Battling Discouragement in Pastoral Ministry – C.H. Spurgeon

spC.H. Spurgeon. Autobiography, Volume 2: The Full Harvest, 1860-1892. Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1973. 524 pp. $36.00

In his excellent piece, 21 Maxims for Discouraged Pastors, Douglas Wilson reminds us that discouragement is part and parcel of pastoral ministry. Here is a piece of advice for men in pastoral ministry. Whenever you face the fires of adversity, unjust criticism, or swim in the sea of discouragement – pick up something by Charles Haddon Spurgeon. The Full Harvest: Volume 2 is no exception to this rule.

The second volume of C.H. Spurgeon’s autobiography chronicles his life and ministry from 1860-1892. This account is a revised edition which was originally compiled by the British pastor’s wife, Susannah and Joseph Harrald.

This volume contains the high’s and low’s of Spurgeon’s ministry and demonstrates that Spurgeon was no stranger to controversy and adversity. Here is a man who battled a myriad of maladies and was plagued by chronic depression. The book shows how the Prince of Preachers overcame these barriers and trusted in his Savior to carry him through.

Perhaps the most impressive feature is Spurgeon’s resilient mindset. He endured many hardships in his London pastorate. Yet his influence remains with us today – with thousands of sermons for us read and digest.

Spurgeon was deeply committed to the doctrines of grace:

I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus. Such a gospel I abhor.

Spurgeon’s rock-solid belief in the doctrines of grace is a testimony to the power of the gospel and the joyful journey which is promised to God’s elect.

SPURGEON’S SORROWS – Zack Eswine (2014)

spurgeonI have a friend who was born in 1834.  That would make him 180 years old.  He went home to be with Jesus in 1892 – at the peak of his ministry and in the prime of his life.  I have often asked why God takes the heroes of the faith so soon – Jonathan Edwards, John Bunyan, and John Calvin all died in their 50’s.  David Brainerd and Jim Elliot died before they reached the age of 30.  While the question is interesting to ponder, the question is not ours to ask.  Enter the Creator —

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2, ESV).

“You know, for you were born then, and the number of your days is great” (Job 38:21, ESV).

“And the LORD said to Job: ‘Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?  He who argues with God, let him answer it'” (Job 40:2, ESV).

I have been learning from my friend, C.H. Spurgeon for nearly 25 years now.  He has taught me many lessons.  He introduced me to Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, a book he read over 100 times in his short life.  Spurgeon has taught me the importance of expositional preaching.  On many occasions, he has reminded me about the importance of the role of the Holy Spirit in preaching, not to mention living the Christian life.  He has inspired courage and conviction and prompted me to be unwavering, even in the darkest of days.

But one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from my British friend is how to deal with melancholy.  Zack Eswine helps highlight some of those lessons in his book, Spurgeon’s Sorrows.  The subtitle accurately reflects the basic theme of the book, Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression.  

Spurgeon’s Sorrows is arranged in three parts.  Part One walks readers through the basics of depression.  What is it?  How can one recognize it?  What is spiritual depression?  Part Two presents a path for helping people who suffer from depression.  And Part Three is a practical section that offers practical assistance for dealing with depression.

Chapter nine is worth the price of the book as the author directs readers to the promises of God and shows how Spurgeon utilized this habit of claiming the promises of Jesus in his daily walk with God.

Spurgeon’s Sorrows is a short book filled with biblical counsel for people who battle depression and provides help for anyone who is reaching out to folks who are wading through the Slough of Despondence.  In the final analysis, readers are encouraged to cling to their Savior who promises to walk with them through every valley.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” (Psalm 23:1–2, ESV)

4 stars

LIVING BY REVEALED TRUTH: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon – Tom Nettles (2013) Part 9

Chapter 16: Spurgeon and Baptists in America1781911223_b

Of course, Spurgeon’s influence was felt around the world but his influence in America was especially profound.  George Truett pays the Prince of Preachers a wonderful compliment: “[He] had no sort of fellowship with the nerveless, hazy, intellectual libertinism that plays fast and loose with the eternal verities of Christ’s gospel … [He taught] the great themes of divine revelation: the sovereignty of God; the holiness of God; the love of God; the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; the solemn wonders of the cross; the divine forgiveness of sins; the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings; the fellowships of Christ’s sufferings; the power of his resurrection.”

Chapter 17: Sickness, Suffering, Depression

It is common knowledge that Spurgeon suffered greatly throughout his life.  He was tormented from all sides, had numerous physical ailments and battled depression for most of his adult life (as is chronicled especially in Iain Murray’s terrific book, The Forgotten Spurgeon.  His godly example is also known well: “Our happiness does not depend upon our understanding the providence of God.”  Nettles remarks, “Spurgeon never doubted that his exquisite pain, frequent sickness, and even despondency were given to him by God for his sanctification in a wise and holy purpose.”

