“I wonder what Charles Haddon Spurgeon thought about Mormonism?”
That’s probably not a question you’ve ever asked. I’ve read a lot about both and have never asked it myself. But then, by some fortune, I found a flippant comment from Spurgeon about Mormonism. My interest was piqued, and I left my solid research path to follow a two-hour bunny trail. In the end, I found eight total references from Spurgeon’s sermons.
The time during which Spurgeon spoke about Mormonism adds to the intrigue. A dialogue or direct interaction between he and the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, would have been impossible. Spurgeon, a native Londoner, was just ten years old (almost to the day) when Smith was murdered in Illinois on June 27th, 1844. The Mormon movement was well underway by the time the Prince of Preachers ever took to the pulpit.
Yet, the second president of the LDS Church, Brigham Young, and Spurgeon were practically contemporaries, both leaders of their respective movements during the same time. And a significant migration of Europeans to Utah was in full swing while Spurgeon was actively ministering in London. So, it’s unsurprising to see that in some small way Spurgeon interacted with Mormonism.
Well, then, what did Spurgeon have to say about Mormonism? Here are some excerpts, in chronological order, from select sermons from Spurgeon, accompanied with a little (sometimes quirky) commentary of my own.
And, yes, I know, I know… these are quotes lifted from their context and orphaned in this blog post. This is, after all, a blog post. So, please, humor me.
“The Saint’s Heritage and Watchword” (November 5, 1854)
What shall we say of Mormonism, the haggard superstition of the West?
Well, it’s obvious that Spurgeon had a very low view of Mormonism, which, I suppose, one would come to expect from a nineteenth-century British Baptist preacher. Not only was it a new religious movement that viewed the Baptistic tradition as an incomplete version of Christianity, but it was American, “of the West.” And we all know how the Brits feel about the Yanks. Side note: Mormonism and Baptistic traditions have a very long history together, which, if you’re into American religious history, is fascinating.
“The Eternal Name” (May 27, 1855)
Then what will ye choose? Shall it be [Islam]? Will ye choose that, with all its fables, its wickedness and libiditiousness? I will not tell you of it. Nor will I mention the accursed imposture of the West that has lately arisen. We will not allow Polygamy, while there are men to be found who love the social circle, and cannot see it invaded. We would not wish, when God hath given to man one wife that he should drag in twenty, as the companions of that one. We cannot prefer Mormonism; we will not, and we shall not.
Polygamy was a sticking point for Spurgeon against Mormonism, just as it was for many non-LDS (and former LDS) in the mid- to late-nineteenth century. In fact, twelve years after this sermon was delivered, the U.S. legislative branch passed the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act of 1862 that outlawed polygamy at the federal level. Eventually, polygamy was ceased by the LDS Church in 1890 under the leadership of LDS President Wilford Woodruff. That cessation still stands today, despite some misconceptions to the contrary.
“What Are the Clouds?” (August 19, 1855)
A little while ago some of us were fretting about this Mormonism, and we said, “It will never be broken up.” Some stupid fellows in America began to kill the poor Mormonites, and so carve them into saints, which was the very way to establish them. Christians trembled, and said, “What can this be? We shall have Sodom over again.” But did you read the Times newspaper of Thursday last? You will there see a wonderful instance of how God can scatter the clouds and make them dust of his feet. He has caused to come out of the ground, near Salt Lake, at Utah, thousands of crickets, and all kinds of noxious insects, that devour the crops; creatures that have not been seen in Utah before, with swarms of locusts, have made their appearance; and the people, being so far from civilized nations, cannot of course carry much corn across the desert, so that they will be condemned to starve or else separate and break up. It seems to all appearance that the whole settlement of the Mormonites must entirely be broken up, and that by an army of caterpillars, crickets, and locusts.
Here, Spurgeon is referencing one of the many agricultural disasters that Utah Mormons faced during and after their emigration to the Salt Lake Valley in the nineteenth century. For example, in 1848, the majority of their harvest were destroyed by locusts. News of the plague spread quickly, and it seemed like the end for the pioneers. But these Latter-day Saints were rough-and-tumble folks. After all, they had marched across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains to make their home in the Salt Lake Valley after enduring years of turmoil and strife in the Midwest. No amount of bugs were going to shoo them away. In fact, it was a sudden (and unexpected) influx of seagulls, of all things, that stopped the destruction. The “Mormonites” bounced back from the devastation and thrived in an otherwise unforgiving landscape. In Salt Lake’s Temple Square, you can find a monument to this event, the Miracle of the Gulls, standing in front of the Assembly Hall. Apparently, considering Spurgeon’s reference, it wouldn’t be the last time they fought with insects to save their harvest.
“Gospel Missions” (Apr 27, 1856)
Take again the increase of Mormonism. What has been its strength? Simply this—the assertion of power from heaven. That claim is made, and the people believe it, and now they have missionaries in almost every country of the habitable globe, and the book of Mormon is translated into many languages. Though there never could be a delusion more transparent, or a counterfeit less skilful, and more lying upon the very surface, yet this simple pretension to power has been the means of carrying power with it.
Interestingly, he attributes Smith’s success to people’s belief that his authority comes from the “power from heaven.” This is, after all, the central claim to Smith’s authority. The question, then, is whether or not he is to be believed.
“Moses’ Decision” (July 28, 1872)
That seems to me to be the right spirit, but where do you find it now-a-days? The modern spirit mutters, ‘We are all right, every one of us.’ He who says, ‘yes,’ is right, and he who says, ‘no,’ is also right! You hear a man talk with mawkish sentimentality which he calls Christian charity. ‘Well, I am of opinion that if a man is a Muslim, or a Catholic, or a Mormon, or a Dissenter—if he is sincere—he is all right.’ They do not quite include devil worshippers, thugs and cannibals yet—but if things go on they will accept them into the happy family of the Broad Church. Such is the talk and cant of this present age, but I bear my witness that there is no truth in it and I call upon every child of God to protest against it and, like Moses, to declare that he can have no complicity with such a confederacy!
Ah, religious pluralism! So you’re not a uniquely contemporary issue after all…
“Faith and its Attendant Privileges” (September 21, 1875)
And, last of all, though much more might be said, what happiness this brings to a man to know that he is a child of God. I remember, some 22 years ago, being waited upon by a Mormon who wanted to convince me of the Divine mission of Joseph Smith. And after hearing some of his talk, I said, ‘Sir, would you kindly tell me what you have to offer me and how I am to get it? I will listen to you if you will let me tell you afterwards what I have to offer you and the way to it.’ I heard him with a great deal of patience. He listened to me not quite so patiently, but when I had done he saluted me thus, ‘If what you say is true, you ought to be the happiest man in the world!’ To which I replied, ‘Sir, you are correct. I ought to be and, more, I am!’ And so I left him.
A prime example of Spurgeon’s quick wit.
“Our Manifesto” (April 25, 1891)
One of the most modern pretenders to inspiration is the Book of Mormon. I could not blame you should you laugh outright while I read aloud a page from that conglomeration.
I wonder how Spurgeon really felt about the Book of Mormon.
“Thoughts and their Fruit.” (Date Unknown)
As far as the civil government is concerned, whether a man’s sentiments are those of a Christian or an idolater, a Catholic, a Protestant, or a Mormon, he is entitled to all civil rights. Be he who he may, he is oppressed if he is deprived of his liberty or of any privilege because of his thoughts!
Whether or not you agree theologically with Latter-day Saints is a separate matter from the liberty a Latter-day Saint should enjoy to formulate their beliefs. Spurgeon was a proponent of those beautiful and priceless gifts that so few have enjoyed throughout history–religious liberty and civil rights.