The Slave’s Cause: A Review

Most people don’t know very much about abolitionism in America. Perhaps the name that springs most often to mind is Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation. A few more know of figures like Frederick Douglass or Harriet Tubman, with little sense of the details of their lives or how they fit in their historical context. Some with an interest in America’s Civil War may know a little bit about William Lloyd Garrison and of course there is the field of scholarship covering the history of American slave-holding and its converse, the anti-slavery movements. Manisha Sinha’s The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition has something for every one of these groups, from the most barely acquainted to the seasoned scholar.

Sinha’s book is “a comprehensive new history of the abolition movement” (1) It is indeed comprehensive, and highly synthetic, challenging a number of “long-standing interpretive binaries” that have sprung up in the study of the movement (5). On a macro-level, this synthetic work is seen in the basic structure of the book, in two parts: The First Wave and The Second Wave. Where many think of mid-nineteenth-century figures like Garrison as typical of the abolitionism, Sinha documents how “the American abolitionist movement unfolded in a hundred-year drama in law, politics, literature, and on-the-ground activism. To reduce emancipation to an event precipitated by military crisis is to miss that long history” (2). The book opens with a rough sketch of slavery and anti-slavery in Europe and the “Pioneers” like Bartolomé de las Casas, before focusing attention on American and British abolitionists. This review could be filled (as Sinha’s book is) with names and dates of partly-known, little-known, or utterly unknown figures in the “hundred-year drama.” Worth mentioning in the first wave are Anthony Benezet, “an eighteenth-century abolitionist who matched the pivotal role of William Lloyd Garrison in the nineteenth century” (20) Benezet’s active life involved writing, publishing, and correspondence which “created an antislavery network” (24). His correspondents included Granville Sharp, Benezet’s “British Counterpart” and Selena Hastings, the Countess of Huntingdon, known for her support of Wesley, Whitefield, and the evangelical awakenings (22, 24). It is striking that when a different story is told with a different plot line (i.e., the story of slavery v. abolitionism versus the story of evangelicalism, or “revivals”) many of the same characters appear, but in entirely different roles. This book offers a vitally necessary retelling of history that is especially appropriate for evangelicals seeking to know more about their heritage.

From the very first chapter, however, another synthesis is evident, and that is the connection between black and white, male and female abolitionists. Immediately after highlighting the prominent white figures like Benezet, Sinha shifts focus to the “Origins of Black Antislavery” (24). Here, for example, she highlights figures like Phillis Wheatley and offers a correction. While Wheatley “is often portrayed as a lone genius,” she was “in fact representative of an emerging African American antislavery critique of revolutionary republicanism” (31). This opening chapter is typical of the entire work: “it centers African Americans in it” (1). Throughout the entire drama, there was deep interplay between slaves, slave-rebellions, escaped slaves, freed men and women, and their ongoing struggle for liberty in a land torn by that question. White abolitionists have figured prominently in previous tellings of this history, but Sinha gives us here a truly comprehensive account.

Subsequent chapters detail the revolutionary era (both American and Haitian) (Chapter 2: “Revolutionary Antislavery in Black and White”) the drawn out legal battles for emancipation in northern states (Chapter 3: “The Long Northern Emancipation”), the black and white transatlantic developments (Chapter 4: “The Anglo-American Abolition Movement”), and figures like Richard Allen and the African Episcopal Church (Chapter 5: “Black Abolitionists in the Slaveholding Republic”). The First Wave concludes with “The Neglected Period of Antislavery,” a crucial link between two acts in the drama that have often been considered separately, including the growing tension between colonizationists and abolitionists. Between The First Wave and the Second is a 24 page insert of pictures of abolitionists, literally granting visibility to figures, including black men and women who have been invisible to this point.

