By the middle of the 1860’s, the ministry of the Metropolitan Tabernacle was bustling. Church membership was approaching 3,000, with hundreds more joining the church each year. New elders were being appointed to provide spiritual care for the growing church. Spurgeon’s sermons were being published weekly and distributed around the world. Out of the Tabernacle, new charitable and evangelistic ministries were sprouting up as members looked for ways to serve the Lord and reach those around them. Graduates of The Pastors’ College were being sent out to Baptist churches through England and around the world. With so much going on around him, Spurgeon sought to bring a measure of organization to these various efforts. Thus, in January 1865, The Sword and the Trowel was born.
For the rest of his ministry, Spurgeon would serve as the editor of this monthly magazine. In the introduction of the very first issue, Spurgeon describes the armies of Israel gathering around the ark, each tribe with its distinctive banner. Similarly, this magazine was an effort for the Metropolitan Tabernacle to raise their banner:
Even so, in the Church of God, our Lord Jesus and the common salvation are the central point about which believers gather, but the standards of peculiar associations of Christians cannot well be dispensed with. We feel that we need to uplift a banner because of the truth, and with hopeful heart we do so this day. (S&T 1865:1)
But this was not just Spurgeon’s banner. Instead, the magazine reported on “the efforts of those churches and associations, which are more or less intimately connected with the Lord’s work at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, and to advocate those views of doctrine and the Church order which are most certainly received among us.” Though Spurgeon would serve as the editor, this magazine would contain articles and sermons from “many ministers who were students in our College… and their flocks, we trust, will receive a blessing through their stirring words.” (S&T 1865:1-2)
In other words, this magazine represented a new wave of churches arising in England: churches that were firmly centered on the gospel and ordered by a robust Baptist vision of the church. Through The Sword and the Trowel, this distinct vision for ministry would spread throughout the English-speaking world.
But more than a grand vision of church ministry, this magazine also offers a unique perspective into Spurgeon’s pastoral theology. In the preface to his book, Living by Revealed Truth, Tom Nettles provides this summary of the magazine:
While mounds of valuable sermons and addresses from Spurgeon and others appear as the main body of the monthly fascicle, the sections of book reviews and monthly “notes” provide rich sources for understanding Spurgeon’s life, opinions, theology, and view of pastoral ministry. It provides an ongoing commentary on the literature of the day, his views on the life of the church, reports on the multitudinous benevolences that he sponsored and supported directly as well as many others which he had sympathy and sought to encourage others to support. Much of his personal life – joys, conflicts, and suffering – shows up in the notes included in a section noted as “personal.” (Nettles, Living by Revealed Truth, 9)
For many decades now, pastors have benefited from Spurgeon’s sermons for their own spiritual growth and encouragement. However, few have been able to benefit from his “view of pastoral ministry” and “his views on the life of the church.” Many people know that Spurgeon preached to thousands. But few know that he also sought to pastor those thousands. As a local church pastor, Spurgeon dealt with many of the same challenges and questions that we face in our day. As pastors look to church history for mentors in the ministry, The Sword and the Trowel provides valuable insights into the pastoral theology of one faithful pastor.
Up to this point, access to The Sword and the Trowel has been limited. Pilgrim Publications has helpfully provided a re-publication of the magazines, though this set is abridged, incomplete (only from 1865 to 1886), and increasingly more difficult to find. For those wanting to access the originals, very few libraries in the world possess a complete set of The Sword and the Trowel.
So it is with excitement that The Spurgeon Library at Midwestern Seminary is announcing that we are in the process of making our complete collection of The Sword and the Trowel (1865-1902) available digitally through Spurgeon.org. These will not only be unabridged facsimiles, but they will also be the very set that Spurgeon owned in his personal library. You never know what marginalia you might find in one of them!
In making these magazines available once again, our prayer is that Spurgeon’s vision would once again be realized, “urging the claims of Christ’s cause, of advocating the revival of godliness, of denouncing error, of bearing witness for truth, and of encouraging the labourers in the Lord’s vineyard.” (S&T 1865:2)
You can access the first five years of The Sword and Trowel Collection (1865-1869) here.
Coming up next: Highlights from the 1st 5 years of The Sword and the Trowel.