The legacy of Charles Spurgeon looms over people today about as much as his physical presence seemed to during his life. Today Charles Spurgeon stands as an example for preachers, for evangelists, and for Christians. Reading a book by or about Spurgeon often yields insights into marriage, prayer, and other areas of biblical application that can edify believers of any age. Therefore, readers can often be encouraged to incline themselves towards those books more. This year finds the release of several books centered around Spurgeon, his life, and his teachings including the recent release of Steal Away Home by Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey.
The book tells the stories of both Charles Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson, whose lives eventually crossed in London as Johnson attended the pastor’s college located at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. The story finds its essence in God’s sovereign care over Johnson, whose first search for God began on the plantation where he was enslaved until emancipation hit in 1865. The story jumps forward to find Johnson married and eventually making their way to Spurgeon to be trained for the mission field.
The story is a fascinating one that few people probably know. Certainly, the time to find and research this story, especially when information is limited to such a narrow area, required much time and patience for the authors. Their ability to piece together the story from that limited information is masterful. The authors are able to hold reader’s attentions, ensuring engagement with a story that is very personal. Furthermore, the details present a picture of some very trying times, not only for these men but also for culture in general. While physical ailments of the Spurgeon household are disclosed, we also capture insights into some of the other types of struggles that they faced, such as an intense hatred from Americans actively engaged in the possession of slaves. Furthermore, the brutality of such a system is portrayed to show the dread, damage, and disregard for slaves. Certainly, those not part of such a system will not understand all the many facets of such an issue, but the portrayal can cause people to think more intently about how callous and harsh the system was and come away with a more informed understanding of the ongoing repercussions that have resulted from it.
The authors’ candor about their inability to capture all the details is appreciated and they are upfront about the necessity to fill in the details according to their own speculations. In this way, Carter and Ivey’s capability as master storytellers shines forth. Unfortunately, that tremendous ability causes them to contradict their own goal. Lamenting the pillar that Spurgeon has been placed upon, the authors sought out to tell this story in a way that would remove the ‘deification’ of Spurgeon and bring him back to humanity in the eyes of others. Yet, the storytelling often romanticizes relationships and personalities beyond reality. The picture we get of Spurgeon is a man who lacks any flaws apart from the physical ailments of which he had no control. This is not a criticism to suggest we need to destroy the character of Spurgeon; instead, it’s important to acknowledge two points. First, that Spurgeon was a mere man who was imperfect apart from the work of Christ (as he has expressed in his own writings) and thus we must be cautious in elevating any man. Second, although he was an imperfect disciple of Christ, the Lord used Spurgeon’s ministry then and now. I continue to be thankful for what he left behind because the Lord has used it in my own life. So this is not a request for the destruction of Spurgeon’s testimony. Instead, I find it important to point out that the author’s intentions are left unmet by their own capabilities.
Furthermore, the book bills itself as the story of an unlikely friendship between the two men. Yet, the majority of the book discusses their lives as two separate men and spends very little time on their actual friendship. We only seem to get brief glances at the interactions and friendship between the two men. Perhaps this is because the information was so scarce, which is understandable. However, it is contrary to what readers may be expecting of this book.
Steal Away Home is a story of freedom, both physical and spiritual. However, readers should be cautioned to read it through the conviction that both Spurgeon and Johnson are sinful men saved by the grace of God just as any of us are. Regardless, it is engaging and you can be sure that upon reading it you will both learn from it and be moved by it.
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Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher at no charge for the purposes of review. However, the review is not influenced in any way by any person associated with the book and is the result of my own reading of it.