This sponsored post was provided by Christian George on behalf of The Lost Sermons on C.H. Spurgeon.
Before the U.S. Civil War, Southern Baptists burned Charles Spurgeon’s sermons and even threatened to murder him. In 1860, a prophecy was uttered against him in The Christian Index:
“Southern Baptists will not, hereafter, when they visit London, desire to commune with this prodigy of the nineteenth century. We venture the prophecy that his books in [the] future will not crowd the shelves of our Southern book merchants.”
In 2011, I was finishing a PhD at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and came across eleven handwritten notebooks in London. These notebooks contained four hundred of Spurgeon’s earliest sermons (1851-1854) preached as a teenager only months after his conversion.
In 1857, Spurgeon promised his readers he would publish these sermons, but because of “the pressure of his rapidly-increasing work,” as his wife said, the dream never materialized. My initial impulse was to fulfil Spurgeon’s abandoned dream, and I began preparing these sermons for publication with the prayer that God would supply a publisher.
A Difficult Path
By 2013, several academic publishers had passed on the project. Who could blame them? Six thousand pages totaling one million words is the worst thing you can include in a book proposal. The sermons also needed editing and annotating, which translates into years of work, time, resources, and sacrifice.
As I was fresh out of doctoral work, the “rapidly increasing work” of a first-year assistant professor also threatened to doldrum the dream. Then in January, I lost my health when my appendix ruptured (I found out it had ruptured about one month later). Three difficult surgeries followed. By spring, I had nearly lost hope that God had any plans for me or for this project.
At the height of my illness, my eyes chanced upon a line Spurgeon wrote in the first notebook of the Lost Sermons: “Think much on grace, Christian” (Sermon 14). God used that one, singular thought to recalibrate my heart and bring me back from the dead. As Spurgeon said, “The storm has a bit in its mouth.”
Jim Baird at B&H Academic called me only weeks after my final surgery. I don’t remember much from that conversation, only the glowing word “yes.” Dr. Jason Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, then invited me to Kansas City to teach historical theology and curate the Spurgeon Library. Without the intervention of these two men (and also the greatest wife in the world), the Lost Sermons would have remained as lost today as when Spurgeon abandoned them so many years ago.
A Thousand Gears of Grace
Since then, I have thought much on grace. In fact, a thousand gears of grace have rotated across a century and a sea to make this project possible. What an unexpected narrative of redemption that a publishing house from Nashville would complete the task Spurgeon failed to accomplish.
How ironically symmetrical that these sermons would be published not by Spurgeon’s publisher, Passmore & Alabaster in London, but by Americans. And not only Americans, but Southern Americans. And not only Southern Americans, but Southern Baptist Americans with all the baggage of our bespeckled beginnings. As one biographer has noted, “England buried Spurgeon, but America will keep him alive.”
The twelve-volume project constitutes the first critical edition of any of Spurgeon’s works and will add approximately ten percent of material to the total sum of his words. Designed for the academy and the church, his sermons come in two editions – a standard edition and a collector’s edition. Both include full-color facsimiles, transcriptions, photographs, introductions, editorial annotations, a timeline, and a brief contextual biography of Spurgeon’s life. In volume 1, Spurgeon wrote his sermons as mere outlines (or “skeletons” as he called them). But as the volumes progress, his sermons become longer until the final volume when he fully manuscripts his sixteen-page messages – the only season in his life he ever did this.
Why Spurgeon Still Matters
I’m often asked why I’ve given so much of my life to this project. Is the effort worth the expenditures? I often wake up around 2:00 a.m. to begin working on these sermons (I’m currently finishing volume 3). By 6:00 a.m., my answer to this question is always a glowing “yes.”
Engaging the mind and heart of Spurgeon rarely leaves my cheeks unsaturated with tears. Spurgeon’s early sermons – his lost sermons – are, in my opinion, his best sermons yet. In them one discovers the primary reason Spurgeon still matters: because Jesus still matters. And no preacher ushers the reader before the throne of Christ faster than does this Victorian teenager – the Prince of Preachers.
My hope is that this project will reinvigorate evangelicals as we strive for unity, mission, and Christian witness. If ever evangelicals need to come together, it’s now. Everyone claims Spurgeon, regardless of theological stripe, tribe, or camp. Few preachers are as frequently cited, memed, tweeted, and quoted or misquoted as he is.
I believe Spurgeon can be an agent of healing for those who dare to keep the main thing the main thing. And who knows? Perhaps it was for this reason that his sermons were neglected in the nineteenth century and published in the twenty-first.
A Final Word
Near the end of his life, Spurgeon uttered a prophesy of his own: “For my part, I am quite willing to be eaten by dogs for the next fifty years, but the most distant future will vindicate me.”
Spurgeon is being vindicated. His sermons do crowd the shelves of bookstores throughout the south. In Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida, his books still burn – casting light and life in this dark and dying world.
With the upcoming launch of our revamped website, spurgeon.org, the Spurgeon Library will offer all sixty-three volumes of his sermons, 150 of Spurgeon’s books, dozens of biographies, and hundreds of volumes from his personal library. Designed by the same guys who created desiringgod.com, the goal is to make Spurgeon’s life, legacy, and library visible for new generations – a resource benefitting the academy and the church.
Like Abel, who “still speaks, even though he is dead” (Hebrews 11:4), Charles Spurgeon still has something say. The Lost Sermons are not ours to own, only to transmit. We look not just to Spurgeon but through Spurgeon to Jesus Christ. We are the messengers, the donkeys upon which the gospel may ride.
And now, for the first time in 160 years, we—the misplaced audience of a longlost dream—can hear Spurgeon’s words, originally offered to his age but divinely detoured to ours:
“I shall soon issue a volume of my earliest productions, while Pastor of Waterbeach … and would now bespeak for it a favourable reception.”
– Charles Spurgeon, 1857
Volume 1 of The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon can be purchased here.
Christian T. George, PhD, serves as assistant professor of historical theology and curator of the Spurgeon Library at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri.