30 April 2009

Why I love Spurgeon: "much of my former obduracy remains"

by Dan Phillips

(This could equally well be titled, "Reason #47 Why I Love Spurgeon")

I have read a book or two on Spurgeon that were more hagiographical than biographical. Even the terminology was glittery, gauzy, glistering and gagular.

Spurgeon's own remarks about himself were nothing of the kind.
Once I had nothing but a heart of stone, and although through grace I now have a new and fleshy heart, much of my former obduracy remains. I am not affected by the death of Jesus as I ought to be; neither am I moved by the ruin of my fellow men, the wickedness of the times, the chastisement of my heavenly Father, and my own failures, as I should be. O that my heart would melt at the recital of my Saviour’s sufferings and death. Would to God I were rid of this nether millstone within me, this hateful body of death. Blessed be the name of the Lord, the disease is not incurable, the Saviour’s precious blood is the universal solvent, and me, even me, it will effectually soften, till my heart melts as wax before the fire. (Charles H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening : April 28 PM, emphases added)
I confess that this deeply resonates with me. Spurgeon echoes laments and prayers of my own, as if he had eavesdropped on some (many) of my own pleas, supplications, and confessions.

And this is why I have kept coming to Spurgeon for something like three decades, now. I have known of a fine Bible teacher or two, perhaps accurate in their rehearsal of doctrine and interpretation, but whose
confessions of imperfection (if they ever come) seem de rigeur and formal rather than heartfelt. Sermon illustrations are drawn from others' follies or frailties.

Spurgeon's confessions never, ever have that feel. They are clearly always heartfelt and genuine. Yet at the same time he always avoids the opposite snare of that sort of self-indulgent transparency which betrays the generation of God's children (Psalm 73:15).

For with these admissions, all the more do we read of Spurgeon's deep love for Christ, his unending and ever-fresh delight at the riches of God's covenant with His elect. As I've said, he's like a man amazed to find himself an heir, incredulously plunging his hands deeply into piles of gold coins again and again, letting them trickle out and ring back into the abundance. Only for Spurgeon the riches are far better than gold; they are the riches of Christ.

In this I think he rather reflects the Psalms that he loved (and I love) so much. We overhear both strains in the songs of Israel, often and poignantly.

If we hear the psalmists sing...
O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger,
nor discipline me in your wrath.
2 Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing;
heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled.
3 My soul also is greatly troubled.
But you, O LORD--how long?
(Psalm 6:1-3)
...or...
For evils have encompassed me beyond number;
my iniquities have overtaken me, and I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head;
my heart fails me
(Psalms 40:12)
...we can also overhear...
You have put more joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and wine abound.
(Psalm 4:7)
...and...
Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy,
and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.
(Psalm 43:4)
...and again...
Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!
(Psalm 32:11)
Spurgeon admits his neediness, but he does so that the reader may identify with him as he does so, and then immediately Spurgeon takes both himself and his reader to the Savior. Never does Spurgeon plead for pity; always does he speak so that the reader will hasten to the same Cross, the same grace, the same mercy, the same Savior, to whom Spurgeon himself keeps hastening with all his sorrows and needs and pain.

Spurgeon uses himself as James uses Elijah: "Elijah was a man with a nature like ours," he says. The KJV memorably renders ἄνθρωπος ἦν ὁμοιοπαθὴς ἡμῖν as "a man subject to like passions as we are." The BAGD lexicon explains the adjective as " pert. to experiencing similarity in feelings or circumstances, with the same nature."

And? What of it? James continues, "and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth" (James 5:17). We do not and must not look at Elijah (nor Spurgeon) and see a creature of different frame than we. They are of the same frame as we. Ah! but captivated by faith — what did God do through them! So, take heart, hope, trust, rise, do also.

"I know weakness and frailty and coldness, in myself, like you," Spurgeon says (in effect). "But I find all I need and more in Jesus Christ. I am poor in myself, I despair of myself; but that drives me to Him, and I rejoice in Him, and am rich in Him. We have the same nature, you and I, and we have the same Savior. Flee to Him, as I do, and find your sorrowing heart's deepest desire — as I have."

I know that Christ is perfect. But I also know I am not. What I need to know is: can such a miserably flawed man as I find hope, life, and joy in Christ?

