The story of how Charles Haddon Spurgeon preached his first sermon at a cottage meeting in the little village of Teversham, and how as a result of the ability shown therein he was placed upon the plan of village preachers in the Cambridge district, has been told too often to need repetition here. It was not long before he was invited to the permanent pastorate of Waterbeach Chapel, and the fame of the young divineyoung in years but old in spiritual experience and in skill as a teacher and expositor of Holy Writsoon spread for miles around, so that when he was occupying the pulpit men and women drove in from outlying villages in large numbers, and the chapel, hitherto half empty, was filled to excess with an expectant and devout congregation. And that it was not mere eloquence that attracted and held the people was proved in a very short time, for the whole character of the villagehitherto noted above other local villages for its sin and indifference to religionwas changed, and the results of Spurgeon's work have lived to the present day. His preaching was indeed "the power of God unto salvation," and scarcely a service passed without there being known cases of conversion.
Such a preacher could not be confined to his own little circle and chapel, and invitations from various churches round, from Cambridge as well as from the smaller villages, poured in. His fame was noised abroad more than ever, and at last reached London, whence he received an invitation to preach at the New Park Street Chapel, an important church ministered to by a succession of famous preachers, including Benjamin Keach [from 1668 to 1704], Dr. John Gill [from 1720 to 1771], and Dr. John Rippon [from 1773 to 1836]. It is not surprising that the youthhe was not yet twenty years of age and very modestshould think some mistake had been made, but when he found that he was indeed the Charles Haddon Spurgeon whose services were sought, he accepted the invitation with much fear and trembling. Only a country youth who has been to London on some important and responsible mission can understand what this visit meant to the young preacher. Unsophisticated, ignorant of the ways of the great city, and entertaining an altogether exaggerated idea of the importance and requirements of cultured Londoners, he arrived on a dull December evening in 1853, spent a miserable, sleepless night in a Bloomsbury boarding house, and entered the pulpit of New Park Street Chapel with much trepidation. The congregation was small, and, looking to God for strength, he felt a sense of divine comfort and help which reassured him and enabled him to preach a powerful sermon from the text, "Every good and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17). How far from being a novice at preaching the young man was, may be gathered from the fact that this was his 673rd sermon. It took the people by storm. Many a long week had passed since such a sermon had been heard in their church, and more than one hearer realized that the preacher was destined for great things. At night the chapel was nearly full. The morning worshippers had spoken with delight to their friends of the spiritual feast which they had enjoyed, and the evening congregation was as a result more than double that of the morning. The text of C. H. Spurgeon's second sermon in London was Rev. 14:5, "They are without fault before the throne of God," and, as we know, the congregation at the conclusion of the service was too excited to leave the chapel, and made the deacons promise to invite the young preacher to the vacant pastorate.
It is needless to repeat in detail the oft-told story how the young minister was asked to supply for six months, but his modesty forbade him agreeing to more than three months at a time; how directly after he commenced his ministry the chapel was crowded to the doors: how without waiting for the completion of the period of probation he was urged by the deacons to accept the pastorate, and how after much prayer and self-examination he agreed. London at once rang with his fame. People flocked from all directions; the chapel became too small, and Exeter Hall was engaged for the evening services, hundreds of would-be hearers even then being excluded owing to lack of room. Prominent men in the literary, political and social worlds went to hear him, and all who were qualified to speak with authority bestowed the greatest praise upon his preaching, both as to matter and manner. Said Sheridan Knowles, the ex-actor and playwright, to his ministerial students at Stepney College"Go and hear the Cambridgeshire lad at once. He is only a boy, but he is the most wonderful preacher in the world. He is absolutely perfect in his oratory; he has nothing to learn from me or from anyone else. He is simply perfect. He knows everything . . . Why, boys, he can do anything he pleases with his audience! He can make them laugh and cry and laugh again in five minutes. His power was never equaled. Now, mark my words, boys, that young man will live to be the greatest preacher of this or any other age. He will bring more souls to Christ than any man who ever proclaimed the gospel, not excepting the Apostle Paul. His name will be known everywhere, and his sermons will be translated into many languages of the world." A remarkable prophecy made in 1854, just after C. H. Spurgeon had become pastor at New Park Street, which was literally fulfilled, as this little book will show.
Many writers in religious and secular journals expressed the opinion that the new preacher was a worthy successor to Bunyan and Wesley and Whitefield, and that he would rival, if not eclipse, such men as William Carey, Gill, Rippon and Robert Hall. In the Morning Advertiser, James Grant wrote"He is quite an original preacher and therefore will always draw large congregations, and consequently may be eminently made the means of doing great good to classes of persons who might never otherwise be brought within the sound of a faithfully preached Gospel. He has evidently made George Whitefield his model, and, like that unparalleled preacher, that prince of pulpit orators, is very fond of striking apostrophes." Later James Grant noted with pleasure that popular applause had not spoiled the preacher, and continued, "With regard again to our other fear, that his excellence as a preacher would not be sustained, the event has, we rejoice to say, no less agreeably proved the groundlessness of our apprehensions. There is no falling off whatever. On the contrary, he is in some respects improving with the lapse of time. We fancy we can see his striking originality to greater advantage that at first." Of course there were some who condemned and abused the young preacher, but these were either older ministers jealous of his success, or ignorant journalists eager to make "copy." The former were severely taken to task by the Rev. Edwin Paxton Hood, who wrote of Spurgeon that he had"the unbridled and undisciplined fancy of Hervey without his elegance; but instead of that, the drollery of Berridge and the ubiquitous earnestness of Rowland Hill in his best days." "For bold and convincing statements of Evangelical truth," he concluded, "for a faithful grappling with convictions, for happy and pertinent illustrations, for graphic description and for searching common sense we shall look, and we believe we shall seldom look in vain. In a word, he preachesnot to metaphysicians or logiciansneither to poets nor to savantsto masters of erudition or masters of rhetoric; he preaches to men."
But perhaps the best and keenest criticism of C. H. Spurgeon's preaching on his arrival in London was written by a Mr. Hare, who said"His voice is clear and musical; his language plain; his style flowing, but terse; his method lucid and orderly; his matter sound and suitable; his tone and spirit cordial; his remarks always pithy and pungent, sometimes familiar and colloquial, yet never light or coarse, much less profane. Judging from a single sermon, we supposed that he would become a plain, faithful, forcible and affectionate preacher of the Gospel in the form called Calvinistic; and our judgment was the more favorable because, while there was a solidity beyond his years, we detected little of the wild luxuriance naturally characteristic of very young preachers."
We have given at some length the opinions of competent and critical authorities upon C. H. Spurgeon's preaching, to show that it appealed to educated men and women who were free from bias, and this was proved more amply by the fact that for years the preacher's congregations included many prominent personsliterary men like Ruskin, judges and statesmen, members of Parliament, peers and peeresses. But if this was the case, how much more did it appeal to the middle and lower classes? Not for a long time had a prominent preacher condescended to preach the simple Gospel in plain English, free from classical quotations and overburdened rhetoric. The common people heard him gladly because they could understand his sermons, and hence they flocked to New Park Street Chapel and to Exeter Hall, and afterwards to the Surrey Gardens Music Hall and the Metropolitan Tabernacle, in such numbers that not more than a half could find accommodation.
It was this, together with the fact that the interest in Charles Haddon Spurgeon was now getting pretty general all over the country, that led to the earliest publication of his sermons in pamphlet form. That was an age of "penny pulpits," and one of the most successful series was published by Mr. James Paul. Up to the time of his advent to London none of C. H. Spurgeon's sermons had appeared in print, although, as he tells us, "Before I ever entered a pulpit the thought had occurred to me that I should one day preach sermons which would be printed. While reading the penny sermons of Joseph Irons, which were great favorites with me, I conceived in my heart the idea that some time or other I should have a Penny Pulpit of my own." His first printed effort was No. 1 of "Waterbeach Tracts," published in 1853 while the young minister was still at the Cambridgeshire village, but this was specially written for the occasion. It was in August, 1854, that the first discourse was printed and published by Mr. Paul. The sermon was preached at New Park Street Chapel on the 20th of the month, and the text was 1 Samuel 12:17, "Is it not wheat harvest today?" It has since been republished in the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit #2896 (Vol. 50). This appeared as no. 2234 of Paul's Penny Pulpit under the title "Harvest Time," and it sold rapidly and extensively. Then other discourses appeared in Mr. Paul's series, and The Baptist Messenger, a small monthly paper that had just been launched, made its special feature in each issue a sermon by the minister of New Park Street. The first discourse to be published in the little paper was from the text Psalm 84:6, and was entitled, "The Valley of Weeping." It appeared in the September issue, 1854, and was given the place of honor on the opening pages. The circulation of The Baptist Messenger at once went up and showed conclusively that there was a large public eager and anxious for C. H. Spurgeon's sermons in print.
The demand for C. H. Spurgeon's sermons published in The Penny Pulpit increased so rapidly, and the circulation was so in excess of the discourses of other divines, that it was determined to continue publishing a sermon at intervals, though with no idea of a continuance week by week for any length of time. But the success of the printed sermons, and the eagerness with which the public welcomed anything of C. H. Spurgeon's, set his friend, Mr. Joseph Passmore, thinking. Those who are familiar with the life of the great preacher will remember that this was the first real friend he made in London. Mr. Passmore was in partnership with another young mana ChurchmanMr. James Alabaster, and they conducted a small printing business at Wilson Street, Finsbury. Mr. Passmore, with considerable foresight, saw the prominent position which C. H. Spurgeon must hold among English preachers, and realizing the possibilities which lay in a "penny pulpit" devoted entirely to the young minister's sermons published regularly every week, he discussed the matter with his partner and then approached Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
The latter was much perturbed at the suggestion. His modesty made him dubious of the success of such a venture, and further, he shrank from the increased responsibility and wider publicity. But after considering the matter and praying over it, "With much fear and trembling, my consent was given to the proposal of my present worthy publishers to commence the regular weekly publication of a sermon. We began with the one preached at New Park Street Chapel on Lord's-day morning, January 7th, 1855, upon the text"I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed" [Malachi 3:6], #1 (Vol. 1), New Park Street Pulpit, entitled 'The Immutability of God.'
At once "The New Park Street Pulpit" was an established success, and the rapid and unprecedented manner in which the circulation increased gave the young partners some difficulty in meeting the demand. The newspapers spoke as well of the printed as of the preached sermons. Reviewing a volume of discourses delivered on Sunday mornings at Exeter Hall, the first volume of C. H. Spurgeon's sermons to be published, The Baptist Messenger said"There is in these sermons so much of sound doctrine which cannot be gainsaidevangelical savor, spiritual experience and sacred fervor, together with earnest, practical appeals to the heart that will cause them to be most cordially welcomed by vast numbers of almost every class of professing Christians who love the truth as it is in Jesus," and the paper forthwith gave six closely printed pages of extracts. The volume was issued jointly by Messers. Alabaster and Passmore and Mr. James Paul, and it formed No. 1 of The Pulpit Library. There were ten sermons, and the book being printed in a clear, readable type and well bound in cloth, had a great sale. Charles Haddon Spurgeon gave a copy to his future wife with this inscription upon the fly-leaf, "In a few days it will be out of my power to present anything to Miss Thompson. Let this be a remembrance of our happy meetings and sweet conversations. Dec 12/1855. C. H. Spurgeon."
