Providential fever, prescriptions for the soul, and spiritual genetics!

In the winter of 1849/50 an infective illness causing fever broke out at a Newmarket school, leading to its temporary closure. Charles Haddon Spurgeon was there, as a sort of pupil-assistant. As a result of this closure ‘Spurgeon’ (as he’s generally known) found himself in Colchester attending a church service he would not normally have been at, on Sunday 6th January 1850. During that service he was deeply touched by God’s grace in a very profound way. Spurgeon went on to become one of the most therapeutic physicians of the soul that history has known. So this unpleasant outbreak of infective disease had very interesting consequences. It’s an example of how God sometimes uses a bad event to bring about good, the most obvious and ultimate example of which being the crucifixion of God Himself as Jesus for our salvation. If it were not for both of these adverse events, countless souls might not have benefited from Spurgeon’s ministry proclaiming the latter, the ripples from which are still bearing fruit for eternity today. It would be interesting to know whether one of the mid 19th century Newmarket medics (Richard Faircloth, Robert Fyson, Frederick Page or Floyd Peck) was responsible for advising that the school be closed. If so, what an amazing beneficial side-effect from a simple medical decision that turned out to be!

The other interesting thing about this school is that it had an obscure housekeeper/cook named Mary King, who it turns out was a physician of the soul to Spurgeon himself! In his autobiography he wrote of her, ‘The first lessons I ever had in theology were from an old cook in the school at Newmarket.’ He recounts how she was sound in doctrine and a lesson in applied godliness. Apparently late in life ‘cook’ fell on hard times and lived in Ipswich. On hearing about this Spurgeon sent ‘a hearty greeting to his old friend’ and met her financial needs until she died about 3 years later. After Spurgeon himself had died, someone else from the school recalled how ‘Spurgeon, when under deep religious conviction, had conversed with her, and had been deeply impressed’ and that Spurgeon had told him ‘it was ‘cook’ who had taught him his theology.’ It’s interesting that she was a cook, since the medical symbol Rx on prescriptions is short for recipe, from the Latin meaning ‘take’ (the culinary use of the word recipe is derived from the medical use). It seems that Mary King supplied Spurgeon with both forms of recipe, as cook for the stomach and physician of the soul! (For an interesting example of this Rx symbol in use, see the top line visible on the 11th century manuscript on the page about The history of medical treatments, training, qualifications and regulation.)

On the 1851 census of All Saint’s parish, Newmarket, Mary King can be seen listed as a cook in the household of John Swindell the schoolmaster (where 12 pupils were living as well). By that time she was aged 60 and listed as unmarried. So it seems she had no genetic children, but through her son in Christ, Charles Spurgeon, how many spiritual grandchildren does she have now to rejoice over in eternity?

A concept developed in the 20th century of the meme, analogous to a gene, which instead of transmitting physical genetic information transmits ‘things’ from one mind to another. In the Christian context such information is more than just facts and ideas, but the spiritual life giving ‘Word’, which is ‘living and active’ (Hebrews 4:12, NIV) in the spiritual sense. Perhaps such information should be called a ‘speme’ – an appropriate word for the spiritual equivalent of a meme for three reasons: (1) ‘sp’ could stand for spirit, (2) it sounds like sperm, the male equivalent at least that transmits genetic information, and (3) it happens to be an old Italian word for ‘hope’, and ‘In his [God’s] great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope’ (1 Peter 1:3, NIV). Like Mary King, this is how all Christians should seek to extend the tree of life, channels through which the physical comes alive with the spiritual, perhaps not finding out who their spiritual children and grandchildren etc. are until eternity! This thought also fits with the two types of seed, i.e. ‘seed’ as transmitters of genetic information, whether animal or plant, and the ‘seed is the word of God’ (Luke 8:11, NIV) in the parable of the sower. (Excuse me for this somewhat eccentric cascade of thoughts, but I like it, so have left it in!)

