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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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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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A Monopoly of Outcasts

The church is a gathering of the redeemed. We are made holy. We were not innately holy. The church is a place where those who know they are sick come to the Great Physician (cf. Lk. 5:31). The church is a monopoly of outcasts. It is filled with struggling ex-thieves, ex-drunkards, ex-adulterers, and ex-revilers (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-11).

The church is (or should be!) a welcoming place for all because we have all been welcomed at Jesus’ own expense. Colossians radically says that in the church “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11).

The church is filled with all sorts of people with all sorts of problems. Let’s not be prideful about our problems and prudish about the problems of others. 

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A Brief Theology of Emotions

We all have emotions. How often do we consider emotions from a biblical perspective though?… Yet, what better place to turn than God’s word! So, what does the Bible say about emotions?

Emotions are part of God’s good design

First, it is important to realize that “Our emotional capacities are part of our nature as personal beings created in the image and likeness of God.”[1] Second, Emotions are part of God’s good design.[2] Third, We often don’t think about it but we are actually commanded to be emotional. For example, Psalm 2:11 says “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” And there’s a bunch of other examples (Deut. 28:47-48; Ps. 51:17; 97:10; 100:2; Matt. 6:25-34; Rom. 12:9, 15; Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:15).

So, Jay Adams says:

“The fact is that there are no damaging or destructive emotions per se. Our emotional makeup is totally from God. All emotions of which He made us capable are constructive when used properly (i.e., in accordance with biblical principles)… All emotions, however, can become destructive when we fail to express them in harmony with biblical limitations and structures.”[3]

You may have heard: “Don’t follow your emotions” or “don’t let your feelings get the best of you,” or “use your head.” But emotions are not bad in themselves. God created us with emotions.

Even our negative emotions are not always wrong. It’s not always bad to feel bad. Sometimes feeling sad and angry is good and right. It’s important to realize that in the Psalms the genre of lament is most dominant.[4] It is also important to remember that there is no book of Joys but there is a book of Lamentations.[5] We don’t always have just “good” feelings and that’s okay. On the other hand, God made us at least in part to experience profound joy and to experience this forever, Psalm 16:11 says. So, our first take away is for us to realize that emotions are not bad in themselves.

But what’s wrong with emotions? Or, why is it that sometimes we can’t or shouldn’t trust our emotions? Because…

Emotions are broken by sin

A lot of us remember the (true) story of Adam and Eve. John Frame has said, “the fall… was rebellion of the whole person—intellect as much as emotions, perception, and will—against God.”[6] After looking at Genesis 3:1-6 (notice the highlighting) we can agree with what Frame says:

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20 Quotes from Gary Thomas’ Book The Sacred Search

I found Gary Thomas’ book The Sacred Search helpful. He deals with some very relevant issues. I think every person in a dating relationship should read it and I think every single person should read it. Here are some quotes from the book to get you interested: 

1. “I want to make a promise to you: if you will seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness and let that agenda drive your decision regarding whom you choose to marry and refuse to compromise on that, you will set yourself up for a much more fulfilling, spiritually enriching, and overall more satisfying marriage. The degree to which you compromise on this verse is the degree to which you put your future satisfaction in jeopardy and open wide the door to great frustration and even regret” (Gary Thomas, The Sacred Search, 22).

2. “Guys… are more inclined to experience romantic love with women they are attracted to physically, yet physical appearance is the thing most likely to change in a person’s life. Marriage isn’t about being young together; it’s about growing old together—and bodies change as we get older. If you don’t marry with that in mind, you’re going to make a major mistake—perhaps the biggest mistake of your life” (Thomas, The Sacred Search, 25). “What launches sexual chemistry won’t sustain sexual chemistry” (p. 47).

3. “The way God made our brains, infatuation resembles an hourglass. The moment you become smitten by someone—the second you find yourself deeply “in love”—is the moment that hourglass gets turned over. There is enough sand in that hourglass, on average, to last you about twelve to eighteen months” (p. 29)

4. “I don’t want to diminish the mystery and poetry of a truly delicious romantic attachment and “soul connection,” but in reality you’re living through a fairly predictable and observable neurochemical reaction. And here’s something you need to know: the state of infatuation actually impedes your ability to objectively discern your partner’s faults and weaknesses. Dr. Thomas Lewis put it this way: “Love may not be literally blind, but it does seem to be literally incapable of reason and the levels of appropriate negativity necessary for realism” (pp. 32-33).

