“Prayer in the church is the steam engine which makes the wheels revolve, and really does the work, and therefore we cannot do without it. Suppose a foreman were employed by some great builder, and sent out to manage works at a distance. He has to pay the men their wages weekly, and he is very diligent in doing so; he neglects none of his duty towards the men, but he forgets to communicate with head-quarters, he neither writes to his employer, nor goes to the bank for cash to go on with. Is this wise? When the next pay-night comes round, I am afraid he will find that, however diligent he may have been towards the men, he will be in a queer position, for he will have no silver or gold to hand out, because he has forgotten to apply to head-quarters. Now, brethren, the minister does, as it were, distribute the portions to the people, but if he does not apply to his Master to get them he will have nothing to distribute. Never sunder the connection between your soul and God. Keep up a constant communication with heaven, or your communications with earth will be of little worth. To cease from prayer is to stop the vital stream upon which all your energy is dependent; you may go on preaching and teaching, and giving away tracts, and what you like, but nothing can possibly come of it when the power of Almighty God has ceased to be with you.”
–Spurgeon, “A Special Prayer-Meeting,” MTP 21:1274 (1875)
Young men, if you are diligent in tract distribution and diligent in Sunday school, you are likely men who could be ministers. But if you stop and do nothing until you can do everything, you will remain useless – an impediment to the church instead of a help.
Dear sisters in Jesus Christ, you must never think that you can do nothing at all. God could never make such a mistake. You have talent entrusted to you – something given to you to enable you to do what no one else can do. Find out what it is and settle into it. Ask God to tell you what your niche is and stand in it, doing your work until Jesus Christ comes and gives you your reward. Use what ability you have, and use it at once.
We ought not, as men in Christ Jesus, to be carried away by a childish love of novelty, for we worship a God who is ever the same, and of whose years there is no end. In some matters “the old is better.” There are certain things which are already so truly new, that to change them for anything else would be to lose old gold for new dross. The old, old gospel is the newest thing in the world; in its very essence it is for ever good news. In the things of God the old is ever new, and if any man brings forward that which seems to be new doctrine and new truth, it is soon perceived that the new dogma is only worn-out heresy dexterously repaired, and the discovery in theology is the digging up of a carcase of error which had better have been left to rot in oblivion. In the great matter of truth and godliness, we may safely say, “There is nothing new under the sun.”
Spurgeon, “Sermon for a New Year’s Day,” MTP 31:1816 (1885).
The spiritual meaning of all this is, that from under the power of sin, of Satan, and of the world God will certainly call his own redeemed. They shall not abide in the land of Egypt; sin shall not be pleasant to them; they shall not continue under Satan’s power, but they shall break his yoke from off their neck. The Lord will help them, and strengthen them, so that they shall clean escape from their former slavery. With a high hand and an outstretched arm brought he up Israel out of the land of Egypt, and with that same high hand and outstretched arm will he save his own elect, whom he has loved from before the foundations of the world, and whom he has purchased with his most precious blood.
Charles H. Spurgeon, “Out of Egypt,” MTP 28:1675 (1882).
Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) loved Christmas. Hear the glee from the 21-year-old Spurgeon:
I wish there were ten or a dozen Christmas-days in the year; for there is work enough in the world, and a little more rest would not hurt labouring people. Christmas-day is really a boon to us; particularly as it enables us to assemble round the family hearth and meet our friends once more. Still, although we do not fall exactly in the track of other people, I see no harm in thinking of the incarnation and birth of the Lord Jesus.
While he loved Christmas, he also guided his congregation to discern certain aspects of Christmas from the cultural perspective and the biblical perspective. While other valuable articles are certainly found elsewhere on this site, this article focuses on how Spurgeon guided his congregation in celebrating Christmas, rejecting the “superstitions” of the Roman celebrations, embracing much of the customs of the day without forgetting about the Christ-child, the reason for the day.
While He Valued the Puritans…
Spurgeon’s childhood influences led him to embrace the Puritans. He valued them so much so that many scholars deem him the last of the Puritans. As a result of this Word-centered influence, Spurgeon struggled with the origin and the day on we celebrate Christmas.
There is no reason upon earth beyond that of ecclesiastical custom why the 25th of December should be regarded as the birthday of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ any more than any other day from the first of January to the last day of the year; and yet some persons regard Christmas with far deeper reverence than the Lord’s-day.
