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Spurgeon Uncut and Unpasted

Reading Spurgeon is a sheer delight to the heart. At the same time, it is often faintly discouraging to the preacher. How could a preacher manage such eloquence? His sentences are positively dripping with imagery, his prose saturated with trope and metaphor. It seems impossible for such poetic gold to have flowed from a preacher who spoke from a one-page sermon outline. And yet there stand the 63 volumes of Spurgeon sermons, the largest collection of Christian writings by one man, their luxurious oratory still charming and delighting the hungry Christian. These 3563 sermons seemingly testify to the real-life existence in the 19th century of an Apollo with a British accent, who weekly performed herculean feats of rhetoric.

Here is some modest encouragement for the preacher who is a mere mortal. What we read today is not exactly what Spurgeon’s audience heard. How do we know that? Spurgeon’s sermons were transcribed as he preached them by stenographers present in the congregation. Spurgeon spent most of Monday and Tuesday revising and editing the stenographers’ copies of his spoken sermons. Several drafts went back and forth, until the final copies went to the printer on Thursday. At least some of Spurgeon’s profound eloquence was not produced extemporaneously on Sunday, but with a quill and inkwell in the days after the sermon.

So what did Spurgeon’s hearers hear? The stenographers’ copies are the closest thing we have to an audio recording of a Spurgeon sermon. What Spurgeon preached turns out to be something fairly close to what we read today, but shorter, a little less florid in eloquence, and more direct, as preaching for the ear should be. Not many stenographers’ copies of Spurgeon’s sermons are still extant. I found a picture of one page from CBLibrary, reproduced here. It’s the stenographers’ copy of a portion of Sermon 2114, “The Burden of the Word of the Lord”, preached in 1889. Spurgeon’s many edits on the sermon are visible.

So what do we learn by comparing the “audio” version with the “print version” of this sermon? In the edited version of this sermon section, there are 1206 words. In the stenographer’s transcribed version, there are 983 words. Those extra 223 words represent a 23% increase, nearly a quarter more words. If we assume the same editorial gloss for the whole sermon, then the printed sermon of 7130 words could have originally been a spoken sermon of around 5518 words. If Spurgeon spoke at around 150 words per minute, that’s about a 36-minute sermon.

In the table below, I’ve reproduced the print version and the unedited transcribed version. Spurgeon’s many additions for the print version are highlighted.

When you read the column on the right, you’re experiencing, more or less, what Spurgeon’s listeners heard. It’s still brilliant, still eloquent, still stirring. But it’s a little more recognizably human. Enjoy.

Printed Sermon (edits highlighted) Transcribed Sermon
The prophets of old were no triflers. They did not run about as idle tellers of tales, but they carried a burden. Those who at this time speak in the name of the Lord, if they are, indeed, sent of God, dare not sport with their ministry, or play with their message. They have a burden to bear—“The burden of the word of the Lord”; and this burden puts it out of their power to indulge in levity of life.

I am often astounded at the way in which some who profess to be the servants of God make light of their work— they jest about their sermons as if they were so many comedies or farces. I read of one who said, “I got on very well for a year or two in my pulpit; for my great-uncle had left me a large store of manuscripts, which I read to my congregation.” The Lord have mercy on his guilty soul! Did the Lord send him a sacred call to bring to light his uncle’s moldy manuscripts? Something less than a divine call might have achieved that purpose. Another is able to get on well with his preaching because he pays so much a quarter to a bookseller, and is regularly supplied with manuscript sermons. They cost more or less according to the space within which they will not be sold to another clerical cripple. I have seen the things, and have felt sick at the sorry spectacle. What must God think of such prophets as these? In the old times, those whom God sent did not borrow their messages; they had their message directly from God Himself, and that message was weighty—so weighty that they called it, “the burden of the Lord.” He that does not find his ministry a burden now, will find it a burden hereafter, which will sink him lower than the lowest hell. A ministry that never burdens the heart and the conscience in this life, will be like a millstone about a man’s neck in the world to come.


