Spurgeon’s 1st Letter (January 5, 1860)

In 1860, the Christian Watchman and Reflector, a Boston Baptist newspaper,  secured Charles Spurgeon as an exclusive correspondent. Over that year, Spurgeon wrote 15 letters to the paper. They are being available now for the first time in 150  years. An index of the letters and several background articles can be found here: Charles Spurgeon in the Christian Watchman & Reflector | Index

Here is the complete text of his first letter:

(original pdf here) | (formatted pdf here)


Introduction—John Angell James—Incident in Writer’s Experience and Conversation—Mr. James’s Modesty and Power—His Memoir—Rev. H.G. Guinness—A Marvelous Providence

I am not able to compliment you upon your discretion in selecting me as your correspondent, for I am, in the matter of letter-writing, among sinners the very chief. The mass of unanswered epistles upon my table is a burden upon my conscience, and I fear that you will compel me to increase my sins of omission in this respect. But as you are convinced that a few lines from my pen may be useful to the church of Christ in America, I am unable to withstand your solicitations, and must at least attempt, what I fear will be a labor to me, and a disappointment to you. Let me, however, begin with a good understanding of what is required of me, or rather of what I hope to accomplish. I shall send you a sort of olla podrida—anecdote, quotation, event, sermon, remark, and everything all mixed, compounded, and perhaps confounded. You have had the folly to request me to tell you what I am doing, and what is going forward in my own church. Surely you must have forgotten your usual prudence, for how can a man write of himself, without incurring the censure of egotism or boast­ing? When you have answered this very difficult question, you will, I am sure, request me to discontinue my epistles, for I shall be quite unable to obey the commands of your new philosophy. I shall, however, until that time, take license from your request, and venture to thrust a page or two of my own unwritten journal into my letters. At the same time permit me to say that if Caesar must write his own commentaries, they ought not to be read until Caesar is in another world, and I must beg you to remember that my egotism can only be considered bearable, because I am writing for another world, and if my spirit is not divided from you by the great river of death, there is, at least, a very broad Atlantic between us. I shall hope for your pardon when I am prosy, for your patience when I am brief, and for your affectionate remembrance at all times. I write to you as a friend, and as a brother in Christ, and not as a stranger or a critic. I shall sit down on your sofa, or your rocking-chair, and talk in my rough, but hearty Saxon, about the work of God in the old country, and other matters which concern the progress of our race and the spread of the Gospel.

We have all, as you are aware, been called to mourn the death of that venerable servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, Rev. John Angel James. It will be a long time before the church can fully estimate the loss of that prince and great man in Israel. He was to the Independent denomination a standard-bearer around whom its members delighted to rally, and to all of us he was a bright example we longed to imitate. Dur­ing a most violent controversy which threatened to rend the Congregational body in twain, his firm but most affectionate testimony had a manifest effect for good. Had it not been for the “sweet influences” of this star, I fear the waters would long have been tossed by tempests. It was the holiness of his character which added such weight to his words. His reverend head commanded respect, and his speech always repaid it. The papers will long ere this have given you co­pious accounts of his life, his writings, and his death. I shall, therefore, content myself with giving a few notes from my own personal observation.

In an early year of my ministry, while but a lad, I was seized with an intense desire to hear Mr. James; and although my finances were somewhat meagre, I performed a pilgrimage to Birmingham solely with that object in view. I heard him deliver a week eve­ning lecture in his large vestry, upon that precious text, “Ye are complete in Him.” The savor of that very sweet discourse abides with me to this day, and I shall never read the passage without associating therewith the quiet but earnest utterances of the departed man of God.

Some three years ago when I was preaching in Bir­mingham, he was my hearer, and came with many other brethren into the vestry after the sermon. I cannot venture to repeat the loving words of encour­agement which then fell from his lips, but I am free to record the brief conversation, so far as it related to himself. I informed him of my having gone many a mile to hear him in former years; to which he humbly replied that he feared I was illy repaid for my journey. I assured him that it was quite the reverse, and upon quoting the text, he smiled, and, shaking his head, he said, “ Ah, ah, that was one of your favorites, you liked the Calvinism of it, and so you put up with me, for the sake of the doctrine;” adding, in a jocular manner, “I wonder whether you would like me as well on some other points.” I then expressed my great thankfulness to God for the good which had been effected by his little book, called “The Anxious Inquirer,” and his reply was just in keeping with the modesty for which he was so eminent.

“Well,” said he, “the Lord has certainly blessed that book, but I must regard it as a very ordinary performance. Any other man might have written quite as well, if not better. It was the happy guidance of the Spirit as to its subject, which has more to do with its success than the manner in which it was handled.”

