I have been following The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon since the release of Volume I in early 2017. The ambitious project promised 12 volumes based on handwritten notes Spurgeon produced in his first few years of ministry. The first few volumes contained full-color scans of each notebook, a fully-formatted transcription, and copious footnotes regarding everything from stains and misspellings to excerpts from Spurgeon’s sources, explanations of historical or cultural references, quotes from Spurgeon’s later writings, and definitions of unfamiliar words.
Around the time Volume III appeared, the series got off track when the scholar who was producing all of this material was forced to resign from his position at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary “due to a personal moral failing.” The project was put on hold while I assume contractual issues between the scholar, the school (which owns the notebooks), and the publisher were worked out, a new editor and research team was set up, and the plan for the rest of the series was revised.
Almost two-and-a-half years after going on hiatus, Volume IV was finally published. Gone were the extensive footnotes regarding ink blots and page folds in the manuscript. (I didn’t mind that loss.) The planned 12 volumes was reduced to 9 as notebooks 10-12 did not contain sermon material. In December 2021, when Volume VI came out, the front matter still outlined the planned 9 volumes for the series. However, that was not to be.
I can only guess at what changed between December 2021 and the fall of 2022, but when when Volume VII released, it was marketed as the biggest and final volume in the series. Presumably it had to do with time and money. The original editor almost surely had to be bought out of his contract, and the series was probably not bringing in enough revenue to justify the hours the research team was putting into the project. When you consider that all seven volumes are included in the Baptist Silver tier of Logos 10, it seems like the publisher is trying to cut its losses and salvage what it can from the series. Cramming the last three notebooks into one massive, final volume allowed them to end the project and move on to other things. I can’t blame Midwestern or the publisher for bum-rushing the last volume, but it’s still a disappointing end.
There was no way to put three notebooks’ worth of material into Volume VII (even if it is massive) without a major departure from the format of the first six volumes. Notebook 6 was 128 pages and became Volume VI. Notebooks 7-9, which make up Volume VII, contain 467 handwritten pages. Even with the formatting changes to reduce the size, the volume feels cramped. A couple of the changes make for a better reading experience, but overall, the work is less than its predecessors and suffers for it.
The best change is the addition of a 1-page introduction to each sermon. This is where Spurgeon’s sources are identified and comparisons are made to his later body of work. Historical context, if discernible and applicable, appears here too. It is more reader-friendly to provide this information in an introduction than in notes that appear after each sermon transcript as in Volumes I through VI. However, the gain of an introduction brings the loss of all footnotes. There are far fewer quotations from his later sermons. Other useful information that would have appeared in the footnotes is absent altogether. Sometimes Spurgeon makes a passing reference to ancient myths, persons from English history, and contemporary issues, but if the editors don’t make a note of it in the introduction (and they normally don’t), the reader is on his own. For example, in one sermon, Spurgeon has “56 Hymn. Il Book. Watts.” The editors provide no further information. Had this appeared in an earlier volume, there would have been a comment about Spurgeon’s hymnody and a verse or two from the hymn.
The page scans from the notebooks no longer appear opposite their transcription. Instead, they are printed two-to-a-page on their side and appear after the the last transcribed page of each notebook. As a result, they lose whatever value they had in the first six volumes because any meaningful comparison between page scan and transcription requires flipping pages and turning the book 90 degrees. It would have been better to exclude the scans entirely, but they probably considered that too great a departure from what came before.
As with each previous edition in the series, I read Volume VII from cover to cover. Despite the trouble with the publishing process behind the scenes, the book is worth reading because Spurgeon is worth reading. Even at only 19 or 20 years old, his preaching had developed to the point that his messages were on par with his later material that appears in his New Park Street Pulpit and Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit series. Although I think Spurgeon deserved better, I still recommend the series, and I’m glad to complete my collection.
Regarding the presentation of the material, the book is available in standard and collector’s editions. I requested and received a review copy of the collector’s edition of Volume VII from the publisher.
The standard edition has cloth-over-board covers; sewn binding; thick, glossy pages; and full-color facsimiles (two-to-a-page) of notebooks 7-9. Besides having a better cover, the collector’s edition also contains photographs of Spurgeon, volumes from his library, and other pictures not included in the previous volumes. The collector’s edition also has gilded pages and a box cover. Although both are beautiful, I prefer the collector’s edition and have purchased it for previous volumes in the series.
For an excerpt, including the front matter and the first sermon in this volume, click here. If you’re interested in snagging a copy for yourself, you can find The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon, Volume VII online at LifeWay.com and other retail stores. Lifeway also has a complete set of all seven volumes in the standard and collector’s editions as well (65% off at the time of this writing).
A few select quotes from Volume VII:
Death… Like some cliff worn at the base by a foaming torrent, we wonder that it has not fallen, yet wonder when it does. (p. 133)
How infinitely is man inferior to his Maker. (p. 153)
Lord, I thank thee for necessary ignorance, though I repent of that which is unnecessary. (p. 155)
God is not obliged to reveal himself, nor will he to gratify vain man’s idle curiosity. (p. 159)
The Minister who hopes to go through the world without trial will be mistaken. (p. 315)
True religion is more than a smile at a bold assertion or triumphant proof. (p. 392)
Fear not to die, but fear to doubt, for he who doubts dies a hundred deaths in fearing one. (p. 519)
Is a man to be a Christian sage in an instant, or a theologian in an hour? No, we begin with a slight tinge of light, and by degrees the sun arises. (p. 528)
He who knows his heart will humble his heart. (p. 542)
Oh those words on the cross, “Father forgive them.” There is more real melody there than in the finest compositions of Handel. (p. 596)
Our doctrines never were nor ever can be pleasing to ungodly men. (p. 628)