The Second Wave is much longer and more familiar. Overturning the caricature of abolitionists as “extremists,” Sinha highlights how “proslavery extremism predated radical abolitionism” (226). Abolitionism pressed for “immediatism” due to the influence of black protest against this aggressive “slave power” (Chapter 7: “Interracial Immediatism”) She explores in great detail the emergence of the abolition movement as we know it, including its inherent tensions (Chapter 8: “Abolition Emergent”). Especially fascinating was her take on “The Woman Question” (Chapter 9), documenting women as “abolition’s most effective foot soldiers,” the tension this caused for the movement, and the birth of the women’s suffrage movement out of abolitionism (226). Black abolitionism is studied as its own distinct phenomena in this era (Chapter 10: “The Black Man’s Burden”),  as well as the relationship between American abolitionism and the revolutionary movements in Europe in the mid 19th century (Chapter 11: “The Abolitionist International”). “Slave Resistance” (Chapter 12) was always the front lines of abolitionism, and the activity of fugitive slaves continued to fuel the growing movement through addresses and published narratives (Chapter 13: “Fugitive Slave Abolitionism”). The final chapters are a whirlwind leading up to war, on “The Politics of Abolition” (Chapter 14), “Revolutionary Abolition” (Chapter 15), and “Abolition War” (Chapter 16). The book ends at the start of the war, though Dr. Sinha is presently working on a book on the succeeding era, Reconstruction (https://www.radcliffe.harvard.edu/people/manisha-sinha).

The body of the book runs to 591 pages, with over 130 additional pages of detailed endnotes documenting primary and secondary sources. As such, this book functions extremely well as a sourcebook for additional research. The index is very thorough, so when one wishes to know where a particular person or movement fits within the broader scope, and find additional sources for further information. For example, this reviewer wished to know more about the scholarship and source material on Harriet Tubman after seeing the recent film devoted to her. The index and the footnotes were easily navigable, which is to say nothing of Sinha’s own careful treatment of Tubman in the work itself.

Though not a Christian herself, this evangelical found Sinha to be very careful and fair in her treatment of Christianity and even evangelicalism. At no point did she resort to caricatures or unbalanced criticism. Throughout the work Dr. Sinha does the work of a careful historian walking us through the complex and messy history that a “century long drama” necessarily is. This book is quite possibly the book on abolitionism in America. Evangelicals who are interested in American history need to read this work to understand our movement in its greater context. Anyone interested in abolitionism, at any scholarly level, needs to read this new comprehensive account in order to get the full picture for the first time.

A Marvelous Ministry: How the All-Round Ministry of Charles Spurgeon Speaks to Us Today

A Marvelous Ministry (Ligonier, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1993) is a multi-author volume with chapters by Geoff Thomas (Wales), David Kingdon (South Africa), Tim Curnow (England) and Erroll Hulse (England). The book includes a biographical overview of Spurgeon’s life and ministry (ch. 2), as well as focused treatments on his “Gospel Invitations” (ch. 2), his “Social Concern (ch. 4), the “Downgrade Controversy” (ch. 5), and his “Activity in Politics” (ch. 6). The thesis of the book is that even though Spurgeon lived and ministered 150 years ago, his life is still relevant for us today to learn many instructive lessons. In fact, one author suggests that, “Spurgeon’s sermons should be returned to throughout one’s life and picked up and read, one a day, for some period, before other things break that plan… A student fresh out of theological seminary could make a study of Spurgeon, read the biographies and as many of his 150 books as he can find” (47).

In reading this, I was encouraged again to emulate Spurgeon’s example of integrity. Thomas notes that “Spurgeon was an open, guileless man. He told a would-be biographer, ‘You may write my life across the sky; I have nothing to conceal’” (68). This is an honesty and integrity that I aspire to in every aspect of life and ministry. (see: Why I Admire Spurgeon’s Position on Cigars and Brandy)

A chapter particular interest was Chapter 4: “Spurgeon and his Social Concern.” Spurgeon said in one sermon, “I would that we who have a purer faith, could remember a little more the intimate connection between the body and the soul… It seems an idle tale to a poor man if you talk to him of spiritual things and cruelly refuse to help him as to temporals” (91–92). Spurgeon never allowed himself to become so narrowly focused on “just preaching the gospel” that he ignored the real social evils going on around him. In the same sermon, he said “We want to be educated into the knowledge of our national poverty; we want to be taught and trained, to know more of what our fellow men can and do suffer” (93). Becoming directly “educated” and acquainted with the real suffering of people around was important to Spurgeon and should be important to us.

