REAT AS WAS THE INFLUENCE of Mr. Spurgeon's preaching, it may be questioned whether the influence of his printed sermons was not greater. The series was begun the year after he came to London, and was continued during his life and after his death. There are sixty-three volumes of them in all, each containing from fifty-two to sixty sermons, except the last volume, which is incomplete owing to war conditions. If it is asked how it was possible to print so many sermons after Mr. Spurgeon's death, it must be remembered that, except during his vacations, three sermons were preached every week and only one published. From early years all were reported, so a great number of manuscripts were available when the preacher's voice became silent. The publication of the sermons almost synchronises with the combined ministry of father and son at the tabernacle, and in the biography of Thomas Spurgeon I have ventured to call those years "the Spurgeon era."
Mr. Spurgeon's power is diffused. He has given us no masterpiece like The Pilgrim's Progress, and few will read enough of Mr. Spurgeon in future generations to know what manner of man he was, even as few read Bunyan's Sermons. But there is spread over the great surface of his innumerable productions what might have made him famous if he had sought fame and, as Mr. Haweis has discernment enough to see, the comparatively narrow range to which the Baptist confines himself makes his wonderful fertility and freedom unmistakably the results of genius.
Said Dr. Pusey once: "I love the evangelicals because of their great love for Christ."
Multitudes of educated Christian men loved Charles Spurgeon, spite of intellectual differences, for that reason. From the days when Samuel Rutherford so preached his Master as to compel the Duke of Argyll once to cry out, "Oh, man, keep on in that strain!" no one, we may safely say, has set forth the claims of Christ to men's love and service with such winning sweetness and such melting pathos, with such eloquence of the inmost soul, as Charles Spurgeon. It may be that the dark background of his theology to which the mind of this age could not by any effort accommodate itself, threw into greater relief this side of his teaching. The outside darkness of unbelief and irreligiousness was, indeed, made very terrible. But the inner world of spiritual, experience was wondrous fair. And no human computation will be able to reckon the number of weary toilers in the working and lower middle classes whose narrow surroundings have been brightened and idealized by the glow from the realm of faith to which he introduced them. It was a great thing which this man achieved, to convince multitudes of struggling people, in the midst of a life which everything tended to belittle, that their character and career were a matter of infinite concern to the Power who made them, that they could not afford to treat sin lightly, or to throw themselves away as though they were of no account.
A review of the sermons demands a volume rather than a chapter, and a great reward awaits the investigator patient enough to compile that volume, but even without such guidance as a volume might give, they are invaluable. The wise preacher or writer on religious subjects will do well if, after mapping out his own course, he sees "what Spurgeon has to say about it." Sir William Robertson Nicoll, finding himself short of books in his first Highland parish, discovered that a shoemaker in the village had a set of Spurgeon's Sermons, and he set himself to read them all, with the result that he became one of Spurgeon's warmest admirers. Let not the reader be deceived by their apparent simplicityit is the ease of genius, there is depth as well as clearness. Spurgeon was, in fact, one of the great doctors of divinity; he had an intuitive knowledge of the ways of God and of the needs of the human heart, and in all his preaching his one object was to commend God to men. Robert Louis Stevenson, in writing to a friend in London, says: "I wish you to get Pioneering in New Guinea. It is a missionary book, and has less pretensions to be literature than Spurgeon's Sermons." But even if Spurgeon's Sermons had no claim to be considered as literature, it would be wise advice, "I wish you to get them." A distinguished professor in one of our theological colleges was accustomed at times after his divinity lectures to read one of the sermons to his students, and he generally introduced it by saying, "Now let us have some of Spurgeon's heart-warming mixture."
The Daily News (London) made this comment:
Honest Hugh Latimer, in the middle of the sixteenth century, has probably more in common with the great Baptist preacher than any of his contemporaries. It was surely a wise remark, and as it was made by a Jesuit it is not likely to be unfairly favorable to Mr. Spurgeon, that no one really loves his religion unless he is able to make a joke of it. Mr. Spurgeon may, as Matthew Arnold has said of Socrates, "be terribly at ease in Sion." But, then, a man to whom the spiritual is equally realized with the material is not likely to speak with bated breath of the truths of religion.
