SPURGEON AS A LITERARY MAN.
God gave Elijah forty days’ meat at one meal do you, dear friends, ever get such meals as that? I do when I read certain books; — not modem — thought books. Give me no such fare as that, — a grain of meal to a. gallon of water; but let me have one of the good solid Puritan volumes that are so little prized nowadays,, and my soul can teed upon such blessed food as that, and be satisfied with it. — C. H. S., sermon preached at the Tabernacle, June 24, 1883.
If you can read a tainted book that denies the inspiration of the Scriptures, and attacks the truth of God, and if you derive any profit from it, you must be a very different being from myself. I have to read such books, I must read them sometimes to know what is said by the enemies of the gospel, that I may defend the faith, and help the weaklings of the flock; but it is a sorry business.
When those who are qualified, to do so are reading these heretical works, if they are doing it really in the fear of God for the good of their fellow-men, they remind me of Sir James Simpson and the two other doctors when they discovered the medical and surgical value of chloroform. They sat at the table, and scarcely knew what was going to happen; but they took a dose each, risking their lives by so doing; and when they came back to consciousness, they had certainly made a great discovery. — C. H. S., in sermon preached at the Tabernacle, October 29, 1885.
The world gets more civilized; — so am told, though, when I read the newspapers, I am not quite sure that it is so. The world gets more intelligent ; — so I am told, though, when I read the magazines, — I mean the high-class quarterlies, — I am not certain that it is so, for, in that direction, the ignorance appears to me to become greater every day, I mean, the ignorance among the learned and scientific men, who seem to me, in their discoveries, continually to wander further and further, not only from that which is revealed and infallible, but also from that which is rational and truthful. — C. H. S., in Sermon preached at the Tabernacle, May 28, 1882.
What a storehouse the Bible is, since a man may continue to preach from it for years, and still find that there is more to preach from than when he began to discourse upon it! What pyramids of books have been written upon the Bible, and yet we who are students find no portion over-expounded, but large parts which are scarcely touched! If you. take Darling’s Cyclopaedia, and look at a text which one divine has preached upon, you will see that dozens have done the same; but there are hundreds of texts which remain like virgin summits, whereon the foot of preacher has never stood. I might almost say that the major part of the Word of God is in that condition; it is still an Eldorado unexplored, a land whose dust is gold. — C. H. S., in speech at a Bible Society meeting, 1882. NO life of Mr. Spurgeon would be complete unless it contained all available information concerning the books he read, or wrote, or owned.
All who have been intimately acquainted with him, from his childhood, or in later years, have testified to the omnivorous character of his reading. In the earlier part of the present work (Vol 1., Chapter 3.), he has himself recorded the delight with which, while he was but a little lad, he revelled in the study of such works as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs , Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and the huge folios of Puritanic theology which he had discovered in the windowless room in the upper portion of the old Stambourne Manse. The boy and the books were inseparable companions; and when he returned From Stambourne to Colchester, and afterwards went to his uncle’s school at Maidstone, the same experience was repeated.
Even as a youth, he intermeddled with all knowledge, and so began to accumulate those treasures, of literary love which have led many to describe his wisdom as ency-clopaedic. His essay, entitled Popery Unmasked, written when he was only fifteen years of age,. affords abundant proof of the wide extent of his reading at that early period of his history; and he often mentioned, with much merriment, the curious arrangement that had to be made in connection with the school-boy debates in which he took part. He knew so much more than the rest of the pupils upon almost all the subjects which they wished to discuss, that he was too formidable a.n antagonist for any of them to overthrow; and, consequently, the only way in which he could fairly compete with his young companions was to allow him to speak on both sides of the question under consideration! It must have both amused and amazed his fellowscholars to hear him refute his own arguments, which, when he had first uttered them, they had thought to be unanswerable!
When he advanced from the position of scholar to that of teacher, he gladly availed himself of the increased opportunities of reading and learning everything that might be turned to good account in his future career; and when he had become a follower of Christ, and an earnest worker for his Lord, he spent all that he could honestly afford it, the purchase of the classical and theological books which were likely to be of the greatest service to him. His letters at that period, as given in the first volume of this work, contained frequent mention of those volumes; and his tutor and friend. Mr. Leeding, confirmed his own testimony as to the diligence with which he Was mastering their contents. One of his favorite subjects of study, at that time, was natural history; and some of his pupils have acknowledged, even since his home-going, how intensely interesting and instructive were the lessons and lectures he gave them upon that topic; and all the while he was, perhaps unconsciously, laying up useful and telling illustrations which were to be of service to himself and his hearers throughout his long ministry.
Mr. Spurgeon did not often refer to his own literary acquirements, as he preferred to let the work he had accomplished speak for him; and he could afford to ignore, the unfounded assumptions of his critics with regard to his supposed ignorance. Very occasionally, possibly when there had been some unusually virulent attack upon him which he thought should not pass unnoticed, he would briefly mention the matter to some of the choice friends by whom he was surrounded, and prove the utter groundlessness of his assailants’ statements. At the close of one of the annual College Conferences, there occurred an incident of this kind, which is, to this day, remembered with delight by many who were present. One of the brethren, who was there has recorded his reminiscences of the occasion; he writes — ” It was after the dinner on the Friday, ‘when we had been cheering the beloved president with such cheers as we shall never give to any man again; I think they must have touched his loving heart, for he left his place at the table, stepped forward among the flowers that decorated the platform, and talked to us in a homely, confidential way. I cannot recall his exact words, but I know that he told us how welcome we were to all the privileges of the Conference, and I remember that he had at special message of sympathy for those of us who came from the smaller churches.
