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Charles Spurgeon in History: 1862, the American Civil War

July 7, 2014 3 comments

For something a little different this time: Charles Spurgeon and his time, the American Civil War years. My chronological reading of Spurgeon sermons, begun with volume 1 (1855) about five years ago, is now nearing the end of 1862, and along with the timeless commentary and quotes expounding the word of God, are many interesting comments concerning the then-current events, especially what is now referred to as the American Civil War.

Spurgeon apparently did not comment on the war during 1861; the only news-related events mentioned up to that time specifically related to England, including an excellent sermon given on the occasion of Prince Albert’s death in December 1861. But beginning in the summer of 1862, he occasionally spoke about the war, giving his opinion of it at that time. As Civil War historians well know, this was the year before Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation, before the war itself had any direct connection to slavery. From Spurgeon we learn of specific incidents and how the war affected even people on the other side of the Atlantic.

From a sermon delivered in July 1862:

The question of the rightness of war is a moot point even among moral men. Among those who read their Bibles, the allowance of defensive war may, perhaps, still be a question; but any other sort of war must certainly be condemned by the man who is a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. We shall say nothing, however, or but very little, concerning the criminality of those ambitious and unscrupulous persons who hurry nations into war without cause. Lust of dominion, and a false pride are setting the United States on a blaze. I know at this time a tragic incident connected with the present war in America. Four brothers left one of our villages in Oxfordshire, two of whom, if now alive, are in one army, and two of them in the other; and, I doubt not, as desperately as any of their comrades, they are thirsting for each other’s blood! What horrors cluster around the iniquity of civil war. On yonder soil it is the blood of brothers that cries from the ground. Men are fighting, one against the other, in this lamentable conflict for no justifiable cause. The one cause which justified the war, as we thought—the snapping of the fetters of the slave—is gone, emancipation is not proclaimed, the slave is forgotten. What might have been a struggle for the rights of man is now a shameful and abominable slaughter of brothers by brothers! And a cry is going up to Heaven from those blood-red fields which God will hear, and will yet avenge on both sides. Oh that they would sheathe their swords and end it once and for all! What does it matter if there are two nations or one? Better two in peace, than one divided with intestine strife! How much better to have even 20 nations of living men, than one nation of mangled corpses! What difference is it to the survivors if they have all the honor and dignity of conquerors, when they are stained up to their elbows in the blood of their fellow men? Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “Consider your ways.”

Then in November 1862, a sermon specifically in reference to the “Lancashire Distress,” which affected a part of England with poverty and famine; Spurgeon called it a worthy cause, concerning people truly in need yet hard working and the calamity beyond their own control, a people who had not (at least by this point in time) taken to any rioting or looting. I was unfamiliar with the “Lancashire Distress,” though gathered at least this much from the sermon itself, and that it had to do with the cotton industry. I later found this Wikipedia article that provides more details concerning the historical event, an economic depression due to an oversupply of cotton during the late 1850s followed by less demand and what was going on related to the cotton industry in the American Civil War.  The Lancashire Distress lasted from 1861 to 1865, about the same time as the American Civil War, and included later rioting, the following spring (1863), several months after Spurgeon’s message.  From this sermon, delivered November 9, 1862:

 the cause of this suffering is a national sin—the sin of slavery! We have not yet passed the third generation, and upon a nation God visits sin to the third and fourth generation. We have rid ourselves, at last, of this accursed stain as far as our present Government is concerned—we are therefore delivered from any fear in the future on that ground; but still, if slavery is now in America, we must remember that it would not have been there if it had not been carried there—and we are partners in guilt! Moreover, there has been too much winking at slavery among the merchants of Manchester and Liverpool. There has not been that abhorrence of the evil which should have been, and therefore it is just in the Providence of God that when America is cut with the sword, we should be made to smart with the rod! If the Lord is pleased to smite our nation in one particular place, yet we must remember that it is meant for us all. Let us all bear the infliction as our tribulation, and let us cheerfully take up the burden, for it is but a little one compared with what our sins might have brought upon us! Better far for us to have famine than war! From all civil war and all the desperate wickedness which it involves, good Lord deliver us; and if You smite us as You have done, it is better to fall into the hands of God than into the hands of man!