Spurgeon’s “Red-Hot Letter” on American Slavery

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

In the midst of this series of letters, Spurgeon paused to write out his thoughts on American Slavery. He had been accused of altering his sermons for publication in America to remove any reference to slavery. In response to one inquiry, he said “I have written a letter to an influential paper in America, and will see to it that my sentiments are really  known. I believe slavery to be a crime of crimes, a soul-destroying sin, and an iniquity which cries aloud for vengeance. The charge against my publishers of altering my sermons I believe to be utterly untrue, and they are ready, as their best contradiction, to print a work on the subject if I can find time to write it, which  I fear I cannot, but must be content with some red-hot letters.” Here is the text of that original “red-hot letter,” sent to the Christian Watchman and Reflector:

(original pdf here) | (formatted pdf here)

SPURGEON ON SLAVERY (January 26, 1860)

Mr. Spurgeon, as will appear from the following letter, cannot be silent under the imputation of suppressing his views on slavery to gain favor with Southern readers. No one, who knew him, could suspect him of such moral cowardice. He does not believe the policy of the Tract Society to be either manly or Christian, and gives utterance to his opinions in language not to be mistaken. Like Englishmen, in general, he loathes the system of slavery, and seems to make no allowance even for those masters who would emancipate their slaves, if Providence opened the way for such  movement. Dr. Guthrie has recently expressed similar opinions in a speech at Edinburgh. American Christians, with a broader comprehension of the subject, have more charity, and while loathing the system, regard differently from Mr. Spurgeon some of the masters who are its born victims. Mr. Spurgeon will probably receive from his publishers a volume of sermons from an eminent southern divine, and as he reads its pages, he will confess instinctively that the preacher has felt the power of the cross. We may abhor the sin, and yet exercise due charity for those who are involved in it—especially when the circumstances of the relation are not of their own creating, nor subject to their control. It is well known that such cases are numerous.

TO THE EDITORS OF THE CHRISTIAN WATCHMAN AND REFLECTOR:

I have always considered it to be my duty to deal with those sins which I perceived to be most rampant among my hearers. We miss the mark when we preach of absent individuals. It is very easy to talk about the brutality fo the uneducated when addressing my lord and my lady, but I prefer to tell these gentry their own sins, and not to flatter them by comparing them with others. This rule has brought me at divers times into no little trouble, which I have very cheerfully endured, and have rejoiced therein. But now a new outcry is raised in your land, and I am charged, not with being too severe with Brother Jonathan, but with letting him off too easily. Having no slaveholders in England, I should have been beating the air if I had preached against slavery to my people, for this is the very last crime they are likely to commit. It is far more probable that any slaveholder who should show himself in our neighborhood would get a mark which he would carry to his grave, if it did not carry him there.

I do from my inmost soul detest slavery anywhere and everywhere, and although I commune at the Lord’s table with men of all creeds, yet with a slaveholder I have no fellowship of any sort or kind. Whenever one has called upon me, I have considered it my duty to express my detestation of his wickedness, and would as soon think of receiving a murderer into my church, or into any sort of friendship, as a manstealer. Nevertheless, as I have preached in London and not in New York, I have very seldom made any allusion to American slavery in my sermons. This accounts for the rumor that I have left out the anti-slavery from my American edition of sermons.This is not true in any measure, for, as far as my memory serves me, I cannot remember that the subject was handled at all in any of my printed sermons beyond a passing allusion, and I have never altered a single sentence in a sermon which has been sent out to my American publishers beyond the mere correction which involved words and not sense. However, if any think me capable of such double dealing, I doubt not that they judge of me by themselves, and from such persons esteem is not desirable. I do not therefore regret the loss of it. I have this much to say to all who respect me in America: I did not want to be blaming you constantly, while there are sins enough in my own country, but I shall not spare your nation in future. I shall remember that my voice echoes beyond the Atlantic, and the crying sin of man stealing people shall not go unrebuked. I did not know that I had been so fully adopted a citizen of your republic, but finding that you allow me to be one of yourselves, I will speak out quite severely enough, and perhaps more sharply than will meet with approbation.

I have not been altogether silent upon the subject, for I have spoken with burning words when the matter has been on hand, but as this has usually been upon the platform, and not from the pulpit, those utterances have not reached the press. I must see that there are some such things in the sermons, if not in England at least in America. Messrs. Sheldon & Co. are ready to publish anything I may have to say on the matter, and I shall also avail myself of the Watchman and Reflector.

Finally, let me add, John Brown is immortal in the memories of the good in England, and in my heart he lives.

I am yours most truly,

C.H. Spurgeon

Clapham, London, Jan., 1860

(Photo by Katherine Chase on Unsplash)

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