THE demand for C. H. Spurgeon’s sermons published in The Penny Pulpit increased so rapidly, and the circulation was so in excess of the discourses of other divines, that it was determined to continue publishing a sermon at intervals, though with no idea of a continuance week by week for any length of time. But the success of the printed sermons, and the eagerness with which the public welcomed anything of C. H. Spurgeon’s, set his friend, Mr. Joseph Passmore, thinking. Those who are familiar with the life of the great preacher will remember that this was the first real friend he made in London. Mr. Passmore was in partnership with another young man — a Churchman — Mr. James Alabaster, and they conducted a small printing business at Wilson Street, Finsbury. Mr. Passmore, with considerable foresight, saw the prominent position which C. H. Spurgeon must hold among English preachers, and realizing the possibilities which lay in a “penny pulpit” devoted entirely to the young minister’s sermons published regularly every week, he discussed the matter with his partner and then approached Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
The latter was much perturbed at the suggestion. His modesty made him dubious of the success of such a venture, and further, he shrank from the increased responsibility and wider publicity. But after considering the matter and praying over it, “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 one preached at New Park Street Chapel on Lord’s-day morning, January 7th, 1855, upon the text — “I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed” [Malachi 3:6], #1 (Vol. 1), New Park Street Pulpit, entitled ‘The Immutability of God.’
At once “The New Park Street Pulpit” was an established success, and the rapid and unprecedented manner in which the circulation increased gave the young partners some difficulty in meeting the demand. The newspapers spoke as well of the printed as of the preached sermons. Reviewing a volume of discourses delivered on Sunday mornings at Exeter Hall, the first volume of C. H. Spurgeon’s sermons to published, The Baptist Messenger said — “There is in these sermons so much of sound doctrine which cannot be gainsaid — evangelical savor, spiritual experience and sacred fervor, together with earnest, practical appeals to the heart that will cause them to be most cordially welcomed by vast numbers of almost every class of professing Christians who love the truth as it is in Jesus,” and the paper forthwith gave six closely printed pages of extracts. The volume was issued jointly by Messers. Alabaster and Passmore and Mr. James Paul, and it formed No. 1 of The Pulpit Library. There were ten sermons, and the book being printed in a clear, readable type and well bound in cloth, had a great sale. Charles Haddon Spurgeon gave a copy to his future wife with this inscription upon the fly-leaf, “In a few days it will be out of my power to present anything to Miss Thompson. Let this be a remembrance of our happy meetings and sweet conversations. Dec 12/1855. C. H. Spurgeon.”
Not long after this the first volume of The New Park Street Pulpit was issued, in the preface of which the preacher wrote as follows — “Little can be said in praise of these sermons, and nothing can be said against them more bitter than has been already spoken. Happily the author has heard abuse exhaust itself; he has seen its vocabulary used up and its utmost venom entirely spent; and yet the printed discourses have for that very reason found a readier sale and more have been led to peruse them with deep attention.” “One thing alone places this above contempt — and that accomplishes the deed so triumphantly that the preacher defies the opinion of man — it is the fact that, to his certain knowledge, there is scarcely a sermon here which has not been stamped by the hand of the Almighty by the conversion of a soul. Some single sermons here brought into the society of their brethren, have been under God the means of the salvation of not less than twenty souls; at least that number has come under the preacher’s notice from one sermon only; and doubtless more shall be discovered at the last day. This, together with the fact that hundreds of the children of God have been made to leap for joy by their message, makes their author invulnerable either to criticism or abuse.” “The reader will perhaps remark considerable progress in some of the sentiments here made public, particularly in the case of the doctrine of the second coming of our Lord; but he will remember that he who is learning truth will learn it by degrees, and if he teaches as he learns, it is to be expected that his lessons will become fuller every day.” “There are also many expressions which may provoke a smile, but let it be remembered that every man has his moments when his lighter feelings indulge themselves, and the preacher must be allowed to have the same passions as his fellow men, and since he lives in the pulpit more than anywhere else, it is but natural that his whole man should be there developed; besides, he is not quite sure about a smile being a sin, and, at any rate, he thinks it less a crime to cause a momentary laughter than a half hour’s profound slumber.” “With all its faults, the purchaser has bought this book, and as it was not warranted to be perfect, if he thinks ill of it he must make the best of his bargain, which can be done either by asking a blessing on its reading to himself, or entreating greater light for his friend the preacher.”
For the first seven years the duty on paper was in force and the sermons had to be printed in small type, as, owing to the cost, not more than eight pages could be given for one penny, although the sermons have always been about the same length. During this early period, too, the preacher could do very little in the way of revision. Referring to these matters he wrote — “Constant habit enables me generally to give the same amount of matter on each occasion, the very slight variation almost surprises myself; from forty to forty-five minutes’ speaking exactly fills the available 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.” These early sermons were years afterwards revised by the preacher before being reissued uniform with the rest of the series — “There were mistakes in orthography and typography,” he then wrote, “which needed to be corrected; but I was happy to find that I had no occasion to alter any of the doctrines which I preached in those early days of my ministry. I might here and there slightly modify the expressions used thirty or five-and-thirty years ago; but as to the truths themselves, I stand just where I did when the Lord first revealed them to my by His unerring Spirit.”
In America the sales of the printed sermons were at first even greater than in this country, and of the first bound volume referred to above, no fewer than twenty thousand copies were disposed of in a very short time. In a few years it was estimated that something like half a million volumes in the United States. The North and the South were in antagonism and slavery was a burning question, although the great Civil War was not to come for some years yet. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, in the course of his sermons, felt bound to pass strictures [moral criticism] upon the whole system of slavery, and at once the sale of his sermons in the Southern States fell almost to nothing, while scores of insulting and threatening letters were sent to the preacher.
Of course the publication of the sermons was made an opportunity by writers and speakers of the baser sort for slandering and abusing the young preacher. It was to make money, they said, that he was having his discourses printed, and wild rumors floated about of the vast sums which were coming to him and of the rapidity with which he was accumulating “treasure on earth.” The Baptist Messenger referred to this matter: “We understand,” wrote the editor, “he has entered into an engagement with a publishing house of high respectability to prepare for publication a volume of sermons, for the copyright of which, rumor states, he is to receive a very extraordinary sum. Let Mr. Spurgeon follow his own intuitions under the direction of the Holy Spirit, and he will speedily falsify the uncharitable predictions of envious and prejudiced critics.”
It was true that the publication of the weekly sermons brought him large sums of money, but these were used for maintenance of the various institutions and causes which he promoted, and while he spent from six to eight hundred pounds a year, received from the American sales, upon the education of poor ministerial students, he was himself living in comparatively humble circumstances. The falling off in the sales of sermons in the United States and the consequent stoppage of this source of supply was a great trial to him, but he had faith in God, and his prayers were answered.
It seems curious now to learn that at first there was such a prejudice against the sermons of the brilliant young preacher on the part of booksellers that few would sell them, and at Cambridge, for instance (where he was so well-known), the only place at which they could be purchased was the shop of a grocer — a friend of the preacher. Of course, when it was seen that the sale of the sermons would be a financial success, the booksellers rapidly overcame their scruples and lost their prejudices.