Thursday, March 09, 2006

The multifacted marvel that is Spurgeon

I've loved and profited from the sermons and writings of Charles Spurgeon for decades. Now isn't the time for a whole essay, but I wanted to note something in passing.

I read Morning and Evening daily, using e-Sword. Often Spurgeon has a word of uplift or encouragement, or both; sometimes uncannily well-timed. I found his March 9 evening thoughts remarkable on a number of levels.

The text is Genesis 35:18, which reads thus in ESV: "And as her soul was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-oni [= son of my sorrow]; but his father called him Benjamin [=son of my right hand]."

Here are Spurgeon's thoughts:

To every matter there is a bright as well as a dark side. Rachel was overwhelmed with the sorrow of her own travail and death; Jacob, though weeping the mother’s loss, could see the mercy of the child’s birth. It is well for us if, while the flesh mourns over trials, our faith triumphs in divine faithfulness. Samson’s lion yielded honey, and so will our adversities, if rightly considered. The stormy sea feeds multitudes with its fishes; the wild wood blooms with beauteous florets; the stormy wind sweeps away the pestilence, and the biting frost loosens the soil. Dark clouds distil bright drops, and black earth grows gay flowers. A vein of good is to be found in every mine of evil. Sad hearts have peculiar skill in discovering the most disadvantageous point of view from which to gaze upon a trial; if there were only one slough in the world, they would soon be up to their necks in it, and if there were only one lion in the desert they would hear it roar. About us all there is a tinge of this wretched folly, and we are apt, at times, like Jacob, to cry, "All these things are against me." Faith’s way of walking is to cast all care upon the Lord, and then to anticipate good results from the worst calamities. Like Gideon’s men, she does not fret over the broken pitcher, but rejoices that the lamp blazes forth the more. Out of the rough oyster-shell of difficulty she extracts the rare pearl of honour, and from the deep ocean-caves of distress she uplifts the priceless coral of experience. When her flood of prosperity ebbs, she finds treasures hid in the sands; and when her sun of delight goes down, she turns her telescope of hope to the starry promises of heaven. When death itself appears, faith points to the light of resurrection beyond the grave, thus making our dying Benoni to be our living Benjamin.
Here are mine. MS Word counts 330 words in that little devotional. In those 330 words:

  1. I count fully five allusions to Scriptures besides the target-Scripture.
  2. I count eleven metaphors (how to count them can be argued).
  3. I count, apart from the metaphors and Biblical references, six allusions to nature.
  4. Besides all that, the thoughts are just wonderful, with some heart-brightening, memorable, wonderful words of cheer and encouragement. Just savor this: "A vein of good is to be found in every mine of evil. Sad hearts have peculiar skill in discovering the most disadvantageous point of view from which to gaze upon a trial; if there were only one slough in the world, they would soon be up to their necks in it, and if there were only one lion in the desert they would hear it roar. About us all there is a tinge of this wretched folly, and we are apt, at times, like Jacob, to cry, 'All these things are against me.' Faith’s way of walking is to cast all care upon the Lord, and then to anticipate good results from the worst calamities."
  5. In that, too, see why Spurgeon is better than Edwards. (One-Dan's-opinion alert in three... two... one....) For all my efforts to like and appreciate Edwards, I just haven't succeeded yet. Jonathan Edwards writes like a bloodless statue. But Spurgeon -- he's been there, he's fought and struggled, and he's got some hard-won encouagement and cheer he wants to share.
  6. Having said all that, it's hard to say that this really came from the text! This has long cracked me up about Spurgeon, and my love for him. I would never preach like him. Sometimes he does a wonderful job with his text; and sometimes I have to admit that the text is more of a pretext. But what he says is always golden! Spurgeon could see a gum-wrapper in the gutter and preach a heartening, God-exalting, sinner-wooing, saint-strengthening sermon. The gum-wrapper would be incidental.
A few more words on that last thought, in parting. A lesser mortal such as I wouldn't dare to preach that way. I need the text to keep me honest, focused, directed. Beyond that, it is my conviction that we should preach the Bible, not use the Bible -- but Spurgeon uses the Bible to preach the Bible, so it's hard to be too angry at him.

So what I'm left saying is, "Kids, don't try this at home!" Spurgeon could do it, because God made him Spurgeon. He didn't make me Spurgeon and, no offense, but the odds are staggering that He didn't make you Spurgeon, either.

But thank God He made Spurgeon Spurgeon.

