Archive by Author | Paul O'Brien

The Pastoral Long-Suffering of Spurgeon and Boyce

Introduction

We see through James P. Boyce’s and Charles Spurgeon’s life that they were entrusted with great gifts but we also see through a survey of their biographies that they also suffered great grief. We have much to glean from them.[1] We will see that we are all called to be faithful stewards of what God has entrusted to us. Though it will be difficult to various degrees we can endure what God has called us to by the grace that He grants us.

Hear Spurgeon’s words:

I know you will tell me that the gold must be thrust into the fire, that believers must pass through much tribulation. I answer, Truly it must be so, but when the gold knows why and wherefore it is in the fire, when it understands who placed it there, who watches it while amid the coals, who is sworn to bring it out unhurt, and in what matchless purity it will soon appear, the gold, if it be gold indeed, will thank the Refiner for putting it into the crucible, and will find a sweet satisfaction even in the flames.[2]

Thus, even as we face difficulties we must entrust ourselves to a God, as Spurgeon did. Even in the midst of Spurgeon’s great suffering he “never doubted that his exquisite pain, frequent sicknesses, and even despondency were given him by God for his sanctification in a wise and holy purpose.”[3]

A Great Work At A Great Cost

Spurgeon and Boyce both had great life works but they both suffered great loss in their lives as a result. Boyce, who founded the seminary I went to, said that the seminary may die but that he would die first.[4] He would worked rain or shine for the prosperity of the school. He said that he did not own the seminary but rather it owned him. Boyce kept the seminary alive and fed it with almost his own heart’s blood.[5] Thus we see that Boyce clearly realized that he would have to imitate his Lord’s long-suffering. There was “mammoth energy and sacrifice involved” for Boyce “in setting the seminary securely during the trials of decades.”[6] “Boyce endured the press of ‘anxieties, trials, and labors” during days when the seminary’s future appeared bleak and exerted ‘herculean toils’ to surmount these seemingly invincible difficulties.”[7]

Similarly, Spurgeon was not a martyr, but he chose to die every day.[8] He suffered with gout; he gave his money, his time, and himself completely to the Lord. God used Spurgeon greatly. He wrote over 140 books, penned around 500 letters a week, spoke to thousands of people each week, started an orphanage, started a pastor’s college, and led countless people to Christ, among other things.[9] That was all possible because he gave himself entirely to the Lord. One of Spurgeon’s biographers, Arnold Dallimore, said, “Early in life he had lost all consideration of his own self, and his prayer that he might be hidden behind the cross, that Christ alone might be seen, had expressed his heart’s chief purpose.”[10]

Spurgeon said, “It is our duty and our privilege to exhaust our lives for Jesus.”[11] Boyce, similarly, had an “entire devotion.”[12] Likewise, Paul was greatly used by God because he gave himself unreservedly to Him; even to the point of much affliction. If we are going to be used by God, for His glory, we must unreservedly sacrifice all and He must get all, Christianity is all-encompassing.[13] May our chief boast be Jesus Christ, and Him crucified (Gal. 6:14).

Jesus held the weight of the world on His shoulders, even the sin of the whole world. Yet, Spurgeon and Boyce surely often felt as if the weight of the world was on their shoulders. However, they also felt that their burden was easy (cf. Matt. 11:30), and they knew that through Jesus Christ their reward would be great (2 Cor. 4:17). Both Spurgeon and Boyce knew that the cross came before the crown, trials before the triumphant Kingdom.[14] So, Spurgeon said, for instance, “Good men are promised tribulation in this world, and ministers may expect a larger share than others.”[15]

I would do well to remember the price that godly men and women have paid throughout the centuries when I become discouraged in my work. The writer to the Hebrews wrote about various faithful men and women to encourage the recipients of the letter to endure in the face of persecution (see Heb. 11). I need to remember “the great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1), including Spurgeon and Boyce, and run on with endurance (cf. v. 1).

