Chapter 15: Book Talk
THE TITLE OF THIS CHAPTER has been chosen so that we can wander among books and browse where we will.
The largest book that Spurgeon produced was The Interpreter. It consists of selected Scriptures for each morning and evening in the year, with a homily and hymns. But as the author did not approve of printing prayers, it lacks the very thing which would commend it to many families. It is as big as a family Bible, and in past years was often found in Christian households.
The smallest book he wrote was The Clue of the Maze, one of those waistcoat-pocket volumes which at one time were so popular. It was written during a holiday at Mentone, and is designed to lead doubters back to faith.
The greatest of Mr. Spurgeon’s works is undoubtedly The Treasury of David. It is a monumental work, containing not only comments on all the Psalms by Mr. Spurgeon but extracts from authors of all ages and conditions. There is nothing like it in literature. Years ago, when crossing the Rocky Mountains, and lost in wonder as I gazed, a friend came to my side, and said, “There is only one word for it.” I waited breathlessly to have my own feelings interpreted. “It is immense,” he whispered. Well, the research evidenced in this work is just that. Dr. Jowett says about it: “I have for many years sought and found nutriment for my own pulpit in this marvellous exposition. He is not eclipsed even when set in the radiant succession of Calvin and Luther and Paul.”
The first volume was issued in 1869, the last in 1885, so that about twenty years were spent in its production. The author tells us that only those who have meditated profoundly on the Psalms can have any adequate conception of the wealth they contain, that sometimes as he pondered over them holy fear fell upon him, and he shrank from the attempt to explain themes so sublime. The work seems to have grown more difficult as he advanced, the material available on the later Psalms being much more meagre than that available on the early ones. Psalm 104 demanded forty pages; Psalm 109 was interpreted with the news of the Bulgarian atrocities then ringing throughout the world; Psalm 119 almost occupies a whole volume, having nearly four hundred pages given to it, and Mr. Spurgeon’s own comments on it were afterwards published separately under the title, The Golden Alphabet of the Praises of Holy Scripture. At the end of all, the author speaks of his joy in the whole work: “Happier hours than those which have been spent on these meditations on the Songs of Zion he never expects to see in this world.”
The Gospel of the Kingdom, a Commentary on the Gospel according to Matthew, one of the last of Mr. Spurgeon’s works, is issued in similar style to The Treasury of David.
He wrote three volumes of daily readings: Morning by Morning; Evening by Evening; and The Chequebook of the Bank of Faith, the latter written during the troubles of the Down-Grade Controversy, greatly sustaining the author as he wrote them. These have permanent value.
In addition to the sixty-three volumes of the regular issue of the Sermons, there are three volumes of “The Pulpit Library,” now almost unobtainable, and five other volumes selected at different times: Types and Emblems, Trumpet Calls to Christian Energy, The Present Truth, Storm Signals, and Farm Sermons, containing about twenty sermons each. Messages for the Multitudes, and Sermons: a Selection, have been issued by separate publishers. Another volume, Till He Come, contains some communion addresses, while Facsimile Pulpit Notes gives views of the tabernacle, as well as the sermons preached from the notes, and there are seven volumes of reprints on various topics—for instance, The Song of Solomon, the Parables, the Miracles, the Messiah. In addition to these, over thirty different selections have been issued in the “Twelve Sermon Series.” The Saint and the Saviour and Grace Triumphant, published by other firms, also contain original material, so that there are at least seventy-five distinct sermon volumes.
There is a collection of proverbs in two volumes, entitled The Salt Cellars. About these a friendly reviewer said: “We are more interested in Mr. Spurgeon’s applications than in many of the proverbs. The reader asks himself as he lights on some familiar or unfamiliar proverb, ‘Come, now, I wonder what Mr. Spurgeon will make of that.’ For one never knows what he will make of it. The old-fashioned application of Aesop’s Fables every child could anticipate, but there is no such commonplace and prosaic certainty about Mr. Spurgeon’s applications, and therefore they have to be read.” And in response to another criticism he wrote to George Augustus Sala: “I like the parts in which you pitch into me quite as well as those in which you praise.” These volumes contain many of the proverbs published year by year in John Ploughman’s Almanack, with shrewd comments thereon.
That brings us to John Ploughman’s Talk, and its scarcely less successful second, John Ploughman’s Pictures. Dr. Stalker thinks that the first “is certain of immortality among the popular classics of England.” It has had a great vogue; and is just packed with wit and wisdom. The famous lecture, Sermons in Candles, is issued in the same style, and since Mr. Spurgeon’s death Mr. J. L. Keys, his amanuensis, has issued, through another publisher, another of Mr. Spurgeon’s lectures, What the Stones Say, an illustrated volume.
Of illustrations and extracts there are ten volumes, including one from Thomas Brooks, to which reference has been made in an earlier chapter, and another from Thomas Manton, described as Flowers from a Puritan’s Garden, Distilled and Dispensed. There is also the Spurgeon Birthday Book. Nine popular volumes were addressed to various classes, and a series of seven little books formed the shilling series, The Bible and the Newspaper leading the way.
Two of the most valuable books to put into the hands of those who are seeking Christ are All of Grace, which is crystal-clear, and has been the means of leading scores of persons to the Saviour, and According to Promise, which seeks to persuade people to come to Christ. Spurgeon used often to say that the best way to get a hungry man to eat a dinner is to put a dinner on the table before him. Around the Wicket Gate is another volume with the same intent.
Already in the chapter about the college, the nine volumes for students have been mentioned, and another, issued against Mr. Spurgeon’s will by another house, entitled The Pastor in Prayer, is very choice. Mr. Spurgeon’s prayers were in later years always reported for his own use, but he steadfastly refused to publish them. Here are twenty-six that have escaped from their prison.
Prayers suggest hymns. Dr. Theodore Cuyler mentioned among his virtues this—that he had never compiled a hymnbook. But the compilation of Our Own Hymn-Book is to Mr. Spurgeon’s credit, and the section of it entitled “The Golden Book of Communion with Jesus” is not to be equalled in any other collection of hymns of similar character. He himself has written some hymns that have already an assured place; among them, “Sweetly the Holy Hymn,” “Amidst Us Our Beloved Stands,” “The Holy Ghost Is Here.” There are others, less well known, that yet attain a high standard of excellence. Take for instance, his version of Psalm 15:
Lord, I would dwell with Thee
On Thy most holy hill;
Oh, shed Thy grace abroad in me,
To mould me to Thy will.
Thy gate of pearl stands wide
For those who walk upright;
But those who basely turn aside
Thou chasest from Thy sight.
Faithful, but meekly kind,
Gentle, yet boldly true,
I would possess the perfect mind
Which in my Lord I view.
But, Lord, these graces all
Thy Spirit’s work must be;
To Thee, through Jesus blood I call—
Create them all in me.
A number of booklets by Spurgeon have also been issued. Perhaps The Greatest Fight in the World, his last conference address, published in the form made familiar to us by Henry Drummond, has had the largest circulation. Spurgeon’s Almanack was also published year by year.
At intervals pictorial albums have been issued describing the tabernacle, the orphanage, and Mr. Spurgeon’s home, and the last work that engaged him was a memorial of his early days, Memories of Stambourne.
The annual volumes of The Sword and the Trowel began in 1865 and were continued until the end—twenty-eight years. Buried in these volumes is some of the best work the editor ever did.
The whole Spurgeon Library, therefore, taking no count of tractates, consists of no less than 135 volumes of which he was the author and twenty-eight which he edited—163 volumes in all, or, including the reprints, 176! If we add the albums and the pamphlets, we arrive at a total of 200 books!
At the time of his death there were 12,000 volumes in Mr. Spurgeon’s library, in addition to those that he had sent to furnish the well-filled shelves of the library in the college. The Westwood collection was scattered, some souvenir volumes going to friends in Britain, and the remainder to America.
The story is interesting. When the Baptist World Congress was being held in London in 1905, a friend of the William Jewell College in Missouri viewed the collection, and after he returned home, the trustees of the college, whom he had interested, determined to purchase the collection, and cabled over an offer of £500, asking Dr. Thirtle to carry through the negotiations. Two days later the evening papers of St. Louis announced that the William Jewell College had become possessors of Spurgeon’s library. The books, varying in size from folios to duodecimos, and numbering some 7000, many of them rare volumes, were on their arrival welcomed as the sign of a new era in the college life. It was argued that the college must have a new library building to hold them, and that expansion must proceed everywhere else in the institution. The appeal for enlargement was made, and the “Spurgeon Library” was the chief factor in bringing a response of a million dollars for the college treasury. Americans are disposed to boast that the most eloquent memorial of the great preacher is with them rather than with his British kinsfolk and friends.
If it is asked what Mr. Spurgeon himself read, the answer is that he read everything. His daily newspaper was The Times. The Bible was his constant study, perhaps next came John Bunyan. “Prick him anywhere,” he says, “and you will find that his blood is Bibline.” Carlyle’s French Revolution was read again and again. Boswell’s Johnson, Lockhart’s Life of Scott, and Mrs. Oliphant’s Life of Irving were favourites. Scott and Dickens had their turn, and of course the Puritans. Then he read the books he reviewed in his magazine, and he was always on the lookout for rare volumes that he desired, as they might be catalogued by second-hand booksellers. Dr. Maclaren once had a race with him for an old volume. Dr. Angus on another occasion was also just too late.
In many of Mr. Spurgeon’s books the autograph of the author was preserved, and Spurgeon’s own comments lent value to some of the volumes. As an example, on the flyleaf of Things New and Old, by John Spenser, MDCLVIII—
The richest book in my library,
C. H. SPURGEON.
I had an old, dilapidated copy given to me by that great offender W. L. Oliver. When he was condemned I found that it was not his book, and therefore he had no right to give it to me. I returned the copy to its rightful owner, mourning because my treasure was gone. But my generous God instantly sent me this complete copy, and the dear brother who sent it knew nothing of my thoughts and wishes. Praise be to my generous God!
He delighted in scattering books. Of Mrs. Spurgeon’s book fund we have already spoken in the “Intimate” chapter. At every conference she presented a volume to the ministers attending, and those who took special part were sure to have a book, autographed by Mr. Spurgeon, in acknowledgement.
The Metropolitan Tabernacle Colportage Association, founded in 1866, was always Mr. Spurgeon’s special care. At the close of 1891 some ninety-six colporteurs were employed, and from the beginning up to that time the total value of the sales was no less than £153,784, while nearly twelve million visits had been paid to the homes of the people. The association amalgamated with the Christian Colportage Association in 1955, and continues its good work in the villages, towns, and markets of Great Britain.
So Mr. Spurgeon, the preacher, was in a very real sense a bookman. He knew books, he wrote books, he read books, he distributed books, he reviewed books; his opinions on current literature were greatly valued, and his own books eagerly bought. By them he still speaks today to many who never heard, and never could have heard, his voice. So the seed is multiplied, some thirtyfold, some sixtyfold, some a hundredfold, and the harvest is at length gathered into the barn.
Source: Charles Haddon Spurgeon: A Biography by W.Y. Fullerton. This book was transcribed for The Spurgeon Archive by Dan Carlson. Collection administered by Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.