From the very first, instances were reported of blessing received through the reading of the printed sermons, and some of the earlier cases may here find a fitting place. They cannot be told better than in C. H. Spurgeon's own words"As soon as the publication of the sermons was commenced," he says, "the Lord set His seal upon them in the conversion of sinners, the restoration of backsliders, and the edification of believers; and, to His praise, I rejoice to write, that, ever since, it has been the same. For many years, seldom has a day passed, and certainly never a week, without letters reaching me from all sorts of places, even at the utmost ends of the earth, telling me of the salvation of souls by means of one or other of the sermons. There are, in the long series, discourses, of which I may say, without exaggeration, that the Holy Spirit has blessed them to hundreds of precious souls; and long after their delivery fresh instances of their usefulness have come to light. For this, to God be all the glory!"
"There were certain remarkable cases of blessing through the reading of some of the very earliest of the sermons; I mention these not merely because of the interest naturally attaching to them, but because they are representative of many similar miracles of mercy that have been wrought by the Holy Ghost all through the years which have followed. On June 8, 1856, I preached in Exeter Hall from Hebrews 7:25, 'Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them.' The sermon was published under the title, 'Salvation to the Uttermost,' and more than thirty years afterwards I received the joyful tidings that a murderer in South America had been brought to the Savior reading it. A friend, living not far from the Tabernacle, had been in the city of Para, in Brazil. There he heard of an Englishman in prison who had, in a state of drunkenness, committed a murder, for which he was confined for life. Our friend went to see him and found him deeply penitent, but quietly restful and happy in the Lord. He had felt the terrible wound of blood guiltiness in his soul, but it had been healed, and he was enjoying the bliss of pardon."
"Here is the story of the poor fellow's conversion as told in his own words'A young man, who had just completed his contract at the gasworks, was returning to England; but before doing so, he called to see me and brought with him a parcel of books. When I opened it I found that they were novels, but being able to read I was thankful for anything. After I had read several of the books, I found one of Mr. Spurgeon's sermons (#84, "Salvation to the Uttermost"), in which he referred to Palmer, who was then lying under sentence of death in Stafford Gaol, and in order to bring home the truth of his text to his hearers he said that, if Palmer had committed many other murders, if he repented and sought God's pardoning love in Christ, even he would be forgiven! I then felt that if Palmer could be forgiven, so might I. I sought the Savior, and blessed be God, I found him; and now I am pardoned, I am free; I am a sinner saved by grace. Though a murderer, I have not yet sinned beyond "the uttermost," blessed be His holy Name!'
"It made me very happy," added C. H. Spurgeon, "when I heard the glad news that a poor condemned murderer had thus been converted, and I am thankful to know that he is not the only one who, although he had committed the awful crime of murder, had, through the Spirit's blessing upon the printed sermons, been brought to repentance and to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. There was another man who had lived a life of drunkenness and unchastity, and who had even shed human blood with his bowie knife and his revolver, yet he, too, found the Savior and became a new man; and when he was dying he charged someone who was with him to tell me that one of my discourses had brought him to Christ. 'I shall never see Mr. Spurgeon on earth,' he said, 'but I shall tell the Lord Jesus Christ about him when I get to Heaven.' It was a sermon read far away in the backwoods that, through sovereign grace, was the means of the salvation of this great sinner."
Here is another early instance. "One Saturday morning in November, 1856, when my mind and heart were occupied with preparation for the great congregation, I expected to address the next day at the Surrey Gardens Music Hall, I received a long letter from Norwich from a man who had been one of the leaders of an infidel society in that city. It was most cheering to me, amid the opposition and slander I was then enduring, to read what he wrote."
"'I purchased one of the pamphlets entitled "Who is this Spurgeon?" and also your portrait (or a portrait sold as yours) for 3d. I brought these home and exhibited them in my shop window. I was induced to do so from a feeling of derisive pleasure. The title of the pamphlet is, naturally, suggestive of caricature, and it was especially to convey that impression that I attached it to your portrait and placed it in my window. But I also had another object in view; I thought by its attraction to improve my trade. I am not at all in the book or paper business, which rendered its exposure and my motive the more conspicuous. I have taken it down now. I am taken down too. . . . I had brought one of your sermons of an infidel a day or two previously. In that sermon I read these words, "They go on; that step is safe,they take it; the next is apparently safe,they take that; but their foot hangs over a gulf of darkness." I read on, but the word darkness staggered me; it was all dark with me. I said to myself, "True, the way has been safe so far, but I am lost in bewilderment; I cannot go on as I have been going. No, no, no; I will not risk it." I left the apartment in which I had been musing, and as I did so the three words, "Who can tell?" seemed to be whispered to my heart. I determined not to let another Sunday pass without visiting a place of worship. How soon my soul might be required of me, I knew not; but I felt that it would be mean, base, cowardly, not to give it a chance of salvation. "Ay!" I thought, "my associates may laugh, scoff, deride and call me coward and turncoat; I will do an act of justice to my soul." I went to chapel; I was just stupefied with awe. What could I want there? The doorkeeper opened his eyes wide and involuntarily asked, "It's Mr., isn't it?" "Yes," I said, "it is." He conducted me to a seat and afterwards brought me a hymn-book. I was fit to burst with anguish. "Now," I thought, "I am here, if it be the house of God, Heaven grant me an audience and I will make a full surrender. O God, show me some token by which I may know that Thou art and that Thou wilt in no wise cast out the vile deserter who has ventured to seek Thy face and Thy pardoning mercy!" I opened my hymn-book to divert my mind from the feelings that were rending me, and the first words that caught my eyes were
The circulation of the sermons went up by leaps and bounds and none was more surprised at the success of the venture than C. H. Spurgeon himself. "After all these years," he wrote in 1886, "it is a glad thing to be able to say, 'Having, therefore, obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great.' How many 'Penny Pulpits' have been set up and pulled down in the course of these years, it would be hard to tell; certainly, very many attempts have been made to publish weekly the sermons of most eminent men and they have all run to their end with more or less rapidity, in some cases through the preacher's ill-health or death, but in several others, to my knowledge, from an insufficient sale. Perhaps the discourses were too good: the public evidently did not think them too interesting. Those who know what dull reading sermons are usually supposed to be, will count that man happy who has for over thirty years been favored with a circle of willing supporters, who not only purchase but actually read his discourses. I am more astonished at the fact than any other man can possibly be, and I see no other reason for it but thisthe sermons contain the Gospel preached in plain language and this is precisely what multitudes need beyond anything else. The Gospel ever fresh and ever new, has held my vast congregation together these many long years and the same power has kept around me a host of readers."
The work of translation into other languages soon began. First of all a Welsh issue was prepared and sermons were published in that tongue once a month. Then Dutch translations were made and had large circulations among all classes in the Netherlands from the peasant to the sovereign. The Queen of Holland had copies sent to her, read them, became interested in the preacher, and when he was traveling on the Continent asked him to visit her, which he did. In Germany a score or more of publishers issued versions and there were translations bearing date from Baden, Carlsruhe, Ludwigsburg, Hamburg, etc. The sermons in Swedish circulated largely among the upper classes, and the translator informed Charles Haddon Spurgeon that there had been cases of conversion among some of noble and even of royal birth through their perusal. Other languages into which the sermons have been translated include: Arabic, Armenian, Bengali, Bulgarian, Castilian (for the Argentine Republic), Chinese, Congo, Czech, Estonian, French, Gaelic, Hindi, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Kaffir, Karen, Lettish, Maori, Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Servian, Spanish, Syriac, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu. Some sermons were also early prepared in Moon and Braille type for the use of the blind.
The enthusiasm for the sermons on the part of some wealthy men was remarkable. One purchased and gave away no fewer than a quarter of a million copies. He had volumes containing forty-two sermons bound in elaborate style and presented one to each crowned head in Europe. Volumes less expensively bound, containing twelve sermons each, were prepared and sent to all the students of the Universities, and years afterwards, at least one wrote to Westwood to say how he had been blessed by the perusal of one of these volumes. Similar sets were sent to all the members of both Houses of Parliament, and the generous donor even commenced to distribute volumes among the principal householders in the towns of Ireland. "May the good results of his laborious seed-sowing be seen many days hence," wrote C. H. Spurgeon. "The self-denial with which this brother saved the expense from a very limited income and worked personally in the distribution, was beyond all commendation; but praise was evaded and observation dreaded by him; the work was done without his left hand knowing what his right hand did."
Another gentleman, a city merchant, belonging to the Society of Friends, advertised the sermons in all sorts of journals offering to supply them from his own office, and by this means large numbers were sold to persons who would not have been reached through the ordinary channels.
A wealthy Russian, who had read some of the sermons, was so impressed with their value that he obtained the permission of the censor to publish Russian translations and a million copies were at once prepared. They were approved and licensed by the heads of the Orthodox Church and having been marked on the front cover with the official stamp, to certify that they might be read and circulated by faithful members of the Church, were distributed and broadcast over the Czar's dominions. Thus the discourses of a "heretic" were blessed, sanctioned and commended by the ecclesiastics of the most tyrannous Church in Christendom.
By the time the eighth volume of the English edition was commenced, C. H. Spurgeon's Church had moved from New Park Street Chapel to the Metropolitan Tabernacle and consequently the name was changed to The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, the sale at the same time largely increasing. To celebrate the publication of the five hundredth weekly issue, Messrs. Passmore and Alabaster entertained a company of friends to dinner at the Tabernacle in March, 1863, where various speeches were made, and it transpired that up to that time eight million copies of the sermons had been distributed all over the world. C. H. Spurgeon declared that he regarded the republication in Canada, Australia, and the United States as only second in importance to the issue in England. During the evening a sum of five hundred pounds was subscribed for the Pastors' College, an institution that was ever very close to the preacher's heart and to which the bulk of his profits form the sales of the sermons was devoted.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon now found time to revise the printed sermons, and he wrote that"the work of revision has been a very useful exercise to me, supplying in great measure that training in correct language which is obtained by those who write their productions before they deliver them. The labor has been far greater than some suppose and has usually occupied the best hours of Monday and involved the burning of no inconsiderable portion of midnight oil. Feeling that I had a constituency well deserving my best efforts, I have never grudged the hours, though often the brain has been wearied and the pleasure has hardened into task." The preacher took a much greater interest, too, than heretofore in preparing the prefaces to the annual volume. Thus, in the eighth he declared that he wished to commune a little with the great host of readers who continually perused the discourses and commenced forthwith to address various classes.
"Sick saints, what a delight I feel in ministering to you! Shut out from the sanctuary and the sound of the Word, you find a solace in reading what others have crowded to hear. Accept my tenderest sympathy in your affliction, while I breathe the prayer that He who suffers in you, may abide with you . . . Let your chamber be a sanctuary, your bed a pulpit, your loving experience of divine grace the constant sermon. We cannot do without you in the Lord's battles. Your power for good is wonderful; forget not your advantageous position, but lift up the banner of your Lord on high. Let no persons retire from your bedside without being enriched by some affectionate admonition. In the night-watches, when your eyes are held waking so that you cannot sleep, plead for the Church, the world, your minister, your friends, and do not omit the unworthy brother who now writes to you. What showers of mercies your intercessions may bring down. The golden keys of heaven are at your girdle, open the treasury and bless us all. 'As the sufferings of Christ abound in you so may your consolation also abound in Christ.'
