by Mark Minnick
Will anyone ever know how many biographies of Charles Haddon Spurgeon have been issued? Lewis Drummond, who authored the massive Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers, lists nearly 40 in his bibliography, including the autobiography that Spurgeon himself started and his wife and secretary, Joseph Harrald, completed.
As I write this, the four large (9 x 13 inches) quarto volumes of that autobiography sit before me. First editions issued successively from 1897–1900, their 1500 gilt-edged pages bound in cardinal red cloth with goldleaf Victorian decoration, hold pride of place among my preacher biographies. The nearly 300 illustrations and photographs are alone worth the price of one of these rare sets.
For over half a century, most preachers were denied these volumes by the reticence of publishers to risk a work of such bulk and expense. But in 1962 Banner of Truth Trust issued a superb revised two-volume edition. It includes almost all of the material that was actually biographical (omitting, for the most part, only some of the additional work of the editors). The second volume actually incorporates additional details gleaned from Spurgeon’s magazine, The Sword and Trowel, and several other sources. And nearly 75 of those rare photographs and illustrations are included.
One of my favorite chapters is “The Pastor’s Fellow- Workers.” Never one to seek honor for himself, Spurgeon relates delightful anecdotes about various elders, deacons, and other church members that endear them to us over a century later. One or two of his elders, he says, “made it their special work to ‘watch for souls’ in our great congregation, and to bring to immediate decision those who appeared to be impressed under the preaching of the Word. One brother has earned for himself the title of my hunting dog, for he is always ready to pick up the wounded birds.”
A deacon receives touching tribute for loving ministry to his pastor during a time of special crisis. While ill, Spurgeon became very anxious about money matters. The deacon attempted to comfort his pastor with the assurance that he would do something, and true to his word, returned a short time later with all the stocks, shares, deeds, and available funds that he possessed. Putting them on the bed he said, “There, my dear Pastor, I owe everything I have in the world to you, and you are quite welcome to all I possess. Take whatever you need, and do not have another moment’s anxiety.” Spurgeon, of course, did not take so much as a penny of what was so graciously offered, but he never forgot the great kindness. Another favorite chapter is the one describing the tireless pastor’s labors—“A Typical Week’s Work.” Spurgeon once said, “The man who finds the ministry an easy life will also find that it will bring a hard death.” Spurgeon’s was a hard life, and if the converse of his dictum is also true, then he must have enjoyed an easy conscience at death; his typical work week almost baffles belief. I have sometimes read this chapter’s description of the fearful demands upon this poor man’s time and almost wept with vexation over what was heaped upon him. It does me good, though, to read and be shamed at how easily I’m bowed down with not a tithe of what Spurgeon shouldered.
One other delightful chapter that I must mention is “In the Study at Westwood.” It describes Spurgeon’s library (over 12,000 volumes) and his lifelong love affair with books. When he first moved into the Westwood home there were many empty shelves, in spite of the immense size of his library. So Spurgeon had dummy volumes made by his bookseller to fill the spaces and amused himself by creating fictitious titles and authors for them. One he titled Wretched Scandals by the Talkers’ Sisters. Another he called Mischief by Boys, another Windows Ventilated by Stone, another Hints on Honey Pots by A. B., and still another he entitled Sticking up for One’s Self by Pole. Was this man a wit, or what?
Spurgeon’s one hobby was his books. He invested all that he could spare in them, especially the old leatherclad works of the Puritans. These he lovingly arranged in a little room off his study that he affectionately called “the den.” The biography includes a picture of a corner of it where the shelving comes together to form a little nook where he placed a leather armchair to which to retreat among his beloved authors. Happy were the precious moments he was able to redeem to spend in quiet there.
Spurgeon once told the legend of an earthquake that swallowed up a village, along with its church, and buried them beneath the ground. But at Christmas, so the story went, the old church bells could still be heard pealing from deep down under the earth by anyone who put his ear to the ground. So, Spurgeon said, “those preachers whose voices were clear and mighty for truth during life, continue to preach in their graves!”
I, for one, am grateful to be able to pick up these two volumes of autobiography and put my “ear to the ground” for a trace of this great and godly man.
This article first appeared in FrontLine • May/June 2000. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.
Mark Minnick is pastor of Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina.