Where do you start when reviewing C. H. Spurgeon? And is it permissible to rate the ‘Prince of Preachers’ at anything but five stars?
Perhaps the key factor in assessing this collection is to decide on the intended readership. Everything Spurgeon-related has a ready market, but this volume is not a typical compilation of extracts from the long-running Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit. The introduction states, ‘The purpose of this volume is to reintroduce some of the forgotten early articles and a number of his public lectures, the latter of which have long been out of print and known only by their titles’ (p.5).
The mix includes some very early articles from 1853 to 1855, and a wide variety of public lectures from throughout Spurgeon’s long ministry. The value is not so much in the material itself, but in the light it sheds upon Spurgeon the man and the preacher. The style of the earliest articles is instantly recognisable, and it is difficult to believe Spurgeon was still in his teens when he wrote them.
The genius of the man is seen in the scope of his knowledge and interests at a time when he was engaged in a high profile, highly pressured public ministry. He lectures on George Fox (commending him warmly) before an audience of Quakers. He argues the case for the gospel temperance movement. He speaks on gorillas, bellringing and lord mayors of London.
There is a noteworthy defence of the practice of giving midweek lectures on secular subjects within a place of worship and providing a wholesome form of entertainment. Spurgeon rejects the position whereby ‘we first of all debar a man from any amusements which he might like to have, and tell him that they are wrong, and then we do not give him any better ones in the place thereof’ (p.168). A favourite of mine was a lecture on George Whitefield, one gospel hero reviewing the life of another.
The material here is full of wit, curious anecdote and ready gospel application, and so is rarely less than compelling. But at £25 this is not a cheap volume. Readers looking for work of enduring value from Spurgeon’s pen could better start elsewhere. I would conclude that this collection is best suited for the diehard fan or for the historian of Spurgeon’s career.