"My brethren in the ministry, receive my affectionate salutations and my best thanks for your kind endeavors to promote the circulation of these sermons. I count myself thrice happy to have so many readers among the leaders of our Israel; and, if like the lad in the Evangelists, I may bring the barley loaves and small fishes which the Master may distribute to you, that by you thousands may be fed, we will all of us rejoice together . . ."
"To those brethren who publicly read these sermons in cottages and village preaching rooms, a word of hopeful encouragement. Several cases of conviction and comfort have come under my notice this year through your good work in publicly reading my discourses. I pray you, persevere. No man need despair of winning souls. In these days the lack of talent is no bar to usefulness. If we cannot preach the sermon ourselves, if reading it to a few cottagers may be blessed by God the Holy Spirit, who could refuse to do it? Go on, dear friends, and may the Lord continue to bless us in publishing the glad tidings of His grace. We serve a generous Master, who thinks much of our littles. O, that we thought more of Him.
"To all my brethren, thanks and Christian love. Thanks for your assistance in spreading my 'words for Jesus,' and love, because we are one in Him. Let me entreat you to wrestle together with me in your prayers that the good news may be received by many prepared hearts. If all my readers would pray for the preacher and for a blessing upon the sermons as they travel throughout all lands, what a great result would follow. The Holy Spirit is able to make the word as successful now as in the days of the Apostles. He can bring in by hundreds and thousands as easily as by ones and twos. If we have the Spirit sealing our ministry with power, it will signify very little about our talent . . . . . .Men may be poor and uneducated; their words may be broken and ungrammatical, there may be none of the polished periods of Hall or the glorious thunders of Chalmers; but if the might of the Spirit attend them the humblest evangelists will be more successful than the most learned of divines or the most eloquent of preachers. It is extraordinary grace not talent that wins the day. It is extraordinary spiritual power not extraordinary mental power that we need. Mental power may fill a chapel but spiritual power fills the Church. Mental power may gather a congregation, spiritual power will save souls. We want spiritual power."
In his preface for the following year, C. H. Spurgeon hinted at the labor involved in the preparation of the printed sermons. "When our year's ministry is over, we feel a sweet relief; we sit down upon the milestone of our preface and remember that we are nearer home; looking back with gratitude upon the steps already trodden we are cheered in our onward way. This volume is the record of another year's campaign against sin and Satan; the memorial of another series of struggles, contentions, buffeting, wrestlings, defeats, and triumphs. Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof; we began with trembling hope, we close with deep repentance for our shortcomings and hearty thanksgivings for our successes. Little doth any man know, beside the man who endureth the like, the agonies and joys of a preacher; a stranger intermeddleth not therewith. As the weaver seeth every thread dyed with the sweat of his brow, and marketh in the fabric his own nerves and sinews interwoven in its tissue, even so does the minister of God when he reviews his sermons. The husbandman has been first partaker of the fruits, and in that first feasting he tasted his own labors, anxieties and hopes sweetened with the dew of heaven and flavored with the genial sunshine of God; no other man can partake of the fruits with such a zest as he. Permit me, then, to pour out of my whole soul unto God in praise for the unceasing mercy which has given me this series of discourses." He notes that during the year he had heard with joy of conversions, wrought by the Holy Spirit, from most of the discourses in the volume and concludes thus"Believers, we entreat you give your continual prayers for a blessing upon our endeavors. Let all who read to profit pray with fervor, and who can tell the blessed result? O, for an unction from on high! This is the one thing needful. Let us pray that the ever-present Spirit may work among us more and more. O, Lord, send now prosperity. Amen."
One more extract from these interesting prefaces that in themselves are almost worthy to be gathered together in an independent volume. In 1866 C. H. Spurgeon writes"Twelve yearly volumes of our sermons are now before the public, and in looking back upon them, like Pharaoh's butler, we do remember our faults. Bishop Jewel says, 'faults' will escape a man betwixt his fingers, let him look to it ever so narrowly! but ours are to be reckoned by handfuls, for we have never enjoyed the opportunity of making careful revision, but our raw and hasty words have been served up at once like ill-cooked meat, and the grain of our thoughts has been bound up in sacks altogether unwinnowed and almost unthreshed . . . . . .If Augustine needed to correct, in his riper years, the errors of his youthful writings (upon which he had spent considerable care), how much latitude must be allowed to us, who, being without his ability are also without his leisure and have to bear the responsibility, not of treatises deliberately written, but of words spoken upon the spur of the moment and but hurriedly amended before their issue from the Press. If the grapes of the well-trimmed vine are sometimes sour, shall the clusters of the wild vine be always sweet? If the land which yielded milk and honey was not without its briars, what shall be said of the garden which borders upon the wilderness? Youth has not quite departed from us, but when the first of these twelve volumes was born into existence we had but barely reached the age of twenty-one. Is there need of more apology when wise men are the critics, and if the critics be not wise, of what avail is any apology whatever?"
It may not be uninteresting to trace here the complete history of a sermon, from the time when the text first suggested itself to the preacher, until the moment that the final proof left his hands for the printers.
The work commenced at six o'clock on a Saturday evening, when C. H. Spurgeon invariably wished any visitors or guests in his study to pray over and prepare his sermon for the coming morning. "No human ear," Mrs. Spurgeon has told us, "ever heard the mighty pleadings with God for himself and his people, which rose from his study on those solemn evenings; no mortal eyes ever beheld him as he wrestled with the Angel of the covenant until he prevailed and came back from his brook Jabbok with the message he was to deliver in his Master's name. His grandest and most fruitful sermons were those which cost him most soul-travail and spiritual anguish; not in their preparation and arrangement, but in his own overwhelming sense of accountability to God for the souls to whom he had to preach the gospel of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ."
Sometimes a text would have been laid upon the preacher's heart during the week, but occasionally it was well into the Saturday evening, and only after much prayer that he could feel he had a message from above. Mere suggestions of texts from others were never taken, unless, at the same time, C. H. Spurgeon felt that it was the Lord's distinct will that he should preach therefrom and that the Scripture had been sent to him in that way. His wife was on many occasions the means of conveying a text to him, and she helped him greatly in the preparation. On one occasion he took a number of ministers (former students of his Pastors' College), into his confidence and told them something of his methods.
"Brethren," he said, "it is not easy for me to tell you precisely how I make my sermons. All through the week I am on the look-out for material that I can use on the Sabbath; but the actual work of arranging it is necessarily left until Saturday evening, for every other moment is fully occupied in the Lord's service. I have often said that my greatest difficult is to fix my mind upon the particular texts which are to be the subjects of discourse on the following day; or, to speak more correctly, to know what topics the Holy Spirit would have me bring before the congregation. As soon as any passage of Scripture really grips my heart and soul I concentrate my whole attention upon it, look at the precise meaning of the original, closely examine the context so as to see the special aspect of the text in its surroundings, and roughly jot down all the thoughts that occur to me concerning the subject, leaving to a later period the orderly marshaling of them for presentation to my hearers.
"When I have reached this point I am often stopped by an obstacle, which is only a trouble to those of us whose sermons are regularly printed. I turn to my own Bible, which contains a complete record of all my published discourses; and looking at those I have preached upon the text, I find, perhaps, that the general run of thought is so similar to that which I have marked out, that I have to abandon the subject and seek another. Happily, a text of Scripture is like a diamond with many facets which sparkles and flashes whichever way it is held, so that, although I may have already printed several sermons upon a particular passage, there is still a fresh setting possible for the priceless gem, and I can go forward with my work. I like next to see what others have to say about my text; and, as a rule, my experience is that if its teaching is perfectly plain, the commentators to a man explain it at great length, whereas, with equal unanimity, they studiously avoid or evade the verses which Peter might have described as 'things hard to be understood.' I am very much obliged to them for leaving me so many nuts to crack; but I should have been just as grateful if they had made more use of their own theological teeth as nut-crackers. However, among the many who have written upon the Word I generally find some who can at least help to throw a sidelight upon it; and when I have arrived at that part of my preparation, I am glad to call my dear wife to my assistance. She reads to me until I get a clear idea of the whole subject; and gradually I am guided to the best form of outline, which I copy out on a half-sheet of notepaper, for use in the pulpit. This relates only to the morning sermon; for the evening sermon I am usually content, if I can decide upon the text and have a general notion of the lessons to be drawn from it, leaving to the Lord's day afternoon the final arrangement of divisions, sub-divisions and illustrations."
In passing it may be mentioned that Messrs. Passmore and Alabaster have published an interesting little volume, entitled Facsimile Pulpit Notes, which contains a dozen sermons by C. H. Spurgeon, together with exact facsimiles of the notes upon half-sheets of notepaper, from which the sermons were delivered. By means of this book the preacher's methods may be closely followed.
At the Tabernacle a shorthand writer was always in attendance to take down the sermon as delivered, and the reporter found C. H. Spurgeon an ideal speaker for this purpose. Mr. Thomas Allen Reed, who for many years performed the important duty, has recorded his impressions of the speaker. "When a speaker," he says, "has a distinct articulation, combined with a clear, strong voice, the reporter, who has to follow him, is in Elysium; that is, if the utterance is not too rapid, or the style of composition too difficult. The combination, however, is rare. It has a very striking example in Mr. Spurgeon, who, without apparent effort, makes himself distinctly heard at the farthest end of the Metropolitan Tabernacle. To a clear, ringing, musical voice he adds an almost perfect articulation . . . The average rate of public speaking is about 120 words a minute. Some speakers vary greatly in their speech. I have, for example, a memorandum of a sermon by Mr. Spurgeon, showing that during the first ten minutes he spoke at the rate of 123 words a minute; the second ten minutes, 132; the third ten minutes, 128; the fourth ten minutes, 155; and the remaining nine minutes, 162; giving an average of about 140 words a minute. Another sermon shows an average of 125 words a minute: namely, the first ten minutes, 119; the second ten minutes, 118; the third ten minutes, 139; and the remaining sixteen minutes, 126. Taking the average of a number of sermons, his rate may be reckoned to be nearly 140 words a minute."
The sermon, written out in longhand by the reporter, was taken to C. H. Spurgeon's house, and early on Monday morning he commenced to revise it, first of all glancing at the number of folios to see whether the discourse were longer or shorter than usual, whether he would have to cut it down or write some additional matter to bring it to the required length. On one occasion, at least, the preacher was found by the servants at work upon the manuscript as early as four o'clock in the morning, and sometimes, when he had preaching engagements in the country on Monday (necessitating an early departure), he has been compelled, on Sunday night, after returning weary from the day's labors at the Tabernacle, to begin revising the shorthand writer's manuscript then. The work could not be left till Tuesday, and C. H. Spurgeon used playfully to remark that the earth itself would cease to revolve if the sermon did not come out every Thursday morning.
After the preacher had made the alterations and corrections which he considered necessary upon the manuscript, he used to hand it over to his private secretary for the verification of quotations, the proper punctuation of the matter, etc., and when about a third was ready, a messenger would take that installment post-haste to the printers, returning later for the remainder. By this time it was usually late in the afternoon, for the work was done thoroughly, and after tea the preacher had to hurry off to the Tabernacle for the weekly prayer meeting, which was sometimes followed by another engagement.
Then, on returning home, his first question was, "Has the sermon come," and if it had, he proceeded to see if the length, as shown on the printer's gallery slips, was correct to a line. Otherwise, there had to be further cutting or addition. If a preaching engagement was to be fulfilled on the following day, the revision of the proof had to be finished that night or early the next morning, but this done the work was complete. Probably, very few, however, of those who read the discourses had any idea of the amount of labor entailed, not only in preparation before delivery, but in revision and correction afterwards.