The servants of God mean business. They do not play at preaching, but they plead with men. They do not talk for talk’s sake; but they persuade for Jesus’ sake. They are not sent into the world to tickle men’s ears, nor to make a display of elocution, nor to quote poetry—theirs is an errand of life or death to immortal souls! They have something to say which so presses upon them that they must say it. “Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel!” They burn with an inward fire, and the flame must have vent. The Word of the Lord is as fire in their bones, consuming them; the truth of God presses them into its service, and they cannot escape from it; if, indeed, they are the servants of God, they must speak the things which they have seen and heard. The servants of God have no feathers in their caps—they have burdens on their hearts. 

Furthermore, the true servants of God have something to carry, something worth carrying. There is solid truth, precious truth in their message. It is not froth and foam, phrases and verbiage, stories and pretty things, poetry and oratory, and all that; but there is weight in it of matters which concern heaven and hell, time and eternity. If ever there were men in this world who ought to speak in earnest, they are the men. Those who speak for God must not speak lightly; if there is nothing in what a man has to say, then God never commissioned him, for God is no trifler. If there is no importance in their message—yes, if their message is not of the first and last importance—why do they profess to speak in the name of God? It is constructive blasphemy to father God with our nonsense. The true servant of God has no light weight to bear; he has eternal realities heaped upon him; he does not run merrily as one that has a feather-weight to carry—he treads firmly and often, slowly—as he moves beneath “the burden of the Word of the Lord.” Yet, do not let me be misunderstood at the beginning. God’s true servants, who are burdened with His Word, right willingly and cheerfully carry that burden. We would not be without it for the entire world! Sometimes, do you know, we get tempted, when things do not go right, to run away from it—but we view it as a temptation not to be tolerated for an hour. When some of you do not behave yourselves and matters in our church get a little out of order, I say to myself, “I wish I could give this up, and turn to an employment less responsible, and less wearing to the heart”; but then I think of Jonah and what happened to him when he ran away to Tarshish—and I remember that whales are scarcer now than they were then—and I do not feel inclined to run that risk. I stick to my business, and keep to the message of my God; for one might not be brought to land quite as safely as the runaway prophet was. Indeed, I could not cease to preach the glad tidings unless I ceased to breathe! God’s servants would do nothing else but bear this burden, even if they were allowed to make a change. I had sooner be a preacher of the gospel than a possessor of the Indies. Remember how William Carey, speaking of one of his sons, says, “Poor Felix is shriveled from a missionary to an ambassador.” He was a missionary once, and he was employed by the government as an ambassador. His father thought it no promotion, and said, “Felix has shriveled into an ambassador.” It would be a descent, indeed, from bearing the burden of the Lord, if one were to be transformed into a member of Parliament, or a prime minister, or a king! We bear a burden, but we would be sorry, indeed, not to bear it.The burden which the true preacher of God bears is for God, and on Christ’s behalf, and for the good of men. He has a natural instinct which makes him care for the souls of others, and his anxiety is that none should perish, but that all should find salvation through Jesus Christ. Like the Christ who longed to save, so does the true Malachi, or messenger of God, go forth with this as his happy, joyful, cheerfully borne burden—that men may turn unto God and live! Yet, it is a burden, for all that; and of that I am going to speak to you. Much practical truth of God will come before us while we speak of “the burden of the Word of the Lord.” Pray that the Holy Spirit may bless the meditation to our hearts!I.

And why is the Word of the Lord a burden to him that speaks it? Well, first, it is a burden BECAUSE IT IS THE WORD OF THE LORD. If what we preach is only of man, we may preach as we like, and there is no burden about it; but if this Book is inspired—if Jehovah is the only God, if Jesus Christ is God incarnate, if there is no salvation except through His precious blood—then there is a great solemnity about that which a minister of Christ is called upon to preach. It therefore becomes a weighty matter with him. Modern thought is a trifle light, as air; but ancient truths of God are more weighty than gold.

And, first, the Word of the Lord becomes a burden in the reception of it. I do not think that any man can ever preach the gospel aright until he has had it borne into his own soul with overwhelming energy. You cannot preach conviction of sin unless you have suffered it.

The prophets of old were no triflers. They carried a burden. Those who still speak in God’s name, if the Lord has sent them, dare not trifle with their work. They have a burden to carry—“The burden of the word of the Lord”.

