‘Spurgeon’s rail’

Lisa Misner Sergent —  October 16, 2015

Spurgeon's railCOMMENTARY | Consider it the first see-through pulpit. A century before the plexiglass lectern, black-metal music stand, or repurposed pub table, there was Spurgeon’s rail.

The centerpiece of the great Metropolitan Tabernacle in London was not an ornate pulpit. It was a rail, a simple wooden banister with only newel posts at the corners and topped by a little shelf just big enough for a Bible and his one-page manuscript. Behind it, in some photos there is a small trestle-style library table. With the open “rail” extending out about eight feet, there was plenty of room for the preacher to pace about without toppling off the platform.

The historic podium anchors the new Spurgeon Library at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, along with a collection of 5,103 of the great master’s books and commentaries from his pastoral office. Overhead hang large new paintings depicting the great preacher’s call and ministry. (We also saw Spurgeon’s doorknob and the silver keyhole cover from his study door, recently acquired.)

I wanted to stand behind Spurgeon’s rail and preach a bit in the style of the renowned orator, but I don’t know what Spurgeon sounded like. He died in 1892 at age 57. Although Edison had invented sound recording more than a decade earlier, there are no phonograph discs of Spurgeon preaching.

His son and successor Thomas recited a transcript of his father’s last sermon, but Thomas’s voice is tinny on the wax cylinder, and we are left to wonder how the man who once preached to an audience of 23,654 without a microphone really sounded.

But his words—we have many. Up to 25 million words are documented in 63 volumes of his sermons from his 38-year pastorate. A Midwestern professor is leading the transcription and exposition of recently discovered sermons from Spurgeon’s earliest years in the pulpit. (No small feat that is, as we also saw from pages of sermon notes in his own scritchy Victorian hand.) So the number grows.

While he did speak to some of the ills of his day (American editors sometimes deleted his strong comments on slavery), Spurgeon always made a beeline for the cross. If Spurgeon railed, it was for Christ.

“When I cease to preach salvation by faith in Jesus,” Spurgeon said, “put me into a lunatic asylum, for you may be sure that my mind is gone.”

We need more of Spurgeon’s rail today.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist. Read the latest issue online.

Lisa Misner Sergent

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Lisa is IBSA Director of Communications. A Missouri native, she moved to Illinois 22 years ago and arrived at IBSA a few years later.