by Christian George
Southern Baptists ranked among Spurgeon’s chief antagonists. The Mississippi Baptist hoped “no Southern Baptist will now purchase any of that incendiary’s books.” The Baptist colporteurs of Virginia were forced to return all copies of his sermons to the publisher. The Alabama Baptist and Mississippi Baptist “gave the Londoner 4,000 miles of an awful raking” and “took the hide off him.” The Southwestern Baptist and other denominational newspapers took the “spoiled child to task and administered due castigation.”
In the midst of this mayhem, Spurgeon attempted to publish several notebooks of sermons from his earliest ministry. His promise to his readers in 1857 would not be fulfilled, however, due to difficult life circumstances in London. How poetic, then, that 157 years after The Nashville Patriot slandered Spurgeon for his “meddlesome spirit,” a publishing house from Nashville would complete the task he failed to accomplish. How symmetrical that Spurgeon’s early sermons would be published not by Passmore & Alabaster in London but by Americans. And not only Americans, but Southern Americans. And not only Southern Americans, but Southern Baptist Americans with all the baggage of their bespeckled beginnings.
As a Southern Baptist from Alabama, allow me to confess my own bias. I have spent the majority of my vocational life studying Spurgeon. I have found in him (and share with him) a genuine commitment to making Jesus Christ known to the nations. Like him, I too am deeply invested in the church and claim the same evangelical impulses that fueled Spurgeon’s ministry. I admire his stance for social justice, love for the marginalized, and commitment to biblical orthodoxy.
Spurgeon’s language is not always theologically precise. At times his colorful, allegorical, and experimental rhetoric make academic treatments challenging. However, Spurgeon was not a theologian in the systematic sense and never claimed to be. He was a preacher. And as such his ultimate concern was not crafting perfect manuscripts—though he spent a great deal of time redacting his sermons for publication. His greatest concern was, as his famous title hinted, becoming a Soul Winner. With pen and pulpit, Spurgeon indentured his literary and intellectual abilities to service of the church. His uncanny gift for rendering complex ideas in the working class vernacular distinguished him from many of his contemporaries and gave him instant audiences.
Spurgeon’s preaching emerged not in the ivory towers of Cambridge but in the lowly villages surrounding it. He was more concerned with feeding sheep than giraffes. Spurgeon started his ministry as a country, not city, preacher. His congregants at Waterbeach Chapel were farmers and laborers. Even after moving to London, Spurgeon retained his early earthy idioms and used illustrations common to the Victorian experience.
His preaching flourished in cholera-ravaged Southwark near London’s warehouses, distilleries, and factories. This gave Spurgeon a finger on the pulse of the population that, when combined with his own physical and mental ailments, produced a level of empathy uncommon to his contemporaries. Spurgeon “never suffered from having never suffered.”
At the height of my illness in 2013, Spurgeon’s earliest sermons had a profound effect on me. During a series of surgeries, my eyes chanced upon a phrase in Notebook 1: “Think much on grace, Christian.” Over the twelve months of my recovery, these words brought such encouragement that I doubt they shall ever be forgotten.
Whenever new discoveries are made—whether lost diaries, letters, hymns, poems, or sermons—there is an opportunity to further our knowledge of a particular subject or person. In 2011, only a handful of doctoral students in the world were writing on Spurgeon. Today roughly two dozen are entering the field. Much work is yet to be done. Caverns of untapped resources await exploration. My hope is that the publication of Spurgeon’s lost sermons will inspire future generations of scholars to mine the theological treasures still untapped.
I am also hopeful that this project will promote a reinvigorated sense of unity, mission, and Christian witness throughout evangelicalism. The recent surge of interest in Spurgeon could and should be leveraged for the kingdom. Spurgeon can become an agent of healing. Everyone can, and does, claim him, regardless of theological stripe, tribe, or camp. Spurgeon’s appeal extends not only across denominational barriers, but also into the broader evangelical tradition.
With the upcoming accessibility of Spurgeon’s sermons on the revamped website www.spurgeon.org and also with the advances in scholarship at The Spurgeon Library of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, younger and older generations face exciting new opportunities to stand together as witnesses to the world in celebration of what God has accomplished in history.
Perhaps it was for this reason that the sermons were lost in the nineteenth century and found in the twenty-first.
Editor’s note: For a limited time, order a copy of The Lost Sermons of C.H. Spurgeon, Vol 1 for just $20.99 (a 65% discount) at LifeWay.