Then he went on to speak of himself. He related how, even as a schoolboy, he had made such progress with his mathematical studies that he had been able to calculate the tables which he believed were still used in a certain Life Insurance office in London. I distinctly recollect that he also said he could easily have taken a degree at Cambridge if the University had been open to Nonconformists, and he referred to the knowledge of Greek and Latin which he possessed at that time, adding, in his own inimitable way, that, since then, he had also learned at least some Hebrew, and a few other things! He urged the brethren to be diligent students, to read all books that would help them to understand the Scriptures; but, above all, to study the Word itself, in the original languages if possible, and to saturate themselves with what he termed Bibline, the very essence of The Book. I always knew’ that dear Mr. Spurgeon was a great scholar as well as a great preacher, but it was delightful to have the fact confirmed from his own lips; yet he concluded by saying, ‘Still, brethren, like the apostle Paul, I am become a fool in glorying.’ But our renewed cheers must have assured him of our delight in listening to what he had told us, and he said that he had been driven to speak by what others had been saying, and for the honor of the College of which he was President. The address was evidently quite unpremeditated; it seemed to be the overflowing of his heart to those who, he knew, we. re not only in perfect sympathy with him, but regarded him with the deepest reverence, esteem, and love.”
Although Mr. Spurgeon so seldom referred to his own attainments and qualifications for his great life-work, yet frequently, in depicting some of the Lord’s most useful and successful servants, he drew likenesses of them which might admirably serve for full-length portraits of himself. For instance, preaching upon John the Baptist’s words, “He must increase, but I must decrease,” the Pastor said — ” Oh, how grandly he witnessed for Christ by sinking himself until he was lost in his Lord and Master!! And, my brother, it must be the same with you; if you would be a true witness for Christ, you must say that which glorifies Him, even though it dishonors yourself. Perhaps there is a very learned man sitting over yonder, and the temptation to the preacher to say something that shall make him feel that the minister to whom he is listening is not so ignorant as some people suppose; but if there is an unlearned, simple sinner anywhere in the place, the preacher’s business is just to chop his words down to that poor man’s condition, and let the learned hearer receive the same message if he will.
Luther said, ‘ When I am preaching, I see Dr. Jonas sitting there, and OEcolampadius, and Melancthon, .and I say to myself, “Those learned doctors; know enough already; so I need not trouble about them. I shall fire at the poor people in the aisles.”’ That is the way Luther preached, and God richly blessed his ministry because he did it. Though he was a truly learned man, he was willing to be reckoned as knowing nothing at all if by that means,’ he could the better serve his; Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
On another occasion, in a sermon at the Tabernacle, his reference to John Bunyan was equally applicable to his own writings and words — ” Oh, that you and I might get into the very heart of the Word of God, and get that Word into ourselves! As I have seen the silkworm eat into the leaf, and consume it, so ought we to do with the Word of the Lord ; — not crawl over its surface, but eat right into it till we have taken it into our inmost parts. It is idle merely to let the eye glance over the words, or to recollect the poetical expressions, or the historic facts; but it is blessed to eat into the very soul of the Bible until, at last, you come to talk in Scriptural language, and your very style is fashioned upon Scripture models, and, what is better still, your spirit is flavored with the words of the Lord. I would quote John Bunyan as an instance of what I mean. Read anything of his, and you will see that it is almost like reading the Bible itself. He had studied our Authorized. Version, which will never be bettered, as I judge, till Christ shall come; he had read it till his whole being was saturated with Scripture; and, though his writings are charmingly full of poetry, yet he cannot give us his Pilgrim’s Progress — that sweetest of all prose poems, — without continually making us feel and say, ‘Why, this man is a living Bible!’ Prick him anywhere; and you will find that his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his; soul is full of the Word of God.”
In the compilation of the illustrative extracts for The Treasury of David , it was from lack of time rather than from personal inability that Mr. Spurgeon was glad to avail himself of the assistance of a few friends, whose help he gratefully acknowledged in the Prefaces to the various volumes as they were issued. One of these references will serve as a specimen of the whole, and at the same time it will indicate to careful readers the heavy labor which had been undertaken, and the conscientiousness with which it was being performed. In the Introduction to Vol. 3., Mr. Spurgeon wrote — ” ‘Art is long, and life is short,’ hence I found myself unequal to the unaided accomplishment of my task, and I have had to call in the aid of my excellent friend, Mr. Gracey, the accomplished classical tutor of the Pastors’ College, to assist me in the work of winnowing the enormous heaps of Latin comments. Huge folios, full of dreary word-spinning, yield here and there some little material for thought; and this, I trust, will be valuable enough to my readers to repay my coadjutor and myself for our pains. For the selection of extracts, I alone am responsible” for the accuracy of the translations, we are jointly accountable. The reader will note that, not without much expense of money, as well as toil, he has here furnished to his hand the pith of Venema, Le Blanc, Lorinus, Gerhohus, Musculus, Martin Geier, Mollerus, and Simon de Muis; with occasional notes from Vitringa, Jansenius, Savonarola, Vatablus, Turrecremata, Marloratus, Palanterius, Theodoret, and others, as they were judged worthy of insertion. I can truly say that I have never flinched from a difficulty, or spared exertion, in order to make the work as complete as; it lay in my power to render it, either by my own endeavors or the help of others.”
Perhaps, among all Mr. Spurgeon’s published works, the one that gives the best idea of his familiarity with the whole range of expository literature, is his unpretentious half-crown volume, issued under the unattractive title, Commenting and Commentaries. The book has long since been accepted as a most reliable standard of appeal, and its commendations and valuations are frequently quoted in catalogues of theological works. The purpose of the volume, and the labor necessary for its completion, are thus described by its author — “Divines who have studied the Scriptures have left us great stores of holy thought which we do well to use. Their expositions can never be a substitute for our own meditations; but, as water poured down a dry pump often starts it working to bring up water of its own, so suggestive reading set the mind in motion on its, own account. Here, however, is the difficulty. Students do not find it easy to choose which works to buy, and their slender stores are often wasted on books of a comparatively worthless kind. If I can save a poor man from spending his money for that which is not bread, or, by directing a brother to a good book, may enable him to dig deeper into the mines of truth, I shall be well repaid. For this purpose I have toiled, and read much, and passed under review some three or four thousand volumes. From these I have compiled my catalogue, rejecting many, yet making a very varied selection. Though I have carefully used such judgment as I possess, I have doubtless made many errors; I shall certainly find very few who will agree with all my criticisms, and s6me persons may be angry at my remarks. I have, however, done my best, and, with as much impartiality as I can command, I have nothing extenuated nor set down aught in malice. He who finds fault will do well to execute the work in better style; only let him remember that he will have my heifer to plough with, and therefore ought in all reason to excel me. I have used a degree of pleasantry in my remarks on the Commentaries, for a catalogue is a dry affair’, and, as much for my own sake as for that of my readers, I have indulged the mirthful vein here and there. For this, I hope I shall escape censure, even if I do not win commendation. Few can conceive the amount of toil which this compilation has involved, both to myself and my industrious amanuensis, Mr. J. L. Keys. In almost every case, the books have been actually examined by myself, and my opinion, ‘whatever it may be worth, is an original one. A complete list of all comments has not been attempted. Numbers of volumes have been left out because they were not easily obtainable, or were judged to be worthless, although some of both these classes have been admitted as specimens, or as warnings;. Latin authors are not inserted, because few can procure them, and fewer still cart read them with ease. We are not, however, ignorant of their value. The writers on the Prophetical Books have completely mastered us; and, after almost completing a full list, we could not in our conscience believe that a tithe of them would yield to the student anything but bewilderment, and therefore we reduced the number to small dimensions. We reverence the teaching of the prophets, and the Apocalypse; but for many of the professed expounders of those inspired Books, we entertain another feeling.”