So Spurgeon developed a theology of suffering that grew out of his own painful crucible.  His response was nothing less than God-centered and serves as an inspiration for anyone who endures a dark night of the soul.

Chapter 18: Conduct in the Face of Death

Spurgeon was not a perfect man.  He struggled with indwelling sin and battled the flesh all the way to the Celestial City.  But Nettles makes the point abundantly clear.  Spurgeon finished well.  The British pastor said, “Should you even lie in all the despair and desolation which I described, I would persuade you to believe in Jesus.  Trust him, and you shall find him all that you want.”

Summary

Living By Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon is a sweeping epic that beautifully illustrates the life and legacy of one of the most prolific pastors ever.  Tom Nettles has done a great service for the church by researching and writing with the depth of a seasoned theologian and the heart of a caring pastor.

Highly recommended

LIVING BY REVEALED TRUTH: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon – Tom Nettles (2013) Part 8

1781911223_bChapter 13: Theology and Controversy

“We do not wish to fight; but if we do, we hope that the pity will be needed by those with whom we contend.”  Spurgeon was not one to pick a fight but when truth was on the line, he didn’t back down either.  He bravely battled Arminians and Hyper-Calvinists.  Unlike many modern pastors, refused to pretend a cordial relationship when truth was sacrificed at the altar of relevance: “He would not pretend fellowship with those with whom he disagreed upon vital points of truth.”

The author presents several notable theological controversies that Spurgeon confronted including the Rivulet controversy, his battle with atheistic evolution, and his skirmishes with Plymouth Brethrenism.

Chapter 14: Destroy or Be Destroyed

The author continues the discussion and reveals Spurgeon’s passionate defense of the truth as he stepped into the fray against the Roman Catholic Church.  Spurgeon once remarked, “Showing charity to priests is like showing charity to tigers and rattlesnakes.”

Nettles recounts Spurgeon’s run-in’s with the Church of England.  For instance, he called baptismal regeneration, “a wretched and rotten foundation” and a “deceitful invention of antichrist.”  His repudiation of infant baptism was clear.  He referred to the font as a “mockery.”

Chapter 15: The Downgrade Conflict

The author carefully describes the downgrade conflict, the theological slide which Spurgeon confronted directly and ultimately led him out of the Baptist Union.  Spurgeon painfully notes, “I have cut myself  clear of those who err from the faith, and even from those who associate with them.”

Little room was left for the imagination to wander when one considered Spurgeon’s position on controversial matters.  He was a man who would not be swayed by theological error.  He was a bastion of truth in an age of compromise.

LIVING BY REVEALED TRUTH: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon – Tom Nettles (2013) Part 7

1781911223_bChapter 10: Theological Foundations for a Benevolent Ministry

Spurgeon placed the highest priority on the Word of God and proclaimed the truth of Scripture with blood-earnest faithfulness.  But he also had a burden for practical ministry: “We want more Christian ministries of the practical sort.”   He was the primary visionary behind the Orphanage for Boys.  Nettles summarizes Spurgeon’s heart who “saw the needs of childhood not only in terms of food, shelter, and clothing, but in terms of family relationships, maternal care, and pure childish delight.”

Chapter 11: Personal Theory and Preferences in the Production of Godly Literature

Both Spurgeon and his wife were lovers of books.  Mrs. Spurgeon began a Book Fund which was a deep encouragement to pastors in western Europe.  Spurgeon’s writing ministry flourished for most of his ministry.  Soon his sermons were being sent all around the globe

Chapter 12: Literature About Right, Wrong, and Truth

One of the most enduring qualities of this chapter was the discussion that focused on Spurgeon’s love for Jonathan Edwards.  Nettles writes, “Spurgeon’s spirituality savored of an Edwardsean aroma … Spurgeon had a personal appreciation for careful scholarship and its usefulness to the church.  He always longed, however, that scholarship and orthodoxy be suffused with the pulsation of spiritual life.”

LIVING BY REVEALED TRUTH: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon – Tom Nettles (2013) Part 6

1781911223_bChapter 6: Spurgeon’s Message of Christ’s Atoning Sacrifice

“The Lord Jesus Christ on his cross of redemption was the center, circumference, and summation of the preaching ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon,” writes Nettles.  This is the theme that readers are drawn to again and again in this excellent biography.  A few direct citations from Spurgeon will drive this truth home:

“Redemption is the heart of the gospel and the essence of redemption is the substitutionary atonement of Christ.”

” … The death of Christ was the hinge of the world’s history.”

“Christ’s people shall be made willing in the day of his power, and the great attraction by which they will be drawn to him will be his death on the cross.”