Interestingly, Spurgeon gives us a fascinating example of someone with regard to his political convictions in our day when we are told not to get too entangled with politics.  Spurgeon “was an unashamed Liberal who was not prepared to hide his political creed under a pastoral bushel” (95). “Liberal” was one of the political parties of the time in contrast with the Tories:

“As a Dissenter and a Liberal, Spurgeon stood against the power and privilege of the political establishment which found its expression in the Tory party… He was emphatically on the side of those who were excluded from the corridors of power because they were Dissenters in religion and as emphatically against those who looked down upon the poor from basins of privilege acquired either by inheritance or wealth.”

All in all, Spurgeon is a model of someone who “did not read his Bible as a pietist who separated religion off into a private realm removed from social and political life.” His activism was widespread: he founded an orphanage and supported it his whole life; this orphanage had its own school; he started an evening school at his church for adults to learn ‘Science, English Language and Literature, Elementary Mathematics, and Bookkeeping” (106).

In all of this, I find myself inspired to put no limits on the kinds of ways to “do good to all” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” The kinds of challenges that people face today: poverty, unemployment, homelessness, are all fair game for anyone in ministry to seek to address, and Spurgeon gives a model for doing so.

The chapter on the “Downgrade Controversy” demonstrates that such effort to address social concerns does not have to come at the expense of orthodox theology whatsoever. This controversy was due to other Baptist ministers beginning to compromise on the doctrine of eternal punishment in hell. Spurgeon fought hard within the Baptist union to fight this theological drift, and in the end withdrew from their fellowship over this issue. However, Hulse points out that even when Spurgeon disagreed deeply with others’ theological convictions, he did so charitably:

He sought to maintain personal contact and sustain a personal relationship with evangelical ministers who compromised and were too weak to uphold the biblical position as outlined above. He reasoned with them. He was patient with them. He broke fellowship with them as far as cooperation was concerned, but he did no sever lines of personal communication with fellow ministers who compromised. He was sorrowful and reluctant in separating from brother ministers who refused to take a stand. (p. 9)

Spurgeon is a model for us of how to engage controversy. “We need to hold the truth and contend for it in a loving manner as he did” (10).

Spurgeon is thus indeed a model of an “all-round ministry.” I don’t have to choose between extensive engagement on social issues and evangelistic preaching of the Gospel: Spurgeon did both exceptionally well. I don’t have to choose to compromise on theology in order to pursue greater good in the community: Spurgeon fought against theological drift while being actively engaged in these other issues. I don’t have to stay out of politics when political realities affect so many aspects the life of my people: Spurgeon was unashamed to wade into political questions and took the side of the marginalized. And finally, I don’t have to do any of these things in fear of what other people will think: Spurgeon lived his life completely in the open, willing to be completely known by all for who he truly was. His life truly speaks to us today.

Did Spurgeon Really Say That?!

“Better every white man, woman and child be murdered in the South and a thousand Unions be dissolved, than human slavery be allowed to exist in peace and quietness in the Southern States of the American Union.”

On July 6, 1860, the Richmond Enquirer, of Virginia, cited a lecture by Charles Spurgeon which allegedly included the above quote. Did Spurgeon really say that?! To try to answer that question, we need to understand Spurgeon’s history of misrepresentation in various newspapers, specifically the contested second-hand accounts of his views of slavery, as well as the South’s intense bias against him.

“False Rumors”

Over the years, Spurgeon was constantly subjected to public speculation and outright falsehood about his life, beliefs, and even quotes that he had supposedly made.

On December 9, 1858, the Watchman and Reflector included this report: “It has been stated, we hear, that this gentleman lives in extravagant style, in a magnificent mansion, with troops of servants, and a coach and I do not know how many richly caparisoned steeds, and is driven about London, and to church, by a liveried coachman whose hat is ornamented with a cockade. This story bears on its face the very marks of untruth, but I am happy to be able to state that it is altogether false…Mr. S was in no way given to extravagance in his household arrangements… he has no coach, generally going afoot or in public conveyances.”

In 1859, the New York Waverly claimed that Spurgeon was readying his sermons “Corrected and Revised by himself expressly and exclusively for the New York Waverley.”

