TWENTY YEARS OF PUBLISHED SERMONS BY C. H. SPURGEON.
FOR twenty years Messrs. Passmore and Alabaster have issued one of my sermons weekly without cessation, indeed, they have done more, for the number published has been five for every month of the twenty years, and has now reached 1,200. In the “Baptist Messenger ‘ a sermon has been inserted every month during the same time, making 240 more; 34 in addition have appeared in three volumes of the “Pulpit Library,” and 16 in “Types and Emblems.” I do not feel that I may allow the twenty years to close without a few words of thanksgiving. The fear of being thought egotistical does not so much affect me as the graver danger of being ungratefully silent. I am inexpressibly thankful to the God of infinite love, and if I did not give my thanks expression the boards of my pulpit might well cry out against me. Life has been spared, strength has been continued, and power to interest the people has been afforded, together with higher and more spiritual blessings, whose preciousness and number must of necessity move the heart of any man who is the recipient of them, if he be not utterly graceless. “The Lord has done great things for us, whereof we are glad.”
Before I had 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 that one day I should have a penny pulpit of my own. The dream has come to pass. In the year 1854 several of my sermons appeared in Mr. Paul’s “Penny Pulpit,” and in the “Baptist Messenger,” but they were not regularly reported. There was, however, so good a demand for them, that the notion of occasional publication was indulged, but with no idea of continuance week by week for a lengthened period; that came to pass as a development and a growth. 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 sermon for January 7, 1855, upon the text, “I am the Lord, I change not” (Malachi 3:6), and now after twenty years it is a glad thing to be able to say, “having 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 twenty 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 a score of years been favored with a circle of willing supporters, who not only purchase but actually read his discourses. 1 am more astonished at the fact than any other man can possibly be, and I see no other reason for it but this — the 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. “Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together.” A French farmer, when accused of witchcraft by his neighbors, because his crops were so large, exhibited his industrious sons, his laborious ox, his spade, and his plough, as the only witchcraft which he had used, and, under the divine blessing, I can only ascribe the continued acceptableness of the sermons to the gospel which they contain, and the plainness of the speech in which that gospel is uttered.
The first seven volumes were printed in small type, and the sermons formed only eight pages, but the abolition of the paper duty enabled the publishers to give a more readable type and twelve pages of matter. This has been better in every way, and marks an epoch in the history of the sermons, for their name was at about the same period changed from the “New Park Street” to the “Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit,” and their sale was largely increased. Constant habit enables the preacher to give generally the same amount of matter on each occasion, the very slight variation almost surprises himself; from forty to forty-five minutes speaking exactly fills the space, and saves the labor of additions, and the still more difficult task of cutting down. The earlier sermons, owing to my constant wanderings abroad, received scarcely any revision, and consequently they abound in colloquialisms, and other offenses, very venial in extempore discourse, but scarcely tolerable in print; the later specimens are more carefully corrected, and 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 a task.
Our place of meeting at New Park Street only sufficed us for six weeks after the publication of the “Pulpit,” and the platform at Exeter Hall was occupied till June of the same year, when, the chapel having been enlarged, the congregation returned to its own abode, to be there crowded, inconvenienced, and almost suffocated for another twelve months; till at last in June, 1856, Exeter Hall was again occupied in the evening and the chapel in the morning. This arrangement continued till, in October, 1856, the great hall in Surrey Gardens was by a remarkable providence prepared for our use. This was indeed so, for its main use and benefit to any one in any sense, until it was turned into an hospital, was connected with our occupation of it. Even at this distance of time I dare not trust myself to write upon the deadly horror which passed over my soul. during the calamitous panic which brought to a speedy end the first service in that place; but God marvelously overruled the sad event for his own glow, leading vast numbers of all ranks to besiege the edifice, and crowd it continually. So far as the printed sermons were concerned, it opened for them a far wider door than before. At the Surrey Gardens the assembly gathered in undiminished numbers till December, 1859, when, owing to the resolution of the directors of the gardens to open them on the Lord’s-day for music, we refused to contribute to their funds by hiring their hall, and left the place to pay a third visit to Exeter Hall; not, however, without deep regret at the loss of so convenient a meeting-place, where thousands had found the Savior. At Exeter Hall the services were continued till April, 1861, when, the funds having been gathered, the Metropolitan Tabernacle was opened, free of debt, and there the congregation has continued’ ever since, with the slight intermission of an excursion to the Agricultural Hall during necessary repairs. From a few hundreds the audience has grown to 6,000, and the sermons issued weekly have increased proportionally.
