(One’s level of piety, whether devotional or practical, depends much on knowledge being either learned or misconceived. In these analyses we have made mention, occasionally, of books that either help or hinder the grand object of piety. It seems natural, consequently, to supplement the analyses, now and again, with correlating book reports.)
GABOURY’S CRITICAL BOOK REPORT
C. H. Spurgeon, Letters of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, ed. Iain Murray (1850-1892; Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1992), 219 pp.
My expectations were blasted when I opened this up and saw how short the letters were. But my spirit spruced right back up after I began to read. Three factors will account for the brevity of Spurgeon’s letters: He was a busy man; he had a talent for saying his piece in a nutshell; he did not like verbosity. To his son, on page 108, “Your little notices of books are first-rate. Short and pithy—better than half-a-page of long-winded nothings.”
It becomes obvious by the very first letter why this man was so used of God. At fifteen years of age he was already working out salvation, “I can get good religious conversations with Mr. Swindell, which is what I most need”; had already left the old life behind, “Oh, how unprofitable has my past life been”; and was enjoying the fullness of God, “How sweet is prayer! I would be always engaged in it” (p. 19.)
By the Book he charted his own course, opting for baptism at fifteen (p. 22), and refusing Hyper-Calvinism at nineteen (p. 41.) Initiative and discernment in a youth, how rare! We do not even see the like among seminary graduates!
His letters to his girlfriend, to his ‘Sweet One,’ these are the most valuable, I think; particularly sweet they are—and challenging. These two qualities characterize the tone of his correspondence. The following advice to a junior preacher will be enough to show what I mean by that. “I shall ever value my first-born above all the rest. Now I am going to give you a proof of my true love…You used to speak roughly, but it was pleasant to listen to your voice; but several friends have mentioned, what I also noticed, a sort of ministerial tone, a genteel way of pulling the tails of some of the words and cutting the ears of others, till they look like little dogs fresh from the fancier's” (p. 83.) Sweet but challenging.
Now some wise bullets from the great preacher so gifted at shooting out the crisp remark. To a hurting friend, “What fine clusters our Vine-dresser will get from so much pruning” (p. 209.) On orthodoxy, “The old gospel is the real wonder-worker; the new stuff would not save a robin” (p. 201.) On separating from a clever company of liberals, “I should never know what they meant, and like the good people at the tower of Babel I should soon be on the move” (p. 190.) On faith, “I have lived on the gospel, and I can die on it” (p. 136.) My first full portion of Spurgeon was The Practice of Praise, which was true but dry. His Letters are as fresh as a dewdrop.
Content: A (Gospel-centered correspondence.)
Style: A (Clean-cut and pretty.)
Tone: A (Witty and lovely.)
Grading Table: A: a keeper: reread it; promote it; share it.
B: an average book: let it go
C: read only if you have to.