Spurgeon wrote several letters, to the Waverly, and to his legitimate publishers at Sheldon and Co., correcting this false claim: “I am sorry to add that I have to complain that you have gone beyond all the rules of honesty in the deliber­ate falsehood which heads several of your advertise­ments, vis., that these sermons are reported “exclusively” for the Waverly, whereas they were never reported for you at all. This glaring falsehood has compelled me to speak out, and I am now about to take some more decisive action.” 

On January 14, 1860, the Penny Press claimed that “It is stated on good authority that Mr. C.H. Spurgeon made, about three weeks ago, a formal recantation of the extreme Calvinist tenets which he had been hitherto preaching. He said that he and others who had taught as he had done, and had been doubtless grievous stumbling blocks in the way of many pious an earnest persons, and that the only amends which lay in his power was to state publicly that he had been in error, and to guarantee that he would never propagate similar false doctrines again.”

Spurgeon responded on February 9, in the Christian Watchman and Reflector: “I have just seen a paragraph in which it is stated that I have recanted my Calvinistic sentiments, and am very penitent on account of the mischief I have formerly done by my doctrines. This is but a specimen of the villainous lying to which I am daily subject. I am now quite used to these things, and do not think that those who know me believe any such infamous libels.”

In his last letter to the Christian Watchman and Reflector (April 2, 1863) Spurgeon lamented: “Certainly the false rumors which are raised about all public men are enough to put one out of heart with mankind, and make us think them like the Cretians, ‘al­ways liars.'” He himself had been the target of countless public falsehoods: “Con­tinually am I assailed with accusations from every quarter, bringing to my charge words I never uttered and deeds I have never dreamed of. From the first day until now I have never answered a slander. I have seen my best mo­tives impugned, my holiest aspirations ridi­culed, and my most disinterested actions calum­niated, and hitherto I have held my peace.”

A “Queer Anecdote”

In 1857, an English paper, the Gateshead Observer, published a story about Spurgeon and an American from the South. In reprinting it, the National Era in Washington D.C. called it “a queer anecdote.” The Christian Era in their introduction said this: “It may be true; it seems something like the man. And then again like many other stories narrated about noted persons, it may be entirely false.” Of course, they reprinted the article anyway:

An American minister called upon Mr. Spurgeon, and said, in the conversation, that he had a congregation in the States of 3,000 people. Spurgeon. And have you blacks in your congregation? Jonathan. O, yes. “And do you all worship together, or have you partitions and curtains?” “ O , the blacks are behind a curtain?” “And do you take the Lord’s Supper with the blacks behind a cur­tain?” “ O, yes.” “ Now, sir, do you know what a monomaniac is?’’ “O, yes.” “ Well, sir, I’m a monomaniac—a mono­maniac on the subject of slavery. (And Spurgeon dashed his hand into his pocket, and, bringing out his penknife, opened it.) Yes, sir, I’m a perfect monomaniac. I’ve no control over myself, sir; and if you stay here ten minutes longer, I may put this knife into your hypocritical bo­som. So I warn you. Be off, sir! be off! I feel it rising in me. Be off, I say! (And he hustled Jonathan to the door, nervously handling his knife all the while.) “And did you really mean to stick the fellow?” said the friend to whom he re­lated the story. “Why no,” said he, “perhaps not quite that; but I’m going to America before long, and I wanted them to know, before I go, that they won’t humbug me about slavery.”

Of course, other papers took this as a true account. The Daily Globe of San Francisco republished the story in their paper with some commentary: “Mr. Spurgeon, if this story is correct, lied grossly and outrageously, and showed himself to be a paltry, mendacious boor.” This kind of insulting treatment of Spurgeon was commonplace among Southern newspapers, especially once Spurgeon’s anti-slavery positions were verified and became more well known. Did Spurgeon actually pull his penknife on Jonathan? I’m not sure. The story sure is “queer,” and demonstrates the blurry line between fact and anecdotal fiction that was growing up around Spurgeon’s views of slavery. Apart from first-hand evidence, I suppose we’ll never know whether the story is genuine or not. We should acknowledge the difference between words expressly from the mouth and pen of Spurgeon, and the unreliability of “reported” words and stories, even when printed in public newspapers.

