Carl F. H. Henry was right to call Charles Spurgeon “one of evangelical Christianity’s immortals” (Carl. F. H. Henry in the foreword to Lewis Drummond, Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers).
In his twenties, Spurgeon pastored the largest mega-church in Protestant Christendom. London’s most cavernous buildings could hardly accommodate his crowds – and one of them even collapsed. American tourists returning from England were greeted with two questions: “Did you see the Queen?’ and ‘Did you hear Spurgeon?’” (A. P. Peabody, “Spurgeon,” North American Review 86 , 275). Truly, the memory of his ministry has become immortal.
But Spurgeon himself was very much mortal. The preacher was anything but bulletproof. In fact, for most of his life Spurgeon nursed deep wounds and struggled to cope with a myriad of emotional and physical maladies.
In 1867 Spurgeon suffered his first attack of chronic nephritis, or Bright’s Disease (kidney inflammation similar to Lupus). At 35 he was diagnosed with gout, an inflammation of the joints. In 1886 he said, “When I am suffering very greatly from gout, if anybody walks heavily and noisily across the room, it gives me pain” (MTP 49:234). In a letter to his brother he wrote, “I thought a cobra had bitten me and filled my veins with poison” (Autobiography 3:134).
So much medicine arrived from friends and family that Spurgeon said he “would have been dead long ago if we had tried half of them” (ST 4, February 1875).
Spurgeon also suffered from depression. “I do not suppose there is any person in this assembly who ever has stronger fits of depression of spirits than I have myself personally” (MTP 15:640). After witnessing seven people trampled to death he said, “The very sight of the Bible made me cry” (MTP 37:383-84).
On October 22, 2009, Dr. Anil Den, a London-based psychiatrist, reviewed Spurgeon’s symptoms and concluded:
“Spurgeon was suffering from a form of endogenous depression and that, if he had presented with such symptoms today he would certainly have been treated with a mixture of medication and therapy” (Peter J. Morden, Communion with Christ and His People, 262).
While it’s difficult to diagnose the dead, one thing is certain: Spurgeon lived in the spotlight and the shadow.
In a moving sermon “Songs in the Night,” Spurgeon revealed the struggle of the Christian trying to praise God in the dark:
It is easy to sing when we can read the notes by daylight; but he is the skilful singer who can sing when there is not a ray of light by which to read,— who sings from his heart, and not from a book that he can see, because he has no means of reading, save from that inward book of his own living spirit, whence notes of gratitude pour forth in songs of praise (MTP 44:98-99).
Spurgeon’s ministry sparked a wildfire throughout the world because it was forged, to be sure, in the fire. “I think it would have been less painful to have been burned alive at the stake than to have passed through those horrors and depressions of spirit” (MTP 53:137-38).
Yet even in the heat of public criticism, character assassination, physical setbacks, and emotional challenges, Spurgeon experienced the warm kindness of God.
Spurgeon never suffered from having never suffered. He saw hardships as God’s hammer, shaping sinners into holiness and channeled his suffering into his sermons. Small wonder the hard working class were magnetized to him. “You must go through the fire,” he said, “if you would have sympathy with others who tread the glowing coals” (MTP 32:590).
Here are ten quotes with their contexts, forged on the anvil of Spurgeon’s own affliction:
1. “The storm has a bit in its mouth.”
“Perhaps at this very moment, down in some cabin, or amidst the noise and tumult, and the raging of the ocean, when many are alarmed, there are Christians with calm faces, patiently waiting their Father’s will, whether it shall be to reach the port of heaven, or to be spared to come again to land, into the midst of life’s trials and struggles once more. They feel that they are well-cared for, they know that the storm has a bit in its mouth, and that God holds it in, and nothing can hurt them; nothing can happen to them but what God permits.”
“Safe Shelter” (MTP 15, Sermon 902, p. 650).
2. “The greatest earthly blessing that God can give to any of us is health, with the exception of sickness.”
“Health is set before us as if it were the great thing to be desired above all other things. It is so? I would venture to say that the greatest blessing that God can give to any of us is health, with the exception of sickness. Sickness has frequently been of more use to the saints of God than health has. If some men, that I know of, could only be favoured with a month of rheumatism, it would, by God’s grace, mellow them marvelously.”
C. H. Spurgeon, “The Minister in These Times” in An All-Round Ministry (Banner of Truth, 2000), p. 384, italics in the original.
3. “Men will never become great in divinity until they become great in suffering.”
“Men will never become great in divinity until they become great in suffering. ‘Ah!’ said Luther, ‘affliction is the best book in my library;’ and let me add, the best leaf in the book of affliction is that blackest of all the leaves, the leaf called heaviness, when the spirit sinks within us, and we cannot endure as we could wish. And yet again; this heaviness is of essential use to a Christian, if he would do good to others. . . . There are none so tender as those who have been skinned themselves. Those who have been in the chamber of affliction know how to comfort those who are there. Do not believe that any man will become a physician unless he walks the hospitals; and I am sure that no one will become a divine, or become a comforter, unless he lies in the hospital as well as walks through it, and has to suffer himself.”
