The sermons of Charles Spurgeon, the beloved preacher, exude great joy in the Lord, and sometimes humor, but he was also no stranger to depression, rejection by others, and physical suffering. His spiritual sufferings taught him to hate sin and cherish God’s holiness. The persecution of those who opposed his ministry was all but crushing, and his many physical ailments were great trials to him. Through it all he was able to exemplify a confidence in God’s sovereignty and love. In his last sermon he stated that “the heaviest end of the cross lies ever on His shoulders.” May Charles Spurgeon’s words of trust and reliance help all of God's children when they go through their dark valley.
Author: Darrel W. Amundsen
Author: Susan Verstraete
Charles Spurgeon was only nineteen years old when he was called to be the pastor of the New Park Street Chapel, the church Susannah Thompson attended occasionally with friends. She was singularly unimpressed when she first heard him preach. The eloquence and powerful sermons of the “boy preacher” were the talk of London, but all Susannah could see was a country bumpkin with a bad haircut, a ridiculous blue polka dot handkerchief and a black silk cravat that was much too large to be in style.
As Susannah listened to Spurgeon’s preaching in the following weeks, she gradually turned her attention away from the dress of the messenger and toward the message he delivered. She came to church more often as the Holy Spirit used Spurgeon’s preaching to expose her shallowness and indifference to the things of God. She sought counsel from Charles and others, and after struggling for a few months, came to a full assurance of faith in Jesus Christ. Charles and Susannah’s new friendship deepened to something more over the next year, and when he proposed marriage, she joyfully accepted.
It was an odd courtship. Charles had little free time to devote to Susannah. One of their regular dates consisted of Susannah quietly minding her own business while Charles edited his weekly sermon for publication. Susannah once accompanied Charles to a speaking engagement in a crowded venue. As they walked in, Charles was preoccupied with the message he was about to deliver. He turned into a side door, completely forgetting about Susannah, who found herself abandoned in the crushing crowd to find her own way to a seat. Miffed, she left the building and took a cab home to her parents’ house.
Mrs. Thompson was not as sympathetic to the perceived slight as her daughter expected her to be. Wisely, she urged Susannah never to try to make herself an idol in her fiancée’s heart. Charles was God’s servant first and foremost, and she warned Susannah that she must never hinder his ministry. Susannah wrote, “I never forgot the teaching of that day; I had learned my hard lesson by heart, for I do not recollect ever again seeking to assert my right to his time and attention when any service for God demanded them.”1
So instead of vying to be the focus of Charles’ attention, she became a true partner in his ministry. After they married, Spurgeon would call his “wifey” to come and help him on Saturday afternoons. Together they read commentaries and discussed the Scripture for the next day’s sermon. Susannah was Charles’ sounding board and emotional support. When he was discouraged, she read to him from Baxter’s Reformed Pastor or from the poetry of George Herbert. Susannah counseled women and girls in the church and carefully taught her twin boys. She managed their household wisely, uncomplainingly endured separations as Charles traveled, and welcomed him home when he returned. Her days were full and their little family was happy.
But then Susannah became chronically ill. For long seasons, she was unable to accompany her husband to church and was often confined to bed. Discouraged and confused, Susannah cried out to God. Later, she would write, ” . . . the moment we come into any trial or difficulty, our first thought should be, not how soon can we escape from it, or how we may lessen the pain we shall suffer from it, but how can we best glorify God in it . . .”2 But how could Susannah glorify God or minister with her husband while confined to a sick room?
In the summer of 1875, Charles completed the first volume of his book, Lectures to My Students. He gave a proof copy to Susannah and asked her opinion of it. After reading it, she said, “I wish I could place it in the hands of every minister in England.” Charles quipped, “Then why not do so; how much will you give?”3
Susannah took the challenge seriously. She had, on a whim, been saving crown pieces as she happened to get them. When she counted them out, there were exactly enough coins to buy 100 copies of the new book. Charles announced in his magazine that 100 copies of Lectures to my Students would be mailed to poor pastors at no charge. Orders flooded in for the books from English ministers, many of whom were so strapped for money that they hadn’t bought a new book in years. Susannah mailed out the books and received dozens of grateful letters in thanks. Some pastors wept when the precious volumes arrived. Spurgeon announced the results in the next issue of his magazine and asked his readers to help continue the work. Donations poured in. Though they never again asked for funds, enough money continued to trickle in over the years to distribute hundreds of thousands of theological books.