The edited sermons

But even the expressly reported words of Spurgeon were subject to editing and revision, unknown to him. Godfrey Pike carefully relates several instances of this in his biographyThe Life & Work of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1892):

American slavery had now become one of the burning questions of the day; and from the fact that Spurgeon’s Sermons were being issued in the United States with certain passages omitted which the publishers knew would be distasteful to their constituency, many inferred that the English preacher had changed his views on that question, or at least had greatly modified them. Mr. Henry Ward Beecher called attention to this fact; and it appeared like a challenge for the real truth to be known… Later on this work of suppression was shown to be the work of the publishers alone (330).

When Spurgeon was made aware of this, he immediately made plans to address it:

I do not see how the Americans can have expurgated the anti-slavery sentiments, for I do not think it was a subject which thrust itself in my way in the ordinary duties of my ministry. I have written a letter to an influential paper in America [the Christian Watchman and Reflector], 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.

He then sent his red-hot letter, addressing the charge of selective editing, and making his anti-slavery views clearly known:

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.

If there was any question about it before, there was none anymore.

Besides the issue of slavery, Pike notes that “passages relating to open communion were also taken out of the American edition of the Sermons” (330–31). Spurgeon was such a popular and influential figure, that his views on certain matters had to be carefully handled and manipulated so as to produce the intended affect on the broader reading public.

“Better every white man, woman and child be murdered in the South”

This brings us back to our original question. Did Spurgeon really say the words attributed to him in that Richmond Enquirer article? Let me start by quoting more context from the original article:

A certain Captain Kuber, “is a very wealthy gentleman, resident on Gwin’s Island, and is the only local preacher belonging to the regular Baptist denomination in Mathews county. Having been an ardent admirer of the Rev. Mr. Spurgeon, and preaching from him on Calvinism at Mathews Church, some one sent, enclosed in an envelope, Mr. Spurgeon’s Lecture at Exeter Hall, England, on Slavery, shortly after the John Brown raid, at Harper’s Ferry, where old Brown was martyrized as a saint, and in which Mr. Spurgeon said, ‘better every white man, woman, and child be murdered in the South and a thousand Unions be dissolved, than human slavery be allowed to exist in peace and quietness in the Southern States of the American Union.”

The original article was published in the Richmond Enquirer on July 6, 1860. After Spurgeon’s “red hot letter” on slavery had been published in January of that year, many in the South had reacted violently, threatening his life and burning his books and sermons. This particular article was published in Richmond, in the South, and the whole article was written to justify these Southern slaveholders burning his books. Given the intense bias against Spurgeon in the South, I’m already skeptical. Add to this the third (or fourth) hand nature of the quote (a newspaper article about a man who received a letter containing a lecture all the way from England) and there are just too many links in this game of “telephone.” I would love to know if there exists anywhere the original lecture notes of this lecture.

To be clear, though, Spurgeon was an ardent abolitionist. In 1859, one visitor heard him utter “the strongest expression of abhorrence to slavery that we ever heard from human lips, not excepting Garrison himself.” After Harper’s Ferry, Spurgeon expressed admiration for John Brown, and this fact alone would be enough to unhinge slaveholders in the South. He closed his letter about slavery with this: “Finally, let me add, John Brown is immortal in the memories of the good in England, and in my heart he lives.” For some, including paleo-confederates today, any positive mention of John Brown is considered outrageous. But we must remember that in Spurgeon’s own day, Brown’s legacy was contested. In June 1860, a letter was published in the Watchman and Reflector defending Spurgeon:

“Our brother, too, ought to know that we at the North, and Mr. Spurgeon and the Englishmen in general, look on the character of John Brown in quite another light from his. If we accepted Romish testimony against Luther, we must regard him as a lying, profane, and licentious reprobate… And, if we accepted the testimony of one or two southern men (who reported conversations in his cell,) against John Brown, we should be compelled to believe him an infidel. But we have learned to distrust the testimony of inimical parties, and have no more faith in the assertions of these men than in the assertions of the Romish traducers of Luther… If Mr. Spurgeon believed that John brown ever used such language as our brother quotes, (taken, we believe from the report of a Methodist clergyman,) he would have no kind words to say of his Christian character. But he believes them as little as he credits Mary’s account of her interviews with John Knox.”