The Times gave this testimony:
Mr. Spurgeon laid his foundation in the Bible. His utterances abound with Scriptural text, figure, metaphor and allusion. Whatever he says sends his hearers to the sacred record. But starting from this basis, he has added to it a stock of reading such as few men can show in their talk or in their writing. He cannot be accused of not being a man of the world, or of not knowing the ways of the world, for he reads the Book and the book of nature too. His style is illustrated with almost pictorial brightness. What remains? The very tail of the matter. He occasionally drops a phrase to provoke a smile from the soft cheeks of ladies and gentlemen, and to make them think for the moment that they could say the thing better. We are not sure that Latimer and Ridley's sermons would not jar on modern refinement quite as much, but they never would have reformed the Church of England with smooth words and a pure classic style.
The Bishop of Ripon, in his cathedral, after Mr. Spurgeon's death, went further:
It was once said of Hugh Latimer that toward the end of his career he spoke invariably from the same text. Whenever he spoke he opened his Bible and addressed the people from the words of St. Paul, "Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our leaming, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope." The reason was that the text gave him the opportunity to speak of all things which were written in the past which he believed were for the learning and education of men in the present. Mr. Spurgeon once quoted that fact in Hugh Latimer's life; but he added that, were he to choose one text on which he would always be bound to preach, he would choose "To know the love of Christ that passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled with all the fullness of God"; for there he said, his theme would be inexhaustible.
Then the Bishop added significant words, which indicate perhaps the wise method of proclaiming the Word of God to the men of today:
The power of Mr. Spurgeon lay in this, that though from a critical standpoint he did not understand the Old Testament, yet being so much imbued with the spiritual conception he had drawn from patient and careful study of the Bible, he often escaped the very mistakes which from a critical standpoint he might have fallen into.
He preached from every book of the Bible, from some texts several times. It is remarkable that the sermons unpublished at the time of his death, like the published sermons, even when they deal with the same theme, avoid repetition. Of course, on occasion, when preaching away from home, he would repeat a sermon, generally the sermon of the previous Sabbath, but even in such cases, such was the productiveness of his mind that he would sometimes prefer to preach an original sermon.
"What a storehouse the Bible is," he once said at a meeting of the Bible society, "since a man may continue to preach from it for years, and still find that there is more to preach from than when he began to discourse upon it. What pyramids of books have been written upon the Bible, and yet we who are students find no portion overexpounded, but large parts which have been scarcely touched. If you take Darling's Cyclopaedia and look at a text which one divine has preached upon, you will see that dozens of others have done the same; but there are hundreds of texts which remain like virgin summits, whereon the foot of the preacher has never trod. I might almost say that the major part of the Word of God is still in that condition: it is still an Eldorado unexplored, a land whose dust is gold." He said to the students at New College on October 26, 1866, "For twelve years most of my sermons have been reported and reprinted and yet in my search for something new I pace up and down my study, embarrassed with the abundance of topics, not knowing which to choose."
"While reading the penny sermons of Joseph Irons, which were great favourites with me, I conceived in my heart," he says, "that some time or other I should have a Penny Pulpit of my own." His earliest attempt was a series of Waterbeach Tracts, published the first year he was in London. The next year, 1854, his sermon preached on August 20 was published in The Penny Pulpit (No. 2234 of the Series), and in September 1854, expositions by Spurgeon were given in The Baptist Messenger. These excited so much interest that in 1855 the dream of a separate publication was realised, and The New Park Street Pulpit was started on January 7, the first sermon being on the text, "I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed." Spurgeon always swam in deep waters. For seven years these eight-page, small-print sermons continued to be published. Then the abolition of the paper duty made it possible to have twelve pages and larger type, and the title was changed to Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, and the sermons continued to be published under that title until the end.