5. “Sin, by definition, is overturning God’s created order. In God’s created order, there should be no sex outside of marriage, and lots of fulfilling, generous sex during marriage. Why do you think a person will disobey God in the first instance, but obey Him in the second? Doesn’t it make sense that if you shut out God to do what you want to do in one season, you’ll keep doing it in the next season?” (p. 48)

6. “This might shock you, but your best chance at sexual satisfaction in marriage is not to focus on appearance alone, but rather to find a woman of virtue” (p. 49).

7. “Time serves intentionally cultivated intimate affection, even as it kills infatuation” (p. 51).

8. “The language of the Bible doesn’t suggest there is one right choice for marriage. Rather, all the teaching passages seem to suggest that there are wise and unwise choices. We are encouraged to use wisdom, not destiny, as our guide when choosing a marital partner” (p. 61).

9. “Some Christians find themselves in a dating dead end. There’s no one suitable where they work or at their church. For their own reasons, they refuse to look at any online dating sites. Instead of putting themselves in social environments where they might find someone, they start to feel bitter and angry and blame God for not bringing the right one along” (pp. 79-80). Later on he asks, “Are you putting yourself in places where you can find or be found? Do you hang out in places where the kind of person you want to marry hangs out?” (p. 80). So, “Instead of simply ‘waiting for God to bring the right one,’ go out and find a godly mate” (p. 81).

10. “A spiritual sole mate is someone who is passionately committed to getting married for the glory of God first and foremost” (p. 94).

11. “If you marry for money, health, or looks, keep in mind that none of these are certain to remain. Character is the surest thing. Even if the two of you manage to avoid a medical maelstrom, the vast majority of you will have to navigate something else that will test you to your core: having children. Does the person you’re planning on marrying have what it takes in this regard? Are they strong enough not just to be your spouse, but to be your children’s mom or dad?” (p. 119).

12. “Intimacy is built through sharing, listening, understanding, and talking through issues. If someone doesn’t like to talk, refuses to talk, or resents your desire to talk, intimacy building is going to hit a stone wall” (p. 141).

13. “The general rule is this: however much your boyfriend talks to you while dating, cut that down by at least 25 percent after marriage. If you’re not good with that, you’re looking at the wrong guy. I’m not saying it should be that way, only that it almost always is. Talk to married women; ask them if this isn’t true. Make your choice accordingly” (pp. 141-42).

14. “The person you marry is the person you’re going to be married to” (p. 160).

15. “When we live for ourselves, we become boring. Most of us are simply not interesting enough on our own to captivate someone else for five or six decades” (p. 174).

16. “When we sin sexually we are literally launching a neurochemical war against our mental reasoning” (p. 187).

17. “Sex is a powerful tool. In a healthy marriage, used appropriately, it can be nothing short of glorious. As people who believe God is the Creator of our bodies and our sexuality, we should be eager to embrace His good handiwork. But know this: the more powerful the tool, the more training and caution you need when learning to use it” (p.  201).
 
18. “If you’ve caught the vision for a marriage that seeks first the kingdom of God, you need to be on the lookout for personality traits that will undermine such a focus” (p. 203).
 

19. “Guys, if you marry a woman who is motivated by reverence for God over affection for you, she’ll learn to be kind to you and affectionate toward you even when she doesn’t feel like it and when you’re acting like a jerk. The same thing that feeds her chastity—love and respect for God—will feed sexual enthusiasm within marriage. The same thing that feeds promiscuity before marriage—selfishness and fear—will kill sexual desire after marriage” (pp. 210-11).

20. “Sex can indeed be amazing. It’s also a skill that can be learned, and that’s what marriage allows, so if the two of you aren’t “compatible” on your wedding night, you have a lifetime to get there.
   Two people who genuinely care for each other and who are growing in the virtues of kindness and generosity will figure out, sooner rather than later, how to please and keep on pleasing each other” (p. 187).
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