Susannah often worked from her sick bed, keeping track of the finances and corresponding with pastors. A room in their home was dedicated to storing and shipping books. As long as Susannah was well enough, volunteers would come in once every two weeks to help pack books for shipping.
Charles later wrote about the effect the labor involved in the book fund had on his wife. “Our gracious Lord has ministered to His suffering child in the most effectual manner when He graciously led her to minister to the necessities of His servants. . . . Let every believer accept this as the inference of experience: that for most human maladies, the best relief and antidote will be found in the self-sacrificing work for the Lord Jesus.”4
1 Harrald, Joseph and Spurgeon, Susannah, The Autobiography of Charles Spurgeon, Vol. 1, Banner of Truth, 1962, pg. 289
2Spurgeon, Susannah, Morning Devotions included in the book Free Grace and Dying Love, Banner of Truth, 2006, pg. 83
3Ray, Charles, The Life of Susannah Spurgeon, included in the book Free Grace and Dying Love, Banner of Truth, 2006, pg. 196-197
4 Harrald, Joseph and Spurgeon, Susannah, The Autobiography of Charles Spurgeon, Vol. 2, Banner of Truth, 1962, pg. 462
Author: Susan Verstraete
It’s a good thing he wasn’t born in the 20th century. Many believing brothers and sisters would label his tendency to melancholy sinful, or evidence of a lack of self-discipline, or even the result of shallow faith. A psychologist would probably send him away with a prescription and a self-help book with twelve easy steps to overcome depression. But Charles Haddon Spurgeon, perhaps the greatest preacher of the 19th century, had a different attitude toward his affliction.
Spurgeon knew “by most painful experience what deep depression of spirit means, being visited therewith at seasons by no means few or far between.” He warned his students, “Fits of depression come over the most of us. Usually cheerful as we may be, we must at intervals be cast down. The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy.” Although he said, “Spiritual darkness of any sort is to be avoided, and not desired,” he never assumed that a Christian suffering depression must necessarily be in sin. Instead, he wrote, “I note that some whom I greatly love and esteem, who are, in my judgment, among the very choicest of God’s people, nevertheless, travel most of the way to heaven by night.”
Spurgeon goes on in his book, Lectures to my Students, to give some of the reasons believers fall into sadness. He also provides hope for those so overtaken.
“Is it not first, that they are men?” Spurgeon acknowledged that being a Christian did not make a man or woman immune from suffering. In fact, he said, “Even under the economy of redemption it is most clear that we are to endure infirmities, otherwise there were no need of the promised Spirit to help us in them. It is of need be that we are sometimes in heaviness. Good men are promised tribulation in this world.” But he points out that through this suffering, we “may learn sympathy with the Lord’s suffering people.” Paul says something similar in 2 Corinthians 1:4; God “comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
“Most of us are in some way or another unsound physically.” Spurgeon suffered terribly with a joint disorder that was diagnosed as gout. He was forced to stay in bed, sometimes for weeks at a time in excruciating pain. “I have been brought very low,” he wrote to his congregation during one long bout, “My flesh has been tortured with pain and my spirit has been prostrate with depression. . . . With some difficulty I write these lines in my bed, mingling them with the groans of pain and the songs of hope.”
With characteristic balance, Spurgeon understood that physical pain and natural temperament contribute to depression, but did not allow his students to use them as an excuse for despair. “These infirmities may be no detriment to a man’s career of special usefulness,” he said. “They may even have been imposed upon him by divine wisdom as necessary qualifications for his peculiar course of service. Some plants owe their medicinal qualities to the marsh in which they grow; others to the shades in which alone they flourish.”
“In the midst of a long stretch of unbroken labor, the same affliction may be looked for.” Spurgeon’s schedule was exhausting. In a typical week, he preached ten times. He answered approximately 500 letters, taught in a ministerial college, administrated an orphanage and dealt with dozens of individuals concerning their souls. He wrote for publications, entertained visitors at his home, taught his own family and encouraged his bedridden wife. It is no wonder that his health suffered under such a workload. Spurgeon’s church finally insisted on regular vacations for him each year. Spurgeon told his students, “The bow cannot be always bent without fear of breaking. Repose is as needful to the mind as sleep to the body. . . . Rest time is not waste time. It is economy to gather fresh strength.”