Yet, with all his stress of work the preacher was thoughtful of others, as witness the following note sent to Mr. Passmore: "When that good little lad came here on Monday with the sermon late at night, it was needful. But please blow somebody up for sending the poor little creature here late tonight, in all this snow, with a parcel much heavier that he ought to carry. He could not get home till eleven, I fear; and I feel like a cruel brute in being the innocent cause of having a poor lad out at such an hour on such a night. There was no need at all for it. Do kick somebody for me, so that it may not happen again."
Throughout their long connection, the relations between the preacher and his publishers was of a most cordial character. There was never a hitch or a harsh word on either side, and C. H. Spurgeon often used to ask Mr. Passmore, jokingly, "Do I write for you or do you print for me; am I your employer or are you mine?" The following letter will give a pretty clear indication of the relationship:
"My dear Mr. Passmore: As you have today paid to me the largest amount I have ever received from your firm at one time, I seize the opportunity of saying, what I am sure you know already, that I am most sincerely thankful to God for putting me into your hands in my publishing matters. My connection with you has been one of unmingled satisfaction and pleasure. Your liberality has been as great as it has been spontaneous. Had I derived no personal benefit it would have delighted me to see you prosper, for my interest in you is as deep as if you were my own brother, as, indeed, in the best sense you are. From you and your partner I have received nothing but kindness, courtesy and generosity. My share of profits has always exceeded my expectations, and the way it has been given has been even more valuable than the money itself. God bless you both in your business and your families! May your health be recruited, and, as long as we live, may we be on as near and dear terms as we ever have been! I am afraid I sometimes tease you when I grumble in my peculiar way; but I never intend anything but to let you know where a screw may be loose with your workmen and not because I really have anything to complain of. Your growing welfare lies very near my heart, and nothing gives me more pleasure than to see you advance in prosperity. I need not add my Christian love to you as my friend and deacon.Yours ever truly, C. H. Spurgeon."
To record only a tithe of the memorable incidents that have occurred in connection with the publication of the sermons and to mention but a few of the prominent men who have found them of benefit and blessing to themselves, would occupy far more space than can be spared in the present little volume; but a few typical instances may be given.
Perhaps one of the most remarkable features of the early circulation of the sermons was the way in which they became generally known in Australia. A Christian gentleman in that colony, feeling the need of sending the Gospel into outlying districts in such at way as to ensure that it would be read, obtained C. H. Spurgeon's permission to insert some of the sermons in the Australian papers as advertisements. This was a course which, as the preacher himself said, necessitated the advertiser "spending week by week a sum which I scarcely dare to mention, lest it should not be believed." The spirit in which this Colonial admirer of C. H. Spurgeon's discourses entered upon his expensive mission may be gathered from the following letter which he sent to the preacher: "Having been brought through grace to feel somewhat of the power and love of Jesus and the blessings of the glorious Gospel, and knowing the wants of the great mass of our widelyscattered population, and seeing that your sermons so fully set forth the way of salvation, I was induced to publish them in the newspapers here. The Australasian being a sporting paper, the manager seemed indisposed to help in carrying out my idea, so he gave orders that I was to be charged the full price as advertisements for the sermons; but, feeling the importance of the step, I resolved to pay what he demanded until his readers were interested in them, and then I thought better terms might be obtained. After the publication had continued for some six or nine months, I waited on the manager, who did not even then appear willing to grant me the reduction I wanted; and, not being able to convince him of the appreciation his readers had for the sermons, I suggested that we should ask for an expression of their opinion with regard to them. The result was that about four hundred letters were received; and I send the enclosed specimens of them for your good cheer. I should be sorry that any name should be made public, and I have withheld my own from the papers here, fearing that the enemy might say that I am seeking the approbation of men. The reason of my sending these letters to you is that Mr.called on me and I showed them to him, and he said that I ought to let you see them.
"I have sent a few of the papers; containing the sermons to Mr. Samuel Morley, Mr. Peabody, Earl Shaftesbury and others, in the hope that they might: be induced to do likewise, as a newspaper often falls into the hands of men and women who would not take a tract. May I ask you for any suggestion that will help to further the cause and advance the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ?
"In conclusion, I would beg your prayers for myself. I am seeking to grow in grace and in knowledge of the love of God. Also, please pray that this work of publishing the sermons here may abundantly prosper."
Four hundred letters was a large number to receive in response to an invitation by a Colonial paper in those early days, and the replies came from all parts of Australia and New Zealand, from the inhabitants of towns and villages, and from lonely dwellers in the Bush. In many cases the sermons, published in so strange a manner, were blessed to the salvation of souls, and it appeared to be no uncommon thing for the people of a scattered district to gather together weekly to hear the welcome advertisement read out. One and all, the letters were most cheering.
"Sir," wrote one man in an outlying part of Victoria, "having seen an advertisement lately, at the head of one of the sermons published weekly in The Australasiam, asking for an expression of opinion as to their usefulness, I venture respectfully to offer the following plain and brief statement in reply. I have been for some five years or more one of those unfortunates who are commonly called 'swagmen.' Traveling about a few months since looking for employment, I came to a public-house by the roadside, into which I went for a drink and an hour's rest, as I was very tired. A newspaper was lying on the counter containing Mr. Spurgeon's sermon on the text, 'Turn, O backsliding Children, saith the Lord; for I am married unto you.' I read it through with increasing interest as I went along; and it exactly met my case. It aroused me to a sense of my utterly lost condition as a sinner of the deepest dye, and, at the same time, so encouraged me to seek for mercy and peace at the foot of the Cross, that I could not resist: doing so; and I humbly hope and believe that I did not seek in vain. I left that public-house resolved never to enter one again, unless absolutely compelled by circumstances to do so. Since then I have enjoyed at peace to which I had been long a stranger. I now make God's Word my daily study and attend Divine service whenever I can. Although nominally a Church of England man, previous to reading the sermon alluded to, had only been once to church since my arrival in the Colony, now nearly seven years ago. To my personal knowledge, these sermons are extensively read in the country districts; and, for my oxen part, I look to the arrival of the weekly paperwhich my employer always lends meas the messenger of joy and comfort to myself; and I pray that it may prove to be the same to hundreds of others also. I would just, in conclusion, ask you to offer the expression of my humble and heartfelt thanks to the friend who pays for the advertisements of Mr. Spurgeon's sermons."
Another correspondent wrote thus: "Reading in The Australasian a request that parties approving of Mr. Spurgeon's sermons would communicate with you, I place the following facts before your notice. I have been in the Colony about sixteen years; and during that period have been into a place of worship about three times, and then more from accident than design. During my abode in this Colony I am sorry to say that I have contracted the horrible habit of drunkenness, occasionally getting what some people call on the spree 'for a fortnight' or three weeks at a stretch. The summer before last I had 'the horrors' twice; and last summer I had delirium tremens just coming on. Unable to either sit, stand, lie down or walk about, I casually picked up The Australasian, and what should catch my eye but Mr. Spurgeon's sermon on 'The Aproachableness of Jesus' (No. 809). I commenced reading it: and before I had gone far tears came into my eyes and I had not got through it before I had to hold my hand before my face for very shame. By the time I had read it all, I found myself looking to Christ to be relieved from my hideous burden of sin; and, to my astonishment, the delirium tremens vanished like a heavy dew on a summer's morning. I was weak in consequence of the long drinking-bout, but felt quite happy in my mind; and since, am glad to say, that I never enjoyed such peace of mind in my life before."
Many years later, when Pastor Thomas Spurgeon was in Geelong, the writer of this letter called upon him and had a most interesting conversation, during the course of which he produced from his pocket a torn and discolored copy of the newspaper containing the sermon that had been used by the Holy Spirit to his conversion.
The writers of the four hundred letters referred to above were, of course, not the only people to whom the sermons in The Australasian had been blessed. C.H. Spurgeon himself, over a course of years, received direct many letters of similar import, and, from time to time, other instances of conversion by the same means, became known. In one letter a minister recorded a remarkable case of conversion. "I was preaching," he said, "in the Baptist Chapel, Aberdeen Street, Geelong, a few years ago, when, at the close of an evening service, an elderly man came to the platform to bid me 'good-night.' As he was a stranger, I asked him where he came from, and how long he had known the Lord: he then told me the story of his conversion, and the strange way by which he was led to the Savior. About five years before, while keeping sheep, some miles beyond Ballarat, he picked up a sheet of a weekly newspaper, which the wind had blow, over the plains. He glanced at a few sentences, and these drew him on to read more, and then he found he was eagerly perusing a sermon by Mr. C. H. Spurgeon. 'If I had known it was a sermon,' he said, 'before I had begun to read it, I should have tossed it away;' but, having commenced the discourse, he wanted to see how it finished. It set him thinking; he carefully preserved it, reading it over and over again in deep concern, until, finally, it became the means of leading him to the Cross. For many years he had not entered a place of worship, and he was utterly careless about his soul till this paper was blown to his feet. Now, when he has the opportunity, he always attends some Baptist service; but this is a rare pleasure, owing to his lonely life and employment in the bush. He does, however, get the weekly sermons, which cheer and comfort him with spiritual nourishment."
More remarkable still was the case of the conversion of a woman, the wife of a publican in England. She received a parcel from a friend in Australia, and the wrapper happened to be a copy of a newspaper containing one of C. H. Spurgeon's sermons. The woman read it castually, became interested, then felt exercised in soul, and, finally, was led to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as her Savior. A somewhat similar case occurred in Jersey, where a gentleman used to receive regularity a copy of the paper containing C. H. Spurgeon's sermons. He had been converted by reading one of the sermons in The Australasian, and, not knowing anything about the English edition of the discourses, he subscribed to the colonial paper. Years afterwards, when he learnt of the preacher, he wrote to him as follows, enclosing a gift of money for use in some of his many good works: "I have been a reader of your sermons these seventeen years or more, and God has been graciously pleased to bless them to the salvation of my soul. I had almost begun to think my Savior had forgotten me; I knew I had long ignored Him. I have lately found out the way to procure the sermons in any number, and have gladly availed myself of it. I think I have now nearly six hundred of them; I lend them out in books of fifty. I prize them above every other means of grace, save the Book. As you so frequently want money for the good works in which you are always engaged, I thought you would not despise my trifle. I wish it were fifty times as much. Receive my sincere and heartfelt thanks for the unspeakable help your sermons have afforded and still afford me."
We can find room for only one more Australian case, that of a well-known saw-mill proprietor in New South Wales, who had become an able and earnest local preacher in the Wesleyan Church. At an evangelistic service he thus referred to his own case:
"For twenty-five years of my life I lived in the darkness of sin. I had never been inside a Protestant place of worship. I had never in all that time met a Christian man. I knew nothing of the distinction between Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc.; they were all alike despised, in my eyes, as being all in gross error. About that time five of my companions were drowned together at Port Stevens. The occurrence made a deep impression upon my heart. The thought would force itself upon me, 'What if you had been among the number? Would you not now have been weeping and wailing among the lost souls in hell?'