Several sermons in the series have attained a remarkable circulation, but probably the principal one is that upon Baptismal Regeneration. It was delivered 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 the right or wrong of my action; 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 would be compensated elsewhere. No truth is more sure than this, that the path of duty is to be followed thoroughly if peace of mind is to be enjoyed. Results are not to be looked at, we are to keep our conscience clear, come what may, and all considerations of influence and public estimation are to be light as feathers in the scale. In minor matters as well as more important concerns I have spoken my mind fearlessly, and brought down abjurations and anathemas innumerable, but I in nowise regret it, and shall not swerve from the use of outspoken speech in the future any more than in the past. I would scorn to retain a single adherent by such silence as would leave him under misapprehension. After all, men love plain speech.
It would not be seemly for me to tell of the scores of persons who have informed me of their being led to faith in Jesus by single sermons which appear in the twenty volumes, but there are discourses among them of which I may say, without exaggeration, that the Holy Spirit blessed them to the conversion of hundreds; and long after their delivery fresh instances of their usefulness come to light, and are still being brought under our notice.
Seldom does a day pass, and certainly never a week, for some years past, without letters from all sorts of places, even at the utmost ends of the earth, declaring the salvation of souls by the means of one or other of the sermons. The price is so small that the sermons are readily procured, and in wonderful condescension the Lord sends the Holy Spirit to work through them. To God be all the glory.
Many singular things have happened in connection with their publication, but the most of them have escaped my memory; the following, however, I may mention. One brother, whose name I must not mention, purchased and gave away no less than 250,000 copies. He had volumes bound in the best style, and presented to every crowned head in Europe. He gave copies containing twelve sermons to all the students of the universities, and to all the members of the two houses of parliament, and he even commenced the work of distributing volumes to the principal householders in the towns of Ireland. May the good results of his laborious seed-sowing be seen many days hence; the self-denial with which this brother saved the expense from a very limited income, and worked personally in the distribution, was beyond all praise; but praise was evaded and observation dreaded by him; the work was done without his left hand knowing what his right hand did.
In the first days of our publishing a city merchant advertised them in all sorts of papers, offering to supply them from his own office. He thus sold large quantities to persons who might otherwise never have heard of them.
He was not a Baptist, but held the views of the Society of Friends. It was very long before I knew who he was, and I trust he will pardon me for here mentioning a deed for which I shall ever feel grateful to him.
By my permission, the sermons were printed as advertisements in several of the Australian papers: one gentleman spending week by week a sum which we scarcely dare to mention, lest it should not be believed. By this means they were read far away in the bush, and never were results more manifest, for numbers of letters were received in answer to the inquiry as to whether the advertisements should be continued, all bearing testimony to the good accomplished by their being inserted in the newspapers. A selection of these letters was sent to me, and made my heart leap for joy, for they detailed conversions marvelous indeed. Besides these, many epistles come to us of like character, showing that the rough dwellers in the wilds were glad to find in their secular paper the best of all news, the story of pardon bought with blood.