What did Spurgeon say?

Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey record a version of this incident in their excellent book, Steal Away Home. However, in relating the scene, they include part of this quote, but not another:

“Precisely,” replied Kuber. “I read the sermon in its entirety and I was appalled by its utter audacity. Spurgeon claimed that it would be better for a thousand unions to be dissolved than for us to own a few slaves in the peace and quiet of the southern states of the American Union” (137).

It is entirely plausible to me that after John Brown’s death, Spurgeon gave a memorial lecture celebrating Brown’s anti-slavery activism. But because John Brown was equated in the minds of Southerners with “the murder of white men, women, and children,” it is also plausible to me that this inference of theirs was made explicit and turned into a quote. To the Southern mind, after all, to say the one is all the same as if you had said the other. By the time these “anonymous lecture notes” found their way to Captain Kuber, and then into the pages of the Richmond Enquirer, it had become a quote on the lips of Spurgeon.

Frankly, I have a hard time believing that Spurgeon actually said these words. Perhaps part of the quote is genuine (“better a thousand unions be dissolved…”) and part of it was embellished (“better every white man, woman, and child be murdered in the South…”). Honestly, even the use of a the descriptor “white” in “white men, women and children” sounds more like a phrase used in America than something Spurgeon would say. In reading his comments about slavery and the United States, I just haven’t heard him talk that way elsewhere.

Further, as others have noted, Spurgeon was opposed to war, and lamented its horrors. Even given his ardent abolitionism, it’s hard for me to imagine a statement like this coming from his mouth.

So, did Spurgeon really say this? Ultimately, I really don’t know, and I could be proven wrong, were the original lecture notes ever to come to light and we could see for ourselves. Until that happens, this quote will always have a big asterisk hanging over it for me. The work of careful historical investigation is fraught with difficulty and complexity. Ours is not the first “sound bite” age. Whenever you see a snappy quote or story, it would be good to pause and ask yourself:

Where are the receipts?

(Photo by Evan Dennis on Unsplash)

Charles Spurgeon and Textual Criticism

Elijah Hixson has a fascinating article published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society titled, “New Testament Textual Criticism in the Ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon,” (JETS 57/3 (2014) 555–70) I found a pdf here. In it he notes that “one of the most paradigm-shifting events in the discipline of NT textual criticism happened during Spurgeon’s ministry: the publication of Westcott and Hort’s NT in the Original Greek [1881]” (555). It was Hort who “dethroned the Textus Receptus,”and Spurgeon found himself having to account for this shift.

Spurgeon offered this in Commenting and Commentaries: “Do not needlessly amend our authorized version. It is faulty in many places, but still it is a grand work taking it for all in all, and it is unwise to be making every old lady distrust the only Bible she can get at, or what is more likely, distrust you for falling out with her cherished treasure. Correct where correction must be made for truth’s sake, but never for the vainglorious display of your critical ability.”

Hixson then gives examples from 9 texts containing significant variants and how Spurgeon handled them. Sometimes Spurgeon kept with the traditional reading (the longer ending of Mark), other times he went with the “oldest manuscripts.” In one case, he preached a whole sermon point on a variant that he rejected as original. (“In Christ No Condemnation,” point III.): “Now we come to the third point, upon which we shall speak only briefly, because this part of my text is not a true portion of Holy Scripture.” It reminds me of John Piper’s approach to texts like John 7:53–8:11.

At one point Spurgeon preached an entire sermon on a textual variant: “And We Are: A Jewel from the Revised Version.”

Spurgeon preached eight sermons from Mark 16:9–20, and four expositions (Hixson, 562).

Hixson concludes with three observations: “First, Spurgeon was an independent, critical thinker, knowledgable in the discipline of NT textual criticism, and he weighed the evidence and made his own judgments, rather than taking the word of any one individual… Second, Spurgeon only discussed variants when necessary… Finally, to Spurgeon, evangelistic preaching of the gospel of Christ was preeminent. NT textual criticism was merely a servant to this goal” (568).