"I was greatly troubled, and did what alone I could doprayed to God; but not knowing anything of the way of salvation through faith in Christ, and having no one to guide me, I lived for two years in the most awful agony. I would rather die than live those two years over again. I knew nothing of the great preachers of the day, until I happened to hear of Mr. Spurgeon; and a friend being about to visit Sydney, I asked him to get me at volume of Spurgeon's sermons. I read them eagerly, and received much light and comfort from them. At length, I came to one bearing the title, 'Seeking for Jesus' (No. 947), and as I read God spoke peace to my troubled heart. I felt that my sin was pardoned, and I could sing aloud for joy. It was about noon on a glorious Sabbath day when the great change took place, and I well remember the spot on which it occurred. Since then, ten years ago now, I have been telling the story of the Cross wherever I can."
A Wesleyan minister, who wrote and told C. H. Spurgeon of this incident, mentioned that a night or two afterwards an old gentleman stood up in the service and stated that twenty-one years earlier he was led to decision for Christ through reading the sermon entitled, "Now" (No. 603).
From America similar remarkable incidents were constantly being recorded. One must suffice here. At a great religious Convention, held in Chicago, in 1867, a delegate was present from a newly-formed settlement in the Far West, and he expressed the earnest desire that a preacher might be sent to minister to the spiritual needs of the Christians there, as, through the reading of C. H. Spurgeon's sermons, two hundred persons had been converted to God.
It was the same everywhere. The sermons appealed to no particular class, or creed, or nationality. They contained the Word of God and the Word of God knows no distinctions. They were read in little country chapels, where no preacher was available, and they were read in churches of the Establishment which boasted a high ritual. An instance of this was mentioned to C. H. Spurgeon in a letter from a correspondent, who said: "I think it will be gratifying to you to know that at St.ChurchRoad [a fashionable place of worship in the West End of London], which is generally supposed to be what is termed 'very high,' each Thursday afternoon during Lent there have been devotional readings, consisting of extracts from the works of various living divines. The reading this afternoon was from a sermon preached by you, fourteen or fifteen years ago, from the text, 'What if they father answer thee roughly?' (No. 1188). The greater part of the discourse was read from the pulpit by the junior curate."
Many distinguished men made the sermons their constant companions. Dr. Livingstone, living a lonely life in the very heart of the Dark Continent, found comfort from these discourses. Among his possessions after his death was found a discolored and much used copy of the sermon, Accidents and Punishments (No. 408). It had been carried by him throughout his travels, and at the top of the first page he had written the words: "Very good, D. L."
Bishop Welldon was a close friend of C. H. Spurgeon, and he told the preacher how greatly his grandmother prized the sermons; whereupon C. H. Spurgeon wrote a kindly note to the old lady and sent it through her grandson. Dr. Welldon replied: "I am deeply grateful for your kind thought of my grandmother. Nothing, I think, could cheer her so much in her last days as this word from you. It will, perhaps, be a little interesting to you to know that some years ago, when I was about to live in Germany, she put into my hands several volumes of your sermons, and made me promise to read one every Sunday mourning until I came home, as she thought, poor dear! that Senior Classics were sure to be skeptical, and ever since then I have been a student of your writings, so that I suppose there are few members of the English Church who know them better, or owe more to them, than I do."
About the same time Canon Frederick Harford, of Westminster, wrote asking the preacher for the numbers or texts of any of his sermons wherein he dwelt upon the life of the world to come, and, in reply, C. H. Spurgeon sent him two discourses, one of which was the famous sermon, entitled, "Supposing Him to be the Gardener" (No. 1699). The Canon at once acknowledged thee gift in these words: "Little did I guess, on entering my house last night at 10:30, that such a rare and precious feast was prepared for me. Both of those sermons are valuable treasures, but the inspired dream at Mentone [the sermon named above] is one that exceeds in usefulness, as well as in superb cleverness, all the memorable sermons I have read from English or from American sources during the last twentyfive years. I have ordered fifty copies today, purposing to send the first to the poor mourner, whom your message is certain to comfort, and another to your germine admirer, Louisa, Lady Ashburton. Some shall go to France, where I hope a translation will be made into the language of the country; and some will go to certain weak brethren whom I have been lately called to 'work at' and endeavor to draw away from Agnosticism and so-called Spiritualism . . . I must not forget to tell you how one of the most excellent women I ever knewand whose loss I shall ever mournalways read your sermons from the year 1856, when I was ordained at Croydon, until the year 1868, when she was taken away."
Similar testimony, as to the value of the sermons, was given by Colonel Morton, of Mildmay, who wrote to the preacher: "Allow me, very late in the day, to thank you for the numberless times you have refreshed and strengthened and comforted us soldiers, who, often in India and other countries, on the line of march hundreds of miles from any place of worship, or means of grace (in the ordinary sense of the word), have met under trees, some little distance from camp and have after prayer and hymns, introduced you as our foreteller. We had a large Bible-class in my regiment in those day, and many a blessing has been entreated upon you by those dear fellows, your sermon 'In the Garden with Him' (No. 2106), was my companion, quite lately, when going up Monte Pelegrino, near Palermo, en route from Malta to England. In what stray corners of the wide world, where soldiers and sailors are, oh you not come and bring messages of God's love and truth? I have long wished to thank you, as hundreds of others would wish to do; and here is my opportunity. May God increasingly bless you!"
Mr. Gladstone more than once heard C. H. Spurgeon in the pulpit, and when the great preacher was lying ill at Norwood, in July, 1891, he wrote to Mrs. Spurgeon as follows:" In my own home, darkened at the present time [Mr. Gladstone had recently lost his eldest son], I have read with sad interest the daily accounts of Mr. Spurgeon's illness; and I cannot help conveying to you the earnest assurance of my sympathy with you. and with him, and of my cordial admiration, not only of his splendid powers, but still more. of his devoted and unfailing character. May I humbly, commend you and him, in all contingencies, to the infinite stores of the Divine love and mercy." After the preacher's death, when Mr. Gladstone received a volume of his sermons, he wrote: I have retained a high impression of Mr. Spurgeon's great qualities, and of an integrity and manhood is remarkable is his eloquence . . ."
Before closing this chapter, there is one curious incident that must be recorded. It is best told in C. H. Spurgeon's own words:
"I once learnt something," he says, "in a way one does not often get a lesson. I felt at that time very angry and very sad and very heavy at heart and I began to doubt in my own mind whether I really enjoyed the things which I preached to others. It seemed to be it dreadful a thing for me to be only a waiter and not a guest at the gospel feast. I went to a certain gentry town, and on the Sabbath day entered a Methodist Chapel. The man who conducted the service was an engineer he read the Scriptures and prayed and preached. The tears flowed freely from my eyes. I was moved to the deepest emotion by every sentence of the sermon, and I felt all my difficulty removed, for the Gospel, I saw, was very dear to me and had a wonderful effect upon my own heart. I went to the preacher and said, "I thank you very much for that sermon. He asked me who I was, and when I told him he looked as red as possible, and he said: Why, it was one of your sermons that I preached this morning! 'Yes,' I said, 'I know it was, but that was the very message that I wanted to hear, because I then saw that I did enjoy the very Word I myself preached.' It was, happily, so arranged in the good providence of God. Had it been his own sermon it would not have answered the purpose nearly so well as when it turned out to be one of mine."
Every one of the printed discourses of Charles Haddon Spurgeon has had an enormous sale, but there are some which have been especially notable from their matter or occasion, and have outstripped all others in circulation. One of the first to create an unusual demand was the sermon (No. 154) preached at the Crystal Palace, on the Fast Day proclaimed at the time of the Indian Mutiny, October 7th, 1857. C. H. Spurgeon was then a young man of twenty-three years of age, and the mere physical ordeal of addressing 23,654 persons was so great that the preacher afterwards slept from Wednesday night to Friday morning without a break. The Proclamation stated that the day was appointed "for a Solemn Fast, Humiliation and Prayer before Almighty God, in order to obtain pardon for our sins, and for imploring His blessing' and assistance on our arms for the restoration of tranquillity in India"; and C. H. Spurgeon did not hesitate to denounce and call upon his congregation to give up the open sins of which the community was guilty. "I am inclined to think," he said, "that our classsins are the most grievous. Behold this day the sins of the rich. How are the poor oppressed! How are the needy down-trodden! In many places the average wage of men is far below their value to their masters. In this age there is many a great man who looks upon his fellows as only steppingstones to wealth. He builds a factory as he would make a cauldron. He is about to make a brew for his own wealth. Pitch him in! He is only a poor clerk, he can live on a hundred a year. Put him in! There is a poor timekeeper, he has a large family: it does not matter; a man can be had for less in with him! Here are the tens, the hundreds and the thousands that must do the work. Put them in; heap the fire; boil the cauldron; stir them up; never mind their cries. The hire of the laborers kept back may go up to heaven: it does not matter, the millions of gold are safe. The law of demand and supply is with us, who is he that would interfere? Who shall dare to prevent the grinding of the faces of the poor? Cotton-lords and great masters ought to have power to do what they like with the people; ought they not? Ah! but ye great men of the earth, there is a God, and that God has said He executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed. An yet the sempstress in her garret and yet the tailor in his den, and yet the artisan in his crowded factory, and yet the servants who earn your wealth, who have to groan under your oppression, shall get the ear of God and He will visit you. 'Hear ye the rod.' It is for this the rod falleth on you.
"Mark, again, the sins of merchants. Was there ever an age when the merchants of England had more fallen from their integrity? The mass of them, I believe, are honest to the core; but I do not know who among them are so. We can trust none in these lines. Ye heap up your companies and delude your myriads; ye gather the money of fools; ye scatter it to the winds of heaven, and when the poor call upon you ye tell them it is gone; but where? O, England, thou wast once true, upright, honest; men could not rightly call thee then 'Perfidious Albion;' but now, O, Britain, alas! for thee! Unless thou dost recover thyself who can trust thee? God will visit the nation for this, and it shall he seen that this alone is one of the things which God would have us hear when we hear the rod.
"There are many of you that are poor. I saw you smile when I spoke to the rich. I will have at you also. If we are to humble ourselves this day as a nation, ye have cause also to humble. Ah, nay God, what multitudes there are of men who deserve but little of their employers, for they are eyeservers, men-pleasers, and do not with singleness of heart serve the Lord. Were men better workmen their masters would be better. There are hundreds of you that are here today who are the best hands in all the world to prop up walls when you ought to be busy at your own workwho, when your time is bought and paid for, steal it for something else. And how many there are in what are called the lower ranksand God forgive the man that invented that word, for we are none of us lower than the other before the Judge of all the earthhow many are there that do not know what it is to look: up to God and say, 'Though he has made me a servant I will discharge my duty, and I will serve my Master, and serve my God with all my might.' Many are the sins of the poor. Humble yourselves with the rich; bow your heads and weep for your iniquities; for these things God doth visit us and ye should hear the rod.
"It is impossible for me today to enter into all the sins of illiberality, of deceit, of bigotry, of lasciviousness, of carnality, of pride, of covetousness, and of laziness, which infest this land. I have tried to indicate some of the chief, and I pray God humble us all for them.