Some. of the readers of Mr. Spurgeon’s sermons and other works, noticing how seldom he inserted classical quotations, or referred to the language, in which the Scriptures-; were written, may have imagined that he was not acquainted with those treasures of wisdom and knowledge. The real reason for the omission can be gathered from his warning words to his students in his lecture on “Commenting”— “Avoid all pedantry. A pedant, who is continually quoting Ambrose and Jerome, Piscator and OEcolampadius, in order to show what a copious reader he has been, is usually a dealer in small wares, and quotes only what others have. quoted before him; but he who can give you the result and outcome of very extensive reading, without sounding a trumpet before him, is the really learned man. As a general rule, it may be observed that ‘those gentlemen who know the least Greek are the most sure to air their rags of learning in the pulpit; they miss no chance of saying, ‘ The Greek is so-and-so.’ It makes a man an inch and a-half taller, by a foolometer, if he constantly lets fall bits of Greek and Hebrew, and even tells the people the tense of the verb and the case of the noun, as I have known some do. Those who have no learning usually make a point of displaying the pegs on which learning ought to hang. Brethren, the whole process of interpretation is to be carried on in your stud)’; you ;are not to show your congregation the process, but to give them the result; like a good cook, who would never think of bringing up dishes, and pans, and rolling-pin, and spice-box into the dining-room, but without ostentation sends up the feast.”
In the volume of lectures to students, on The Art of Illustration,, the President incidentally indicated his wide acquaintance with all kinds of literature from which anecdotes, illustrations, emblems, metaphors, and similes might be culled. The following extract shows how Mr. Spurgeon turned an illustration used by Henry Ward Beecher to quite a different purpose from the one intended by the eminent American preacher — “When a critical adversary attack,; our metaphors, he generally makes short work of them. To friendly minds, images are arguments; but to opponents, they are opportunities for attack; the enemy climbs up by the window. Comparisons are swords, with two edges, which cut both ways; and, frequently, what seems a sharp and telling illustration may be wittily turned against you, so as to cause a laugh at you expense; therefore, do not rely upon your metaphors and parables. Even a second-rate man may defend himself from a superior mind if he can dexterous\j; turn his assailant’,; gun upon himself. Here is an instance which concerns myself, and I give it for that reason, since these lectures have all along been autobiographical. It is a cutting from one of our religious papers — ‘Mr. Beecher has been neatly tripped up in The Sword and the Trowel In his Lectures on Preaching, he asserts that Mr. Spurgeon has succeeded “in spite of his Calvinism ;” adding the remark that “the camel does not travel any better, nor is it any more useful, because of the hump on its back.” The illustration is not a felicitous one, for Mr. Spurgeon thus retorts ......
Naturalists assure us that the camel’s hump is of great importance in the eyes of the Arabs, who judge of the condition of their beasts by the size, shape, and firmness of their humps. The camel feeds upon his hump when he traverses the wilderness, so that in proportion as the animal travels over the sandy wastes;, and suffers from privation and fatigue, the mass diminishes; and he is not fit for a long journey till. the hump has regained its usual proportions. Calvinism, then, is the spiritual meat which enables a man to labor on in the ways; of Christian service; and, though ridiculed as a hump by those who are only lookers-on, those who traverse the weary paths of a wilderness experience know too well its value to be willing to part with it, even if a Beecher’s splendid talents could be given in exchange.’ — The twenty-eight volumes of The Sword and the Trowel , from 1865 to 1892, contain notices of many thousands of books that the beloved Editor either read through, or examined sufficiently to be able to write reviews of them. He also read many that he did not review, for he was well aware that a, unfavorable notice in his; magazine would help to advertise erroneous teaching, and he thought the wiser course was to ignore such works altogether. His usual method of dealing with a thoroughly bad book, — either morally or doctrinally, — was to tear it into little pieces too small to do harm to anyone, or to commit it bodily to the flames. This was the sentence executed upon many volumes that cast doubt upon the Divinity of our Lord, the efficacy of His atoning sacrifice, or the inspiration of the Scriptures, though some works of that kind were allowed to remain as evidences of the character of the writings of some of the religious leaders of the day. In one notable instance, a volume by a very prominent Baptist minister — with whom Mr. Spurgeon was personally friendly, but from whom he was widely separated theologically, — was adversely criticized with considerable severity. Before publishing the notice the Editor sent a proof of it to the author of (he book, and ‘then, at his urgent request, omitted it from the magazine. On the other hand, publishers and writers have frequently testified that a commendation in The Sword and the Trowel has been the means of selling a whole edition, or of materially helping to ensure the success of their works, while all who are well acquainted with the magazine are fully aware of the unique character of the Editor’s “Notices of Books.”
Even on his holiday trips to Mentone, Mr. Spurgeon was always; well supplied with material for reading, for not only did he take large quantities of books with him, but many others were sent out to him during the time of his enforced absence from home. He generally took care, in making his selection for this purpose, to include some. biographies, and one or two of his favorite Puritans, such as Manton or Brooks.
On one occasion, there seemed to be some little likelihood of his literary luggage being confiscated by the French officials. It may be that they were specially suspicious, at that time, because the ex-Empress Eugenie had crossed the Channel by ‘the same steamer, and they could not tell how much Imperialistic literature, was being smuggled into the Republic.