He closes with a quote which is worth repeating in full. The sermon was from Luke 4:18 which Spurgeon did not believe contained the full quotation from Isaiah 61:1. “Spurgeon’s solution to this problem was simple: rather than preaching from the text in Luke, he preached from the same text in Isa 61:1” (562):

“Concerning the fact of difference between the Revised and the Authorized Versions, I would say that no Baptist should ever fear any honest attempt to produce the correct text and an accurate interpretation of the Old and New Testaments. For many years Baptists have insisted upon it that we ought to have the Word of God translated in the best possible manner, whether it would confirm certain religious opinions and practices, or work against them. All we want is the exact mind of the Spirit as far as we can get it. Beyond all other Christians we are concerned in this, seeing we have no other sacred Book. We have no Prayer Book or binding creed, or authoritative minutes of conferences. We have nothing but the Bible and we would have that as pure as ever we can get it. By the best and most honest scholarship that can be found, we desire that the common version may be purged of every blunder of transcribers, addition of human ignorance or human knowledge so that the Word of God may come to us as it came from His own hand. I confess that it looks a grievous thing to part with words which we thought were part and parcel of Luke, but as they are not in the oldest copies and must be given up, we will make capital out of their omission by seeing in that fact the wisdom of the great Preacher who did not speak upon cheering Truths of God when they were not needed and might have overlaid His seasonable rebuke. Although we have not the sentence in Luke, we do have it in Isaiah, and that is quite enough for me.

The whole article by Hixson is fascinating, and I commend it to anyone interested in textual criticism or Charles Spurgeon.

Review: Beside Still Waters

Beside Still Waters: Words Of Comfort For The Soul by Charles Spurgeon (ed. Roy Clarke)

Comfort for my soul

I got this book from my wife’s grandfather, and I judged it by its cover. “Timeless Wisdom, Updated in Today’s Language,” edited, with an impressionistic watercolor design. Looked shallow and lite. “But,” I thought, “it is Spurgeon,” and I wanted something not quite as thick as Hawker’s The Poor Man’s Morning and Evening Portions. This book was so much better than I expected.

There are 367 single page selections, so it functions as a once-a-day devotional, and that’s how I read it. The emphasis is on “comfort for the soul” and Spurgeon is the perfect man for that. He experienced so much suffering in his life (see Spurgeon: A New Biography), both physically, mentally, and spiritually. The grace that God gave him to get through his trials makes him a perfect source of comfort for others. “God, Who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” (2 Cor. 1:4)

This last year was the most difficult year of my life, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Time after time I would read my page of Spurgeon, and he was exactly what my soul needed. Spurgeon has a rare “relatability” that I haven’t found in anyone else. He has experienced deep things in his soul, and he knows how to relate it to the common man (as well as the uncommon). (see The Complete John Ploughman.) Oftimes we just want to know that someone understands what we’re going through – not advice, not a lecture, just true sympathy – “feeling with” – and Spurgeon does this so effectively. Several times he speaks directly to the working man and the particular struggles that he faces, and this came when I was facing those particular struggles and uncertainties. Other times, he does exhort and lecture, and displays God as tried and true, and worthy of all our trust. It means so much, coming from a man who knows for himself.

I came through this last year, not unscathed, but not defeated, and the Lord used this small, unpromising-looking, pastel-covered devotional by Spurgeon to help me.

I recommend it highly.

Review: The Indwelling and Outflowing of the Holy Spirit

The Indwelling and Outflowing of the Holy Spirit by Charles Haddon Spurgeon

“May you get your share of the streams!”

I haven’t listened to this audio cd, so I can’t comment on the audio quality, whoever it was that read the sermon, or anything like that.

My review is of the sermon itself, which can be found in 12 Sermons on the Holy Spirit. All 12 sermons are excellent, but this particular sermon is the cream of that choice crop.  It can also be found as an individual booklet from Chapel Library.

Spurgeon’s goal in this sermon is to show us the vital necessity of being filled with the Holy Spirit. You can be saved – have had a drink – without being filled with rivers of living waters flowing out from your life. He shows us the excellency of the gift of the Spirit, and then lays out how to seek more of the Spirit in our lives and our churches.

“Instead of worshipping more than God, I fear we worship less than God. This appears when we forget to pay due adoration to the Holy Spirit of God.”