"And now, 'Hear ye the rod.' O Church of God, the rod has fallen and the church ought to hear it. I am afraid that it is the Church that has been the greatest sinner. Do I mean by 'the Church' that established by law? No, I mean the Christian Church as a body. We, I believe have been remiss in our duly; for many and many a year pulpits never condescended to men of low estate. Our ministers were great and haughty; they understood the polish of rhetoric, they had all the grandeur of logic; to the people they were blind guides and dumb dogs, for the people knew not what they said, neither did they regard them. The Churches themselves slumbered; they wrapped themselves in a shroud of orthodoxy and they slept right on, and whilst Satan was devouring the world and taking his prey, the Church sat still and said, 'Who is my neighbor?' and did not arouse herself to serve her God. I do hope that we have already seen the beginning of a revival. The last year has seen more preaching than any year since the days of the Apostles. We are stirring in ragged schools and in various efforts for doing good but still the Church is only half awake; I fear she still slumbers. O Church of God! awake! awake! awake! for verily, the rod has fallen for thy sake. 'Hear thou the rod, and him that hath appointed it!'"
The congregation, which listened with rapt attention, was greatly impressed by these solemn words, and for long after the fast day the discourse was in great demand, and even today it is often asked for.
The sermon, "Accidents not Punishments" (No. 4118), preached on September 8th, 1861, after the collision in the Clayton tunnel on the Brighton Railway, has already been mentioned as the discourse a copy of which Dr. Livingstone carried with him to the heart of the African Continent. In this C. H. Spurgeon refuted what had hitherto been a popular and very general theological idea, that all disasters were sent as a judgment for special and gross forms of sin.
"It has been most absurdly stated," he declared, "that those who travel on the first day of the week and meet with an accident, ought to regard that accident as being a judgment from God upon them on account of their violating the Christian's day of worship. It has been stated, even by godly ministers, that the late deplorable collision should be looked upon as an exceedingly wonderful and remarkable visitation of the wrath of God against those unhappy persons who happened to be in the Clayton tunnel. Now, I enter my solemn protest against such an inference as that, not in my own name, but in the name of Him who is the Christian's Master and the Christian's Teacher. I say of those who were crushed in that tunnel, Suppose ye that they were sinners above all the other sinners? 'I tell you, nay, but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.' Or, those who were killed last Monday, think ye, that they were sinners above all the sinners that were in London? ' I tell you, Nay; but, except ye repeat, ye shall all likewise perish.' Now, mark, I would not deny that there have been judgments of God upon particular persons for sin; sometimes, and I think but exceedingly rare, such things have occurred. Some of us have heard, in our experience, instances of men who have blasphemed God and defied Him to destroy them, who have suddenly fallen dead; and, in such cases, the punishment has so quickly followed the blasphemy that one could not help perceiving the hand of God in it. The man had wantonly asked for the judgment of God, his prayer was heard, and the judgment came. But in cases of accident such as that to which I refer and in cases of sudden and instant death, again I say, I,enter my earnest protest against the foolish and ridiculous idea that those who thus perish are sinners above all the sinners who survive unharmed."
The preacher then went on to reason the matter out. "It is true," he said, "the wicked man sometimes falls dead in the street; but has not the minister fallen dead in the pulpit? It is true that a boat in which men were seeking their own pleasure on the Sunday has suddenly gone down; but is it not equally true that a ship, which contained none but godly men, who were bound upon an excursion to preach the Gospel, has gone down too? The visible providence of God has no respect of persons; and a storm may gather around the John Williams missionary trip, quite as well as around a vessel filled with riotous sinners. Why, do you not perceive that the providence of God has been, in fact, in its outward dealings, rather harder upon the good than upon the bad? For, did not Paul say, as he looked upon the miseries of the righteous in his day, 'If in this life only we have hope in Christ we are of all men most miserable'? The path of righteousness has often conducted men to the rack, to the prison, to the gibbet, to the stake; while the road of sin has often led a man to empire, to dominion and to high esteem among his fellows. It is not true that in this world, God does, as a rule, and of necessity, punish men for sin and reward them for their good deeds; for, did not David say, 'I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree;' and did not this perplex the psalmist for a little season, until he went into the sanctuary of God, and then he understood their end?
"Will you allow me to remark that the supposition against which I am earnestly, contending, is a very cruel and unkind one? For if it were the case that all persons who thus meet with their death in an extraordinary and terrible manner were greater sinners than the rest, would it not be a crushing blow to bereaved survivors, and is it not ungenerous on our part to indulge the idea, unless we are compelled by unanswerable reasons to accept it as an awful truth? Now, I defy you to whisper it in the widow's ear. Go home to her and say, 'Your husband was a worse sinner than the rest of men, therefore he died.' You have not brutality enough for that. A little, unconscious infant, which had never sinned, though, doubtless, an inheritor of Adam's fall, is found crushed amidst the debris of the accident. Now think for a moment; what would be the infamous consequence of the supposition that those who perished were worse than others; you would have to make it out that this; unconscious infant was a worse sinner than many in the dens of infamy, whose lives are yet spared. Do you not perceive that the thing is radically false?" It is not surprising that this sermon has been of help and comfort of thousands in distress, and it has always had a considerably increased sale at times when great public disasters have occurred.
The sermon, preached on the occasion of the death of the Prince Consort, from the text, "Shall there be evil in a city and the Lord hath not done it?" (No. 426), was another of the discourses which had an exceptionally large sale at the time it was published, and which has continued to be in great demand from time to time as occasions, similar to that which called it forth, have occurred. The line which the preacher took in connection with the sad calamity was that God had done it and done it with a design, and in this fact he found comfort and consolation for the bereaved relatives.
"If God hath done it," he said, "for ever be put away all questions about its being right. It must be right. If any would reply, we would answer them in the curt phrase of Paul, ' Nay, that O man, who art thou that repliest against God? 'But to take him away and to remove, him just in the hour of the nation's perilcan this be right? Brethren it must be. He has died at the best hour; the affliction has come at the most fitting season. It would have been wrong that it should have been otherwise it would neither have been wise nor kind that he should have been spared. And this I gather from the fact that God has taken him away; and, therefore, it must be wisest, best, kindest. Only say the same over all your losses. Though 'our dearest friend be' removed, be hushed, be dumb with silence and answer not, because Thou didst it, even Thou O God, therefore we say, 'Thy will be done.' And this, too, shall be our best comfort. God hath done it. What! shall we weep for what God hath done? Shall we sorrow when the Master hath taken away what was his own? 'The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.' The gardener had a choice flower in his beds. One morning he missed it. He had tended it so carefully that he looked upon it with the affection of a father to a child, and he hastily ran through the garden and sought out one of the servants, for he thought surely an enemy had plucked it, and he said to him, 'Who plucked that rose? ' And the servant said, 'I saw the master walking through the garden early this morning when the sun was rising, and I saw him bear it away in his hand.' Then the that tended the rose said, 'It is well; let him be blessed; it was his own; for him I held it; for him I nursed it; and if he hath taken it, it is well.' So be it with your hearts. Feel that it is for the best that you have lost your friend or that your best relation has departed. God has done it. Be ye filled with comfort; for what God hath done can never be a proper argument for tears."
Another very notable sermon, not preached on any historic occasion, but circulating in its printed form to an enormous extent, is that already mentioned, "Supposing Him to be the Gardener." The text was St. John 20:15, and the leading thought brought out by the preacher was that the Church of God is the garden and the Lord Jesus Christ the gardener. Of all C. H. Spurgeon's discourses this is one of the most beautiful, both as to the matter and the language in which the thoughts are clothed.
"Supposing Him to be the gardener," he said, "we have here THE KEY TO MANY WONDERS in the garden of His church. The first wonder is that there should be a church at all in the world; that there should be a garden blooming in the midst of this sterile waste. Upon a hard and flinty rock the Lord has made the Eden of His church to grow. How came it to be herean oasis of life in a desert of death? How came faith in the midst of unbelief, and hope where all is servile fear, and love where hate abounds? 'are of God, little children, and the whole world lieth in the wicked one.' Whence this being 'of God' where all beside is fast shut up in the devil? How came there to be a people for God, separated and sanctified, and consecrated, and ordained to bring forth fruit unto His name? Assuredly it could not have been so at all if the doing of it had been left to man we understand its existence, 'supposing Him to be the gardener,' but nothing else can account for it. He can cause the fir tree to flourish instead of the thorn, and the myrtle instead of the briar; but no one else can accomplish such a change. The garden in which I sat was made on the bare face of the rock, and almost all the earth of which its terraces were composed had been brought up there, from the shore below, by hard labor, and so upon the rock a soil had been created. It was not by its own nature that the garden was found in such a place; but by skill and labor it had been formed: even so the Church of God has had to be constructed by the Lord Jesus, who is the author as well as the perfecter of His garden. Painfully, with wounded hands, has He built each terrace, and fashioned each bed, and planted each plant. All the flowers have had to be watered with His bloody sweat, and watched by His tearful eyes: the nail-prints in His hands, and the wound in His side are the tokens of what it cost Him to make a new Paradise. He has given His life for the life of every plant that is in the garden, and not one of them had been there on any other theory than 'supposing Him to be the Gardener.'"
After suggesting other wonders, all easily explained by "supposing Him to be the Gardener," the preacher continued: "Let your imaginations run along with mine while I say that ' supposing Him to be the Gardener,' should be A SPUR TO MANY DUTIES. One of the duties of a Christian is joy. That is a blessed religion which among its precepts commands men to be happy. When joy becomes a duty, who would wish to neglect it? Surely it must help every little plant to drink in the sunlight when it is whispered among the flowers that Jesus is the gardener. 'Oh,' you say, 'I am such a little plant; I do not grow well; I do not put forth so much leafage, nor are there so many flowers on me as on many round about me!' It is quite right that you should think little of yourself: perhaps to droop your head is a part of your beauty many flowers had not been half so lovely if they had not practiced the art of hanging their heads. But 'supposing Him to be the Gardener,' then He is as much a gardener to you as He is to the most lordly palm in the whole domain. In the Mentone garden right before me grew the orange and the aloe, and others of the finer and more noticeable plants; but on a wall to my left grew common wallflowers and saxifrages, and tiny herbs such as we find on our own rocky places. Now, the gardener had cared for all of these, little as well as great; in fact, there were hundreds of specimens of the most insignificant growths all duly labeled and described. The smallest saxifrage could say, 'He is my gardener just as surely as he is the gardener:' of the Gloire de Dijon or Marechal Niel.' Oh, feeble child of God, the Lord taketh care of you! Your heavenly Father feedeth ravens, and guides the flight of sparrows: should He not much more care for you, oh ye of little faith? Oh, little plants, you will grow rightly enough. Perhaps you are growing downward just now rather than upward. Remember that there are plants of which we value the underground root much more than we do the baulm above ground. Perhaps it is not yours to grow very fast; you may be a slowgrowing shrub by nature, and you would not be healthy if you were to run to wood. Anyhow, be this your. joy, you are in the garden of the Lord, and, 'supposing Him to be the gardener,' He will make the best of you. You cannot be in better hands."
Finally, the preacher gave a warning to the careless. "In this great congregation many are to the Church what weeds are to a garden. They are not planted by God; they are not growing under His nurture, they are bringing forth no fruit to His glory. My dear friends, I have tried often to get at you, to impress you, but I cannot. Take heed; for one of these days, 'supposing Him to be the gardener,' He will reach you, and you shall know what that word meaneth, 'Every plant which My heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up.' Take heed to yourselves, I pray
"Others among' us are like the branches of the vine which bear no fruit. We have often spoken very sharply to these, speaking honest truth in unmistakable language, and vet we have not touched their consciences. Ah, but 'supposing Him to be the gardener,' He will fulfill that sentence: 'Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit He taketh away.' He will get at you, if we cannot. Would God, ere this old year were quite dead, you would turn unto the Lord with full purpose of heart; so that instead of being a weed you might become a choice flower: that instead of a dry stick, you might be a sappy, fruit-bearing branch of the vine."