Although they could find nothing of a contraband nature, they carefully examine, d several volumes of the dear Pastor’s own works which were intended as presents for friends, and others which had been sent to him for review; but, finding nothing to which they could object, they at last appended the mystic mark which gave free admission to all that the huge portmanteau contained.
Mr. Spurgeon was a very quick reader, but the rapidity of his; glance at the did not interfere with the completeness of his acquaintance with its contents-page, He could read from cover to cover of a large octavo or folio volume in the course of a very short space of time, and he would thus become perfectly familiar with all that it contained. Dr. William Wright, the late Editorial Superintendent of the British and Foreign Bible Society, gave a remarkable instance of this combination of speed and accuracy, as well as a notable testimony to Mr. Spurgeon’s literary ability, in the reminiscences which he wrote for The British Weekly in February, 1892. In the course of a lengthy article, Dr. Wright said — ” Mr. Spurgeon visited Belfast in 1858. I was then preparing to enter College, with a hankering after the Indian Civil Service. Mr. Spurgeon preached in Dr. Cooke’s church. He singled me out, — as I thought, — and spoke to me as if no one else was present.
There was no thrumming of theology, and no pious posing; but a clear, direct, hot, living, personal appeal that dare not be resisted — Fifteen years later, I went to the Tabernacle, on my way home from Damascus. The same straightforward Englishman was; preaching the same straightforward gospel in all its fullness, and without any apology for its severity. After the service, I walked into the vestry’ without being announced. He had not seen me for ten years, but he recognized me in the crowd without a moment’s hesitation. He ran over a list of the books on Syria and Palestine, stating the merits of each, and ended by saying, ‘ I suppose Thomson’s The Land and the Book is still the best on the manners and customs;.’ He had the whole literature of the Holy Land at his finger-ends. “When I came to be Mr. Spurgeon’s near neighbor, I found that his knowledge of all literature was wonderful. His power of reading was perhaps never equaled. He would sit down to five or six large books, and master them at one sitting. He sat with his left hand fiat on the page at the left side of the book, and pushing his right hand up the page on the right side until the page projected a little, he turned it over with his; finger, and proceeded to the next page. He took in the contents almost at a glance, reading by sentences as others read by words, and his memory never failed him as to what he read. He made a point of reading half-a-dozen of the hardest books every week, as he wished to rub his mind up against the strongest minds’ and there was no skipping. I several times had an opportunity of testing the thoroughness of his reading, and I never found him at fault. “Drummond’s Natural Law in the Spiritual World reached him and me about the same time. I called on Mr. Spurgeon when he was fresh from a perusal of the book. It was then unknown to fame, and he had read it with five or six other books. At tea, we were speaking of the freshness of the illustrations, and the peculiarity o£ the doctrines taught; when a third party challenged Mr. Spurgeon’s recollection of certain points. Mr. Spurgeon thereupon quoted a whole page to show that Drummond spoke of the natural and spiritual laws being identical, and another important page to show how the book erred by defect. On my return home, I looked over the. passages quoted, and I believe he scarcely missed a word in the repetition.
His power of swift and effective reading was one of the greatest of his many talents — “I was at first surprised to find Mr. Spurgeon consulting both the Hebrew and Greek texts. ‘They say,’ said he, ‘that I am ignorant and unlearned.
Well, let them say it; and in everything, by my ignorance, and by my knowledge, let God be glorified.’ “His exegesis was seldom wrong. He spared no pains to be sure of the exact meaning of his text. On one occasion, he was going to preach on the subject of the olive tree; and he sent his secretary to the keeper of the Natural History Department of the British Museum, with a series of questions regarding the peculiarities of the tree. Mr. Carruthers, the keeper, was so much interested in the enquiry ‘that he wrote out several pages for Mr. Spurgeon; but when the sermon came to be preached, the information had been passed through the crucible of Mr. Spurgeon’s mind, and came forth in a few Bunyanesque sentences — Sometimes, when I left him on Saturday evening, he did not know either of his texts for Sunday.
But he had a well-stored mind; and when he saw his lines of thought, a few catchwords on a half-sheet of notepaper sufficed. Before we parted, he used to offer up a short prayer which was an inspiration to both of us. “Mr. Spurgeon had a marvelous combination of gifts which contributed to his greatness. A voice that you heard with pleasure, and could not help hearing. A mind that absorbed all knowledge — whether from books or nature — that came within its range. An eye that tool, in a wide angle, and saw everything within view. A memory that he treated with confidence, and that never disappointed him. A great heart, on fire with the love of God and the love of souls. And then he showed a practical common sense in doing things, both sacred and secular, and a singleness of aim, joined with transparent honesty, that ensured the confidence of all who knew him.
You could not help loving him if you came within his spell.”
On two occasions, Dr. J. Stanford Holme wrote, specially for Transatlantic readers, articles upon Mr. Spurgeon’s printed sermons and other works, in which he endeavored to trace some of the sources of the preacher’s literary and spiritual power. The first critique was published in the American edition of The Christian Herald, in January, 1879. In that paper, Dr. Stanford Holme wrote — “It is a fact worthy of especial notice that the sermons of Mr. Spurgeon have had a circulation in this country entirely without precedent. Of the American edition of his sermons, there have been sold not less than 500,000 volumes. And when, to this vast number, we add the almost innumerable republications of single sermons in the transient periodicals of the day, it is safe to say that no other preacher has had so extensive at hearing in America as Charles H. Spurgeon. “Many of the causes of the wonderful popularity of this distinguished preacher are not difficult to discover. In freshness and vigor of thought, in simplicity and purity of language, in grasp of gospel truth, and in tact and force in its presentation, he is perhaps without a peer in the pulpit. “When, in early life, Mr. Spurgeon commenced his ministrations in the New Park Street Chapel, in London, he quickly filled the old house to overflowing. Soon, he attracted the attention of all England. But he was regarded by many as at brilliant meteor that would soon fade away. Yet Mr. Spurgeon is, today, a vastly more efficient and even a more brilliant preacher than he was twenty years ago. He continues to grow in brilliancy as well as in efficiency year by year. No one can yet point to the slightest indication of exhaustion in either his faculties or his resources. “This, doubtless, is attributable, in a measure, to his industry and welldirected application, as well as to natural ability and great personal piety.