“The operations of the Holy Spirit are of incomparable value. They are of such incomparable value that the very best thing we can think of was not thought to be so precious as these are.”

So may it be! So may it be! May springs begin to flow in all our churches, and may all of you who hear me this day get your share of the streams.”

I liked this so much, I ordered 30 copies of it in booklet form from Chapel Library to give to those in my church. I highly recommend this sermon, in any form you can find it.

Review: 12 Sermons on the Holy Spirit

12 Sermons on the Holy Spirit by Charles H. Spurgeon

“God send us a season of glorious disorder.”

I love Charles Spurgeon. Possibly more than any other man, he has shaped my thinking and preaching and understanding of the Bible and the God who wrote it. He was called “The Prince of Preachers” and the title is apt. His sermons bring Bible truth home to the heart, and enlarge for the mind the glories of God. He relates to the inner experience of the soul in its many varieties and subtleties. How often have I discovered some shining nugget of truth from a text, only to read Spurgeon and see that he has already found that nugget and put it on full display. His sermons are a delight to read, and I try to read him as much as I can,  whatever subject is on my mind. The “12 sermons on…” series is a good topical collection of his sermons, and this particular collection on the Holy Spirit is no exception.

Spurgeon believed that the Holy Spirit was absolutely crucial to the life of the believer. His sermon “The Indwelling and Outflowing of the Holy Spirit” expresses this most forcefully and masterfully.

The Spirit is the Comforter – “Think not, O poor downcast child of God, because the scars of thine old sins have marred thy beauty, that He loves thee less because of that blemish. Oh, no! He loved thee when He foreknew thy sin; He loved thee with the knowledge of what the aggregate of thy wickedness would be; and He does not love thee less now.” (p. 11, from “The Comforter”)

He speaks to the ups and downs of a believer’s life as it ebbs and flows in our direct experience of the Spirit of God. You read him, and you sigh as you realize, “He knows what it’s like!” He is surprisingly relatable, especially when you think that he preached 150 years ago.

He provokes us to seek the Spirit without reserve – “We have grown to be so frozenly proper that we never interrupt a service in any way, because, to tell the truth, we are not so particularly glad, we are not so specially full of praise that we want to do anything of the sort. Alas, we have lost very much of the Spirit of God, and much of the joy and gladness which attend His presence, and so we have settled into a decorous apathy! God send us a season of glorious disorder.” (102, from “The Pentecostal Wind and Fire”).

He exhorts us to be led by the Spirit: “I wish Christian people oftener inquired of the Holy Ghost as to guidance in their daily life. Know ye not that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? You need not always be running to this friend and to that to get direction: wait upon the Lord in silence, sit still in quiet before the oracle of God. Use the judgment God has given you; but when that suffices not, resort to Him whom Mr. Bunyan calls ‘the Lord High Secretary,’ who lives within, who is infinitely wise, and who can guide you by making you to ‘ hear a voice behind you saying, This is the way, walk ye in it.'” (140, from “The Covenant Promise of the Sprit”).

A few months ago I was preparing to preach, and had a particularly clever turn of phrase in mind. Then I read this: “May we never have this thought, – ‘I will put that bit in; it will tell well. The friends will feel that oratory is not quite extinct, that Demosthenes lives again in this village.’ No, no. I should say, brother, though it is a very delightful piece, strike that out ruthlessly; because if you have had a thought of that kind about it, you had better not put yourself in the way of temptation by using it… It may be very admirable, and further, it may be a very right thing, to give them that precious piece; but if you have that thought about it, strike it out. Strike it out ruthlessly. Say, ‘No, no, no! If it is not distinctly my aim to glorify Christ, I am not in accord with the aim of the Holy Ghost, and I cannot expect His help. We shall not be pulling the same way, and therefore I will have nothing of which I cannot say that I am saying it simply, sincerely, and only that I may glorify Christ.” (150, from “Honey in the Mouth”).

I cannot recommend Spurgeon in general, and these sermons in particular, highly enough. They will thrill your soul with the truth regarding the Spirit of God.

Some of these sermons have been published individually in booklet form by Chapel Library, for easier distribution, though I recommend this book as well.