Sermons preached on Sunday and Thursday evenings still continued to appear in The Penny Pulpit, and as an outcome three volumes of the Pulpit Library were published, which are now very rare. The first printed sermon on the text, "Is it not wheat harvest today?" is included, and it is a wonderful production for a young man of twenty. "I think how surprised some of God's people will be," he exclaims, "when they get to heaven. They will see the Master and He will give them a crown. 'Lord, what is this crown for?' 'That crown is because thou didst give a cup of cold water to one of My disciples' 'What, a crown for a cup of cold water?' 'Yes,' says the Master, 'that is how I pay My servants: First I give them grace to give the cup of water, and then, having given them grace, I will give them a crown.'" The first sermon in Volume II of the Pulpit Library, "Prove Me Now," was preached on the morning of the day when the disaster occurred at the Surrey Gardens Music Hall in the evening, and contains the almost prophetic sentence, "See what God can do, just when a cloud is falling on the head of him whom God has raised up to preach to you." In this volume also is "The Parable of the Ark," in which the deliverance from the flood is cleverly allegorised.
Considerably more than a hundred millions of the weekly sermons have been sold, and they have been reproduced in numberless other ways. On one occasion the publishers received an order for a million copies, on another a quarter of a million copies were bought to be distributed in volumes of twelve or more to the students in the universities, members of Parliament, the crowned heads of Europe, and the householders in Ireland. So highly were they valued that one gentleman paid for their insertion in several of the Australian papers week by week as advertisements in order to reach the people in the bush in Australia and New Zealand. At one time an enterprising American newspaper syndicate cabled the Sunday morning sermon across the Atlantic, and continued to do so until it was discovered that a rival newspaper had managed to tap the wires. Upon which Mr. Spurgeon wrote the characteristic paragraph: "The sermons were not long telegraphed to America, so that our friends who feared that the Sabbath would be desecrated may feel their minds relieved. We are not sorry, for the sermons which we saw in the American papers may have been ours, but they were so battered and disfigured that we would not have owned them. In the process of transmission the eggs were broken and the very life of them was crushed. We much prefer to revise and publish ourselves." The sermons were also frequently reported and reproduced in the religious press, and were translated into scores of other languages. A special edition in German was printed for the Leipsig Book Fair of 1861.
The first day I was in London Spurgeon captured me. Both morning and evening I was at the tabernacle, and I sat enthralled as he discoursed on "The full soul loatheth an honeycomb; but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet." I was the hungry soul, and the things I heard were not bitter. And as from the furthest corner of the top gallery later in the day I heard him talk on the text "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another," I felt I was part of a great family. I heard him often afterward, and have many memories of those golden days. Two reminiscences must suffice, both of the first sermon after his return from Mentone in different years. On the first occasion he was in splendid vigour, and his subject was, "I have yet to speak on God's behalf." As he developed his message, he seemed like a lion in his royal consciousness of strength and his scorn of all opponents. The next time he was tender and almost pensive, but never have I known more what "unction" means than then when he spoke on the subject, "Supposing him to be the gardener."
Two collections representative of his ministry have been made, one by himself in the "Preachers of the Age" serieshe chose the title Messages to the Multitude the month he diedand another by Sir William Robertson Nicoll for a volume containing twenty-four sermons, published by Thomas Nelson & Sons. Both of them contain the sermon, "Supposing him to be the gardener," and both another which roused a great interest at the time, and was several times redelivered"There go the ships."
"Roughly the volumes may be divided into three classes," the editor of the second compilation says. "There are those that represent the period of extreme youth. Then there are those that represent the period of his greatest powers running perhaps up to 1876. The glow is unabated; the force, the grip, the strenuousness of appeal he himself never rivaled. Then come the later sermons. Perhaps they are more full than their predecessors of mellow wisdom, of the wisdom of a deeply exercised spirit, and they are perhaps more touched with a growing gloom. For Spurgeon in his later days believed that he saw around him and before him a decay of faith."
It was the sermons in the middle period that appealed most strongly to Dr. James Denney. He was inclined, like some others, to despise Spurgeon, but by his wife's influence was induced to read him, with the result that "it was Spurgeon, perhaps, as much as anyone, who led him to the great decision of his lifethe decision to preach Christ our righteousness."