Spurgeon always struggled with the rites of both the Roman Catholic (which he would often refer to as “popish”) and the Anglican Church and their “superstitious” celebrations of Christmas (i.e., Christ-Mass). In 1871, he went into more depth as to the reasons why he struggled with this season:
We have no superstitious regard for times and seasons. Certainly, we do not believe in the present ecclesiastical arrangement called Christmas: first, because we do not believe in the mass at all, but abhor it, whether it be said or sung in Latin or in English; and, secondly, because we find no Scriptural warrant whatever for observing any day as the birthday of the Saviour; and, consequently, its observance is a superstition, because not of divine authority. Superstition has fixed most positively the day of our Saviour’s birth, although there is no possibility of discovering when it occurred.
The dismissal of the mass and the lack of Scriptural warrant regarding the day we observe the birth of Christ as well as the celebration itself always gave Spurgeon pause personally and pastorally. He always felt obligated to share with his congregation and any of his readers that the celebration of the day and the origin of the celebrations were not grounded in anything God said in regards to its observance. However…
… He Acknowledged Their Error
Yes, Spurgeon was aware enough to recognize their error in their observance (or lack thereof) of Christmas as an overreaction to Catholic practices, throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater, if you will.
The old Puritans made a parade of work on Christmas-day, just to show that they protested against the observance of it. But we believe they entered that protest so completely, that we are willing, as their descendants, to take the good accidentally conferred by the day, and leave its superstitions to the superstitious.
To use another expression in the vernacular, chew up the meat (the celebration of Christ’s incarnation) and spit out the bones (the superstitions). This recognition allowed Spurgeon to observe Christmas in a broader way that appreciated some positive aspects of the season in the culture that would help us even today.
First, the season brings the Incarnation to the Church’s attention
In a quote from an 1876 sermon, after Spurgeon acknowledged the problematic origins of Christmas, he conceded this point.
Still, as the thoughts of a great many Christian people will run at this time towards the birth of Christ, and as this cannot be wrong, I judged it meet to avail ourselves of the prevailing current, and float down the stream of thought. Our minds will run that way, because so many around us are following customs suggestive of it, therefore let us get what good we can out of the occasion. There can be no reason why we should not, and it may be helpful that we should, now consider the birth of our Lord Jesus. We will do that voluntarily which we would refuse to do as a matter of obligation: we will do that simply for convenience sake which we should not think of doing because enjoined by authority or demanded by superstition.
Much like today when we hear “Joy to the World” or “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!” as we Christmas shop in Target or Starbucks, we can, like Spurgeon, rejoice that “many Christian people will run at this time towards the birth of Christ.” The season draws the Church toward the incredible doctrine of the Incarnation.
Second, bringing joy to the culture at large
In a later sermon in 1884, Spurgeon also conceded that the culture, unbeknownst to them, celebrate the joy of the season. “Knowing nothing of the spiritual meaning of the mystery, they yet perceive that it means man’s good, and so in their own rough way they respond to it.” Thus, those in the culture hopefully move closer to inquiring, understanding, and trusting in the Christ of the season.
Twenty years prior, Spurgeon went into more detail about how the greeting “Merry Christmas” demonstrates a yuletide joy among everyone:
This is a season when all men expect us to be joyous. We compliment each other with the desire that we may have a “Merry Christmas.” Some Christians who are a little squeamish, do not like the word “merry.” It is a right good old Saxon word, having the joy of childhood and the mirth of manhood in it, it brings before one’s mind the old song of the waits, and the midnight peal of bells, the holly and the blazing log. I love it for its place in that most tender of all parables, where it is written, that, when the long-lost prodigal returned to his father safe and sound, “They began to be merry.” This is the season when we are expected to be happy; and my heart’s desire is, that in the highest and best sense, you who are believers may be “merry.”
Here, Spurgeon shows the joy that comes with the day—none, one might note, are mentioned in Scripture as part of this celebration. Yet, he began to appreciate all that came with the Christmas season, even when some in the culture may not directly connect the customs with the coming of the Christ-child.
(As an aside, while many defend the greeting of “Merry Christmas” as a Christian greeting, notice than in Spurgeon’s day, the word “Merry” made some Christians “squeamish.”)
Third, He Sometimes He Preached on a Christmas Text on Christmas
Echoing a sermon quoted above, even though these sermons are five years apart, Spurgeon had this conviction that he should make use of the season while his people’s hearts leaned toward the birth of Christ.
[T]he current of men’s thoughts is led this way just now, and I see no evil in the current itself, I shall launch the bark of our discourse upon that stream, and make use of the fact, which I shall neither justify nor condemn, by endeavoring to lead your thoughts in the same direction. Since it is lawful, and even laudable, to meditate upon the incarnation of the Lord upon any day in the year, it cannot be in the power of other men’s superstitions to render such a meditation improper for to-day. Regarding not the day, let us, nevertheless, give God thanks for the gift of his dear son.
