In 1857, Charles Spurgeon—the most popular preacher in the Victorian world—promised his readers that he would publish his earliest sermons. For almost 160 years, these sermons have been lost to history. Beginning in January 2017, B&H Academic will start releasing a multi-volume set that includes full-color facsimiles, transcriptions, contextual and biographical introductions, and editorial annotations. Written for scholars, pastors, and students alike, The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon will add approximately 10% more material to Spurgeon’s body of literature and will constitute the first critical edition of any of Spurgeon’s works.
Below is a republished interview between Jared Wilson and Christian George.
JW: What new insights into Spurgeon’s life and ministry will this book offer?
CG: In some ways, studying the past is like solving a jigsaw puzzle. Every new piece of information provides a more complete picture of the whole. Spurgeon’s earliest sermons offer a new perspective of his life. They will help us answer questions like, what influences shaped Spurgeon’s earliest ministry? What mistakes did he make? How do his early sermons compare to his later ones? Did Spurgeon’s theology, preaching style, or doctrinal emphases change or remain constant? They also contain some of the most powerful treatments of Scripture found anywhere in Spurgeon’s sermons.
Given Spurgeon’s meteoric rise in popularity, it is sometimes tempting to think that he arrived on the London scene perfect and polished. But these sermons present another side to Spurgeon. They show us a preacher in progress and regress – a teenager who is experimenting with exegesis. Some habits he retained for the rest of his life; others he abandoned.
To really understand Spurgeon, we have to know where he came from, whom he was reading, what pressures he faced, and what politics influenced his time. Spurgeon lifted many of his first sermons from other authors like John Gill, Thomas Manton, and Richard Baxter. So it’s been interesting over the past seven years of working with these sermons to see the seeds of his preaching that blossomed later in his London ministry.
JW: This book will include your own critical commentary on the sermons. Why is this inclusion significant and unique?
CG: A project like this demands analysis. Spurgeon wrote these sermons to assist him in the pulpit. His punctuation is irregular and unhelpful. His marginal notations are hard to decipher. Had he succeeded in publishing these sermons as he did with his later publication, My Sermon Notes, Spurgeon would have edited the manuscript significantly. However, in its present form, the text needs footnotes. Full color facsimiles will appear on the page opposite the transcriptions so the reader can cross-examine the interpretation.
Contextualization is also crucial to reconstructing the setting in which Spurgeon penned and preached these sermons. The great problem of studying the past is that you and I are tethered to the present. In 21st-century America, we are separated from Spurgeon by two intimidating barriers: chronology and geography. To scale them, the historian must live in two worlds. He must live in the world he knows and he must live in the world he wants to know. That is why, for the past four years, I have kept up to date not only with the current events of our time, but also with the current events of Spurgeon’s time. It is not enough to hold the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. This project demands a Bible in one hand and two newspapers in the other – one from the past and one from the present.
JW: What is the greatest challenge of this publication?
CG: For me, the greatest challenge of this publication is getting out of the way. It takes a lot of people a lot of time and a lot of work to transmit the thoughts of a Victorian teenager into the mind of a 21st-century citizen. And yet, the ultimate goal of this project is to erase the middleman so that God can bring two individuals from two different cultures into sacred conversation. Ironically, the more editorial information you provide to catch the reader up to speed on Spurgeon’s context, the less interference the editor actually has. The ultimate aim is for Spurgeon’s sermons to travel seamlessly across a century and a sea to find resonance in the minds and hearts of new generations.
JW: What is one thing about Spurgeon’s life and ministry that you think people overlook?
CG: I think it can be easy to make a superhero out of Charles Spurgeon. In many ways, he does appear bulletproof. If progress was the greatest virtue of his day, Spurgeon was as virtuous as they came. In his early twenties, he had become pastor of the largest Protestant congregation in the world. His voice reached crowds of three thousand and twenty-three thousand. His church had baptized almost 15,000 members, maintained a weekly attendance of 6,000 people, and spawned 66 parachurch ministries, including two orphanages, a book fund, a retirement home, and a theological college. Every week, Spurgeon wrote nearly 500 letters, digested six meaty books, preached up to 10 times, and constantly switched hats among pastor, president, editor, author, and evangelist. By 1892, Spurgeon had published more words in the English language than any other Christian in history. Without the aid of television, radio, or the Internet, Spurgeon proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ to an estimated 10 million people in his lifetime. It is small wonder that, according to Carl F. H. Henry, Spurgeon is “one of evangelical Christianity’s immortals.”
But Spurgeon could bleed with the rest of them. He suffered long periods of physical and mental illness. One psychiatrist has noted that if he lived today, Spurgeon would be diagnosed with bipolar disorder and treated with medicine. He was constantly plagued by disease on the one hand and depression on the other; he oscillated between gout and doubt. At the age of twenty-two, Spurgeon almost quit the ministry when seven people died at the Surrey Garden Music Hall disaster. Eight years later, his wife suffered a botched surgery that made her unable to have more children. At the end of his life, many of Spurgeon’s students, deacons, and even his own brother turned their backs on him. So Spurgeon’s preaching emerged in the context of his pain – and that was one reason why his sermons left their mark on his readers. He once said, “If there is anything in this world for which I would bless [God] more than for anything else, it is for pain and affliction. … Fear not the storm. It brings healing in its wings, and when Jesus is with you in the vessel, the tempest only hastens the ship to its desired haven.”
This article has been adapted and used with permission from an interview conducted in October 2015 between Jared Wilson and Christian George: www.ftc.co/resource-library/blog-entries/spurgeons-enduring-ministry-in-the-21st-century
Christian T. George (@_ChristanGeorge) serves as Assistant Professor of Historical Theology and Curator of The Spurgeon Library at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (www.spurgeoncenter.com). He is currently working on The Lost Sermons of C.H. Spurgeon – a twelve-volume critical edition of Spurgeon’s earliest, unpublished sermons, slated for release in January by B&H Academic.
Jared C. Wilson is the Director of Content Strategy at Midwestern Seminary and Managing Editor, For The Church (ftc.co). He is the author of numerous books including The Pastor’s Justification, The Story of Everything, and Unparalleled.
Editor’s note: To learn more about Spurgeon, and to take a guided tour through his never-before-published sermons, you can preorder The Lost Sermons of C.H. Spurgeon from LifeWay, Amazon, and Christianbook.com. For an early preview, please check out our free sampler.