But Mr. Spurgeon’s peculiar views of the Word of God, and his manner of preparation for the pulpit, also tend in no small degree to secure the inexhaustible variety which so strikingly characterizes his sermons. It is not his manner to spin his web out of himself. The resources from which he draws are not measured by the. strength and the store of his own faculties, but rather by the infinite fullness of the Divine Word.
He never preaches from a topic. He always has a text. His text is not a mere motto, but in it he finds his sermon. He uses his text with as much apparent reverence and appreciation as if those few words were the only words that God had ever spoken. The text is the germ which furnishes the life, the spirit, and the substance of the discourse. Every sermon has the peculiar flavor, and fragrance, and color of the Divine seed-truth of which it is the growth. Thus, as the Bible is a storehouse of seed-truths, inexhaustible and of infinite variety, so Mr. Spurgeon’s sermons are never alike. Every seed yields its fruit after its kind. If he brings you up again and again to the same old truths, it is always on a different side, or in a new light, or with new surroundings. “A very strong confirmation of this view has been afforded to the author in the preparation of an edition of Mr. Spurgeon’s works. In making up the index of subjects, it was necessary to go carefully through the entire fourteen volumes, page by page, and to note the different topics discussed, and then to arrange them in alphabetical order. When. this work was finished, such was the wonderful variety of subject, of thought, and of illustration, that, in many thousands of references, no two subject, or thoughts, or illustrations, were found exactly to correspond. The preacher is discussing essentially the same familiar truths over and over again. He is presenting the same great Savior to lost sinners, with what might seem slavish fidelity to the spirit and even to the letter of the written Word. And yet his setting forth of truth, his shades of thought, and his modes of illustration, always arrange themselves in new forms and colors with well-nigh the endless variety of the combinations and tints of the clouds at the setting of the sun. “It is not surprising, therefore, that sermons so varied, fresh, and Evangelical, should have so large a circulation in this country, nor that a newspaper, one of the special attractions of which is the weekly sermon of Mr. Spurgeon, should have the reception which is already accorded to The Christian Herald.”
Dr. Stanford Holme’s second article was published in The New York Homiletic Monthly, February, 1882. An extract from it will show in what esteem Mr. Spurgeon’s magnum opus was held by the writer — “It is with no little satisfaction that I have seen the announcement of an American edition of Mr. Spurgeon’s Treasury of David. It is not only a most valuable Commentary on the Psalms for general use, but I regard it as the most important homiletic work of the age. “Mr. Spurgeor, is a good Hebrew scholar. He is a man of deep practical piety. He has a fine poetic taste, a wonderful insight into the depths of the human heart, and a quaintness of expression, and a vigor and vivacity of style, that have the effect of genuine wit in giving point and life to his expressions. “These, it will be acknowledged, form a rare combination o£ qualifications for an expositor of the Book of Psalms. But, to these, Mr. Spurgeon adds two other especial qualifications for the work, still more rare and valuable.
His appreciation of and reverence for the inspired Word are among the most characteristic and remarkable features of the man. The Word of God is to him a thing of life and power, ‘and sharper than any two-edged sword.’ He sees God in the very words of the Bible. Like the bush on Horeb, a chapter, or a single verse, at times, glows with celestial splendor, and, to use his own words, ‘ Hundreds of times have I as surely felt the presence of God, in the page of Scripture, as ever Elijah did when he heard the Lord speaking in a still small voice.’ He seems never to be satisfied, in his study of the Scriptures, till every single verse is thus verified by the Spirit, and becomes to him a living word. “Another special qualification of Mr. Spurgeon for this work, not less important and extraordinary, is a desire that knows no bounds — a passion — to help others preach that gospel of ‘which he himself would seem to be the greatest living herald. When Sir Joshua Reynolds, who was regarded as the greatest painter of his time, scraped off the paint from some of ‘he works of Titian and Da Vinci, in order that he might find out the secret of their wonderful skill in the mixing and blending of colors, he refused to make known his discoveries to his pupils. As far as he could, he threw down the ladder by which he had himself attained to greatness. Mr. Spurgeon is a man of another spirit. Himself one of the greatest of living preachers, and excelled by few of former ages, he does all he can to reveal the secrets of his power to the world, and, if possible, to make others greater than himself; and that which, in our estimation, makes The Treasury of David of such value to a minister is, that its spirit and. peculiar construction introduce us, as witnesses, into Mr. Spurgeon’s workshop, and enable us to see more clearly his method and manner of preparation for the pulpit than we can in his printed discourses, or even in his lectures to his students. Here we may examine sermons in all stages of development, — here we may learn how sermons grow. Indeed, a careful study of The Treasury of David reveals the whole secret of the strength of this Samson of the pulpit. The work might with propriety be called The Treasury of David, and the Arcanum of Spurgeon.