In America, the sale of the edition published there was extremely large, and I believe that it still continues, but dozens of religious papers appropriate the sermons bodily, and therefore it is quite impossible to tell where they go, or rather where they do not go. Of translations the Dutch have been most plentiful, making large volumes. An edition of two volumes of selected sermons has been circulated in the colony of the Cape of Good Hope among the Dutch settlers of that region. In German there are three noble volumes, besides many smaller ones. German publishers, with the exception of Mr. Oncken, of Hamburgh, seldom have the courtesy to send the author a copy, and I have picked up in divers places sermons bearing date from Baden, Basel, Carlsruhe, Ludwigsburg, and so on. How many, therefore, may have been sold in Germany I am unable to compute. In French several neat volumes have appeared. In Welsh and Italian one volume each. In Sweden a handsome edition in four volumes has been largely circulated, and the translator informed me of the conversion of some of noble and even royal birth through their perusal. Besides these there are single sermons in Spanish, Gaelic, Danish, Russ, Maori, Telugu, and some other tongues, and permission has been sought and gladly given for the production of a volume in the language of Hungary. For all these opportunities of speaking to the different races of mankind, I cannot but be thankful to God, neither can I refrain from asking the prayers of God’s people that the gospel thus widely scattered may not be in vain.
Brethren in the ministry will best be able to judge the mental wear and tear involved in printing one sermon a week, and they will best sympathize in the overflowing gratitude which reviews twenty years of sermons, and magnifies the God of grace for help so long continued. The quarry of Holy Scripture is inexhaustible, I seem hardly to have begun to work in it; but the selection of the next block, and the consideration as to how to work it into form, are matters not so easy as some think. Those who count preaching and its needful preparations to be slight matters have never occupied a pulpit continuously month after month, or they would know better. Chief of all is the responsibility which the preaching of the Word involves; I do not wish to feel this less heavily, rather would I fain feel it more, but it enters largely into the account of a minister’s life-work, and tells upon him more than any other part of his mission. Let those preach lightly who dare do so, to me it is the burden of the Lord, — joyfully carried as grace is given, but still a burden which at times crushes my whole manhood into the dust of humiliation, and occasionally, when illhealth unites with the mental strain, into depression and anguish of heart.
However, let no man mistake me. I would sooner have my work to do than any other under the sun. Preaching Jesus Christ is sweet work, joyful work, heavenly work. Whitefield used to call his pulpit his throne, and those who know the bliss of forgetting everything besides the glorious, all-absorbing topic of Christ crucified, will bear witness that the term was aptly used. It is a bath in the waters of Paradise to preach with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. Scarcely is it possible for a man, this side the grave, to be nearer heaven than is a preacher when his Master’s presence bears him right away from every care and thought, save the one business in hand, and that the greatest that ever occupied a creature’s mind and heart. No tongue can tell the amount of happiness which I have enjoyed in delivering these twenty years of sermons, and so, gentle reader, forgive me if I have wearied you with this grateful record, for I could not refrain from inviting others to aid me in praising my gracious Master. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name.”
NOTES AFRIEND who writes to express thanks for the benefit received from our printed sermons by himself and his afflicted wife, sends us a copy of an inscription written in a copy of THE INTERPRETER which he gave to his niece and her husband on their wedding day : — “ This work, which was written by Mr. Spurgeon to promote the worship of God in families, is presented to Henry and Ellen T on their marriage, by their pastor, at the request of their uncle and aunt, whose earnest desire is that they may habitually use it for that purpose. Luke 11:9. 10; Philippians 4:6.” May the Lord of all the families of Israel fulfill the desire of his servants.
