One of my great heroes of the faith is the 19th Century, British Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon. Spurgeon is one of the most well-known and beloved pastors and preachers in the history of the Church. People flocked to hear his preaching, and yet he was a humble man of God who sought to use his platform for the glory of God and the good of others. To this day, Spurgeon is the most widely read preacher (apart from the biblical ones). There is available more material written by Spurgeon in our world today than by any other Christian author, living or dead. Crazy to think about!
And yet, even with all of his success, Spurgeon suffered a great deal throughout his life.
Michael Reeves writes, “His reputation as a famed and powerful preacher, his cheery wit, and his cigar-smoking manliness might lead us to imagine there could never be a chink in his Victorian Englishman’s armor. It shouldn’t be a surprise, of course: being full of life in a fallen world must mean distress, and Spurgeon’s life was indeed full of physical and mental pain.”
John Piper notes how Spurgeon was “familiar with the adversity of family pain. He faced unbelievable physical suffering. He had to endure a lifetime of public ridicule and slander, sometimes of the most vicious kind. And finally, Spurgeon had recurrent battles with depression.”
Spurgeon knew pain. He knew darkness. He knew it well.
For this reason, I find myself going back to his many sermons and writings on pain and suffering time and again to find comfort and hope in my own life. I would encourage you to do the same.
For now, let me share with you 9 quotes from Spurgeon that address pain and suffering from a Christian perspective. These are quotes that I have read and re-read over the past several months to shine light into the darkness our own family has been walking through. I pray they will be a source of light for you too.
1. “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.
2. “It is a sweet mercy to have to go through the floods, if some filthiness may thereby be removed.”
“Oh! it is a great blessing to be put through the fire, if you come out purified. It is a sweet mercy to have to go through the floods, if some filthiness may thereby be removed. The children of Israel went down to Egypt to sojourn there, but after hard servitude and cruel oppression they came up out of it with silver and gold, much enriched by their bondage”
- MTP 15:657.
3. “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.
4. “Half our fears arise from neglect of the Bible.”
“Brethren, a want of familiarity with the Word of God is very often the seed-plot of our doubts! Half our fears arise from neglect of the Bible. Our spirits sink for want of the heavenly food stored up in the inspired Volume.”
- MTP 33:489.
5. “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.
6. “Grace, by its matchless art, has often turned the heaviest of our trials into occasions for heavenly joy.”
“Our afflictions are like weights, and have a tendency to bow us to the dust, but there is a way of arranging weights by means of wheels and pulleys, so that they will even lift us up. Grace, by its matchless art, has often turned the heaviest of our trials into occasions for heavenly joy”
- Feathers for Arrows, 18.
7. “How despicable our troubles and trials will seem when we look back upon them!”
“Wait a little longer. Ah, beloved! How despicable our troubles and trials will seem when we look back upon them! Looking at them here in the prospect, they seem immense; but when we get to heaven, they will seem to us just nothing at all….Let us go on, therefore; and if the night be ever so dark, remember there is not a night that shall not have a morning; and that morning is to come by-and-by”
- MTP 44:104.
8. “The trees bow in the wind, and so must we.”
“The trees bow in the wind, and so must we. Every time the sheep bleats it loses a mouthful, and every time we complain we miss a blessing. Grumbling is a bad trade, and yields no profit, but patience has a golden hand. Our evils will soon be over. After rain comes clear shining; black crows have wings; every winter turns to spring; every night breaks into morning”
– John Ploughman’s Talk, 57-58.
9. “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.
What Spurgeon reminds us of time and again is that our God is faithful! He will not let us go. In fact, in the toughest of times, in the darkest of seasons, He is not only with us but He is at work within us.
He is sanctifying us.
He is making us more holy.
He is exposing our idols.
He is showing us that He indeed is our greatest, everlasting treasure!
As Chris Tomlinson so beautifully puts it, “If knowing and treasuring Jesus is our life’s greatest goal, and joy and sorrow are means towards that end, then we welcome them both with open arms. We may still wince at the pain and rejoice when suffering passes us by, but we embrace them both as satisfactory ways to gain our greatest goal: Jesus.”
Lord, help us to see that there is indeed mercy in the storm. Amen.