NEW ORLEANS (BP)–A New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary professor’s find at a London college’s fundraiser needed only a one-word description: Marvelous.
In fact, Lloyd Harsch’s purchase from Spurgeon College — a page from one of legendary preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s sermons — came from an 1883 message on Zechariah 8:6. The sermon’s title? “Marvellous! Marvellous!” (sic).
Harsch’s unexpected find came during the Amsterdam 400 celebration, marking the 400th anniversary of the Baptist movement. Representatives from Spurgeon College were selling the actual manuscripts of one of Spurgeon’s sermons. Spurgeon had marked the pages in his own hand from transcriptions by stenographers peppered throughout his Metropolitan Tabernacle audience.
“I got to the table a few minutes after [the manuscripts] were made available,” said Harsch, an associate professor of church history at NOBTS. “The first page was there and had the date and title on it. I decided to pick that up for myself.”
The page offers a glimpse not only of the work of the “Prince of Preachers” but of a 19th-century method of recording.
“When Spurgeon would preach … just a brief outline was all he used,” Harsch said. “He had secretaries and scribes in the audience who would transcribe what he said, and then they would collate that down into a manuscript. Then Spurgeon would go through it and add, delete, edit the manuscript to make it what he wanted it to say. Then he would review galley proofs and they would go to print.”
Spurgeon published prolifically, and that may be why he was meticulous when it came to the historical record of his sermons.
“He would preach two or three times a day on Sunday and several times a week. So, these manuscripts mounted significantly,” Harsch said.
As a historian, Harsch said the notion of selling even a page of the voluminous Spurgeon archive is chilling. But with pages and pages in the preacher’s archive, the college could afford to sell some of the archive while putting barely a dent in its holdings.
“The archivist in me shudders at the idea of breaking up a complete set of a particular sermon,” Harsch said. “The reality is they have so many sermons in this form, and they’ve got the completed works that researchers can still access at various stages.”
Harsch’s reaction when he learned that a page from the Prince of Preachers was for sale ran the gauntlet from worry over possible price to the wow of owning a precious piece of Baptist history.
“I finally decided that the opportunity to have one of these pages wasn’t going to come around all that often, and here I was, being presented with it almost in my lap,” Harsch said. “I would be foolish not be take advantage of it.”
Reading through the sermon transcripts crafted at Spurgeon’s direction and corrected in his hand has impacted Harsch as a scholar and as a believer in Christ.
“It’s exciting to have something tangible that connects with a person you read about in history,” Harsch said. “I’ve discovered that when you’re actually able to lay eyes on it and hands on something that connects with someone you know in history, it brings the stories of that history much closer to life and closer to reality. That’s the advantage of going on study tours and looking at original documents.”
In that light, Harsch will be leading a study tour to Oxford in the summer of 2010, which will include a visit to Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle, along with a stop in Edinburgh, where Baptist congregations would hold baptisms at a nearby river — an illegal act in the eyes of the Scottish state church in early Baptist history, even regarded by some as an act of treachery and treason. For more information on the Oxford tour, see http://www.nobts.edu/Oxford/Default.html.
“When we look at a page like this from Spurgeon … we’re excited to find something from one of the giants of our past, who’s had a great influence on many of our lives because of the work he did as a pastor, educator and church planter and theologian,” Harsch reflected. “Yet, as Baptists we don’t have relics. We enjoy the things that come from the past, but we don’t elevate them to the status of something that becomes holier than the Scripture that was preached by a person we revere.”
Paul F. South is a writer at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.