“The cross is the mighty battering ram wherewith to break in pieces the brazen gates of human prejudices and the iron bars of obstinacy.”

Chapter 7: The Challenge of Church Life and the Governance of Worship

The burden of shepherding the flock was often times overwhelming for Spurgeon: “Sometimes I become so perplexed that I sink in heart, and dream that it were better for me never to have been born than to have been called to bear all this multitude upon my heart.”  The Metropolitan Tabernacle made a crucial error in electing deacons for life – a polity policy that will often times prove to be detrimental to the health of the church.

Chapter 8: The Gospel is Evangelism

Anyone familiar with Spurgeon’s ministry understands the importance of evangelism as a normal part of church life.  He shared the gospel personally and also preached the gospel passionately.  Nettles adds, “Preaching to convert souls, for Spurgeon, meant laying out the full counsel of God to the sinner.”  Spurgeon’s Reformed soteriology demanded a strong message that warned sinners: “Men must be told that they are dead … and that only the Holy Spirit can quicken them.”  He resisted the Arminian approach to evangelism with holy fervor.

Chapter 9: Use of Evangelists

Chapter 9 is an extension of Spurgeon’s approach to evangelism.  Nettles highlights Spurgeon’s Calvinistic zeal: “To keep back any part of the gospel is neither right nor ‘the true method for saving men.’  All doctrine is saving truth.  ‘If you hold Calvinistic doctrine, as I hope you do, do not stutter about it, nor stammer over it, but speak it out.’  The lack of a full-orbed gospel is behind the evanescence of many so-called revivals.”

LIVING BY REVEALED TRUTH: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon – Tom Nettles (2013) Part 5

Chapter 5 : Theological Method and Content1781911223_b

The author places the spot light on the most prominent feature of Spurgeon’s ministry, namely, the proclamation of the gospel. While Spurgeon attracted thousands of admirers over the course of his ministry, he was also plagued with critics and naysayers. Nettles notes, “Spurgeon quickly learned that a preacher bent on pleasing all his critics would speedily leave the ranks of the ministry.” But Spurgeon would not be distracted. He faithfully forged a gospel path for his hearers – a path that led to eternal life for everyone who believes.

Spurgeon’s gospel focus was narrow and focussed and serves as a necessary reminder for preachers today. “Preach all you know about Christ … To conceal the plain truth of salvation beneath a cloud of words, when God’s honor and eternal human destiny are at stake, is treason to men’s souls and diabolical cruelty.” The cross was the centerpiece of Spurgeon’s ministry. He never compromised his primary calling – the preaching of Christ crucified.

Spurgeon was an accomplished theologian. Nettles weighs in: “The Christian theologian must be clearly Christian and no less clear a theologian.” Spurgeon’s example is a rebuke to many modern preachers who glory in their aversion to theology. The notion of a pastor who preaches messages void of theology would have repulsed the prince of preachers.

Spurgeon was an unashamed admirer of the Puritans and Reformers. Nettles remarks, “Spurgeon advocated a pure Biblicism for theological construction. He loved the historic confessions and the pious and helpful writings of the Reformers and Puritans …” Spurgeon taught the importance of reading dead readers – theologians with a backbone and the courage to proclaim the unchanging Word of God.

Spurgeon unapologetically embraced the doctrines of grace and proudly proclaimed the five points of Calvinism, including the doctrine of particular redemption. He lamented that “most of the mistakes which men make concerning the doctrines of Scripture are based upon fundamental errors with regard to the covenants of law and grace.”

The author makes it clear that Spurgeon’s sermons were chock full of theology: “Spurgeon’s sermons were virtually an overflowing stream of systematic theology …” Again, the contrast between Spurgeon’s doctrinally rich sermons and the weak content in many American sermons is alarming.

Spurgeon was not bashful about confronting his Arminian brothers. Nettles notes, “He loved Arminians as sincere persons and loved the emphasis on Christ that they shared in common with him, but he truly abominated the distinctive elements of their doctrine … The Arminian attempt to tame God, in Spurgeon’s view, created an idol unworthy of respect and adoration.” Spurgeon counted his Arminian friends as brothers and sisters but did not hesitate to remind them of their theological error.

Spurgeon did not equivocate when it came to controversial doctrines. He preached about a fiery hell and the almighty wrath of God. He preached about election and predestination. And he preached about a Christ who paid for the sins of everyone who would ever believe. He opined, “I had rather believe a limited atonement that is efficacious for all men for whom it was intended, than a universal atonement that is not efficacious for anybody, except the will of man be joined with it.”

Biblical authority, theological depth, and doctrinal precision marked the life and ministry of C.H. Spurgeon. Compromise was not a part of his makeup. Fidelity to the truth was at the core of his pastoral identity.