The following is contributed by Dr. Christian George, Curator of the Spurgeon Library at the Charles Spurgeon Center for Biblical Preaching and Assistant Professor of Historical Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“If the author had never written anything else it would have been a permanent literary memorial.” These words, written by Susannah Spurgeon, reference the ambitious publication that became her husband’s magnum opus – a commentary on the Psalms.
It took twenty years for Spurgeon to complete The Treasury of David. After three years, he had only reached Psalm 36. By 1865, Spurgeon began printing his expositions in his monthly magazine, The Sword and Trowel. Eventually, they were collected and published in seven volumes at virtually no monetary profit to the author or publisher. The original volumes sold for eight shillings (the equivalent of about $4.50 today). In order to “reach as large a number of students of the Word as I could,” Spurgeon sold the seven-volume set at one shilling distributed in monthly installments.
We at Midwestern Seminary are pleased to announce that a Psalter was recently discovered in the archives of the Spurgeon library that Spurgeon himself used as a working Bible in the writing of this commentary. Brian Albert, a pastor in Kansas City and PhD candidate, was serving as a volunteer in the collection when he noticed the thin volume on the shelf. “When I began to correspond the text of Scripture with the notations in the Bible…the data was conclusive. This Bible belonged to Spurgeon.”
To confirm this discovery, a grapho-analytical examination was needed. After comparing Spurgeon’s marginal notes in the Psalter with handwriting from six sets of sermon notes that he had penned during the same decade, my conclusion was that much of the handwriting in this Psalter did belong to Spurgeon. The other samples belonged probably to his amanuenses, John L. Keys; David Gracey, a classics professor who Spurgeon enlisted; or E.T. Gibson, a German scholar who also worked on the project. For further verification, the evidence was sent to Dr. Malcolm Yarnell, professor of systematic theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, who also confirmed Spurgeon’s penmanship.
Before writing The Treasury of David, Spurgeon accessed a wide array of sources. If he himself did not own the books, he fetched material from the British Museum and other venues. “I consulted a few authors before penning it,” Spurgeon wrote, “to aid me in interpretation and arouse my thoughts.” One biographer has noted that in the first volume alone, Spurgeon consulted no fewer than 400 authors. His original instinct was not to publish these quotations, but “it seemed to me that it might prove serviceable to others” to include them.
A handful of these authors can be seen in the margins of the Psalter. Some of these include Thomas Brooks, Jeremiah Burroughs, George Swinnock, Thomas Manton, Jonathan Edwards, and Robert Murray M’Cheyne. Spurgeon also cited less predictable authors. For instance, in Psalm 104:10, “He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains,” Spurgeon cited Lord Byron’s poem “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.” A few verses later, Spurgeon attached a colorful excerpt from French professor of zoology and botany Alfred Moquin-Tandon to verse 25, “There is joy in its waves, there is happiness upon its shores, and heavenly blue everywhere.”
In his own day, Spurgeon was lampooned for his lack of education. However, the books we are currently inventorying in Spurgeon’s personal library suggest another perspective. What Spurgeon lacked in formal education, he compensated for in the wide palette of authors he read and used. Although his Latin was better than his German, Spurgeon did not shy away from engaging a diversity of sources both inside and outside the discipline of theology. Both The Treasury of David and Commenting on Commentaries reveal a mind that, though anchored to the Baptist tradition, moved quite freely across historical and denominational lines in search of relevant scholarship. The inclusion of these authors, though originally “an after-thought,” affirms that the same hand that scribbled in the margins of his Psalter had more of a finger on the pulse of scholarship than previously believed.
By the time of his death in 1892, Spurgeon had published nearly 150 books in addition to his massive 62-volume sermon series and monthly magazine. His works constitute the largest collection of religious literature in the English language. Each writing illuminates a unique portrait of the preacher. However, Spurgeon’s faithful resolve to undertake and complete The Treasury of David may prove his most valuable treasure yet. For when the very first volume of his commentary was bound, Spurgeon took it in his hand and, according to one witness, “looked at it as fondly as he might have done at a favourite child.” Stay tuned for more exciting discoveries from the Spurgeon Library at Midwestern Seminary.
Christian T. George, Ph.D., is Curator of the Spurgeon Library at the Charles Spurgeon Center for Biblical Preaching and Assistant Professor of Historical Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. You can find him on Twitter @_ChristianGeorge.
This article originally appeared in the newsletter of the Charles Spurgeon Center for Biblical Preaching, Spring 2015.