Physical Suffering

Martin Luther talked about the theology of the cross.[16] I think both Spurgeon and Boyce had a clear understanding of this theology. In fact, I think Spurgeon could have written his own tome on it.[17] Both Spurgeon and Boyce lived a life of strenuous endeavor, to borrow Theodore Roosevelt’s words.[18] Yet, they did not box as one beating the air (1 Cor. 9:26). Rather, they knew for what they labored, they labored for the Lord, and thus knew their labor was not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58). Spurgeon, as he loved Bunyan’s great work and read it around one hundred times, certainly would have agreed with Lloyd-Jones’s observation: “The great truth in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is not that Christian endured great hardships on his way to the eternal city, but that Christian thought it to be worth his while to endure those hardships.”[19]

Spurgeon and Boyce ironically suffered with some of the same physical bodily afflictions. They both suffered with bouts of gout, for instance.[20] Gout is typically the worst when body temperature is lower. Gout very often targets the big toe but can also cause joint pain in wrists and fingers as well as fatigue. Symptoms from gout can actually be so intense that the weight of a sheet can be unbearable. However, the physical pain was multiplied for these great men when you consider all that they were incapable of doing when they were laid up because of their pain. Though they sought to make the best of this time, surely they often felt anxiety and perhaps guilt over what they were unable to accomplish during these bouts.

Yet, their great enemy, to borrow the words of Spurgeon, was also a great teacher. We see in Spurgeon’s biography that his great suffering enabled him to better relate to people (cf. 2 Cor. 1:4).[21] Suffering taught both Spurgeon and Boyce humble reliance on the Lord. This brings to mind Paul’s thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12:7). Even as Boyce and Spurgeon were writhing in pain I am sure they thought (1) that God was sufficient to use frail jars of clay (2 Cor. 4:7), (2) that God is sovereign and when they weep He still reigns and cares for His Church, and (3) that though they were indeed experiencing great suffering it was nothing compared to the eternal wrath that the suffering of the Son of God had averted for them. Thus, though these great men knew great suffering, they both grew instead of grumbling. Their gout was a rod that dished out sanctification.

I would do well to look at these men’s example and hear again, “Good men are promised tribulation in this world, and ministers may expect a larger share than others.”[22] I may or may not deal with the physical pain that they dealt with but I can certainly learn from their patience in the midst of it. I must also remember “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master” (Matt. 10:24). If Jesus my Master suffered then I can expect nothing less.

Depression

During one of Spurgeon’s bouts with depression he said, “I could weep by the hour like a child, and yet I knew not what I wept for.”[23] Not only did Spurgeon have a natural disposition to depression[24] but the weight of his position and responsibilities also was heavy upon him.[25] He said,

Our work, when earnestly undertaken, lays us open to attacks in the direction of depression. Who can bear the weight of souls without sometimes sinking to the dust? Passionate longings after men’s conversion, if not fully satisfied (and when are they?), consume the soul with anxiety and disappointment… The kingdom comes not as we would, the reverend name is not hallowed as we desire, and for this we must weep… How often, on Lord’s-day evening, do we feel as if life were completely washed out of us![26]

Thus we see that Spurgeon, “the prince of preacher,” was sometimes even depressed about his sermon on Monday or even as he walked down from the pulpit on Sunday. He said these words to a group of ministers, “We come out of the pulpit, at times, feeling that we are less fit than ever for the holy work. Our last sermon we judge to be our worst.”[27] “We experience dreary intervals of fruitless toil, and then it is no wonder that a man’s spirit faints within him.”[28]

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The Hospitality of God and our Hospitality

First, what even is hospitality? What does it mean? It means “love for the stranger” or “to befriend a stranger.”[1] One definition says hospitality is having “regard for one who comes from outside one’s group.” That is exactly what God has done for us. God is perfectly holy and exalted and yet He has regard for us. 

