01 September 2011

Spurgeon's pastoral wisdom in dealing with a woman lacking assurance

by Dan Phillips

I am re-listening to an audio version of Spurgeon's autobiography, and just (re-)heard an anecdote that delighted me. Being one who, as I've shared, has struggled mightily with assurance, it touched me to hear how Spurgeon dealt pastorally with a woman of whose salvation he had no doubt, yet of which she had no assurance. See how CHS tries first one angle, then another, in persisting to reach out to help this poor soul connect her clearly-evident faith with the blessing and assurance that its Object was offering her, relentless pursuing her doubt in loving attempts to drive it out and bring her to the joy that should have been hers. You could say Spurgeon takes her seriously, but does not take her doubt seriously; or he does in the sense that he says in effect, "Well then, if A is troubling you, shouldn't B, C and D follow?" — attempting to loosen her hold on A.

We can learn from him; and from her.

Among my early hearers at Waterbeach was one good old woman whom I called “Mrs. Much-afraid.” I feel quite sure she has been many years in Heaven, but she was always fearing that she should never enter the gates of glory. She was very regular in her attendance at the house of God, and was a wonderfully good listener. She used to drink in the gospel; but, nevertheless, she was always doubting, and fearing, and trembling about her own spiritual condition.

She had been a believer in Christ, I should think, for fifty years, yet she had always remained in that timid, fearful, anxious state. She was a kind old soul, ever ready to help her neighbours, or to speak a word to the unconverted; she seemed to me to have enough grace for two people, yet, in her own opinion, she had not half enough grace for one.

One day, when I was talking with her, she told me that she had not any hope at all, she had no faith; she believed that she was a hypocrite.

I said, “Then don’t come to the chapel any more; we don’t want hypocrites there. Why do you come?”

She answered, “I come because I can’t stop away. I love the people of God; I love the house of God; and I love to worship God.”

“Well,” I said, “you are an odd sort of hypocrite; you are a queer kind of unconverted woman.”

“Ah!” she sighed, “you may say what you please, but I have not any hope of being saved.”

So I said to her, “Well, next Sunday, I will let you go into the pulpit, that you may tell the people that Jesus Christ is a liar, and that you cannot trust Him.”

“Oh!” she cried, “I would be torn in pieces before I would say such a thing as that. Why, He cannot lie! Every word He says is true.”

“Then,” I asked, “why do you not believe it?”

She replied, “I do believe it; but, somehow, I do not believe it for myself; I am afraid whether it is for me.”

“Have you not any hope at all?” I asked.

“No,” she answered; so I pulled out my purse, and I said to her, “Now, I have got £5 here, it is all the money I have; but I will give you that £5 for your hope if you will sell it.”

She looked at me, wondering what I meant. “Why!” she exclaimed, “I would not sell it for a thousand worlds.” She had just told me that she had not any hope of salvation, yet she would not sell it for a thousand worlds!

I fully expect to see that good old soul when I get to Heaven, and I am certain she will say to me, “Oh, dear sir, how foolish I was when I lived down there at Waterbeach! I went groaning all the way to glory when I might just as well have gone there singing. I was always troubled and afraid; but my dear Lord kept me by His grace, and brought me safely here.”

She died very sweetly; it was with her as John Bunyan said it was with Miss Much-afraid, Mr. Despondency’s daughter. Mr. Great-heart had much trouble with those poor pilgrims on the road to the Celestial City; for, if there, was only a straw in the way, they were fearful that they would stumble over it. Yet Bunyan says, “When the time was come for them to depart, they went to the brink of the river. The last words of Mr. Despondency were, ‘Farewell night, welcome day.’ His daughter went through the river singing.”

Our Lord often makes it calm and peaceful, or even joyous and triumphant, for His departing timid ones. He puts some of His greatest saints to bed in the dark, and they wake up in the eternal light; but He frequently keeps the candle burning for Mr. Little-faith, Mr. Feeble-mind, Mr. Ready-to-halt, Mr. Despondency, and Miss Much-afraid. They go to sleep in the light, and they also wake up in the land where the Lamb is all the glory for ever and ever.

[C. H. Spurgeon, C. H. Spurgeon's Autobiography, Compiled from His Diary, Letters, and Records, by His Wife and His Private Secretary: Volume 1, 1834-1854, 239-40 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009). A bit of editing (shape, not content) to enhance readability.]

Dan Phillips's signature


Thomas Louw said...

A gem for sure this “Mrs. Much-afraid.”

A very clever fella this C H Spurgeon.

I will rather have 1000 saved “Mrs & Mr Much-afraid” than 10 unsaved “Mrs & Mr Much assured.”

The “Much afraid” might be a lot of effort and sometimes … a bit overly sceptical but “Much assured” has sunk many a church.

Tony said...

The Lord saves all kinds...those that become strong in faith, and those who might always struggle and cry "Lord I believe, help my unbelief"!
All that are truly His will one day bow before our Savior and lovingly worship the Maker of us all as trophies of His grace.

Thomas Louw said...

