Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) was a cigar-smoking Baptist pastor in Victorian London whose influence, even in his own lifetime, extended far beyond the bounds of his own nation and denomination. Known as “the boy wonder of the fens” for his notable preaching in the villages of Cambridgeshire, Spurgeon took London by storm when he was only nineteen years of age.
Though derided by some as an “Essex bumpkin” for his countrified ways and lack of university training, Spurgeon’s congregation soon numbered in the thousands. In fact, each week more than six-thousand persons thronged to his famous Metropolitan Tabernacle. Spurgeon was a megachurch pastor before megachurches were cool. On occasion, Prime Minister William Gladstone came to hear him preach, as did Her Majesty herself according to some reports. By all accounts, Spurgeon was a pulpit spellbinder, “dramatic to his fingertips,” as one observer put it.
Spurgeon was also a public theologian. He spoke out on the Irish question, opposed military adventures of imperial Britain, and cared deeply about the plight of the urban poor, especially neglected and mistreated children. His “all-round ministry” included many charitable works. One of these was an orphanage he organized to care for the many Oliver Twists who roamed the streets of London.
Many thousands of people who never heard or met Spurgeon in person were influenced by his vast literary output. Some four-thousand different Spurgeon sermons were published during his life, and the sixty-three-volume Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit includes many others as well. Today, websites, research centers, and entire libraries are devoted to Spurgeon, his theology, his social impact, and his place in the history of global Christianity. One of these is the recently founded Charles H. Spurgeon Center for Biblical Preaching at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, which owns more than six-thousand books from Spurgeon’s personal library. (My son, Christian T. George, who directs this center, is currently editing a new cache of hitherto unpublished early Spurgeon sermons.) The recent documentary by Canadian filmmaker Stephen McCaskell, “Through the Eyes of Spurgeon,” explores Spurgeon’s role in nineteenth-century Victorian Britain, his evangelical Calvinism, and his continuing impact among Christians of all denominations around the world today.
Among Spurgeon’s many published works that remain in print today is the devotional classic Morning and Evening. Originally published in two volumes, Morning by Morning and Evening by Evening, Spurgeon’s daily meditations were brought together in a single volume in 1869 and has never been out of print since then. Some of Spurgeon’s exegesis will not please modern biblical scholars, for he often sounds more like Athanasius or Bernard of Clairvaux (especially on the Song of Songs) than he does Benjamin Jowett or David Friedrich Strauss. Deeply rooted in the Puritan tradition, Spurgeon read Bunyan’s famous allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress, more than one hundred times. But he does not hesitate to offer figural readings of the Bible, drawing on patristic, medieval, and Reformational patterns of interpretation.
Morning and Evening was not meant as a substitute for common prayer and public worship but rather as an aid to personal spiritual reflection. The beginning and the ending of each day are important times for such meditations. “The morning is the gate of the day and should be well-guarded with prayer,” Spurgeon wrote. “It is one end of the thread on which the days’ actions are strung and should be well-knit with devotion. If we felt the majesty of life more, we would be more careful of its mornings. He who rushes from his bed to his business and does not wait to worship is as foolish as if he had not put on his clothes or washed his face. He is as unwise as one who dashes into battle without being armed.” Likewise, at the end of each day “it is dangerous to fall asleep till the head is leaned on Jesus’ bosom. . . . He surely never prays at all who does not end the day as all men wished to end their lives—in prayer. . . . To breakfast with Jesus and to sup with him also is to enjoy the days of heaven upon the earth.”
Here is Spurgeon’s morning meditation for this day, December 29, based on the well-known text, 1 Samuel 7:12, “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.” (Spurgeon also preached on this text during his tenure at the Metropolitan Tabernacle.) It is an apt reflection for every Christian at year’s end.
The word ‘hitherto’ seems like a hand pointing in the direction of the past. Twenty years or seventy, and yet, ‘hitherto the Lord hath helped’! Through poverty, through wealth, through sickness, through health, at home, abroad, on the land, on the sea, in honour, in dishonor, in perplexity, in joy, in trial, in triumph, in prayer, in temptation, ‘hitherto hath the Lord helped us’!
We delight to look down a long avenue of trees. It is delightful to gaze from end to end of the long vista, a sort of verdant temple, with its branching pillars and its arches of leaves; even so look down the long aisles of your years, at the green boughs of mercy overhead, and the strong pillars of lovingkindness and faithfulness which bear up your joys. Are there no birds in yonder branches singing? Surely there must be many, and they all sing of mercy received ‘hitherto’.
But the word also points forward. For when a man gets up to a certain mark and writes ‘hitherto’, he is not yet at the end, there is still a distance to be traversed. More trials, more joys; more temptations, more triumphs; more prayers, more answers; more toils, more strengths; more fights, more victories; and then come sickness, old age, disease, death. Is it over now? No! there is more yet—awakening in Jesus’ likeness, thrones, harps, songs, psalms, white raiment, the face of Jesus, the society of saints, the glory of God, the fullness of eternity, the infinity of bliss. O be of good courage, believer, and with grateful confidence raise thy ‘Ebenezer’ for:
He who hath helped thee hitherto
Will help thee all thy journey through.
When read in heaven’s light how glorious and marvelous a prospect will thy ‘hitherto’ unfold to thy grateful eye!
Timothy George is founding dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University and general editor of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.