The Lord God has regarded us—loved us—even welcomed us into the Triune fellowship (see e.g. Jn. 20:17), we who were sinners and strangers. And He did so with great cost to Himself.[2] And we see from the Gospels that Jesus was a friend (philos) of those we would expect to remain strangers and outsiders, people like tax collectors and other sinners (see Matt. 11:19), sinners like you and me.[3] And so Paul says, “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7).

When we understand the amazing hospitality of God we will find it easier to love and welcome people in. Understanding the hospitality of God is essential as we think about the hospitality that we are called to practice. Because, in one sense, hospitality is supernatural. It is certainly not natural to us. We need to meditate on the hospitality of God if we hope to be hospitable as we are called to. 

It is true, however, that even “secular people” who don’t know God’s love show surprising generous hospitality (cf. Acts 28:2,7[4]). So, how much more should Christians, who have been welcomed in by God with great expense, welcome in and love others?

The LORD has shown undeserved love to us in Christ may we show love to others (Ex. 23:9; Lev. 19:18, 34; Deut. 10:17-20).

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My Checklist for Preaching

This is a checklist that I put together to look over as I prepare to preach. There are, of course, other things that I could have put on this list. But these are the specific things that I need to be sure to check at this point in ministry…  

  • Am I preaching the good news of Jesus?
  • Am I praying and pleading with God to bless my sermon?
  • Am I working with a team in preparation to preach?
  • Am I getting and listening to Leah’s feedback?
  • Am I preparing far enough in advance?
  • Am I preparing my sermon with specific people in mind?
  • Am I going to bring people on the journey with me? (Am I going to peak people’s interests? Am I taking baby steps when necessary or am I making huge leaps in my logical reasoning?)
  • Am I using the 6 Journalistic Questions (What?, Who?, When?, Why?, Where?, and How?) and answering what will be most helpful for the audience?
  • Am I illustrating my point like Jesus would have? And am I getting the full impact from my illustrations?
  • Is the sermon going to be “G rated”? (Is the sermon for a general audience or is it restricted to those with special training? Did I break it down like I need a mechanic to break it down for me?)
  • Is the sermon going to create and relieve tension?
  • Is my sermon focused, making one sustained point? (Am I considering what the one thing is that I want people to take away from the message?)
  • Can I pass the 3am test? (If I was awakened at 3am and asked about the main point and structure of the sermon could I answer in a helpful way?)
  • Will unbelievers understand and find the sermon appealing? (Not that we ever want to compromise the truth but we do want to intrigue unbelievers with the view of reality that the Bible gives)

In the future I’d like to write a blog post for each of the above points to further convince myself of their importance.

“Does God love all humanity, every single person?”

“Does God love all humanity, every single person?” My natural inclination right off the bat is to say, “Yes. Yes, God loves all humanity, every single person.”

But we do not want what I want to think but we want to look at what the Bible says and wrestle with its teaching. So, what does the Bible say?

This may be a harder question than it would first appear. This is because this question is never explicitly asked in Scripture and thus is never explicitly answered. It is difficult because we are vying for certain answers. We so often want to make God like ourselves (Ps. 50:21). It is also a difficult question because the Bible seems to teach that God at the same time loves the whole world and yet hates all the rebellious.

In Scripture, we see that God has made man in His image (Gen. 1:26-27), so in as much as each person still reflects God’s image, God, I believe, loves that aspect of them.

In Matthew 5:43-48, Jesus tells His disciples to love their enemies and gives God the Father as an example. God “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Matthew, in this passage says that He does this in love.

God, therefore, clearly has this kind of love for all humanity. He is the example that we are to imitate. We are to “love our enemies” in imitation of God Himself. Thus, I conclude, yes, God does love all humanity, every single person. In a similar way, Psalm 145 says, “The LORD is good to all, and His mercy is over all that He has made” (Ps. 145:9).

Yet, the Bible also says that God hates all workers of iniquity (see for example Ps. 5:5; 11:5b-6; Rom. 1:18ff; Jn. 3:36). As we look at this question, it is important to remember that the LORD is God and He is good even if we cannot understand His ways. We must remember that although God has revealed Himself and we can truly know Him yet we cannot exhaustively grasp Him.