9 comments:

jeff said...

Great post, Dan, and I agree with you 100%. I just preached this past Sunday on Philippians 2:12-13, and as I was studying I came across a sermon Spurgeon preached on Phil. 2:12. In that sermon, however, he just seized on the word "salvation" and preached a gospel presentation message. Now, SPurgeon's sermon was amazing! But it missed the point of the passage and the meaning of "salvation" in the context of the verse. Spurgeon being Spurgeon to be sure, all richly edifying, but it goes along with what you posted about him.

Chuck said...

I'm glad you let that stuff about Edwards off your chest, because it frees me up to say something tantamount to heresy among Baptists: I cannot get into Spurgeon. While I think his life and ministry were an incredible testimony to the grace of God, if I had to choose between reading some of his writings and reading something by John Flavel or Jonathan Edwards, Spurgeon would be a distant third. I guess I just think in different ways than him; I can usually learn more from other authors even when they're intimating the same truths.
Please don't lynch me.

DJP said...

How about if I just shun you? (c;

It's just an odd thing, isn't it? The people I like, like Edwards; but I just can't do it. Presumably the people you like, like Spurgeon -- but he doesn't "work" for you. Shouldn't be surprising that the God who made so many kinds of flowers and roses should make so many kinds of servants, each with his own ministry.

In my case, I feel that the people who enjoy Edwards are probably better than I, and if I were deeper I'd enjoy him too. I plan to write on this a bit more in the future -- but I continue to try to like him, and continue to fail. I just finished Murray's biography of Edwards. Murray clearly loves Edwards. It left me liking him even less than I had!

So, continuing to try, I'm listening to addresses on Edwards by Packer, Piper, Murray. I like all those guys. They like Edwards.

But I just don't! So far.

They get me to think, "Yeah, he must be really great." So I pick up another Edwards sermon or treatise, I start reading... and soon, brr-r-r-r-r!

Ah, but Spurgeon....

Chuck said...

I'm no better at all. In fact, I find Spurgeon a bit esoteric for me. Edwards' writing might be thick, but he's more structured. For what it's worth, I like Morning and Evening because it's such a small dose, and The Forgotten Spurgeon is one of the best books I have ever read. There is much profit in Spurgeon- I'll let Murray do the mining and I'll get the gold.

Libbie said...

It is rather an amusing trait of Spurgeon, and I'm glad somebody mentioned it, as I really am far too lowly to dare say that. But you have a beard, so it's better for you..

4given said...

Grest post that brought both chuckles and deep thought.
As a mother of many, I do tend to enjoy reading Spurgeon, not so much as the Word of God, but especially in trial, I do often find comfort in his sermons.
But I have to admit, I also enjoy much, the works of Jonathan Edwards, though it does take me bit longer to digest... as does Boettner, Owens and a few others.

Even So... said...

Well, as long as we are being honest...oh, boy, not sure, well here goes anyway...reading John Owen to me is like waiting for your kid to tell you what it was they did that was a "naughty" when they have a ripped shirt, a bloody nose, and they are missing a shoe. Get to the point already! I (honesty alert #2) have enough trouble just getting through someone else's intro to "Death of Death" without having to wait on the venerable Puritan to give me the goods without all the plodding verbosity.

Even So....

thedodester said...

You think Edwards is dense? Owens? How about John Gill? His biblical commentary on what seems like almost every point takes this sort of form...

"Not for blah, blah, blah, nor yet because of blah, blah, blah, nor even for reason of blah, blah, blah (as some think, most notably Kimchi and Jarchi).... but on account of....."

There is no doubt about his great learning, but his style of delivery brings groans to the short attention span of my modern mind.

Scot McKnight said...

Now for something really heretical: I'm a low-church, anabaptist, Arminian leaning who loves Spurgeon. And I'll come to his defense on how he preaches (he was after used mightily by God): he preached the whole Bible through each passage. (Of course, his "whole Bible" means his "theological understanding of the whole Bible.)

I have read about ten volumes of his sermons, his autobiography two or three times, and Lectures twice. I love him.

I also like Edwards, but his writing style is sterile but his ideas are white-hot.

I read six volumes of John Owen in college, bless me, and found his style worse than Edwards. I could never get into John Gill.

Now, have you ever read John Howard Yoder -- maybe the modern true example of the Reformation's genuine direction: freeing the Church from the State and calling the Church to its task and the Church to speak prophetic words into culture.