THE circulation of the sermons went up by leaps and bounds and none was more surprised at the success of the venture than C. H. Spurgeon himself. “After all these years,” he wrote in 1886, “it is a glad thing to be able to say, ‘Having, therefore, 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 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 over thirty years been favored with a circle of willing supporters, who not only purchase but actually read his discourses. I am more astonished at the fact that 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.”
The work of translation into other languages soon began. First of all a Welsh issue was prepared and sermons were published in that tongue once a month. Then Dutch translations were made and had large circulations among all classes in the Netherlands from the peasant to the sovereign. The Queen of Holland had copies sent to her, read them, became interested in the preacher, and when he was traveling on the Continent asked him to visit her, which he did. In Germany a score or more of publishers issued versions and there were translations bearing date from Baden, Carlsruhe, Ludwigsburg, Hamburg, etc. The sermons in Swedish circulated largely among the upper classes, and the translator informed Charles Haddon Spurgeon that there had been cases of conversion among some of noble and even of royal birth through their perusal. Other languages into which the sermons have been translated include: Arabic, Armenian, Bengali, Bulgarian, Castilian (for the Argentine Republic), Chinese, Congo, Czech, Estonian, French, Gaelic, Hindi, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Kaffir, Karen, Lettish, Maori, Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Servian, Spanish, Syriac, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu. Some sermons were also early prepared in Moon and Braille type for the use of the blind.
The enthusiasm for the sermons on the part of some wealthy men was remarkable. One purchased and gave away no fewer than a quarter of a million copies. He had volumes containing forty-two sermons bound in elaborate style and presented one to each crowned head in Europe.
Volumes less expensively bound, containing twelve sermons each, were prepared and sent to all the students of the Universities, and years afterwards, at least one wrote to Westwood to say how he had been blessed by the perusal of one of these volumes. Similar sets were sent to all the members of both Houses of Parliament, and the generous donor even commenced to distribute volumes among the principal householders in the towns of Ireland. “May the good results of his laborious seed-sowing be seen many days hence,” wrote C. H. Spurgeon. “The self-denial with which this brother saved the expense from a very limited income and worked personally in the distribution, was beyond all commendation; but praise was evaded and observation dreaded him; the work was done without his left hand knowing what his right hand did.”
Another gentleman, a city merchant, belonging to the Society of Friends, advertised the sermons in all sorts of journals offering to supply them from his own office, and by this means large numbers were sold to persons who would not have been reached through the ordinary channels.
A wealthy Russian, who had read some of the sermons, was so impressed with their value that he obtained the permission of the censor to publish Russian translations and a million copies were at once prepared. They were approved and licensed by the heads of the Orthodox Church and having been marked on the front cover with the official stamp, to certify that they might be read and circulated by faithful members of the Church, were distributed and broadcast over the Czar’s dominions. Thus the discourses of a “heretic” were blessed, sanctioned and commended by the ecclesiasties of the most tyrannous Church in Christendom. By the time the eighth volume of the English edition was commenced, C. H. Spurgeon’s Church had moved from New Park Street Chapel to the Metropolitan Tabernacle and consequently the name was changed to... ...the sale at the same time largely increasing. To celebrate the publication of the five hundredth weekly issue, Messrs. Passmore and Alabaster entertained a company of friends to dinner at the Tabernacle in March, 1863, where various speeches were made, and it transpired that up to that time eight million copies of the sermons had been distributed all over the world. C. H. Spurgeon declared that he regarded the republication in Canada, Australia, and the United States as only second in importance to the issue in England. During the evening a sum of five hundred pounds was subscribed for the Pastors’ College, an institution that was ever very close to the preacher’s heart and to which the bulk of his profits form the sales of the sermons was devoted.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon now found time to revise the printed sermons, and he wrote that — “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 task.” The preacher took a much greater interest, too, than heretofore in preparing the prefaces to the annual volume. Thus, in the eighth he declared that he wished to commune a little with the great host of readers who continually perused the discourses and commenced forthwith to address various classes. “Sick saints , what a delight I feel in ministering to you! Shut out from the sanctuary and the sound of the Word, you find a solace in reading what others have crowded to hear. Accept my tenderest sympathy in your affliction, while I breathe the prayer that He who suffers in you, may abide with you... Let your chamber be a sanctuary, your bed a pulpit, your loving experience of divine grace the constant sermon. We cannot do without you in the Lord’s battles. Your power for good is wonderful; forget not your advantageous position, but lift up the banner of your Lord on high. Let no persons retire from your bedside without being enriched by some affectionate admonition. In the night-watches, when your eyes are held waking so that you cannot sleep, plead for the Church, the world, your minister, you friends, and do not omit the unworthy brother who now writes to you. What showers of mercies your intercessions may bring down. The golden keys of heaven are at your girdle, open the treasury and bless us all.” ‘As the sufferings of Christ abound in you so may your consolation also abound in Christ.’ “My brethren in the ministry , receive my affectionate salutations and my best thanks for your kind endeavors to promote the circulation of these sermons. I count myself thrice happy to have so many readers among the leaders of our Israel; and, if like the lad in the Evangelists, I may bring the barley loaves and small fishes which the Master may distribute to you, that by you thousands may be fed, we will all of us rejoice together...” “To those brethren who publicly read these sermons in cottages and village preaching rooms, a word of hopeful encouragement. Several cases of conviction and comfort have come under my notice this year through your good work in publicly reading my discourses. I pray you, persevere. No man need despair of winning souls. In these days the lack of talent is no bar to usefulness. If we cannot preach the sermon ourselves, if reading it to a few cottagers may be blessed by God the Holy Spirit, who could refuse to do it? Go on, dear friends, and may the Lord continue to bless us in publishing the glad tidings of His grace. We serve a generous Master, who thinks much of our littles. O, that we thought more of Him. “To all my brethren , thanks and Christian love. Thanks for your assistance in spreading my ‘words for Jesus,’ and love, because we are one in Him.