Many other tributes to Mr. Spurgeon’s literary ability and achievements have been borne, both during his lifetime and since his home-going. One of the most representative and comprehensive of these testimonies was given by Dr. James Stalker a.t the unveiling of the C. H. Spurgeon Memorial, at the Stockwell Orphanage, on June 20, 1894. After speaking of the loving esteem in which, in common with the great bulk of his fellow-countrymen, he held Mr. Spurgeon, Dr. Stalker said — “Perhaps you will allow me to say a word or two about his power as a writer, — his power to express himself in writing. In this democratic age, when sympathy with the masses is on everyone’s lips, it often see. ms to me wonderful that the power of communicating with the multitude is so rare. We have scores of ministers who are ambitious of writing for the world of the cultivated; but a book frankly and successfully addressing the average man, in language which he can understand, is one. of the rarest products of the press. It really requires very exceptional power. It requires knowledge of human nature, and knowledge of life. It requires common sense; it requires wit and humor; and it requires command of simple and powerful Saxon. “Whatever the requirements may be, Mr. Spurgeon had them in an unexampled degree, To find his match in this respect, you have, I think, in England,, to go back to John Bunyan. Luther is the unapproachable master in this department, and I am not surprised to see so many pictures of Luther, on the walls to-day, collected by Mr. Spurgeon, because there’, is the closest resemblance between the two men. It is wonderful, in Luther’s life, to find how he cultivate, d this power. When he was at the height of his fame, we find him writing to Nuremberg, that he might have sent to him all the chap-books, songs, and children’s stories that could be found, that he might exercise himself in simplicity of expression. F10 He said himself that he watched the peasant in the field, the mother in the home, and the boys on the street, that he might learn to speak and to write. He translated AEsop’s Fables, and made a large collection of popular proverbs with his own hands. This reminds us of Mr. Spurgeon, who did the same thing on a still larger scale in his excellent books called The Salt-cellars. And I am not surprised that Mr. Thomas Spurgeon referred to John Ploughman’s Talk, because, in my opinion, that is a collection of wit and wisdom that is certain of immortality among the popular classics of England. But it was into the sermons that, year after year, he poured without stint; all the resources of his genius, and these fitted the mind and the heart of the multitude of the Anglo-Saxon race as no writings of our day have even approached doing. “But I should like to be allowed to say that while he thus addressed himself so frankly to. the common men, he had far more learning than was generally understood. I do not know whether he often refused the degree which you, Dr. Spurgeon, so much adorn. I suppose he did; but I am sure of this, — that he earned the degree of a doctor of divinity over an,5. over again. For many years, it has been my wont, week after week, every season, to read over his Commentary on the Psalms along with the best and most learned Commentaries in existence on this subject. That is the best test, and the severest test, to which a minister can put the writings of any author, and Mr. Spurgeon stands the test well. Not only do you everywhere feel the presence of a vigorous and vigilant mind, and a heart in thorough sympathy with the spirit of the Psalms, but I wish to say that I have often been perfectly astonished to observe how, without any parade of learning, he shows himself to be thoroughly acquainted with the results of the most advanced, scholarship; and the truth is, that there is scarcely a point in the Psalms of real importance, — scarcely a point upon which scholarship can give us anything of real importance, — as to which there are not sufficient hints to the intelligent reader in Mr. Spurgeon’s work.”
To give anything like an approximate idea of the extent of Mr. Spurgeon’s reading during’ his thirty-eight years ministry in London, it would be necessary to make a list of nearly all the principal theological and biographical works published during that period, and to add to it a large portion of the other standard literature of the present and previous centuries, and almost the whole of the volumes issued by the great divine of the Puritan period. The number and value of Mr. Spurgeon’s own copies of the writings of those masters of theology are probably unique for a private library, and he was always on the look-out for any that he did not possess, so that he might make his collection as complete as possible.
Booksellers’ catalogues, in which they were mentioned, were always examined quickly; and an order for the missing volumes that might be on sale was at once sent, or, more probably, a messenger was despatched to make sure of getting them. This promptness on the Pastor’s part enabled him often to secure treasures which other collectors would have been glad to obtain. In some instances, they endeavored to persuade him to relinquish his bargain in their favor; one gentleman induced Dr. McLaren to write this letter, on his behalf, to Mr. Spurgeon — “Manchester, “7, 5, ‘85. “My Dear Friend, “A friend of mine is very wishful to get a book, which you unwittingly took out of his mouth from some catalogue. I enclose copy of title. The reason for his special desire to get it is that he is descended from the Fleetwoods to whom it is dedicated, and that, somehow or other, it proves some point of family history in which he and his people are much interested. If you would allow him to purchase it of you at its value, whatever that may be, he would be very much obliged, and would undertake that, if ever he heard of another copy, you should have it with many thanks. Seeing his anxiety to have the book, I offered to ask you if you would part with it. “I hope you are. able for your work, and are walking in the light. It is sorely shadowed for me, and it is hard to sing or even to say in a darkened cage. “I am, “My dear friend, “Yours faithfully, “ALEXR.MCLAREN.”
The following is the title of the volume, which was dedicated to Sir William Fleetwood, ,Sir George Fleetwood, and “Lord Fleetwood, Lieutenant General of the whole army in England and Scotland” when Oliver Cromwell was Lord Protector .... Old Jacob’s Altar newly repaired ; or, the Saint’s Triangle of Dangers, Deliverances, and Duties, personal, and Nationa1, practically improved in many Particulars, seasonable and experimental, Being the Answer of his own Heart to God, for eminent Preservations; humbly recommended, by way of Teaching, unto all; and, as a special Remembrancer to /he Ransomed of the Lord, to awaken in them a sense of rich mercy; that they may sing the song of Moses .for temporal, and the song of the Lamb, for spiritual Deliverances ; and, to provoke them to Love, and good works; BY NATANEEL WHITING, Mr of Arts, and Minister of the Gospel, at Aldwinckle. London Printed by R. T. for Nathaneel Ekins, and are to be sold at his Shop, at the Signe of the Gunne, in, S. Paul’s Church-yard, 1659 .
Mr. Spurgeon explained to Dr. McLaren his reasons for wishing to retain the volume, and received, in reply, a post card bearing this message confirming his own decision “I would not part with it either, if I were in your place. — A.MCLAREN.”
The next year, Mr. Spurgeon and Dr. Angus saw, in a catalogue, the particulars concerning a second-hand volume which each of them desired to possess. An exact copy of the entry will show the kind of book for which the Pastor was always on the look-out — “1040 — Turner (J.) Choice Experiences of the kind dealings of God before, in, and after Conversions, laid clown in Six General Heads;, together with some brief Observations upon the same, etc., 1653. — Allen (W., General in Ireland) Captive taken front the Strong; or a true relation of the,. gratious release of Deborah Huish front the Power of the Tempter, etc., 1658.-The Just Man’s Defence, or the Royal Conquest; being the declaration of the judgment ofJAMES ARMINIUS of Leyden, concerning the principall points of Religion before theSTATES OF HOLLAND and\parWESTFRIEZLAND, translated byTOBIAS CONYERS, of Peter House, Cambridge, 1657. — Faith and Practice of Thirty Congregations, gathered according to the Primitive Pattern, etc, 1651 — etc., in a thick vol, sm. 8vo, old binding, 16s.”