A third volume of sermons entitled Grace Triumphant was issued by the Religious Tract Society. None of them appears anywhere else.
Mr. Spurgeon's method of preparing his sermons is not to be recommended to others who are without his gifts. Generally he had a number of friends to see him on Saturday afternoons, and after tea he would frequently conduct family worship with them. They all understood that they must leave at seven o'clock sharp. Then, as he used to say, he began to get some food for his sheep. Sometimes the Sunday morning sermon came easily, and in an hour or two he had completed his preparation, having his notes written on half a sheet of ordinary notepaper, possibly overflowing to the other side of the sheet. The fact was that he believed in preparing himself rather than the sermon, and, as he wrote so much, his power of accurate expression was exceptional. The Sunday evening sermon was generally prepared on Sunday afternoon. He was a rapid worker, his thoughts had the speed and the vividness of lightning. That was one reason why he never spent long in private prayerhe said to me more than once that he thought of twenty things in five minutes. He went to the pulpit with the assurance that he would be able to clothe his ideas appropriately at the moment, and many of his illustrations came to him during the delivery of the sermon.
The early sermons were but slightly revised, but the preacher became more exacting with himself as the years advanced. It was his custom to begin the revision of his Sunday morning's discourse early on Monday. The words used in speech have not the same force in type, and a sermon to be read with the same acceptance as it was heard must be pruned and amplified, balanced, and arranged. It would astonish many of his readers to know what care he bestowed on his sermons. By constant practice he was able on Sunday mornings to preach long enough to fill just the twelve necessary pages, but at other times than Sunday mornings sometimes he preached longer, and sometimes shorter. During his long illness and the subsequent weakness before his death, it was given to me to revise his sermons, and I was gradually emboldened to make large alterations in them, to develop a seven-page sermon into twelve pages, to take a piece from a long sermon and put it in a short one, and to add illustrative paragraphs here and there. Mr. Spurgeon himself, when he was able to scan the sermons of these ten months, was both interested and baffled when he tried to separate his own words from those of his editor.
The sermon to which greatest testimony has been borne of converting power was preached in the revival year, 1859. The text was "Compel them to come in." It is said that some hundreds joined the Church as a result of its influence, and from the ends of the earth scores of others have declared that it was the means of their salvation. Two other sermons preached in the Surrey Gardens Music Hall were specially blessed: One entitled "Looking unto Jesus," is, as Mr. Spurgeon himself confessed, "one of the most simple of the series, and likely to be overlooked by those who are seeking anything original and striking," but it is evidently a fit vehicle for God's Spirit, for in its printed form it has led many to the Saviour, as it did when it was preached. The other, "The Shameful Sufferer," has also had abundant testimony borne to its usefulness. In 1861 a sermon on "Simeon," twenty-four pages long, was printed in gold, and sold for a shilling, in aid of the building of the tabernacle. Has any other sermon been deemed worthy of golden type?
The sermons numbered 500, 1000, and 1500 are all of them simple statements of the Gospel; and have been largely used in bringing people to Christ. The same may be said of No. 2000, issued after Mr. Spurgeon's death. Interesting meetings were held to celebrate the issue of the first three, and thank-offerings were given on behalf of the college that other men might be trained to preach the same Gospel. It is singular that the sermon chosen a month before for publication during the week of Mr. Spurgeon's funeral was on "David Serving His Generation by the Will of God." It had an immense sale.
A distinguished minister has given it as his judgement that "the sermon entitled 'Things that Accompany Salvation' is the most eloquent, and exhibits greater mental power than any other sermon Mr. Spurgeon ever delivered." It is certainly a most picturesque discourse, but it can, I think, be matched by others. The leap-year sermon on February 29, 1880, which was a Sunday, aroused much attention. The text was "One born out of due time."