Let me entreat you to wrestle together with me in your prayers that the good news may be received by many prepared hearts. If all my readers would pray for the preacher and for a blessing upon the sermons as they travel throughout all lands, what a great result would follow. The Holy Spirit is able to make the word as successful now as in the days of the Apostles. He can bring in by hundreds and thousands as easily as by ones and twos. If we have the Spirit sealing our ministry with power, it will signify very little about our talent... ...Men may be poor and uneducated; their words may be broken and ungrammatical, there may be none of the polished periods of Hall or the glorious thunders of Chalmers; but if the might of the Spirit attend them the humblest evangelists will be more successful than the most learned of divines or the most eloquent of preachers. It is extraordinary grace not talent that wins the day. It is extraordinary spiritual power not extraordinary mental power that we need.
Mental power may fill a chapel but spiritual power fills the Church. Mental power may gather a congregation, spiritual power will save souls. We want spiritual power.”
In his preface for the following year, C. H. Spurgeon hinted at the labor involved in the preparation of the printed sermons. “When our year’s ministry is over, we feel a sweet relief; we sit down upon the milestone of our preface and remember that we are nearer home; looking back with gratitude upon the steps already trodden we are cheered in our onward way. This volume is the record of another year’s campaign against sin and Satan; the memorial of another series of struggles, contentions, buffeting, wrestlings, defeats, and triumphs. Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof; we began with trembling hope, we close with deep repentance for our shortcomings and hearty thanksgivings for our successes. Little doth any man know, beside the man who endureth the like, the agonies and joys of a preacher; a stranger intermeddleth not therewith. As the weaver seeth every thread dyed with the sweat of his brow, and marketh in the fabric his own nerves and sinews interwoven in its tissue, even so does the minister of God when he reviews his sermons.
The husbandman has been first partaker of the fruits, and in that first feasting he tasted his own labors, anxieties and hopes sweetened with the dew of heaven and flavored with the genial sunshine of God; no other man can partake of the fruits with such a zest as he. Permit me, then, to pour out of my whole soul unto God in praise for the unceasing mercy which has given me this series of discourses.” He notes that during the year he had heard with joy of conversions, wrought by the Holy Spirit, from most of the discourses in the volume and concludes thus — “Believers, we entreat you give your continual prayers for a blessing upon our endeavors.
Let all who read to profit pray with fervor, and who can tell the blessed result? O, for an unction from on high! This is the one thing needful. Let us pray that the ever-present Spirit may work among us more and more. O, Lord, send now prosperity. Amen.”
One more extract from these interesting prefaces that in themselves are almost worthy to be gathered together in an independent volume. In C. H. Spurgeon writes — “Twelve yearly volumes of our sermons are now before the public, and in looking back upon them, like Pharaoh’s butler, we do remember our faults. Bishop Jewel says, ‘faults’ will escape a man betwixt his fingers, let him look to it ever so narrowly! but ours are to be reckoned by handfuls, for we have never enjoyed the opportunity of making careful revision, but our raw and hasty words have been served up at once like ill-cooked meat, and the grain of our thoughts has been bound up in sacks altogether unwinnowed and almost unthreshed... ...If Augustine needed to correct, in his riper years, the errors of his youthful writings (upon which he had spent considerable care), how much latitude must be allowed to us, who, being without his ability are also without his leisure and have to bear the responsibility, not of treatises deliberately written, but of words spoken upon the spur of the moment and but hurriedly amended before their issue from the Press. If the grapes of the well-trimmed vine are sometimes sour, shall the clusters of the wild vine be always sweet? If the land which yielded milk and honey was not without its briars, what shall be said of the garden which borders upon the wilderness? Youth has not quite departed from us, but when the first of these twelve volumes was born into existence we had but barely reached the age of twenty-one. Is there need of more apology when wise men are the critics, and if the critics be not wise, of what avail is any apology whatever?”