By admin | February 17, 2009
At our church, Escondido Reformed Baptist Church, we are in the midst of a series of sermons moving consecutively through the book of Psalms. This study has been great for my own soul, and for all of our people. As I have been contemplating these ‘Sweet Songs’, I discovered a paper I wrote in 2003 for a conference in Europe. It is on Charles H. Spurgeon’s amazing work The Treasury of David. Over the next few days I will post it here–I hope it will be unto edification.
C. H. Spurgeon’s Treasury of David — Preaching from the Psalms
Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s The Treasury of David is quite accurately described by its title: it is a true treasure. Not only does it bring the reader through the whole Psalter—the riches of the Word of God—it also provides him or her with bountiful material for profound spiritual reflection. The whole range of sanctified emotions may be found in the Psalms, and Spurgeon has helped to make them accessible to every believer in this work. Drawing from the vault of his unique wisdom and experience, as well as his superb gifts as an expositor, and supplementing this with an amazing collection of quotations from other commentators, he has constructed an almost unending source of benefit for devotional meditation.
There are some simple facts that we should note here at the beginning. The Treasury of David is a complete commentary on the Psalms, published over the course of about 20 years, originally in seven volumes. It is massive in scale and impressive in its accomplishments. It began as a series of articles published in the magazine The Sword and the Trowel, but soon became a published work in its own right. It is estimated that in his lifetime, 130,000 copies of the book were sold or distributed. Through the work of Mrs. Spurgeon, many copies were given freely to poor servants of Christ. The reception of the work was marvelous, and Spurgeon realized that more could be done to bring the material to readers. Since the work was so large, he wrote it “is too huge a work to be commonly known among the thousands of Israel, hence it came into my mind to publish certain parts of it in smaller books, that many more might be profited by it.” His book The Golden Alphabet is the result of this effort.
In the prefaces to the various volumes, Spurgeon acknowledges the enormous help given by his assistants. A typical comment is:
“The research expended on this volume would have occupied far too much of my time, had not my friend and [secretary], Mr. John L. Keys, most diligently aided me in investigations at the British Museum, Dr. Williams’s Library, and other treasuries of theological lore. With his help I have ransacked books by the hundred, often without finding a memorable line as a reward, but at other times with the most satisfactory result. Readers little know how great labour the finding of but one pertinent extract may involve; labour certainly I have not spared: my earnest prayer is that some measure of good may come of it to my brethren in the ministry and to the church at large.”
As we will notice, we are the beneficiaries of this abundant labor. George Rogers, Spurgeon’s friend and the first tutor of the Pastor’s College, is also mentioned as a contributor, especially of the hints to preachers. So also is Mr. Gracey, the “classical tutor” at the College, Rev. E.T. Gibson, who helped with German authors, and several others. But with all of the assistance provided to him, Spurgeon alone was responsible for the exposition. He said “The Exposition here given is my own. I consulted a few authors before penning it, to aid me in interpretation and arouse my thoughts; but, still I can claim originality for my comments, at least so I honestly think.” We get pure Spurgeon as we read the exposition.
It is clear that Spurgeon loved the Psalms. He said of them “More and more is the conviction forced upon my heart that every man must traverse the territory of the Psalms himself if he would know what a goodly land they are. They flow with milk and honey, but not to strangers; they are only fertile to lovers of their hills and vales. None but the Holy Spirit can give a man the key to the Treasury of David; and even he gives it rather to experience than to study. Happy he who for himself knows the secret of the Psalms.” He knew that these divine hymns could not be approached simply as a collection of religious poetry: they were the experience book of the believer. And the more that the believer lived in and with the Psalms, the more they would change his life. The illustration he used is beautiful—we know best our homeland. The place where we were born and raised, where we walked the streets and climbed the hills, this is the place we know best. It does not grow dull; it becomes part of the very fabric of our beings. We love to go home. In the same way, the Psalms become like that beloved country of our youth. As we grow in familiarity with these sacred songs, the more they become part of our being.
Spurgeon was a man who knew these Psalms thoroughly. They were not simply a collection of beautiful religious words. They were full of life—the life of the believer in Christ. Listen to comments he made in the preface to the 2nd volume:
“In this part, which contains thirty–one sacred odes, we have several of the more memorable and precious of Zion’s songs. In commenting upon some of them, I have been overwhelmed with awe, and said with Jacob, “How dreadful is this place, it is none other than the house of God.” Especially was this case with the fifty–first; I postponed expounding it week after week, feeling more and more my inability for the work. Often I sat down to it, and rose up again without having penned a line. It is a bush burning with fire yet not consumed, and out of it a voice seemed to cry to me, “Do not come too near here, put off your shoes from off your feet.” The Psalm is very human, its cries and sobs are of one born of woman; but it is freighted with an inspiration all divine, as if the Great Father were putting words into his child’s mouth. Such a Psalm may be wept over, absorbed into the soul, and exhaled again in devotion; but, commented on—ah! where is he who having attempted it can do other than blush at his defeat?”
We see him amazed at the depth of experience in Psalm 51. When he wrote these words, little did he realize the challenges still ahead, especially in Psalm 119. He said,
“I have been bewildered in the expanse of the One Hundred and Nineteenth Psalm, which makes up the bulk of this volume. Its dimensions and its depth alike overcame me. It spread itself out before me like a vast, rolling prairie, to which I could see no bound, and this alone created a feeling of dismay. Its expanse was unbroken by a bluff or headland, and hence it threatened a monotonous task, although the fear has not been realized. This marvellous poem seemed to me a great sea of holy teaching, moving, in its many verses, wave upon wave; altogether without an island of special and remarkable statement to break it up. I confess I hesitated to launch upon it. Other Psalms have been mere lakes, but this is the main ocean. It is a continent of sacred thought, every inch of which is fertile as the garden of the Lord’ it is an amazing level of abundance, a mighty stretch of harvest-fields. I have now crossed the great plain for myself, but not without persevering, and, I will add, pleasurable, toil.”
This, my brothers, is true love for the Word of God. Spurgeon was no master over the Scripture, he was a humble child, sitting at its feet. His desire was to be mastered by the truth, and to pass that mastery on to others. His great desire was to bring others to recognize the greatness of these songs. It is this kind of love and respect for the Psalter that fills all of the 7 volumes, and perhaps explains why even today, the Treasury of David has not lost any of its usefulness. We can echo the words of one 19th century author who wrote “Whatever you do, get Mr. Spurgeon’s ‘Treasury of David’; it is by far the most valuable contribution to the literature of the Psalms.” (1)
1.Sword & Trowel March 1884.
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