tell the story of her own life, and say that she used to be just like them, but by the grace of God she had been converted, and that grace which had don so much for her could do the same for them. There is a story told as an instance of the pranks that used to be played upon her. A young man thought that he would frighten her; so he dressed himself up as nearly like the devil as his imagination enabled him to do, and when she knocked at his door, he opened it, and called out, “I am the devil,” and began to shout at her. Without being at all alarmed, she quietly put on her glasses, and looked him up and down, and said, “You ain’t the devil, you are only one of his children.” I thought the old lady had the best of it that time. I asked her if she ever saw him again, and she replied, “Oh dear, no! He just put his head in, and went off.”
We shall sorely miss her; our prayer-meetings will have a blank through Mrs. W——’s absence that we shall not easily make up. I hope some of you will be such constant attendants at the prayer-meeting that if you are absent twice we shall say of you, “I am sure our brother or sister must be dead,” although we do not want to have you departing from us so suddenly as did our good friend at Croydon.
(Taken from The Sword and Trowel: 1884 [London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1884], 89-90)