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30 Insights to remember from Preaching as Reminding

I really appreciated Jeffrey D. Arthurs’s book, Preaching as Reminding. Here are thirty things I especially want to remember…

“The Scriptures themselves are the invitation to remember: Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; remember the Exodus; make a pile of stones; remember the Sabbath. Come again to the table, break the bread, drink the cup. Remember” (Jeffrey D. Arthurs, Preaching as Reminding, p. ix).

Preachers “remind the faithful of what they already know when knowledge has faded and conviction cooled. We fan the flames. That’s what we see when we look at the work of Moses, the prophets, and the apostles” (p. 3). “Preachers are remembrancers” (p. ix). We see this for example through what Peter says in 2 Peter 1:12-13 (“…to stir you up by way of reminder…”). And so, “Ministers must learn to stir memory, not simply repeat threadbare platitudes” (p. 5).

“It matters that we preach. It matters that we call people to remember their God and their deepest values and their truest selves and the story that has maybe shaped their lives and for sure has shaped their world. It matters that we preach with all the fidelity and urgency and learning and purity and creativity that God allows us to muster” (p. ix-x).

“If we have no memory we are adrift, because memory is the mooring to which we are tied. Memory of the past interprets the present and charts a course for the future” (p. 1). “Without memory, we are lost souls. That is why the Bible is replete with statements, stories, sermons, and ceremonies designed to stir memory. Even nature—the rainbow after the flood—serves as a reminder of God’s faithfulness (Gen 9:13-17)” (p. 3).

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The Ascension

“The LORD says to my Lord:
‘Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.’
2The LORD sends forth from Zion
your mighty scepter.
Rule in the midst of your enemies!
3Your people will offer themselves freely
on the day of your power,
in holy garments;
from the womb of the morning,
the dew of your youth will be yours.
4The LORD has sworn
and will not change his mind,
‘You are a priest forever
after the order of Melchizedek.’
5The Lord is at your right hand;
he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
6He will execute judgment among the nations,
filling them with corpses;
he will shatter chiefs
over the wide earth.
7He will drink from the brook by the way;
therefore he will lift up his head.”
—Ps. 110 (cf. Acts 2:33-36)

As we saw in the previous post on the resurrection, Peter looked at Psalm 16 and showed how Jesus’ resurrection was foretold. In Acts 2 Peter goes on to show that Jesus is now at God’s right hand, as Psalm 110 foretold. Jesus Himself had quoted from Psalm 110 and stomped His critics (see e.g. Matt. 22:41-46). And when you look at 110:1 it’s not surprising that they were stomped.

So, we see that Jesus is at God’s right hand until… Until He makes His enemies His footstool. That means that Jesus is coming back—and the New Testament repeatedly says soon—to bring judgment, and pervasive peace through that judgment.[1]

Jesus’ death and resurrection shows that He is indeed the Lord and Messiah.[2] As the Lord and Messiah, He is coming back soon to vanquish every foe and establish His forever reign of peace. In His second coming, He will bring the Kingdom that was expected at His first coming.  Read More…

On what day did Jesus die?

First, I encourage you to read Matthew’s account in the Gospel of Matthew. It will be helpful to read since it’s the longest (Matt. 27:24-62).

In Matthew’s account we see that Jesus dies (v. 45-56) and then Joseph of Arimathea asks Pilate for permission to bury Jesus’ body (Matt. 27:57-61). Joseph did this on the Preparation Day, that is, on Friday, the day before Saturday which is the Sabbath.[1] It was very important that Jesus’ body not stay on the cross on the Sabbath because then the land would be defiled (Jn. 19:31).[2] So, Jesus died on Friday because He was taken off the cross before the Sabbath.

The next day, that is on Saturday,[3] “the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, ‘Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while He was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise’” (v. 62). And then they asked for guards and so Pilate granted their request and gave them guards.

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