This discourse has been issued in its pulpit series and also in various pamphlet forms.
The two sermons suggested by the loss of the Princess Alice, "Divine Interpositions," and "An Anxious Inquiry for a Beloved Son" (Nos. 1432 and 1433), have had and still have a very great circulation although issued as a double number.
But no sermon preached by Charles Haddon Spurgeon and published in the series of printed discourses, ever achieved such fame or attained such a great and continuous circulation as that which bore the title" Baptismal Regeneration." It was delivered on Sunday morning, June 5th, 1864, and formed No. 573 of the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit. The preacher himself had long been exercised about the matter with which he dealt, but on the memorable Sunday morning neither his "congregation," nor the outside world had any idea of what a bombshell was to be thrown.
The text of the sermon was St. Mark 16:15,16, "And He said unto them, go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." After a few introductory words, the preacher reminded his hearers that the Apostles so wielded the sword of the Spirit as to put to flight all their foes. Never did they dream for a moment of adapting the Gospel to the tastes or prejudices of the people, but at once directly and boldly brought down with both hands the mighty sword upon the crown of opposing error. "This morning," he continued, and his congregation began to realize that a statement of unusual import was about to come," in the name of the Lord of Hosts, my Helper and Defense, I shall attempt to do the same; and if I should provoke some hostilityif I, through speaking what I believe to be the truth, lose the friendship of some and stir up the enmity of more, I cannot help it. The burden of the Lord is upon me and I must deliver my soul. I have been loth enough to undertake the work, but I am forced to it by an awful and overwhelming sense of solemn duty."
The preacher then declared that the great and growing error to be contended with throughout England was one in direct opposition to his text, namely, the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, a doctrine which he maintained was plainly taught by the Established Church in its Prayer Book. "But," he continued, "I hear many good people exclaim ' there are many good clergymen in the Church who do not believe in baptismal regeneration.' To this my answer is prompt, 'Why, then, do they belong to a church which teaches that doctrine in the plainest terms?' and he went on to speak in somewhat firm language of the attitude of the evangelical clergy towards this dogma, and what he considered that attitude involved.
Naturally, on the publication of this vigorously worded sermon, the whole evangelical party in the Church of England was up in arms. Replies and refutations were preached and printed, not by the score, but literally by hundreds, and no complete collection of the pamphlets issued seems to exist. C.H. Spurgeon himself possessed ten stout volumes of tracts and sermons on the subject. A selection which the writer has been able to examine forms a volume between three and four inches in thickness. Some replies were academic in character and others were abusive; one, at least, was decorated with a colored diagram, and the majority seem to have vied with one another in appearing with "catchy" titles. A few of these chosen at random will give some idea of the varied character of the replies and counter replies. "An 'Honest' Evangelical Reading of the Prayer-Book. Doctrine on the Subject, being a pamphlet suggested by Mr. Spurgeon's sermon;" "An Exposure of the Fallacies and Misrepresentations in Mr. Spurgeon's Sermon;" "A Chart illustrative of the Doctrine of the Church of England on Baptism and the Divine Covenants, also an Explanatory Key and Notes, together with a lull reply to the misrepresentations of the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon;" "Regeneration and its Counterfeits;" "The False Regeneration"; "The Voice of the Church on Holy Baptism;" "The Popish Error of Baptismal Regeneration not the doctrine of the Church of England;" "The Corrector Corrected;" "What has Mr. Spurgeon Done? and By Whose Authority Has He Done It?;" "Spurgeon Right! and the Church of England Wrong! or, Believers' Baptism versus Baby Baptism;" "The Great Gun is Sounding! Clergymen Beware, or, a few words showing that Mr. C. H. Spurgeon is in the Light and the Evangelical Clergy in the Dark;" "Who's in Error? or, Baptists and Baptism;" "What is to be done with this Spurgeon? and, What Saith the Scriptures?;" "'Great is Diana, or, Mother Church and the Babes;" "The Rev. C. H. Spurgeon Settled;" "An Artful Fox Unearthed and Trapped;" "The Lambeth Gospel, or, Every Man His Own Savior;" "Curious Twistings: or, the Contortions and Distortions of the Rev. in His Tract entitled, 'Mr. Spurgeon shown to be a Teacher of Baptismal Regeneration, Clerical Logic Illustrated;" "The Veil Removed and Truth Displayed;" "Vindication a Letter to the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon;" "Who Ought to be Baptized?"; "Regeneration and De-generation: a Pill for the Parsons and a Spur for Spurgeon;" "On Which Side is the Dishonesty?;" "The Spurgeon-Antidote;" "What Is It All About?" "Weighed in the Balances: The Rev. C. H. Spurgeon Self-Condemned;" "The Rev. C. H. Spurgeon Settled;" "Regeneration not Salvation"; "Regeneration: The Use and Abuse of a Word;" "The Evil-Speaking and Ignorance of the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon;" "Clerical Shuffling or, the Acrobatic Feats of Mr.;" "The Tables Turned. Mr. Spurgeon's Ignorance Wisdom, and His Critic's Wisdom Ignorance;" "Infant Baptism, Why Sneer At it?"
Some prominent men took part in the controversy, including Dean Goode, the Rev. Hugh Stowell, M.A., of Manchester, the Rev. Hugh Allen, D.D., and the Rev. Joseph Bardsley, M.A., on the Church of England side; and Dr. Brock, of Bloomsbury Chapel, Dr. Landels, of Regent's Park Chapel, and Dr. Hayeroft, of Bristol, on the Baptist side. For months the pamphlets followed one another from the Press, and whether their circulations were large or small, the original sermon of Mr. Spurgeon had sold in a few weeks by the hundred thousand. "It was delivered," the preacher declared, "with the full expectation that the sale of the sermons would receive very serious injury; in fact, I mentioned to one of the publishers that I was about to destroy it at a single blow, but that the blow must be struck, cost what it might, for the burden of the Lord lay heavy upon me and I must deliver my soul. I deliberately counted the cost and reckoned upon the loss of many an ardent friend and helper, and I expected the assaults of clever and angry foes. I was not mistaken in other respects; but in the matter of the sermons I was altogether out of my reckoning, for they increased greatly in sale at once. That fact was not in any degree to me a test of my action being right or wrong; I should have felt as well content in heart as I am now as to the rightness of my course had the publication ceased in consequence, but still it was satisfactory to find that though speaking out might lose a man some friends, it secured him many others; and if it overturned his influence in one direction, it was fully compensated elsewhere."
The exigencies of space forbid a further detailed reference to special discourses, but twelve of the most notable of C. H. Spurgeon's sermons have been bound up in a shilling volume, entitled "Twelve Memorable Sermons Preached on Remarkable Occasions." This book, of course, does not include the Baptismal Regeneration discourse, nor any sermon of a controversial character."
Right up to the time of his death, C. H. Spurgeon used to hear almost weekly of cases of blessing, which had followed the reading of his printed sermons. All of these were cheering, but some were of an unique character, and clearly putting His seal upon the work in a very special manner. Here, for instance, is a curious instance which we find recorded. A woman in Scotland, who was determined as far as possible to have nothing to do with religion, threw her Bible and all the religious literature she could find in her house upon the fire. One pamphlet fell out of the flames, and the woman hastily threw it back. But it fell out a second time, and again the woman committed it to the flames. Half the pamphlet was consumed when the remainder slipped into the hearth again, and the woman, picking it up, exclaimed, "Surely the devil is in this tract, for it won't burn." Out of curiosity she glanced at the paper, found it was one of C.H. Spurgeon's sermons, read on, and was converted by its means.
Still more remarkable was another incident which the preacher related to his congregation at the Tabernacle. "At the close of one of our services," he said, "a poor woman, accompanied by two of her neighbors, came to my vestry in deep distress. Her husband had fled the country, and in her sorrow she had gone to the house of God, and something I said in the sermon made her think that I was personally familiar with her case. Of course I had really known nothing about her; I had made use of a general illustration which just fitted her particular case. She told me her story, and a very sad one it was. I said, 'There is nothing that we can do but kneel down and cry to the Lord for the immediate conversion of your husband.' We knelt down, and I prayed that the Lord would touch the heart of the deserter, convert his soul, and bring him back to his home. When we rose from our knees I said to the poor woman, 'Do not fret about the matter. I feel sure your husband will come home, and that he will yet become connected with our church.'
"She went away and I forgot all about her. Some months afterwards she reappeared with her neighbors and a man, whom she introduced to me as her husband. He had indeed come back, and he had returned a converted man. On making inquiry and comparing notes, we found that the very day on which we had prayed for his conversion, he, being at that time on board a ship far away on the sea, stumbledmost unexpectedly upon a stray copy of one of my sermons. He read it; the truth went to his heart; he repented and sought the Lord and as soon as possible he came back to his wife and to his daily calling. He was admitted as a member at the Tabernacle, and his wife, who up to that time had not joined the church, was also received into fellowship with us,
"That woman," added the preacher, "does not doubt the power of prayer. All the infidels in the world could not shake her conviction that there is a God that heareth and answereth the supplications of His people. I should be the most irrational creature in the world if, with a life every day of which is full of experiences so remarkable, I entertained the slightest doubt on the subject. I do not regard it as miraculous; it is part and parcel of the established order of the universe that the shadow of a coming event should fall in advance upon some believing soul in the shape of prayer for its realization. The prayer of faith is a Divine decree commencing its operation."
In the very same sermon that the above incident was narrated, C. H. Spurgeon told of another case of conversion which had occurred it few days before the delivery of the discourse.
"About a fortnight ago," he said, "there stood in Cheapside a young man reading one of my sermons which had attracted his attention. As he was reading it he came across this passage:
If you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ you are saved now. But I want you to project your faith further and to believe in Jesus Christ for the whole of your life; for if you do so, you shall not only be saved now, but you shall infallibly be saved for ever.' Then followed the text, 'I give unto them eternal life,' and this comment upon it:'Now, eternal life cannot come to an end. "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life." Everlasting life cannot come to and end; it is a thing that lasts forever. Believe for everlasting life and you have it; you are saved forever.' The young man said, 'Standing there, I did believe just as I was told. I trusted Christ and I believed then that in Him I had everlasting life. The next minute I felt, "Oh, what a glorious thing this is! How I love Christ who has done this great thing for me! What is there that I can do to serve Him? What sin is there that I would not give up?" Then,' he added, ' I said to myself as I walked on, "Why, I am saved! I am sure I am, because now I love Christ; now I want to give up sin, and now I want to serve Him."' And was not that," continued C. H. Spurgeon, "a sure proof of his being saved, because he saw the greatness of Divine love to him, and this made him grateful; and that gratitude turned him right round and made a new man of him?"
