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)

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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

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The Edwardseans and Immediatism

From Michael J. McClymond and Gerald R. McDermott, The Theology of Jonathan Edwards (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 622:

“New England Congregationalism showed a moral intensity that could be traced back to Edwardseanism. ‘It is only when we have in hand the puzzle piece of the ethics of disinterested benevolence,’ write Sweeney and Guelzo, that we can grasp ‘the fiery urgency of William Lloyd Garrison and John Brown. Indeed, it was on the topic of slavery that the Edwardseans became known for their radicalism. By 1771, [Samuel] Hopkins was preaching against the slave trade. By 1773, he was attacking slavery itself. Hopkins’s moral radicalism and theological intransigence prepared him to be the preacher of abolition in Newport, Rhode Island—the epicenter of the American slave trade. He won a following in among African Americans in Newport, as well as enduring hostility from slave ship owners. For Hopkins, slavery was a flagrant offense against benevolence and the result of a ‘most criminal, contracted selfishness.’ The only remedy was immediate emancipation, as Hopkins argued in A Dialogue Concerning the Slavery of the Africans (1776). Similarly, Jonathan Edwards Jr. wrote in The Injustice and Impolity of the Slave Trade and of Slavery (1791) that ‘I conceive it [the slave trade] to be unjust in itself’ and ‘contrary to every principle of justice and humanity.’ Nathanael Emmons also denounced slavery from the pulpit. ‘Immediatism’—the demand for immediate, unconditional emancipation of all slaves, rather than gradual or partial solutions—was the socio-political correlate of Hopkins’s view of conversion and his call for ‘immediate repentance.’”

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Review: The Minister and His Greek New Testament

The Minister and His Greek New Testament: by A.T. Robertson

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“There is no theologian who is not first a grammarian.”

This book is a collection of twelve essays about the subject of New Testament Greek. There is a wide variety in these essays. The most famous essay forms title of the collection. It is both an admonishment and an encouragement for ministers to dig into the original language of the New Testament.

The preacher cannot excuse himself for his neglect of Greek with the plea that the English is plain enough to teach one the way of life… We shall have many more [English translations]. They will all have special merit, and they will all fail to bring out all that is in the Greek. One needs to read these translations, the more the better. Each will supplement the others. But, when he has read them all, there will remain a large and rich untranslatable element that the preacher ought to know. (p. 18-19)

He is no theologian who is not first a grammarian. (22)

If the blind guide leads the blind, they will both fall in to the ditch. One simply has to know his parts of speech if he is to keep out of the ditch, and avoid dragging his followers after him. Schisms have arisen around misinterpretations of single words. Grammar is a means of grace. (21)

“Grammar and Preaching” is also in a similar vein.

Several other essays deal with very specific textual issues: “Notes on a Specimen Papyrus of the First Century A.D.,” “The Use of ‘huper’ in Business Documents in the Papyri,” “The Greek Article and the Deity of Christ,” “The New Testament Use of ‘me’ With Hesitent Questions in the Indicative Mode,” and “The Grammar of the Apocalypse of John.” These were interesting, but of limited application.

He gives a survey of of what you’ll find as you dig deeper in “Pictures in Prepositions,” and “Sermons in Greek Tenses,” in which every preposition and every verb tense is illustrated, and you get a taste for the rich meaning found in these specific bits of grammar.

Finally, three essays are more biographical in nature. John Brown of Haddington is famous for having taught himself Greek out on the mountains watching sheep. Robertson concludes:

It is a romantic story that puts to rout all the flimsy excuses of preachers to-day who excuse themselves for ignorance of the Greek New Testament or for indifference and neglect after learning how to read it… The example of John Brown of Haddington ought to bring the blush of shame to every minister who lets his Greek New Testament lie unopened on his desk or who is too careless to consult the lexicon and the grammar that he may enrich his mind and refresh his soul with the rich stores in the Greek that no translation can open to him. Difficulties reveal heroes and cowards. Every war does precisely that. The Greek New Testament is a standing challenge to every preacher in the world. (108)

Erasmus gets a couple of pages, and then the collection concludes with “Broadus as Scholar and Preacher.” This was a very enjoyable short biography of Broadus, who was Robertson’s own teacher. Robertson compares him with others:

Broadus was more like Spurgeon and Maclaren than any of the others. He lacked Spurgeon’s intensity of experience in a continued pastorate, but he surpassed Spurgeon in Biblical learning and general culture. Broadus had the homely wit of Spurgeon and the scholarship of [Alexander] Maclaren with all of Maclaren’s charm. (139)

One is reminded of more recent Pastor/Scholars, and his example is very inspiring. Robertson also edited The Life and letters of John Broadus. It is always a delight to read a student’s admiring recollection of his teacher, especially a student such as Robertson!

In all, I recommend this collection of essays. As others have said, it is a great inspiration to dig into the original language of the New Testament, both by direct argument, and by biographical example. Every preacher or teacher should read this through.