Spurgeon on His Hatred of Slavery in the American South

Whereas many in pulpits across the Western world stay on the side of diplomacy, Spurgeon kept no secrets about his hatred of injustices in his country and around the world–not the least of which was slavery in the American South pre-Civil War. Spurgeon was quoted in the Chicago Tribune:

I do from my inmost soul detest slavery . . . and although I commune at the Lord’s table with men of all creeds, yet with a slave-holder I have no fellowship of any sort or kind. Whenever one has called upon me, I have considered it my duty to express my detestation of his wickedness, and I would as soon think of receiving a murderer into my church . . . as a man stealer.[1]

In his sermon “Separating the Precious from the Vile” from 1860 (the year when states in the South began seceding from the Union to form the Confederate States of America), Spurgeon leaned in fiercely regarding the slavery issue. Though this quote is large, one reads the passion and, yes, the hatred Spurgeon felt for these who were in bonds across the ocean. And one also sees why he received such a vitriolic reaction in the South:

By what means think you were the fetters riveted on the wrist of our friend who sits there, a man like ourselves, though of a black skin? It is the Church of Christ that keeps his brethren under bondage; if it were not for that Church, the system of slavery would go back to the hell from which it sprung. . . . But what does the slaveholder say when you tell him that to hold our fellow creatures in bondage is a sin, and a damnable one, inconsistent with grace? He replies, “I do not believe your slanders; look at the Bishop of So-and-so, or the minister of such-and-such place, is he not a good man, and does not he whine out ‘Cursed be Canaan?’ Does not he quote Philemon and Onesimus? Does he not go and talk Bible, and tell his slaves that they ought to feel very grateful for being his slaves, for God Almighty made them on purpose that they might enjoy the rare privilege of being cowhided by a Christian master? Don’t tell me,” he says, “if the thing were wrong, it would not have the Church on its side.” And so Christ’s free Church, bought with his blood, must bear the shame of cursing Africa, and keeping her sons in bondage.[2]

Fullerton noted in his biography that Spurgeon, who considered slavery the “crime of crimes.” “The question of slavery had not thrust itself upon him in the ordinary duties of his English duties.”[3] Evidently, and unbeknownst to Spurgeon, for a time the American newspapers redacted every adverse reference to Spurgeon’s view of slavery. When confronted with this activity, he protested. As a result, some papers (including many in the South) chose not to publish his sermons at all, but instead chose to write articles that included excerpts of his sermons. Spurgeon became persona non grata in the South, with several threats coming upon his life.

It must be said that as time marched on, and the intensity of the Civil War and slavery abated, Southern Baptists who once “among Spurgeon’s chief antagonists”[4] became among his chief proponents. In a letter written from John Broadus, one of the founders of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, a professor, and a Southerner, penned on behalf of the Southern Seminary faculty:

We thank God for all that he made you and has by his grace enabled you to become and achieve. . . . May your life and health be long spared, if it be his will; may Providence still smile on your varied work, and the Holy Spirit richly bless your spoken and written messages to mankind. [5]

[1] “Spurgeon on Slavery,” Chicago Tribune, Feb. 3, 1860. Quoted in Pike, G. Golden, The Life and Work of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (London: Cassell & Company, Limited, 1894), 2:234.

[2] Spurgeon, “Separating the Precious from the Vile,” New Park Street Pulpit 6:305 (1860).

[3] W.Y. Fullerton, Charles Spurgeon: A Biography 97.

[4] Christian George, ed., Lost Sermons of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Vol 1: 1851-1854, (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2017), xix.

[5] A.T. Robertson, Life and Letters of John Albert Broadus (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publications Society, 1910), 43. Quoted in George, xxii.

 

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