Hunting down quotations is one of the most delightful of occupations, and a Briefing reader set me upon the track of the expression in the teeth of our exertions—employed by Spurgeon in one of his sermons. What, I was asked, does Spurgeon mean, and where did he get this expression from?
Well, after much burning of the midnight oil, I can tell you that the expression comes from a sermon called “The Wailing of Risca” preached in the Exeter Hall (during the first re-building of Spurgeon’s church) on Sunday morning December 9th, 1860. The Saturday before a mine explosion in the Welsh coal mining village of Risca had killed some 200 miners. It was a place Spurgeon knew well, having preached there a number of times.
The thrust of his message was that death may strike at any time so we must pursue our evangelism with ever greater vigour in order to (in the words of the old hymn) “rescue the perishing”. Spurgeon drove home his message with these words:
“If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.”
The expression in the teeth of exertions means something like “in the face of” just as “in the teeth of the gale” means in the face of the gale. It implies extreme effort, an effort forced to the limit by the circumstances. “Teeth” here indicates a limit, as in “armed to the teeth”. So our goal is to empty hell, and those we know will get into hell only in the teeth of (in the face of) our most strenuous efforts.
And where did it come from? Spurgeon coined it. Strenuous research shows it to be product of his fertile mind. (It’s a great quote, isn’t it? Stick that in your church bulletin to rouse your folk!)