There was a remarkable experience in connection with the sermon No. 74, in the second volume of The New Park Street Pulpit. On the Saturday evening Mr. Spurgeon's mind was directed to the text, "Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power," but the sermon would not come, although he worked late. Worn and dispirited he appealed to Mrs. Spurgeon. She advised him to go to rest, and promised to wake him early in the morning that he might have time enough then to prepare. He had scarcely got to sleep before he began to talk in his sleep and to preach in his talk a sermon on the text. Mrs. Spurgeon noted the points as he gave them, and, overjoyed, determined to keep awake repeatinig them. But at length she fell asleep too, and neither husband nor wife woke until the usual hour. With a start he rose, wondering what he should do, when his wife quieted him by telling him what he had preached in his sleep. "Why, that's just what I wanted!" he exclaimed. "It is wonderful!" he kept saying, and at the appointed hour he stood in his pulpit and preached it, though he gave the people no hint that he was preaching it for the second time.
An experience of quite a different kind came to him after a week of great depression. He felt that the only text he could take was "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" and he poured out his soul's bitterness as he spoke to the people. At the close of the service there came to him a man on the verge of despair, who began to hope because there seemed to be one man at least who understood him, and from that day he walked in the sunlight, bearing testimony years afterward that the change was abiding. The preacher at once understood his own experience, and counted his week's eclipse of joy a small price to pay for the privilege of leading another soul back from the horror of thick darkness.
When Bishop Welldon went as a boy to Germany, his grandmother, much to his benefit, gave him some volumes of Spurgeon's Sermons as a stay to his faith. A newspaper correspondent during the South African War wrote that in passing through Cape Colony he generally found in Boer households a piano and a copy of Spurgeon's Sermons in Dutch; and Dr. Andrew Thomson declares that he has "seen Spurgeon's Sermons again and again in Christian homes in the continent of Europe, and not least in the manses and chalets of the Waldenses among the Cottian Alps."
David Livingstone carried through Africa the Sermon "Accidents, Not Punishments," No. 408; it was returned at length to Mr. Spurgeon with a note along the top "Very good. D. L.," and was treasured by the preacher. Alongside Livingstone's pathetic copy there lay in Spurgeon's house a copy of the French edition of the same sermon, printed from lithographic plates on writing paper in order that it might look like manuscript as it was read from the pulpit.
In Serbia for some time the priests did not preach, but the bishop issued an order that preaching was to begin on a certain day, and the Minister of Finance, to make it possible, translated three of Spurgeon's sermons and sent them to 650 priests; so on the particular Sunday in which they were called to preach they were equipped for the task. It would be interesting to know what happened afterward. In Russia the sermons were frequently issued "by authority."
"I am aware that my preaching repels many," he said. "If a man does not believe in the inspiration of the Bible, for instance, he may come and hear me once, and if he comes and hears me no more that is his act, not mine. My doctrine has no attraction for the man, but I cannot change my doctrine to suit him." George Eliot in scorn wrote of him: "This Essex man drove bullock wagons through ecclesiastical aisles; his pulpit gown was a smockfrock." But the seal of God was on his ministry all through.
A man once came to take a sitting at the tabernacle, and hesitatingly said to its pastor, "I may not come up to all that you expect of me, for I have heard that if I take a sitting here you will expect me to be converted, and I cannot guarantee that."
"I do not want you to guarantee it," was the reply; "I do not mean the word 'expect' in that sense at all; but I do hope it will be so."
"Oh," he said, "and so do I; I am going to take a sitting with that very view."
"And it was so," adds Spurgeon, "of course it was so." Many a time he uttered his belief that there was not a seat in the tabernacle but somebody had been converted on it.
He preached for conversions, and without conversions there was no welcome to the church. A man once came offering £7000 to any object connected with the tabernacle on condition that he might be accepted as a member. Astonished at the refusal which was kindly given to him, he pressed his claim. "No," said Mr. Spurgeon, "nor if you offered me seventy times seven thousand pounds." Years afterwards he returned in chastened mood to thank Spurgeon for his rejection, and was then received as a simple believer in Christ Jesus.
When Mr. Gladstone visited the tabernacle on January 8, 1882, the preacher gave one of his simplest Gospel sermons on the text "Who touched my clothes?" The friendship between the two men was not in the least affected by Mr. Spurgeon's strong opposition to the first Home Rule Bill.
