Saturday, January 6, 2018

Steal Away Home

Charles Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson:Unlikely friends on the passage to freedom
by Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey
290 pages / 2017

This is two biographies in one, about the little known relationship between the "Prince of Preachers" Charles Haddon Spurgeon and a former slave, Thomas Johnson.

The men couldn't have grown up in more different circumstances. Spurgeon was in the United Kingdom, and establishing his reputation as "the Prince of Preachers," while Thomas Johnson was still a slave in the America. Johnson's first heard Spurgeon's name mentioned when the preacher's sermons and books were being burnt by slavery-defenders in the South. They didn't like the strong and clearly biblical way that Spurgeon had been denouncing slavery. 

And then emancipation came, and Johnson was finally free, he too, became a preacher. And with his heart inclined to the mission field in Africa, he eventually ends up at Spurgeon's College where the two meet and become friends. Perhaps one reason they became friends was because Spurgeon struggled throughout this life with depression, and his young friend Johnson knew something of that too, borne out of his despair as a slave. As true Christians brothers, they are a help and a companion to one each other.

One caution

Now, this while these two men are both real, I should note this is a fictionalized account. That means that while the broad details are all true, and much of the dialogue is taken from the men's works, this work should only be enjoyed for the general impression, not the specific details, it provides of their friendship.

I'll give one example of how this mix of fact and fiction does, on the one hand, stay very true to reality, but on the other hand, can give a bit of an inaccurate impression. When we read of how Spurgeon proposes to his wife-to-be, he comes off as quite the Prince Charming with all the right words, the perfect thoughtful present, and just the right timing. However, the authors have compacted the evening's events from events that took place over more than the one occasion. The facts are true, but it's an alteration of the timeline for brevity's sake, to keep the story flowing.


This is just a wonderfully readable book. And it is attractively put together too. You aren't supposed to judge a book by its cover; but it's wonderful when a good cover can give a reluctant reader just the encouragement they need to get started.

I'd recommend this to anyone with an interest in church history, or in knowing more about the American South during slaver and after, or who enjoy historical fiction or biographies. It's a well done book, so if you are a reader, I think you'll love Steal Away Home.

You can pick it up at here and here.

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