One of Spurgeon’s great legacies is his inspirational book of daily readings. A quote from the 21st February page reads as follows (underlining mine):-

‘There may be a potent medicine in the great pharmacopoeia of Scripture, and you may yet continue sick unless you will examine and search the Scriptures to discover what “He hath said.”… Since “He hath said” is the source of all wisdom, and the fountain of all comfort, let it dwell in you richly, as “A well of water, springing up unto everlasting life.” So shall you grow healthy, strong, and happy in the divine life.’

And a quote that’s particularly apt for this website, considering the comments above on spiritual genetics and others on the Why, Francis Greene and Robert Cooke pages in particular (again, underlining mine):-

‘If thou dost continually draw thine impulse, thy life, the whole of thy being from the Holy Spirit, without whom thou canst do nothing; and if thou dost live in close communion with Christ, there will be no fear of thy having a dry heart. He who lives without prayer – he who lives with little prayer – he who seldom reads the Word – he who seldom looks up to heaven for a fresh influence from on high – he will be the man whose heart will become dry and barren; but he who calls in secret on his God – who spends much time in holy retirement – who delights to meditate on the words of the Most High – whose soul is given up to Christ – who delights in his fullness, rejoices in his all-sufficiency, prays for his second coming, and delights in the thought of his glorious advent – such a man, I say, must have an overflowing heart; and as his heart is, such will his life be. It will be a full life; it will be a life that will speak from the sepulcher, and wake the echoes of the future. “Keep thine heart with all diligence,” and entreat the Holy Spirit to keep it full; for, otherwise, the issues of thy life will be feeble, shallow, and superficial; and thou mayest as well not have lived at all.’ (Morning sermon, 21st February, 1858.)

Note: I discovered both of the above quotes in December 2014, after writing the Why, Francis Greene and Robert Cooke pages, and 20 years after writing the foundational page to its sister project briefly referred to on the Why page:-

‘A philosopher has remarked that if a man knew that he had thirty years of life before him, it would not be an unwise thing to spend twenty of those years in mapping out a plan of living, and putting himself under rule, for he would do more with the ten well-arranged years than with the whole thirty if he spent them at random, [sic] There is much truth in that say-ing. A man will do little by firing off his gun if he has not learned to take aim.’ (from Spurgeon’s address to the London Bank’s Prayer Union, 28th September, 1885.)

Relevant references in chronological order

1851, 30th March: Mary King, cook, All Saint’s parish, Newmarket, in the household of John Swindell the schoolmaster and 12 pupils. Reference: The National Archives, 1851 census.

Some other sources consulted include:-

C. H. Spurgeon’s autobiography. Compiled from his diary, letters and records, by his wife and his private secretary. London: Passmore and Alabaster; 1897;1:53-55. [Note: source for the quotes in paragraph 2 above.]

Online Etymology Dictionary. (accessed 12th December 2014)

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Anglicisation copyright © 1979, 1984, 1989. Used by permission of Hodder and Stoughton Limited. [Note: the quotation above however ought to be regarded as fair use/dealing in this context anyway – see the Usage &c. page.]

Spurgeon CH. Morning by morning: or, daily readings for the family or the closet. London: Passmore and Alabaster; 1865.

Spurgeon gems & other treasures of God’s truth. (accessed 25th December 2014). [Note: source for the London Bank’s Prayer Union address.]

The Spurgeon Archive. (accessed 25th December 2014). [Note: source for the morning sermon quote above.]

Thomas G. The Conversion of Charles Haddon Spurgeon: January 6 1850. Banner of Truth 2000; January 1. (accessed 12th December 2014).

Note: For published material referenced on this website see the ‘Acknowledgements for resources of published material’ section on the ‘Usage &c.’ page. The sources used for original unpublished documents are noted after each individual reference. Any census records are referenced directly to The National Archives, since images of these are so ubiquitous on microfilm and as digital images that they almost function like published works. Census records are covered by the ‘Open Government Licence’ as should be other such public records (see the ‘Copyright and related issues’ section on the ‘Usage &c.’ page for which references constitute public records, and any other copyright issues more generally such as fair dealing/use etc.).