He very seldom preached on public affairs, but on a few special occasions he did so with effect. His sermon on the Crimean War entitled "Healing for the Wounded" had a prodigious sale and contributed materially to calm the public mind in the darkest moments of the Siege of Sevastopol. A notable sermon during the cholera visitation in 1866 was preached on August 12 of that year from Amos 3:3-6. In 1862, when a collection was taken for the sufferers from the disaster at the Hartley Collieries, an effective sermon had as its text, "If a man die, shall he live again?" The death of the Prince Consort called forth another sermon which was widely appreciated. "Londoners will remember the way in which they were moved by the loss of many lives in the sinking of the Princess Alice, a pleasure steamer which went down in the Thames. The sermon preached by Spurgeon at the time served to give the disaster a vividness of spiritual meaning which affected many." The text on the occasion was "He sent from above: He drew me out of many waters."
The record of blessing on the printed sermons is apt to grow gloriously monotonous. A woman whose husband had fled the country consulted the preacher, and after he had prayed with her he dared to tell her that her husband would be converted and yet be a member of the tabernacle church. About that time on board ship the husband stumbled on one of Mr. Spurgeon's sermons, became a changed man, and a few months later was in triumph introduced by his wife to Mr. Spurgeon.
On a ship coasting to Oregon some one produced a volume of the Sermons, and after some pressure induced one of the passengers to read a sermon aloud. Nearly all the rest of the passengers and as many of the crew as were at liberty gathered round the reader. Some time afterward at San Francisco he was accosted by a man who declared that he had heard him preach. "I am not a preacher, my friend," he said. Then it turned out that he had heard the Spurgeon sermon read, and the sailor added, "I never forgot that sermon; it made me feel that I was a sinner, and I have found Christ, and I am so glad to see you again."
In a South American city an Englishman was confined in prison for life. A fellow countryman visited him and discovered that some years before another Englishman had called upon him in a similar manner, and left behind him two English novels. Between the leaves of one of the novels was a sermon of Spurgeon's entitled "Salvation to the Uttermost." It referred to the murderer Palmer, and gave the prisoner such hope in Christ that, though he never expected to be liberated, he was able to rejoice in his Saviour.
In an assembly at Chicago a plea was made for a missionary in the far West, on the ground that through the reading of Spurgeon's Sermons no less than two hundred people had been converted there. A woman in Scotland tried to burn her Bible and a copy of one of the Sermons; twice it dropped out of the fire, the second time half-consumed, and, her curiosity excited, she read the fragment and was converted through it. A man keeping sheep in the bush near Ballarat picked up a sheet of a newspaper, one of those in which the sermons were inserted as advertisements; had it been in sermon form he declared he would not have read it, but seeing it in the newspaper, he became enlightened and changed. Only a month ago I travelled with a man who in his youth had been engaged in a printing office. One day he picked from the waste-paper basket a crumpled paper, which turned out to be a Spurgeon sermon on the Atonement, and it opened to him the way of life and led him to an honourable Christian career.
In describing a service at the temporary hall erected for Mr. Moody at Bow Road on one of his visits to London, a reporter says of the evening when Mr. Spurgeon preached, his text being, "The poor committeth himself unto thee": "We have attended pretty regularly the services of Moody and Sankey, but were quite unprepared to find such a surging crowd of people outside the barriers after the announcement that the Hall was full." Carey Bonner, who as a young man was present that evening, speaks of it as the turning-point in his life.
Of course there are not wanting humorous incidents in connection with the sermons. One of them was so blessed to a lady that she bought twenty copies of it and had them bound in a volume; and in Holland there was a person who read the sermons with pleasure until he was told that Spurgeon was a carnal and worldly man who wore a moustache, and then he was not able to read them any longer.
Ian Maclaren's story of the Scotch wife who gave the parting injunction to her husband going to town, "Dinna forget Spurgeon," is memorable, as his own testimony is like that of thousands of others, "I cannot forget."