“The Christian’s Heaviness and Rejoicing” (NPSP 4, Sermon 222, p. 461).
4. “Better to be taught by suffering than to be taught by sin!”
“Perhaps there may be no way of teaching us so thoroughly the baseness of our heart as by leaving us to its devices; perhaps we shall never know our folly, unless suffered to play the fool, but oh prevent it, Lord! prevent it by thy grace! Better to be taught by suffering than to be taught by sin! Better to lie in God’s dungeon than to revel in the devil’s palace.”
“Hezekiah and the Ambassadors, Or Vainglory Rebuked” (MTP 12, Sermon 704, p.438).
5. “Our infirmities become the black velvet on which the diamond of God’s love glitters all the more brightly.”
“Grace is given to keep us from sin, which is a great blessing; but what is the good of grace except it is in the time when the trial comes? Certainly, the grace that will not stand in the hour of temptation or affliction, is a very spurious sort of grace; and we had better get rid of it, if we have it. When a godly woman’s child dies, the infidel husband sees the mother’s faith. When the ship goes down, and is lost in the sea, the ungodly merchant understands the resignation of his fellow-man. When pangs shoot through our body, and ghastly death appears in view, people see the patience of the dying Christian. Our infirmities become the black velvet on which the diamond of God’s love glitters all the more brightly. Thank God I can suffer, thank God I can be made the object of shame and contempt; for, in this way, God shall be glorified.”
“A Wafer of Honey” (MTP 52, Sermon 2974, p. 80).
6. “Mark then, Christian, Jesus does not suffer so as to exclude your suffering.”
“Mark then, Christian, Jesus does not suffer so as to exclude your suffering. He bears a cross, not that you may escape it, but that you may endure it. Christ exempts you from sin, but not from sorrow. Remember that, and expect to suffer.”
C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Morning (New York: Sheldon and Company, 1865), April 5, p. 96.
7. “There is no University for a Christian like that of sorrow and trial.”
“Israel gained by education. The Lord was not going to lead a mob of slaves into Canaan, to go and behave like slaves there. They had to be tutored. The wilderness was the Oxford and Cambridge for God’s students. There they went to the University, and he taught and trained them, and they took their degree before they entered into the promised land. There is no University for a Christian like that of sorrow and trial.”
“Marah Better Than Elim” (MTP 39, Sermon 2301, p.151).
8. “There are times when we cannot cry at all, and then he cries in us.”
“Is it not ourselves that cry? Yes, assuredly; and yet the Spirit cries also. The expressions are both correct. The Holy Spirit prompts and inspires the cry. He puts the cry into the heart and mouth of the believer. It is his cry because he suggests it, approves of it, and educates us to it. We should never have cried thus if he had not first taught us the way. . . . There are times when we cannot cry at all, and then he cries in us. There are seasons when doubts and fears abound, and so suffocate us with their fumes that we cannot even raise a cry, and then the indwelling Spirit represents us, and speaks for us, and makes intercession for us, crying in our name.”
“Adoption –The Spirit and the Cry” (MTP 24, Sermon 1435, p. 537, italics in the original).
9. “O dear friend, when thy grief presses thee to the very dust, worship there!”
“O dear friend, when thy grief presses thee to the very dust, worship there! If that spot has come to be thy Gethsemane, then present there thy ‘strong crying and tears’ unto thy God. Remember David’s words, ‘Ye people, pour out your hearts,’ — but do not stop there, finish the quotation, — ‘Ye people, pour out your hearts before him.’ Turn the vessel upside down; it is a good thing to empty it, for this grief may ferment into something more sour. Turn the vessel upside down, and let every drop run out; but let it be before the Lord. ‘Ye people, pour out your hearts before him: God is a refuge for us.’ When you are bowed down beneath a heavy burden of sorrow, then take to worshipping the Lord, and especially to that kind of worshipping which lies in adoring God, and in making a full surrender of yourself to the divine will.”
“Job’s Resignation” (MTP 42, Sermon 2457, p. 134).
10. “Fear not the storm, it brings healing in its wings, and when Jesus is with you in the vessel the tempest only hastens the ship to its desired haven.”
“I, the preacher of this hour, beg to bear my witness that the worst days I have ever had have turned out to be my best days, and when God has seemed most cruel to me, he has then been most kind. If there is anything in this world for which I would bless him more than for anything else, it is for pain and affliction. I am sure that in these things the richest, tenderest love has been manifested to me. Our Father’s wagons rumble most heavily when they are bringing us the richest freight of the bullion of his grace. Love letters from heaven are often sent in black-edged envelopes. The cloud that is black with horror is big with mercy. Fear not the storm, it brings healing in its wings, and when Jesus is with you in the vessel the tempest only hastens the ship to its desired haven.”
“Ziklag; Or, David Encouraging Himself in God” (MTP 27, Sermon 1606, p. 373).