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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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Is there a basis for Human Rights?

God’s existence and His revelation are necessary conditions for meaningful human rights. Christianity gives a firm foundation for human rights. Not only that, but Christianity has “the strongest possible resource for practicing sacrificial service, generosity, and peace-making. At the very heart of [Christianity’s] view of reality [is] a man who died for his enemies, praying for their forgiveness. Reflection on this could only lead to a radically different way of dealing with those who [are] different from them. It [means] they [could] not act in violence and oppression toward their opponents.”[1] Of course, that doesn’t mean that the ideal is always followed.
 
There have been Christians that have done very wicked things. There have also been many wicked things that have been done by atheists.[2] That, however, does not mean that all atheists are bad or even that atheism is wrong. As we will see below though, atheists do not finally have any basis for morality or human rights.
 
Richard Wurmbrand who experienced ghastly torture at the hands of an atheistic government said,
“The cruelty of atheism is hard to believe. When a man has no faith in the reward of good or the punishment of evil, there is no reason to be human. There is no restraint from the depths of evil which is in man. The communist torturers often said, ‘There is no God, no hereafter, no punishment for evil. We can do what we wish.’ I heard one torturer say, ‘I thank God, in whom I do not believe, that I lived to this hour when I can express all the evil in my heart.’ He expressed it in unbelievable brutality and torture inflicted on prisoners.”[3] 
Scripture, on the other hand, clearly condemns injustice.[4] Scripture shows us that God loves justice and, conversely, hates injustice; He has compassion for those who suffer injustice—everywhere around the world; He judges and condemns those who perpetrate injustice; and He seeks active rescue for victims of injustice.[5] Much of secular society, however, does not have a reason to condemn injustice.

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How Can We Know God’s Will?

How can you know what you should do? How can you make decisions? And I’m not talking about little things like whether or not to brush your teeth. Please go ahead and do that. I’m referring to bigger decisions.
 
So, how can you know God’s will?
 
#1 Know and Delight Yourself in God
Proverbs 1:7 says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and Psalm 37:4 says delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. Those verses are both very helpful for us as we make decisions (see also Prov. 16:3; Matt. 6:33).
 
If we fear the Lord and delight ourselves in Him then our decisions won’t be self-consumed, they won’t be all about our selfish desires. The desires of our hearts are shaped and transformed as we fear and delight in the Lord.
 
So, evaluate your choices in light of your fears and delights.
 
#2 Search and Know God’s Word
God’s word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. It reveals where we are and helps us know where we need to go. God’s word is truth (Jn. 17:17) and equips us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). God reveals Himself and His will in His word. 

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Holding on to Hope: 10 Action Steps to Fight Depression

1. Call out to God

There are all sorts of Psalms in Scripture in which the psalmist calls out to God in distress.[1] The Bible encourages us to call out to God and be real with Him about where we’re at.

2. Fight Against Depression’s Lies

Depression often says things like: “You have no hope” and “You’re not worth it.” Those statements, however, are in flat contradiction to what the Scripture says. For example, look at Lamentations 3:21-24: “This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I have hope in Him.’”

3. Fight Against the Lie that says Life’s Meaningless

I agree with Matthew McCullough, “It is resurrection or vanity.”[2] Thankfully, through Christ Jesus, “Meaningless! Meaningless!” (Eccl. 1:2) is not the end of the story. In light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have purpose! Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are called to work hard for the Lord, knowing that our labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58). This is good news![3] There is something in life that counts, faith expressing itself through love (Gal. 5:6).

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Jesus, Rebel With A Cause

I’ve been studying about Jesus’ crucifixion and what led up to His crucifixion in preparation for a devotional blog series called “Psalms of our Suffering Savior.” And I’ve been reminded that Jesus was a rebel, but not like James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause.”

Jesus had a cause. Actually, we might say He had a lot of causes. Of course, if we left off thinking Jesus was merely a rebel with a cause we’d be gravely mistaken. He’s much more than that. It is, however, still important that we not forget that He was indeed a rebel. 

How was Jesus a Rebel?

This is an important question to ask, in part, because “People didn’t get crucified for being gentile or spiritual or for saying their prayers. They got crucified for being understood to be rebels.”[1]

Jesus was a rebel because…

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How should Christian art be informed by the Christian worldview? (part 7)

In our last post in this series, we considered our current condition. In this post we want to… 

Consider the coming Consummation

When Jesus came the first time, He had no beauty or majesty. When He comes again His face will shine like the sun in full strength (Rev. 1:16). We were cast out of the garden in the beginning but as Jesus said to the thief on the cross, all those who go to Him will be let back in. For those in Christ, the story of history will have a happy ending (Rom. 8:29-39).

Through Jesus the Christ, we have the unwavering hope of a new creation (2 Peter 3:13). “The creation was subjected to futility” in Adam (Gen. 317-19) but in Christ “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:20-21). As Isaac Watts put it in “Joy to the World,”

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
 far as the curse is found.

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