“One crushing stroke has sometimes laid the minister very low.” On October 19, 1856, the 22 year old Spurgeon spoke for the first time in the Surrey Gardens Music Hall in London. The church was no longer big enough to contain the crowds of people who wanted to hear him preach. Thousands packed into the music hall, seating themselves in aisles and stairways after all the regular seating was full, and hundreds more waited outside, hoping to hear part of the sermon through the windows. Just after Spurgeon began to pray, someone in a balcony shouted “Fire!” People pushed and shoved to get out of the building, and a stair railing gave way under the pressure. Seven people were killed and 28 more were injured. The tender-hearted Spurgeon never completely recovered from the emotional impact of this incident. He wrote, “I was pressed beyond measure and out of bounds with an enormous weight of misery. The tumult, the panic, the deaths, were day and night before me, and made life a burden.”
Many have experienced a natural disaster, the death of a loved one, devastating financial loss or overwhelming disappointment when a child or a fellow believer has fallen into sin. Spurgeon offers hope from his own experience. “The fact that Jesus is still great, let his servants suffer as they may, piloted me back to calm reason and peace. Should so terrible a calamity overtake any of my brethren, let them both patiently hope and quietly wait for the salvation of God.”
“The lesson from wisdom is, be not dismayed by soul-trouble.” In the end, Spurgeon acknowledged that depression may come to some believers for no discernable reason. He did not consider it an illness, a sin, or surprising condition, but an inevitable season in the life of a Christian and an opportunity to demonstrate trust in the God who will one day wipe away every tear.
Any simpleton can follow the narrow path in the light: faith’s rare wisdom enables us to march on in the dark with infallible accuracy, since she places her hand in that of her Great Guide. —Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to my Students
Author: Jim Elliff
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the renowned preacher of London in the 1800s, was not only a gifted leader, but was a hard worker. By the time most pastors write a few emails, wrestle with the dates for VBS and read the junk mail, Spurgeon would have completed a mountain of tasks.
For instance, each week he preached several times (often 10), trained pastors in the pastor’s college, wrote several hundred letters (“I’m immersed to my chin in letters.”), led an elders’ meeting, conducted a prayer meeting, counseled numbers of new believers preparing for baptism (on average, 30 persons), read volumes of Puritan theology, edited both his printed sermon and The Sword and the Trowel, wrote a few chapters in one of his 150 books, squared off against some heresy, buried a few members, entertained many guests, and visited his orphans at the orphan home established by the church.
“A man cannot be idle and yet have Christ’s sweet company,” he once wrote. “Christ is a quick walker, and when His people would talk with Him they must travel quickly too, or else they will soon lose His company.”
He exhibited his tirelessness in labor when he began preaching as an 18 year-old at Waterbeach. The church at first had only 40 members, but soon grew to 100, with many more guests attending. “I’m 18 tomorrow and hope Sunday to preach for the 188th time since I started about one and a half years ago,” he said. By the time he was 20 he had preached approximately 500 times.
He once exclaimed, “The sin of doing nothing is about the biggest of all sins, for it involves most of the others . . . .Horrible idleness! God save us from it!”
But won’t too much labor for Christ and the church harm your family? Every pastor and committed Christian worker must be careful about this, it is true. But for every Christian leader who works too hard, there are many more who do way too little.
Once I returned home from several days of public ministry. Saddened that I was going to have to leave again the next day, I was lamenting the whole thing before my wife and young son. After listening to my whining, my son approached me with these words: “Daddy, you have to go for three reasons: First, God told you to; second, you get presents [meaning that sometimes generous churches would send something back to the kids]; and third, people need to hear what you have to say.” Not bad advice for a nine year-old.
I shut up, realizing that my son was not harmed by my hard work. In fact, I think it has been extremely important for my kids to see a dad who believes what he preaches and is willing to labor to get the message out. Soon my kids began helping me in the ministry, and loving it. I worked hard to include them.
Veteran pastor Vernon Higham said this about revival leaders in Wales: “Labor for God was to be respected rather than despised.”
Spurgeon stated that he believed in Adam Clark’s adage: “Kill yourself with labor, and then pray yourself alive again.”
I know that Spurgeon died as a young man. He wore himself out with his labors. But would we have it any other way?
“If I have any message to give from my own bed of sickness, it would be this—if you do not wish to be full of regrets when you are obliged to lie still, work while you can. If you desire to make a sick bed as soft as it can be, do not stuff it with mournful reflections that you wasted time while you were in health and strength. People said to me years ago, ‘You will break your constitution down with preaching ten times a week,’ and the like. Well, if I have done so I am glad of it. I would do the same again. If I had fifty constitutions I would rejoice to break them down in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ. You young men that are strong, overcome the wicked one and fight for the Lord while you can. You will never regret having done all that lies in you for our blessed Lord and master. Crowd as much as you can into every day, and postpone no work till tomorrow. ‘Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might.'”
