9 types of leaders in Scripture
Mon May 20, 2013
by Justin Holcomb
5 bits of wisdom for the professional Christian woman
Sun May 19, 2013
by Shandel Slaten
Sat May 18, 2013
by Hugh Whelchel
Resurgence roundup, 5/17/13
Fri May 17, 2013
Grace all the way
Wed May 15, 2013
by Justin Holcomb
Spurgeon Wrote Books That the Haters Hated - Part 4 of 4
This week is unofficially “Spurgeon Is the Man” week.
Spurgeon was a voracious writer who took extensive amounts of time to ensure his studies spread beyond his pulpit into the world. From 1855 to 1892, his weekly sermons were published and between two and three hundred million copies were sold. He also published a monthly magazine called “The Sword and the Trowel,” penned over 140 books, wrote the enormous commentary on the Psalms titled The Treasury of David, wrote reviews of 1,437 books he had read and recommended to young pastors, and wrote the devotional books Morning by Morning and Evening by Evening. In addition, he wrote up to five hundred personal letters a week by hand with a pen that had to be replenished continually in an ink bottle. All the more amazing, he had arthritis in his hands.
With a background in journalism and a degree in communication, the writing of Spurgeon is incredibly inspiring to me. I believe the reason he had such a global and lasting impact is because of his writing ministry. In light of that, this past year the Executive Elders of our church reorganized how we operate in large part to enable me to focus on studying, preaching, writing, and serving as something of a movement leader as Spurgeon was.
The change was very painful, but six months later is bearing great fruit. Finally relieved of working in the details of running the church, I am free to study and write more than ever. By God’s grace, this year alone I am publishing six books and believe that it is possible to publish at least as many books as Spurgeon in my lifetime.
Spurgeon came under continual attack because of both his conservative theology and successful ministry. What has come to be known as the Downgrade Controversy ultimately led to Spurgeon being kicked out of his own Baptist denomination for his unwillingness to stop teaching such things as eternal torment in a literal hell, the literal truthfulness of Scripture, a literal creation by God, and the perfection and divine inspiration of Scripture. In his final days, Spurgeon was attacked by hyper-Calvinistic legalists and universalistic liberals alike, the former because he freely preached the gospel to all people, the latter because he did not believe that everyone would be saved. To make matters worse, Spurgeon was blessed with a rigorous mind and powerful voice but suffered from poor health. He suffered continually from a variety of ailments, ranging from kidney disease to gout, which occasionally prevented him from preaching and ultimately took his life at age 57. Additionally, his beloved wife Susannah struggled mightily with poor health and spent considerable years of her life essentially bedridden. In his seasons of tremendous pain he was forced to pray and trust the goodness of God. His suffering also greatly clarified his understanding of Jesus’ painful atonement and great love for his people. His prayers sustained him when he was forced to miss up to seven weeks at a time and lie bedridden in pain rather than preach to his congregation. Spurgeon struggled with depression prompted by his poor health and the painful burden he carried for the many pastors who came to him for counsel. Speaking of his bouts with depression, he said that it was like “fighting the mist.” Once, a terrorist threat was made against his birthday party, which required police protection. Perhaps the darkest period of Spurgeon’s ministry came when troublemakers began falsely crying “Fire!” to a packed congregation that had come to hear him preach, causing a stampede that killed some people who were trampled underfoot. Spurgeon was so distraught that he had to take some months off to simply recover emotionally.
One of the greatest gifts I have ever received arrived in conjunction with the tenth anniversary of our church. It was a handwritten letter from Spurgeon sent to me from an Australian pastor who listened to my sermons online. At the time the letter was written, Spurgeon was roughly my age with a church of five thousand, which was roughly the same size as our church. The letter included a particularly haunting line for me personally. In it, I find a mentor with whom I can relate, as there are few who understand the weight of leading a large, fast-growing urban church at a young age without a pastor to mentor you in the face of great adversity and criticism. In the letter written to a friend on February 20, 1873, Spurgeon speaks of “staggering under the cares of the little nation that demands my perpetual service.”
In the face of daunting work and overwhelming criticism, Spurgeon has mentored me in four ways.
First, in his willingness to speak of his personal suffering and pain, he has chosen to not falsely present himself as a perfect man without weakness or trouble. In so doing he has given me freedom to likewise be honest in hopes of best serving other ministers of the gospel.
Second, in admitting the pain he personally endured at the hands of critics who were motivated by everything from jealousy to false doctrine, he has made me feel oddly normal. I also praise God that he did not live in our present day when criticism is worse than ever. In a phone conversation I had with Rick Warren, he noted that today criticism is instant, constant, global, and permanent. His insights are truthful, and had Spurgeon lived in our day of Internet rumor-mongering, I fear it would have shortened his life even further. I find myself returning to Spurgeon’s letters and autobiography for some mentoring and praise God he lived in a different era because of my affection for him.
Third, in dealing with critics I have learned to find a way to strategically respond beyond the pulpit. What I appreciate about Spurgeon is that he did not allow his pulpit to be dominated by responses to his critics, as that would have gotten him off mission and message. Still, if he did not have a way to speak for himself and defuse rumors and lies, he would have been destroyed. His answer was the magazine “The Sword and the Trowel.” Taking the name from Nehemiah, he rightly saw that the movement he led needed to be built (trowel work) and defended (sword work). The magazine helped him to do both and in his example I have used blogging, article writing, YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, media interviews, and the like to do the sword work.
Fourth, I have learned from Spurgeon that suffering and despair are part of faithful gospel work in the face of criticism. I have also leaned the importance of living for the day when the biography is written on earth and the verdict is rendered in heaven. During one of the most painful seasons of conflict, illness, and controversy, Spurgeon said something that was literally transforming for me. He said that he kept a long view of things and knew that one day, after he was dead and gone, history would vindicate him. By God’s grace, it has, and with many years of ministry ahead of me, his words ring true and continually help me to keep my hand to the plow and press forward, awaiting my final judgment of works at the throne of Jesus. Upon his death, sixty thousand people passed before his open coffin in one day, with a similar crowd the ensuing day. Four memorial services were held in one day for the members of the church, ministers and students, members of other denominations, and the general public respectively. The road to the cemetery from his church was lined with hundreds of thousands of people whose lives had been touched by the power of the gospel through Jesus’ servant Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
By God’s grace, Spurgeon finished his race well and I pray that I will do the same in part by learning from his example. Lastly, I praise God that his faith is now sight and look forward to the day when I will meet my dear friend.
The beginning of next week will be a recap of this series, with shout outs to all of the Spurgeon fans out there.