How few there are among us could talk like this! Mock modesty is as common as salt in the sea, but the genuine humility which dwelt in Mr. James, is rare indeed. It will be well for us, my dear friend, if we all labor after this most excellent gift, for it is an ornament, which, even in the sight of God, is of grant price.

Since then I have had the honor to number John Angell James among my dearest friends, and I have two letters from him which are to me as hid treasure; indeed, so well hidden that that I cannot just now find them myself, but will send you copies when I have brought them again to the light of day. You will be very much pleased to read the following notice which I have cut from one of our religious journals:

THE LATE REV. J.A. JAMES.—A Life of Mr. James is already announced. All his friends are requested to forward letters or other memorials to the Rev. R.W. Dale. The materials for a good biography will certainly be ample, and it is matter of congratulation that the task of collating them has fallen to such able and appropriate hands. We are rejoiced to hear that something like an autobiography, throwing much light on important circumstances in his history, has been found amongst the papers of the deceased.

Mr. Dale is Mr. James late co-pastor, and is now the minister of the bereaved flock. May the mantle of the departed fall upon him, and may he be a true Elisha to succeed the ascended Elijah.

Before this letter reaches you, Rev. M. G. Guinness will have arrived in your land. Before he departed for America I happened to be preaching In Cheltenham, and he had announced to deliver a farewell sermon in that town, in which his mother and family reside. He very kindly postponed his service until nine in the evening, that those who wished might attend both services, and he had no reason to regret the arrangement. After preaching, I was delayed for a short time, and then hastened to the Town Hall to hear him, but was too late, for the doors were shut, and, like many others, I had to retire, because there was no room for entrance. I trust that his visit to your country will be greatly blessed. I must leave you to hear him for yourself, and form your own judgment of his power as a preacher. For my own part I think that criticizing God’s ministers is an unhallowed employment, and I am accustomed to estimate preachers not by their talents, but by their usefulness. This, then, is my willing testimony. I have met with many brethren whose churches have been increased by his ministrations, and there are many souls who must to all eternity bless the Lord for having heard his voice. Let us, then, send up our prayers for him and all other servants of Jesus, that they may be more useful than ever, and let us all be up and doing, that we too may share the honor of winning souls.

If you have not yet read the following account, it will serve to remind you that there are still brethren who are willing to venture their lives for Christ, and that our prayers must not cease for ministers in perils by land and perils by sea. We little know the hardships which others are enduring, while we are sleeping in our comfortable chambers:

“A marvelous escape from imminently impending death has been experienced by the Rev. W. Vanderkiste. This gentleman was formerly in connection with the London City Mission, for which he wrote, ere leaving London to join the Wesleyan Mission in Australia, a work which attained very considerable celebrity, entitled, ‘The Dens of London.’ During his residence in New South Wales he has been connected with the Sydney, Goulburn and Bathurst circuits, and lastly, his circuit was a sole charge, Dungog, Maitland.

‘Lost in the bush,’ it appears, is a far from uncommon occurrence in the Colonies, and annually a number of per­sons lose their lives thus. Mr. Vanderkiste existed for six days and six nights, eating only one very slight meal pre­vious to leaving home, and in the midst of almost incessant rains, end entirely destitute of artificial warmth from fire, as well as destitute of any other shelter than that afforded by a hollow log which covered parts of his body.

“In the northern portion of New South Wales, a great leading range system of mountains piled on mountains, interspersed with fearful ravines. extends through an entirely uninhabited district from the head of the Williams River for nearly one hundred miles. Mr. Vanderkiste became en­tangled in this labyrinth after nightfall, and somewhat incautiously travelled on in the darkness, and was afterwards unable to extricate himself from the tortuous mazes and tremendous acclivities and declivities which lay wreathed in every direction around him. Incessant rains, or nearly such, had flooded the rivers which lay everywhere between him and the haunts of man; and the day of his discovery was the first day these rivers could be crossed, the floods having only then commenced subsiding.

“It appears that Providence influenced the minds of par­ties residing very many miles distant to attempt a search that day for cattle, and the condition of the land from the rains rendering such equine operations impracticable as were necessary to secure the beeves of which they were in search, they met with an accident which occasioned the loss one of another, and wandered, directed by an unseen hand, to where the Methodist minister was lying half-perished with exhaustion and cold.

“Mr. Vanderkiste being for several months unequal to the discharge of the various duties of his sacred office, em­ployed the time in writing a work which he has entitled, ‘Lost, but not forever.’ The case has excited a very large amount of interest in the colony.”

May this very useful and self-denying servant of Christ soon regain his strength, and may his soul en­joy a rich reward for all his toil and suffering.

And now, my dear friend, I have run out both my time and matter. May every blessing of the new covenant be richly enjoyed by you, and by your friend. for Christ’s sake,


Clapham, London, 1859

(Photo by Leon Rojas on Unsplash)

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