Spurgeon tells us he knows for a personal fact that we can.

And his testimony has both the ring of authenticity, and the backing of Scripture.

Dan Phillips's signature

17 comments:

Boerseuntjie said...

See the power of on High,
that transform a wicked heart like mine!

Feel the power of His love,
work in me tho I am without!

Tho miserable am I,
He is acive in me evermore!

Soli Deo Gloria!

I enjoy men who are truly humbled by Almight grace; men such as Spurgeon, John Newton, Augustis M. Toplady and William Cowper.
That is one reason I love reading Hymns as a part of devotional time, as I contemplate their weakneses as I see mine and the power of the Sanctifying Spirit as I should see it aright in me, by faith.

Your fellow bondslave by grace Alone empowerd by the Spirit Alone,
W

DJP said...

Hymns: excellent point. The classics excel at both exalting the Savior and (properly) debasing the creature.

David said...

Such a good example of a good man.

Boerseuntjie said...

David,

I know you mean good in the right context:

Contrite and humbled by the Almighty and His longsuffering grace and particular mercy.

Your fellow bondslave to Messiah,
W

Herding Grasshoppers said...

Dan...

"gagular"?

And you scoff at inventing words? ;-P

Julie

DJP said...

Oh no, I don't scoff at inventing words. Go back far enough, and they're all made up. Check this for a few of my own.

But mangling existing ones to be PC, or through laziness or a crimped vocabulary... that bugs me.

Herding Grasshoppers said...

On a deeper note, though...

AMEN.

May I be continually grateful for His relentless grace, and appalled at my own sinfulness... rather than taking grace (or sin) for granted.

Julie

Herding Grasshoppers said...

Ah.

Thank you for the link. I missed that, somehow.

Some of the initials baffle me. Maybe you need a Pyro dictionary :0)

Julie

Darrin said...

Plus he had awesome chops!

NoLongerBlind said...

Blogposts by DJP:

Continually contributing to an ever-expanding lexicon!

Glistering: adj. having brief brilliant points or flashes of light; related words: aglitter, coruscant, fulgid, glinting, glittering

Thanks for stretching our minds, as well as the edifying and convicting posts, Dan.

You fixin' to be a glottologist?

The Blainemonster said...

"I have read a book or two on Spurgeon that were more hagiographical than biographical. Even the terminology was glittery, gauzy, glistering and gagular."

I appreciate this comment. I love and read Spurgeon as much as the next guy, but have felt myself get a little uncomfortable when folks (including...ahem...myself) start to exalt this very mortal man higher than is appropriate.

This quote of his you shared reminds us what absolute wretches ALL OF US ARE, and how much we stand in need of a gracious Savior.

We would do well to keep ourselves in our proper places. :)

DJP said...

...and, wouldn't you agree, one of Spurgeon's great strengths is that he was equally emphatic and insistent on both truths.

Rachael Starke said...

Reminds me of the Steve Brown story about a woman who came up to him after a sermon and said,

"Pastor, I've heard a lot of preachers talk about how wicked they are, but you're the first one I've ever believed."

I think this is an essential aspect of being "blameless" - seeing and talking about your own sin the way Scripture does, dealing with it the way Scripture does, and in doing so, modelling to your people how to do it too.

I think men like Piper and Mahaney are great modern examples of this too. Wish there were a whole lot more...

Respectabiggle said...

"..but whose confessions of imperfection (if they ever come) seem de rigeur and formal rather than heartfelt.I saw this reading some of Teddy Roosevelt's autobiographical books. The editor said, "he praised himself with faint damns."

Chuck said...

Dan, great post.

Kudos to Alistair Begg for being one of the few that often uses genuine self-effacing illustrations.

Chuck

CR said...

Seems like Spurgeon's own remarks are taken right out of Psalm 51. Psalm 51 - that's me. Always having to ask Him create in me a clean. (Yes, yes, Carlo, but don't you believe in election and justification by faith alone in Christ alone by grace alone. Yes, I do).

Stefan said...

Dan:

I had no time to read or comment on it yesterday, but thank you for this edifying post.

CR:

"(Yes, yes, Carlo, but...)"

;)