I am often astounded at the way in which some who profess to be the servants of God make light of their work. I read of one who said, “I got on very well for a year or two in my pulpit; for my great-uncle had left me a large store of manuscripts, so I read them.” The Lord have mercy on his guilty soul! Another is able to get on well with his preaching because he pays so much a quarter to the bookseller, and is supplied with regular manuscript sermons. I have seen the things. What must God think of such people as these? But in the old times, those whom God sent did not borrow their messages. They had their message directly from God Himself, and that message was weighty—so weighty that they called it, “the burden of the Lord.” He that does not find his ministry a burden now, will find it a burden hereafter, which will sink him lower than the lowest hell. A ministry that never burdens the heart and the conscience in this life, will be like a millstone about a man’s neck in the world to come.


The servants of God mean business. They do not talk for talking’s sake. They are not sent into the world to tickle men’s ears, or to make a display of elocution. They have a something to say that so presses upon them and they must say it. They have an inward weight, an inward fire, and they must give vent to that (…); for the Word of the Lord is as fire in their bones, consuming them; if, indeed, they be the servants of God. The servants of God are not triflers, for they bear the burden of the Lord.


And in the first place, the true servants of God have something to carry. There is something in their message. It is not froth and foam. It is not words and verbiage, and stories and pretty things, and oratory, and all that. There is weight in it, and if ever there were men in this world who ought to speak in earnest, they are the men that speak for God, and if there is nothing in what they have to say, then God never commissioned them. If there is no importance—yea, if their message be of the first and of the last importance—why, in the name of God, do they profess to speak in the name of God? It must be so, that the true servant of God has no light weight. He does not run merrily as one that has nothing to carry—but he (…) that he bears “the burden of the Word of the Lord.”Yet, do not let me be misunderstood at the beginning. God’s true servants, who are burdened with His Word, cheerfully carry that burden. They would not be without it for the entire world! Sometimes, do you know, we get tempted, when things do not go right, to run away from it. When some of you do not behave yourselves and things get a little out of order, I say to myself, “I wish I could give this up, ”; but then I think of Jonah and what happened to him when he ran away to Tarshish; and whales are scarcer now than they were then—and I do not seem inclined to run that risk. So I stick to my business, and keep to the message of God; for one might not be brought to land quite as safely as the runaway prophet was. God’s servants would do nothing else but bear this burden, even if they could make a change. Remember how William Carey, speaking of one of his sons, says, “Poor Felix has drivelled into an ambassador.” He was a missionary once, and he was employed by the British government as an ambassador. That is what his father thought of that promotion, , “Poor Felix has drivelled into an ambassador.” It would be a drivelling down, indeed, from bearing the burden of the Lord, if one were to wear a crown, or be first in a senate of philosophers.


The burden which the true preacher of God bears is for God, and on Christ’s behalf, and for the souls of others. He has a natural instinct which makes him care for the souls of others, and his anxiety is that none should perish. Like the Christ who longed to save, so does the true Malachi, or messenger of God, go forth with this as his happy, joyful, cheerfully borne burden, but yet, it is a burden, for all that; and of that I am going to speak tonight. There may be some practical truth arising out of this, “the burden of the word of the Lord”.I. And why is it a burden? Well, first, it is a burden BECAUSE IT IS THE WORD OF THE LORD. If what we preach is only of man, we may preach what we like, but there is no burden in it; but if this Book is inspired—if Jehovah be the only God, if Jesus Christ be God incarnate, if there is be salvation save through His precious blood—then there is a great solemnity about that which a minister of Christ is called upon to preach. It hence becomes a burden to him.


And, first, it becomes a burden in the reception of it. I do not think that any man could ever preach the gospel aright until he has had it borne into his own soul with overwhelming energy. You cannot preach conviction of sin unless you have suffered it.
David de Bruyn

About David de Bruyn

David de Bruyn pastors New Covenant Baptist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa. Since 1999, he has presented a weekly radio program that is heard throughout much of central South Africa. He also blogs at Churches Without Chests.

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2 Responses to Spurgeon Uncut and Unpasted

  1. This is helpful, David. Thanks. Peter Masters told me when I was at the Tabernacle this summer that Spurgeon said several times that no preacher should preach longer than 40 minutes, unless he considers himself to be a genius. :) So that seems to match with your 36 minute estimate for this sermon.

  2. I find the shorter version to be less distracting because I don’t pause at all the rhetorical scenic overlooks. He actually sounds like a better preacher in the transcription!

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