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The lost sermons of CH Spurgeon 


Few preachers are as frequently cited, quoted or tweeted as Charles Haddon Spurgeon. The 'Prince of Preachers' left a formidable body of writing which continues to be mined the world over. Now a brand new multi-volume, remarkable in both its scope and back story, is set to add to his legacy

 
CH Spurgeon

In 1857, Spurgeon—just 23 but already the most popular preacher in the Victorian world—promised his readers that he would publish his earliest sermons. Due to difficult life circumstances this promise would be unfulfilled.
 
Until now. In 2010 Spurgeon’s College in London, whose library housed the notebooks containing those earliest sermons and outlines, contracted with US-based Spurgeon scholar Dr Christian George with a view to bringing the notebooks to life.
 
Seven years, much intensive work and one life threatening illness later, the fruit of that initial collaboration is beginning to be seen, with the recent publication of Volume 1 of The Lost Sermons of CH Spurgeon.
 
It features 78 sermons Spurgeon preached itinerantly and as pastor of Waterbeach Chapel in Cambridge. It’s the first of 12 volumes in all, which taken together will add approximately 10 percent more material to Spurgeon’s total body of literature. Volume 1, which extends to more than 500 pages, also contains an introduction to the series, and an overview of Spurgeon’s life and times.
 
It is both extensive and illuminating, says Christian, who admits in the book’s introduction that he ‘could not have envisaged the scope of the project’. The sermons cover the three year period prior to Spurgeon moving to London. Full-color facsimiles of Spurgeon’s original handwriting are presented, alongside transcriptions and editorial commentary to highlight their context.

Spurgeon Lost Sermons book
 
As such, they help us see ‘Spurgeon becoming Spurgeon.’
 
‘The seeds of everything he did in later life can be found in those first three years,’ explains Christian, assistant professor of historical theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, and curator of the Spurgeon Library. ‘Those early sermons are among the best he has preached.’
 
WaterbeachWaterbeach was a country chapel whose congregants were farmers and labourers. When Spurgeon began his ministry there, numbers hovered around the 30 mark. By 1853 they had jumped to 450, a ‘staggering’ rise, not least because the building was essentially just a thatched cottage.
 
Spurgeon’s sermons were full of ‘earthy idioms and illustrations’ as he sought to make his message accessible, something he retained when moving to London. It was an ‘uncanny gift for rendering complex ideas in the working class vernacular’, says Christian, which distinguished him from many of his contemporaries, and ‘gave him instant audiences.’  
 
Spurgeon was driven by a burning love for Jesus Christ, Christian adds. Because God loved him he could love other people. Again, this is evident in these early messages, and would feature throughout his life. ‘His greatest concern was, as his famous title hinted, becoming a Soul Winner.’
 
There are also glimpses of his concern for social justice and the marginalised (his notes highlight instances of him giving away what little money he had), precursors of the ministries that continue to operate in his name today, as well as previously unknown details, such as his first convert and his early mistakes.   
 
‘It’s so fascinating to see where it all began,’ Christian says.

Spurgeon notebooks
 
Other remarkable details have emerged as the project gained momentum. Christian discovered that Americans in the South ‘hated’ Spurgeon, because he was an abolitionist. Christian’s preface details some of the reaction. ‘In Florida, Spurgeon was a “beef-eating, puffed-up, vain, over-righteous pharisaical, English blab-mouth.” In Virginia, he was a “fat over-grown boy”, in Louisiana a “hell-deserving Englishman.”
 
‘They burned his books. If he had come to the US as he wanted to in 1861 he would have been assassinated. And Southern Baptists ranked among Spurgeon’s chief antagonists.’
 
This contemporary opposition makes it all the more ‘poetic’ that Spurgeon’s lost sermons have finally seen the light of day thanks to the ancestors of those initially opposed to him.
 
‘How symmetrical that Spurgeon’s early sermons would be published not by Passmore and 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 their bespeckled beginnings,’ Christian writes. 
 
And this is no rekindling of words preached more than 150 years ago for straightforward academic purposes: the words have power and application for today. Christian (pictured below) notes that during the project he became seriously ill… and that Spurgeon’s words kept him going.
 
‘At the height of my illness in 2013, Spurgeon’s earliest sermons had a profound effect on me. During a series of surgeries, my eyes chanced upon a phrase in Notebook 1: “Think much on grace, Christian.” Over the 12 months of my recovery, these words brought such encouragement that I doubt they shall ever be forgotten.  
 
Christian George

So while it’s been an academic project, The Lost Sermons are aimed at a general readership – as much an aid to modern academics and pastors as to those who they are preaching to.
 
‘We’ve tried to make it as accessible as possible. We want to reach both audiences – academics and beyond – and we feel we have created a new genre,’ says Christian.
 
He adds, ‘The publication of these sermons will reach full potential when they guide readers not just to Spurgeon, but through Spurgeon to Jesus Christ.’
 
‘For when you look at Spurgeon, you see Jesus Christ.’



Volume1- StandardEditioncoverPublisher B&H Academic is producing each of the 12 volumes in two editions: a standard edition and also a collector's edition (the collector's edition includes a hand-marbled cover, genuine leather, and additional photographs). Both editions are full colour throughout.

Volume 2 of The Lost Sermons came out on 2 October.

Visit www.spurgeon.org for the largest collection of Spurgeon resources on the internet. The website is an initiative of the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where Dr Christian George teaches.

Christian was a speaker at a Charles Haddon Spurgeon conference on 1 August. He is a speaker at a Parliamentary Reception on 10 October to mark the 150th anniversary of Spurgeon's Children's Charity.


 
Baptist Times, 05/10/2017
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