"But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me." 1 Corinthians 15:10
Spurgeon quotes from
Quoting Spurgeon, Anthony J. Ruspantini (Baker: Grand Rapids, 1993)
The great nineteenth-century English pastor and evangelist, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, was converted to Christ as a young man on January 6, 1856. In Spurgeon’s own words, it happened like this:
I sometimes think I might have been in darkness and despair until now had it not been for the goodness of God in sending a snowstorm, one Sunday morning, while I was going to a certain place of worship. When I could go no further, I turned down a side street, and came to a little Primitive Methodist Chapel. In that chapel there may have been a dozen or fifteen people. I had heard of the Primitive Methodists, how they sang so loudly that they made people’s heads ache; but that did not matter to me. I wanted to know how I might be saved, and if they could tell me that, I did not care how much they made my head ache. The minister did not come that morning; he was snowed up, I suppose. At last, a very thin-looking man, a shoemaker, or tailor, or something of that sort, went up into the pulpit to preach. Now, it is well that preachers should be instructed; but this man was really stupid. He was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had little else to say. The text was, “Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth” [Isaiah 45:22].
He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter. There was, I thought, a glimpse of hope for me in that text. The preacher began thus—”My dear friends, this is a very simple text indeed. It says, ‘Look.’ Now lookin’ don’t take a deal of pains. It ain’t liftin’ your foot or your finger; it is just, ‘Look.’ Well, a man needn’t go to College to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man needn’t be worth a thousand a year to be able to look. Anyone can look; even a child can look. But then the text says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Ay!” said he, in broad Essex, “many on ye are lookin’ to yourselves, but it’s no use lookin’ there. You’ll never find any comfort in yourselves. Some look to God the Father. No, look to Him by-and-by. Jesus Christ says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Some say, ‘We must wait for the Spirit’s workin’.’ You have no business with that just now. Look to Christ. The text says, ‘Look unto Me.'”
Then the good man followed up his text in this way:—”Look unto Me; I am sweatin’ great drops of blood. Look unto Me; I am hangin’ on the cross. Look unto Me; I am dead and buried. Look unto Me; I rise again. Look unto Me; I ascend to Heaven. Look unto Me; I am sittin’ at the Father’s right hand. O poor sinner, look unto Me! Look unto Me!”
When he had gone to about that length, and managed to spin out ten minutes or so, he was at the end of his tether. Then he looked at me under the gallery, and I daresay, with so few present, he knew me to be a stranger. Just fixing his eyes on me, as if he knew all my heart, he said, “Young man, you look very miserable.” Well, I did; but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made from the pulpit on my personal appearance before. However, it was a good blow, struck right home. He continued, “and you always will be miserable—miserable in life, and miserable in death,—if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.” Then, lifting up his hands, he shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist could do, “Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothin’ to do but to look and live.” I saw at once the way of salvation. I know not what else he said,—I did not take much notice of it,—I was so possessed with that one thought. Like as when the brazen serpent was lifted up, the people only looked and were healed, so it was with me. I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, “Look!” what a charming word it seemed to me! Oh! I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away. There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to Him. Oh, that somebody had told me this before, “Trust Christ, and you shall be saved.”
After telling of his conversion, Spurgeon added these important words:
When I was anxious about the possibility of a just God pardoning me, I understood and saw by faith that He who is the Son of God became man, and in His own blessed person bore my sin in His own body on the tree. I saw that the chastisement of my peace was laid on Him, and that with His stripes I was healed. It was because the Son of God, supremely glorious in His matchless person, undertook to vindicate the law by bearing the sentence due to me, that therefore God was able to pass by my sin. My sole hope for Heaven lies in the full atonement made upon Calvary’s cross for the ungodly. On that I firmly rely. I have not the shadow of a hope anywhere else. Personally, I could never have overcome my own sinfulness. I tried and failed. My evil propensities were too many for me, till, in the belief that Christ died for me, I cast my guilty soul on Him, and then I received a conquering principle by which I overcame my sinful self.
The doctrine of the cross can be used to slay sin, even as the old warriors used their huge two-handed swords, and mowed down their foes at every stroke. There is nothing like faith in the sinners’ Friend: it overcomes all evil. If Christ has died for me, ungodly as I am, without strength as I am, then I cannot live in sin any longer, but must arouse myself to love and serve Him who hath redeemed me. I cannot trifle with the evil which slew my best Friend. I must be holy for His sake. How can I live in sin when He has died to save me from it?