Here is another instance of blessing told in a letter to the preacher from the secretary of a country branch of the Young Men's Christian Association:
"Dear Sir,I met with a young man a few days ago, whose case will interest you as you have had much to do with guiding him to his present position. W. Twas converted seven years ago. He was manager of a large brewery. As he was not happy, he commenced to read your sermons week by week. These made him more wretched, because they showed him that he had not made a full surrender to the Lord, and he felt that he could not continue in his business and serve the Savior fully. The time came when he saw that one or the other must go, and he told his uncle, who is the principle partner in the firm, that he must leave, giving his reasons for so doing. His father and uncle tried to persuade him not to be so foolish as to throw away what they considered his only chance in life; but his answer was, 'I must throw away this or Christ: the one I cannot, the business I must.' His uncle then offered to give him as many shares in the firm as he liked to name, but still his answer was, 'No, I must wash my hands of the trade,' and he left, not knowing where he would go or what he would do, but confident that the Lord who had given him grace to take this stand would help him to realize his one desire to please his Lord and Master. The way was opened for him to enter the City Mission, where he has been working for the last eighteen months with much success. I asked if he had told you the benefit your sermons had been to him, and, finding that he had not clone so, suggested that he should write, knowing that you are encouraged by every fresh case of blessing."
From Quebec came a letter: "Since reading a sermon delivered by you a long time ago, on the text, ' Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved" (No. 293), in which you set forth the great sin of unbelief, I have felt a strong desire to write to strengthen your hands by letting you know that your labor is not in vain, as I for one can testify to the great good derived from that and other sermons of yours. My father, before we left Scotland seven years ago, always got your sermons, as well as your Sword and Trowel, and having derived great benefit from them, he carefully put them away. About a year ago, my brother sent me a few of those old sermons, which I read, andglory be to God!He opened my eyes while I was reading the sermon I have mentioned, and I found peace in believing."
An Australian lady wrote: "I have often felt inclined to write to you. Twelve years ago I lost a darling boy; everything seemed dark and nothing brought me any comfort. The Word of God, which had been my stay through many previous trials, was all darkness to me. A friend brought me one of your sermons and asked me to allow her to read it. At first I refused, but at last I consented. I forget the title, but it was to the effect that everything is ordered by God, and that there is no such thing as chance. I felt all the time my friend was reading almost afraid even to breathe; I could only say, 'Go on, go on!' When she had finished it, I leapt from my couch and said, 'All is right; thank God, my dark mind is all light again!' I have had similar sorrows since and many other trials, but I could from my heart say to the Lord, ' Thy will be done; it is all right.' At that time my husband ordered your sermons monthly, and we still continue to have them. Every Sunday evening we read one of them aloud for all to hear, and afterwards I send them into the bush. My dear sir, go on and preach what you feel; it has often been a great comfort to us that you seemed to feel just as we felt."
Two instances may be given from America. Wrote a minister in Tennessee: "Nine years ago I was a wild young man, but I was converted through' reading one of Mr. Spurgeon's sermons, and I am now the Pastor of a large and influential church. The Lord's name be magnified!" The other case was that of a slanderer in California converted through reading the sermons of the preacher whom he formerly maligned. "I consider it but justice to yourself," he wrote, "and my duty as one who is striving to follow the example set by our Lord and Master to seek Your pardon for the manner in which I have spoken and thought of you in former years. Too much prejudiced to hear and see for myself, although the opportunity lay daily within my reach, I accepted and repeated all I heard to your reproach, not remembering the injunction of the Holy Scriptures to 'prove all things.' And you have had a noble revenge, for it was your words, as read by me in your published sermons, that have shown me to myself as I really was, and have been the means through the grace of God of awakening a desire within me to seek to lead a pure and holy life; and not only this, but they have likewise awakened a great desire in me to be the means, God willing, of bringing others to see the danger of their sinful state, and to lead them also to the Savior."
A remarkable instance of the work performed by the sermons in New Zealand is worth recording. The three grown up sonsall unconvertedof Christian parents left England for that colony, and after their departure, the father and mother conferred as to what could be done for the spiritual welfare of their sons. They decided to send copies of C. H. Spurgeon's sermons to the young colonists and to pray that these silent messengers might be used by God to the salvation of their souls. Sure enough God owned the effort and all three young men were converted through reading the discourses.
It was not always by letter or in a personal interview that the preacher heard of such cases. Sometimes he would see in a newspaper an announcement of blessing following the reading of the printed sermons. An instance of this occurred in a Baptist paper, published in America. Under the heading, "For Brother Spurgeon's Eye," the following paragraph appeared: "At our prayer-meeting the other Sunday evening, a brother, to show the different ways there are of doing good, mentioned an incident that occurred on board a steamer in which some time before the was a passenger up the Pacific Coast to Oregon. It was Sunday; and a passenger, who had with him a volume of Spurgeon's sermons, went round asking one and another to read one of them aloud. The passengers declined, till he came to our brother, who consented to act as reader. Quite a company gathered round him, which gradually increased as he went on with the discourse, until, looking up, after a little time, he saw that, not only the passengers but all the crew, who could possibly be at liberty, were among his audience and that all were very attentive.
"The informal service was soon over. But not so the effect of the sermon; for some months after, being in San Francisco, he was abruptly saluted in the street one day by a strangera sailorwho seemed overjoyed at meeting him. 'How do you do?' said he. 'Don't you know me? Why I heard you preach!' 'I am not a preacher, my friend; so you must have made a mistake.' 'Oh, no! I have not; I heard you preach. Don't you remember the steamer that was going to Oregon?' 'Oh, yes!' replied the gentleman, 'I recollect, and I read one of Mr. Spurgeon's sermons.' 'Well,' said the sailor, '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.'"
A friend of C. H. Spurgeon's, seeing this paragraph, wrote to him and told of another incident that occurred in connection with the sermons on board ship.
"One of the most earnest and devoted of the Christian brotherhood at Dover," he said, "had been 'before the mast,' in a small schooner, the master of which, a godly man, going for a cruise of some months, and being anxious about the spiritual welfare of his crew, resolved to take with him some Bibles, in order that none on board should be without at least the letter of the Word. He, however, from some cause or other (probably, forgetfulness), sailed without the Bibles; but had to put back to harbor through stress of weather. Again he essayed to go to sea, but with a similar result. As he lay in port, weather-bound, it flashed across his mind that it might be the hand of the Lord which had detained his vessel; and, believing it to be so, he added to his freight some of the incorruptible seed of the Word in the form of Bibles, for his crew; and with them some of your own sermons, one of which latter he read to the assembled ship's company each Lord's-day morning.
"Our brother informed me that his spiritual birth was the fruit of one of these sermons read by the illiterate captain, who had adopted this simple method of echoing our exposition of God's truth. The sermon read upon the momentous morning in question was from the text, 'Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned and clone this evil in Thy sight' (No. 86). The arrow guided by the Holy Spirit, went home to the hearer's heart, and David's conviction and confession were repeated in the case of our brother, who gratefully recognizes the sovereign grace of the Lord in His repeated interference with man's purpose, and the saving efficacy of God's truth in the unpretending service on the schooner's deck."
These that have been quoted are but a few typical instances of the work wrought by the Holy Spirit of God through the sermons, but they show that the blessing was confined to no particular class, sinners having been saved, backsliders reclaimed, and saints comforted through reading or hearing the printed discourses.
The most remarkable fact of all in connection with the publication of C. H. Spurgeon's sermons is their sustained popularity since his death. Sermons, either separately or in volumes, are not looked upon as the most saleable of literature, and a visit to the second-hand bookstalls of any large town will show what a large proportion of the books upon the penny and two-penny barrows are homiletical in character. Yet, even now, more than a dozen years after the preacher has passed away, his sermons come out regularly every week, have an enormous sale, and are looked forward to eagerly by men and women in all parts of the English-speaking world. Not only do the new sermons still sell in large quantities, but there is a constant demand for the older discourses, and from time to time, comes an order from some part of Great Britain or from abroad for a complete set of the volumes to be forwarded to the writer. Applications are received from every continent and almost every country from persons of all denominations, from Bishops and other dignitaries of the Established Church, from high church and low church clergymen, from Roman Catholics and Plymouth Brethren, from noblemen and officers of the army and navy, from lawyers and doctors, from merchants and tradesmen, from artisans and laborers, from men and women, old and young, and even from children.
I have had the opportunity of looking through a memorandum book which the publishers keep for recording an interesting incident that may arise in connection with the sale of the sermons, and a few of the brief records may be selected at random and given in these pages.
A lady, about to make a tour in Scotland, purchased a considerable number of the sermons to give away during her holiday. She declared that she found they were always accepted by those to whom she offered them.
A gentleman, who had traveled much, was purchasing some sermons, when he mentioned that he had found them in all parts of the world. He had seen them in Egypt and Syria, and quite recently at the Blue Mountains in Jamaica.
A clergyman stated that he was dining with the Bishop of Huron, who, in reply to the questions of three young men at table, who asked his lordship what were the most useful books to read, said "Saturate yourself with Spurgeon, but do not forget Spurgeon's teacher, the Holy Spirit."
A minister mentioned that he was dining with two officers at an outlying station in the hills of India. One of these, in the absence of the chaplain, had to conduct a service in the church, and he used to read one of C. H. Spurgeon's sermons.
Another minister said that Dean Vaughan used often to be seen reading Spurgeon's sermons in the train as he traveled.
A man who is stone deaf visits the publishing office nearly every week for a sermon. He often remarks, "I am a poor man who cannot hear the Gospel preached, but Spurgeon is my pastor. The sermons are next to the Bible, my greatest comfort."
A missionary to seamen at Malta, purchasing a number of sermons, said he found them most useful. Quite recently, one given to a sailor had been the means of the conversion of himself and his wife. Even Roman Catholics and people who will not look at other Protestant religious literature, will read Spurgeon's sermons.
A lady missionary told the publishers that she found the sermons most useful to her in her work, and she had been in the habit of ordering them to be sent out to the Holy Land to her.
A customer bought several sermons, and in the course of conversation said, "I attend Church and the sermons delivered there are so wretched that I find it quite impossible to follow them. I therefore take a Spurgeon's sermon with me, place it in my prayer-book and read it while the clergyman is delivering his discourse.
These instances; are all culled from the entries for the past three years. Almost every morning mail brings letters from the four quarters of the globe. On one particular day recently there were orders from several places in the United States, from Chili, Canada, New Zealand, India and the Gold Coast.
A reference was made above to the accumulation of sermon-volumes on the second-hand bookstalls, and almost any published discourses may be picked up there at some time or other for a penny or twopence. But there is one exception. You never find Spurgeon's sermons on the barrows. The present writer is a constant visitor to the London stalls, and a persistent book-buyer, but he has never once in twenty years seen a volume of the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit for sale, second-hand, on a barrow.
To quote all the recent opinions of prominent men upon C. H. Spurgeon's discourses would occupy a vast deal of space, but a selection may be given as examples, all but the first two having been occasioned by the recent publication of the fiftieth volume.
The present Bishop of Durham, Dr. Handley Moule, in his volume, "To Sly Younger Brethren," says, "For average individuals. I know no style more perfectly answering my idea than that of Mr. Spurgeon in his printed sermons of recent years; I happen to know that Mr. Spurgeon has always taken great and systematic pains with his English. His sentences, never thin or weak in matter, are always straight."
Dr. Robertson Nicoll, addressing the delegates at the session of the Baptist Union, said: "Read, above all things your Bible; and whatever books you add to your Bible, add some volumes of your great apostle Charles Spurgeon,not to preach out of them, for you might almost as well talk of plagiarizing from the Epistle to the Romans as of plagiarizing from Spurgeon. Read him because he is the unrivaled interpreter of the mysteries of the New Covenant. I take him up constantly and find myself repeating Browning's words,
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