Mr. Spurgeon secured the volume; and Dr. Angus, on finding this out, wrote to him as follows — “College, Regent’s Park, “March 22, 1886. “My Dear Friend, “You and I are often of a mind and very pleasant it is. But now and then it works inconvenience. You ordered, on Saturday, a book in Bull and Auvache’s list, which I ordered on Saturday, too; but I was behind you — Turner’s Choice Experiences, etc. Do you want them all?’ I especially want (1) Faith and Practice of Thirty Congregations, and (2) Turner, for the sake of what I expect is there, — Spilsberie’s recommendations. “If you do not want both these, I will take one or both; and will leave you ‘The Captive’ and ‘The Judgment of Arminius, which last ought to have some value, though not quite sound, I suspect. I will take what you can spare, and give you what you ask for them. If you wish to keep them all, I will not grumble, as it is all ‘ in the family.’ With all best wishes, “Yours very truly, “J.ANGUS.’
In this instance, it appears that Mr. Spurgeon gave up his purchase, as Dr. Angus was so anxious to obtain some of the treatises bound up in the one volume, and it seemed a pity to separate them.
Mr. Spurgeon not only possessed a large number of volumes by Puritan writers, but he was fully conversant with their comments and, from the earliest days of the Pastors’ College, he sought to interest his students in them. He also helped them to purchase considerable quantities of the new editions issued by Mr. Nichol, Messrs. Nisbet and Co., and other publishers. In later years, the President prepared a series of lectures on several of the principal Puritan divines, and delivered them at the College, accompanying the sketches of their lives with extracts from their works, thus enabling the brethren to become acquainted with his opinions of their comparative merits, and of the characteristics of their style. The lectures have not yet been published; but just a hint as to the labor involved in compiling them, and some idea of the way in which the writers were compared and contrasted, may be gathered from the Preface to one of Mr. Spurgeon’s smaller volumes, Illustrations and Meditations or, Flowers From a Puritan’s Garden ,’ Distilled and Dispensed by C. H. Spurgeon; in which he wrote “While commenting upon the one hundred and nineteenth Psalm, I was brought into most intimate communion with Thomas Manton, who hits discoursed upon that marvelous portion of Scripture with great fulness and power. I have come to know him so well that I could pick him out from among a thousand divines if he were again to put on his portly form, and display among modern men that countenance wherein was ‘a great mixture of majesty and meekness.’ His works occupy twenty-two volumes in the modern reprint ; — a mighty mountain of sound theology. They mostly consist of sermons; but what sermons! They are not so sparkling as those of Henry Smith, nor so profound as those of Owen, nor so rhetorical ,is those of Howe, nor so pithy as those of Watson, nor so fascinating as those of Brooks; and yet they are second to none of these. For solid, sensible instruction, forcibly delivered, they cannot be surpassed. Manton is not brilliant, but he is always clear he is not oratorical but he is powerful; he is not striking, but he is deep. There is not a poor discourse in the whole collection they are evenly good, constantly excellent. Ministers who do not know Manton need not wonder if they are themselves unknown. “Inasmuch as Manton used but few figures and illustrations, it came into my head to note them all, for 1 felt sure that they would be very natural and forcible. I thought it worth while to go though volume after volume, and mark the metaphors’ and then I resolved to complete the task by culling the best figures out of the whole of Manton,’s works. Thus my communing with the great Puritan ends in my clearing his house, of all his pictures, and hanging them up in new frames of my own. As I leave his right to them unquestioned and unconcealed, I do not rob him; the rather, I increase his influence by giving him another opportunity of speaking for his Lord and Master. One kind of work leads on to another, and labor is lightened by being diversified, had it not been for The Treasury of David, I might not have been found spending so much time among the metaphors of Manton.”
To successive generations of students, Mr. Spurgeon read Dr. James Hamilton’s four’ volumes of Christian Classes. It was a treat to the brethren to hear such a work read by one who could so thoroughly appreciate it, but they probably enjoyed even more the comments and criticisms upon the various writers and their works with which the readings were interspersed. It was rarely indeed that the President found any mention of an author with whose writings he was not thoroughly familiar.
He also constantly gave the students helpful hints, garnered from his own experience, with regard to, the books likely to be most useful to them, both during their College course and afterwards when settled in the ministry or in the foreign mission field. The informal gatherings under “The Question Oak” at “Westwood” afforded many opportunities for the brethren to ascertain Mr. Spurgeon’s opinions upon literary matters in general, and especially to learn from him all that they could concerning the books which most affected them as theological students. One of the questions put to the president was, “Should novel-reading be indulged in by ministers?” His reply was — ”That depends upon what you mean by a novel. The Pilgrim’s Progress and many of the best books we have are novels, in the sense that they are not actual records of fact, though they are absolutely true to Christian experience. Then, again, there are such works as Sir Walter Scott’s; many of them are founded on fact, and are well worth reading as a picture of the people and places he so ably describes, as well as for the style of his writing. Their value lies largely in their historical truth. Some of Charles Dickens’ works are worth reading, although he has given gross caricatures of the religious life of his times. As for the general run of novels now being issued in such shoals, you will probably be wise to leave them alone; few of them would be likely to do you any good, and many of them are morally tainted, or worse.”
At one of the meetings under’ the oak, Mr. Spurgeon told the students that he had read Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress at least a hundred times, and that, as a kind of mental relaxation, he had constantly returned to the study of various branches of natural history, and, for a change, he had turned his attention to astronomy, botany, and other sciences. In his published lecture on “Astronomy as a Source of Illustration,” he showed the brethren how all the sciences could be utilized as illustrations of Christian life and work.
He also said that he always liked to have a few good biographies handy, so that he could turn to the record of what the Lord had enabled His servants to do in the past. His own collection of the “Lives” of notable individuals was a very extensive one, and in conversation with him it was soon evident that he was fully aware of the main facts in the careers of almost all of them. Indeed, it was impossible to mention anyone who had been eminently useful, or notorious, in the world, and to find that Mr. Spurgeon was ignorant of the man or woman referred to; in most instances, he had made himself more completely acquainted with their histories by giving lectures upon them to his congregation or students, or by writing summaries of their biographies for the benefit of the readers of his magazine.