Allow me to quote a very clever guy…

“Transparency that serves the Gospel, glorifies God, and urges folks to greater faith and holiness = good

Transparency that serves oneself, glorifies one's doubts and sins, and urges people to feel good about complacency and apostasy = bad”

I understand that all of us sometimes doubt our salvation sometimes even the very existence of God.
Doubt can however be a very good thing, in times of doubt and after them, I have grown strnger and deeper in faith.

But, as you have commented (Yes this is a quote from the illustrious Dan J Phillips”) sometimes the “doubter” only wants to get the attention, or seem more “piety”.

Shine the spot light away please.

James Scott Bell said...

Peter tells us that "through faith [we] are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation. . ." (1 Pet. 1:5). Assurance depends on our firmly holding to the truth that we are justified by faith and not by works or emotion. Assurance comes by trusting in the Word of God, which does not lie, and which tells us whoever believes in the Son has eternal life. (John 3:36). As Torrey says, "Any one of us may know whether we believe on the Son or not."

Spurgeon, it seems in that snippet, was getting the woman to see that very thing.

Robert said...

"in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation" (Ephesians 5:16-17a) If we're properly armed, we can handle these doubts...our minds make it difficult to get equipped with them sometimes, though.

DJP said...

There are voices in blogdom who LOVE doubt, who treasure it and shield it and nurture it and encourage it. One blog famous for this found great offense at my post about battling depression, completely misunderstood and misrepresented it, and lionized doubt-born depression.

Those blogs would be very offended by what Spurgeon did here. They would say this is very poor pastoring. He should have been more nurturing and encouraging and soft.

But as someone who could have said, verbatim, what this lady says (“I do believe it; but, somehow, I do not believe it for myself; I am afraid whether it is for me”), I know exactly what CHS is doing, and it's the right thing.

In our minds, in the dark and foggy climes of doubt and fear, mutually exclusive thoughts exist side by side. One thought would kill the other, if brought into the daylight. But we nurture them in the darkness, and they both continue - and we are neutralized.

Spurgeon does this when he says, "I'll give you the pulpit Sunday, and you tell everyone that Jesus is a liar."

He is a good attorney here, and a good pastor. A good attorney never asks a question he doesn't know the answer to. CHS knows she really loves Jesus, she really believes and treasures Him. But he also knows that her doubt UNINTENTIONALLY and UNCONSCIOUSLY is a slander on His character.

So he forces these two contradictories into the light, brilliantly, so they can kill each other.

That they don't do so is not his fault.

Robert said...

Not trying to minimalize this because doubt is a strong enemy, but isn't this the case with any sin? We can let our sin seem more powerful than it is and be overpowered by it. Although, I am also reminded of this:

"Then Yahweh said to Cain, 'Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.'" (Genesis 4:6-7)

Sin, including doubt of Jesus' work of salvation on our behalf, is crouching at all of our doors...will we use the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to master and kill it?

Pastor Jody said...

Who photoshopped the cigar out of Spurgeon's hand in this picture?!?!
Give us Spurgeon as Spurgeon was!!!

Solameanie said...

Jody, we don't want to upset legalists, now do we?

Coram Deo said...

Many of our law-heavy, fruit-obsessed leaders would do well to preach assurance once in awhile in contrast to nearly full-time "If you're not [fill in the blank], then you're probably not a Christian at all..."

a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; - Matt. 12:20

In Christ,

Sir Brass said...

Mrs. Much-Afraid sounds much like myself at times.

Praise the Lord that He raises up men much like Mr. Spurgeon who will resolutely seek to uplift their flock in wisdom and gentleness. "....Look away from yourself and look to the perfection of the Savior. Go to the cross. Stand at the foot of Calvary. Look at the love that is expressed and look at what the Triune God accomplished when Jesus said, "Tetelestai," it is finished...." ~ James White, preaching through Hebrews 10:15-18

Anonymous said...

This one post does more for me regarding assurance, than pretty much anything else I've read.

I'm that lady (or would be if I were a lady. Aerosmith wasn't talking abotu me...)

Cathy said...

Fear and doubt are evil task-masters. They tell you lies and make you feel like a victim. If you baby them or indulge them, before you know it- they will have you hog-tied on the floor sucking your thumb (neutralized as Dan said- and I would add paralyzed.)You must identify them by their real names: "unbelief" and "contempt for the Lord" (see Numbers 14). When these two are exposed for who they truly are, a true believer recoils in horror, repents and runs to and clings to Christ.

What a precious pastor Spurgeon was...

DJP said...

Yep, Cathy, and a series of "amen"s. Well-said.

Jeri Tanner said...

This is beautiful, thanks.

Stefan Ewing said...

I like Spurgeon's tactics for shaking this sister out of her anxiety. If you're going through that kind of existential unbelief and you try to reason your way out of it, you're just playing to your anxiety on its terms.

Being forced to get out of your mental rut and see things in a completely different light is definitely a good approach. That, and repenting of one's unbelief (which is indeed what it is), knowing that God is abundantly merciful to those who repent and place (or reaffirm!) their trust in Jesus Christ.

Stefan Ewing said...

...And remembering above all that it is God who preserves and God who saves, and the blood of Jesus Christ is sufficient to cover all our sins, including our deepest doubts and fears.

Jason Kanz said...

I have read this a half-dozen times over the past several weeks and each time I come away with tears in my eyes. Thank you for sharing.