FROM AMONG MANY OTHER KIND LETTERS UPON
“THE INTERPRETER” WE SELECT THE FOLLOWING : — “Dear Sir, — The writer of this, a retired minister of the Methodist New Connection, has the pastoral charge of an excellent charity known as Firth’s Almshouses, founded in 1869, by Mark Firth, Esquire, of Oak Brook, Sheffield There are thirty-six houses for forty-eight persons; twelve of the houses to be occupied by man and wife, or two sisters, widows, or two spinster sisters, the rest widows or spinsters, one in each house; they should be sixty years of age, natives of Sheffield, and members of a Protestant congregation. One part of the pastor’s work is to conduct a short service each morning, sing, read the Scriptures, prayer. At first we read from ‘ Cobbin’s Condensed Commentary,’ the chapter, and reflections at the end. Also frequently from ‘ Morning by Morning,’ reading a chapter containing a passage on which you have reflections, and found them very profitable. Sometimes a portion from ‘Dodridge’s Family Expositor,’ occasionally from ‘ Jay’s Morning and Evening Exercises,’ only a few of the shortest. Two years ago you announced the ‘Interpreter.’ I ordered the first number, and at once concluded it was the work we needed, and begun with it the first of January following, and have read from it by far the greater part ever since. The writer of this was surprised after the eighth number to find Mr. Spurgeon expressing a little surprise that the sale was not more extensive, and saying it was suggested that the mode of publication in numbers had interfered. The writer of this felt assured this was the case, and was strongly inclined to write and encourage by assuring him it would make its way when complete in one volume or two. The booksellers would not allow me the usual discount to ministers, because it was a periodical; and if they have done so in other towns, many ministers and others may have preferred waiting, as it would be cheaper, etc. But as for me — aged — my people aged, we did not know we should live two years, and could scarce expect it in some instances, and to have waited two years to save a few shillings would have been a great loss in the way of instruction and spiritual profit, so we went on in numbers until complete, and though some have died in the course of the reading — died in the Lord — yet most are spared to this present. When you commenced with the New Testament we began to read in the New every other week. My people have often thanked me for placing ‘ The Interpreter’ before them; by it their faith in the truth as it is in Jesus has been greatly confirmed, their views of Christian privilege and duty enlarged, and their personal piety promoted. We sincerely thank God that this work was suggested by the Holy Spirit, that your valuable life has been spared to finish it. We have no doubt it will prove to thousands, as it is to us, a great blessing. I read it to the alms-people in my family worship, and often in my closet. I trust the Great Head of the Church has a great deal more work for you to do, and if so, he will spare you until it is done. The ‘Sword and Trowel’ is read, and then I send it round, as a weekly tract, to the delight of our folks. — Yours, C. J.DONALD.”
On Friday, December 11th, the men of all trades who had worked in the building of the New College came to supper with us. More than accepted the invitation. A choir of Orphanage lads sang to them, and Mr. Murphy, Mr. Cuff, Mr. Smith, and Mr. W. Olney took part with us in addressing the men. There was great attention, and a deep feeling was aroused in many. We feel sure that conversions were wrought that evening.
The welcome at the feast upon the tables before them prepared their minds to hear the more readily of the feast of mercy.
Another of our students, Mr. Miller, leaves us to become a missionary in India. We are more glad of this than tongue can tell, for we count it the highest honor the College can have, to send out missionaries to heathen lands. Men who will leave all for Jesus are wanted. Are there not more in our churches?
Dr. Barnardo had a great meeting at the Tabernacle, December 8th. We need a great deal for our own works, but we are glad that our friends at the Tabernacle should help other workers also, and Dr. Barnardo is one of the greatest of them all. May God ever bless him and prosper his many noble enterprises.
On Monday evening, December 7th, many hearts were touched, and an after-meeting was held in the vestry, at which several testified that they had found peace with God. We have a continuous work of grace going on among us. Nearly fifty were added to the church on the first Sabbath of December, and one hundred in October and November.
Mr. W. Joynson, of St. Mary Cray, who on many occasions proved himself to be one of the best friends of our work, has gone to his rest. His loss will be severely’ felt all over the county. His generosity to churches and individuals was very great. Possessing immense wealth, all gained by his own exertions, he was very independent in spirit, but had a large and generous heart. ,May the divine blessing rest upon his descendants evermore.
Mr. Evans, from our College, has accepted the pastorate of the church at Staley Bridge. Mr. Pring is visiting Glastonbury and Shepton Mallet with the view of establishing Baptist churches in those towns. Mr. Baster has commenced his work at Surbiton, which place has been hitherto supplied by our esteemed helper, Mr. Dunn.
Baptisms at Metropolitan Tabernacle, by Mr. J. A. Spurgeon : — November 26th, twenty-three; December 3rd, fourteen; December 14th, twelve.