Pastor W. Williams has preserved, in his Personal Reminiscences of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the following jottings concerning his beloved President’s allusions to literary matters, which will serve as specimens of the remarks that Mr. Spurgeon frequently made when conversing with his friends — ”’ What books are you reading now?’ he asked me, one day. ‘Carlyle’s French Revolution,’ I answered. ‘Very good; it is a fine work, full of nervous, bracing thought and stirring facts; but I think it cannot be appreciated at its true worth unless simpler histories of France have been read before, beginning it. I would not advise anyone to take Carlyle as a first study. Scott’s Life of Napoleon is a good history. That first Napoleon was a really great man. He had a mind, and no mistake; his successors have been insignificant in comparison.’ ‘You like Boswell’s Johnson, sir, of course.’ ‘Oh, yes! that is the biography; it stands unrivalled, and probably ever will; and I think Lockhart’s Life of Scott and Mrs. Oliphant’s Life of Edward frying come next.
You’ve not read Pickwick, Williams?’ ‘No, I have not yet.’ ‘Oh, dear! I was going to say I ‘wish I had not, for I should like once more to enjoy it as I did at the first reading. You have a. treat in store. The humor of it is about perfect.’ “The Story of the Nations series greatly interested him. He read Egypt through at least three times, and eagerly took up the others as they came out. It was exceedingly entertaining and instructive to hear him talk about the people and countries with which the volumes deal .... We had several talks, on different occasions, about Shakespeare. He had read all his plays, and some of them many times — Saturdays at ‘ Westwood’ gave me an education in the matter of many choice books, and I seldom came away without one or two. But it was a greater treat still to hear Mr. Spurgeon himself read some charming poem or instructive chapter. I remember, when Miss Havergal’s poems, Under the Surface, were issued, how he reveled in them. The one entitled ‘ From Glory unto Glory’ he read one evening ‘over the tea-cups.’ His eyes sparkled with delight, and filled with tears of joy, as he reached the third and fourth stanzas of that magnificent song.”
On several occasions, Mr. Spurgeon found himself in the company of a number of High Church clergymen, and they were always (greatly surprised to find that the Baptist minister was far more familiar with the works on their side of the controversy than they themselves were. They also discovered that, while he spoke heartily in commendation of all that appeared to him to be Scriptural in the writings of Dr. Pusey, Dr. Neale, Dr. Littledale, Isaac Williams, and other divines of their school of thought, he was able; to give good reasons for not accepting their sacramentarian and sacerdotal theories. The same characteristic is very manifest in his remarks upon the Ritualistic works referred to in his Commenting and Commentaries. Space can only be spared for one fairly representative instance, — Dr. John Mason Neale’s Sermons on the Canticles, Preached in a Religious House, — upon which Mr. Spurgeon thus comments — “By that highest of High Churchmen, Dr. Neale. These sermons smell of Popery, yet the savor of our Lord’s good ointment cannot be hid. Our Protestantism is not of so questionable a character that we are afraid to do justice to Papists and Anglicans, and therefore, we do not hesitate to say that many a devout thought has come to us while reading these ‘ Sermons by a Priest of the Church of England.’“ Other people beside theologians often noticed the extensive and varied knowledge that Mr. Spurgeon possessed. On one of his visits; to Mentone, he was in company with art eminent medical man, and, after a while, the conversation drifted round to anatomy, physiology, various diseases to which flesh is heir, and the different modes; of treatment adopted for their removal. The doctor was quite astonished at the completeness of his; companion’s acquaintance with every part of the subject, and he afterwards said — “Mr. Spurgeon is one of the most remarkable men I ever met. He seems to know as much about the human body as any medical man might have done; he would have made a splendid physician.’
Among the Pastor’s hearers at the Tabernacle, or in various seaport towns, many sailors have often been found, listening with intense eagerness; and the men of the sea have often testified that they have never known him make a mistake in his nautical allusions; and, only recently, Revelation James Neil, M.A., who spent twenty years in Palestine, has borne similar witness to the accuracy of Mr. Spurgeon’s descriptions of Bibblical manners and customs, thereby confirming the verdict by Dr. Wright, mentioned in a previous part of the present chapter.
Many of “John P1oughman’s” readers have wondered that he could tell them so much about how “to plough and sow, and reap and mow.” Part of that familiarity with farming affairs;, no doubt, dated back to his early visits to Stambourne, and his walks among the furrows by the side of the godly ploughman, Will Richardson; and part must be attributed to his constant preaching in different parts of the kingdom, and to the opportunities thus afforded of obtaining further information concerning agricultural pursuits; but extensive reading also added to the effectiveness of his references to such matters. Pastor Charles Spurgeon related, in the previous volume of this work, the testimony of a farmer who said that the Pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle knew far more about sheep than he did, though he had been keeping them all his life! The explanation of that fact can probably be found in the President’s observation to his students that, at one time, he had made a special study of sheep and their habits. The library at ‘Westwood” still contains the volume to which Mr. Spurgeon then referred, — an antiquated folio, entitled. A System of Sheep-grazing and Management, as Practiced in Romney Marsh, byDANIEL PRICE (Richard Phillips, Blackfriars). Singularly enough, at a later period, the Pastor’s attention was, through someone’s mistake, again attracted to the same subject. He had written for a number of books on quite a different theme; but, in some unaccountable way, there came, in the place of one of them, a large, octavo volume, entitled Sheep their Breeds, Management, and Diseases, by WILLIAM YOUATT (Simpkin, Marshall, and Co.). Mr. Spurgeon was amused at the blunder, but he kept the book, which still retains traces of having been carefully examined and used by him.
At another time, he had collected all the old herbals he could buy, and he had found much of interest and instruction in them. Topography was also one of the side subjects to which he devoted a portion of his scanty leisure; and, in the course of his; researches upon this subject, he was brought into association with lovers of antiquarian and topographical lore in various parts of the country; and by their kind assistance he was able to make further welcome additions to his already well-stored library. If he was going to preach in a district that was new to him, he usually tried to find out everything of interest in its history, surroundings, manufactures, or products’ and these would, in due course, guide him in his local allusions and illustrations, and materially help to impress his message upon his hearers’ minds and hearts. Everything was made subservient to the one great object he had heft)re him, the glory of God in the salvation of sinners and the extension of the Redeemer’s Kingdom.