… and Sometimes He Did Not
Yes, Spurgeon was not beholden to preach on a Christmas text, even on the Sunday adjacent to Christmas. One Christmas sermon was based on Mark 5:19! On December 23, 1860, he preached a sermon called “A Merry Christmas.” The text? From Job 1:4-5. He makes the connection here:
I am quite certain that all the preaching in the world will not put Christmas down. You will meet next Tuesday, and you will feast, and you will rejoice, and each of you, as god has given you substance, will endeavor to make your household glad. Now, instead of the telling you that this is all wrong, I think the merry bell of my text gives you a license so to do. Let us think a minute. Feasting is not a wrong thing, or otherwise Job would have forbidden it to his children, he would have talked to them seriously, and admonished them that this was an ungodly and wicked custom, to meet together in their houses. But, instead of this way, Job only feared least a wrong thing should be made out of a right thing, and offered sacrifices to remove their iniquity; but he did by no means condemn it.
That’s right—Spurgeon used the text from Job to show the biblical warrant of feasting with family at Christmas time when they would “meet next Tuesday”—December 25th. Spurgeon’s creative hermeneutic knew now bounds. You can decide amongst yourselves the validity of Spurgeon’s practice here.
Spurgeon Urged His Church to Get to Work
Tying this article together, Spurgeon urged his church in an 1865 sermon to differentiate themselves from how the world operated during this time of year.
At this season, the world is engaged in congratulating itself and in expressing its complimentary wishes for the good of its citizens; let me suggest extra and more solid work for Christians. As we think to-day of the birth of the Saviour, let us aspire after a fresh birth of the Saviour in our hearts; that as he is already “formed in us the hope of glory,” we may be “renewed in the spirit of our minds;” that we may go again to the Bethlehem of our spiritual nativity and do our first works, enjoy our first loves, and feast with Jesus as we did in the holy, happy, heavenly days of our espousals.
So Spurgeon encouraged his parishioners to enjoy all that the season had to offer and to rejoice in how even in the culture minds and hearts are turned to the Christ-child (even if they do not recognize why), may we as Christians never forget the reason for the season and to “aspire after a fresh birth of the Saviour in our hearts.”
Merry Christmas, everyone!
Matthew Perry (Ph.D., Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, MO) serves as Lead Pastor of Arapahoe Road Baptist Church, Centennial, CO; and runs the blog All-Around Spurgeon at http://www.allaroundspurgeon.com.
“The Incarnation and Birth of Christ,” NPSP 2 (1855)
For instance, see Ernest W. Bacon, Spurgeon: Heir of the Puritans (Arlington Heights, IL: Christian Liberty Press, 2007).
Of the many gifts God gave Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892), one was a conviction as to the authority and sufficiency of the Word of God. As such, his forty years of pastoral ministry was marked by a quest for clarity in proclaiming that authority and sufficiency.
“Thou book of vast authority! thou art a proclamation from the Emperor of Heaven; far be it from me to exercise my reason in contradicting thee. Reason, thy place is to stand and find out what this volume means, not to tell what this book ought to say. Come thou, my reason, my intellect, sit thou down and listen, for these words are the words of God.“
He did not take total umbrage in understanding the times (for he was quite adept at the practice), but he did this to help the church understand how to apply the gospel.
“Be much with the silly novels of the day, and the foolish trifles of the hour, and you will degenerate into vapid wasters of your time; but be much with the solid teaching of God’s word, and you will become solid and substantial men and women; drink them in, and feed upon them, and they shall produce in you a Christ-likeness, at which the world shall stand astonished.”
This quest differentiated him from other preachers of the day who seemed more concerned with impressing listeners with rhetorical and oratorical expertise, fueled by a desire to be seen as one with intellectual and academic dexterity. The critique often levied toward the practice of academic writing and speaking is that it’s “confusing and dense, that it suffers from a lack of clarity and concision.” Spurgeon sought to communicate the lofty aspects of theological thought in a way that the one of average or below average intellect could comprehend. Spurgeon not only taught but exemplified a pastoral passion to provide the Scriptures clearly! Spurgeon practiced and equipped young pastors to preach clearly and persuasively.
To read the rest, go to the Spurgeon Library website at Midwestern Seminary here.
Never does a man hear the gospel but he either rises or falls under that hearing. There is never a proclamation of Jesus Christ (and this is the spiritual coming forth of Christ himself) which leaves men precisely where they were; the gospel is sure to have some effect upon those who hear it. Moreover, the text informs us that mankind, when they understand the message and work of Christ, do not regard them with indifference; but when they hear the truth as it is in Jesus, they either take it joyfully in their arms with Simeon, or else it becomes to them a sign that shall be spoken against. He that is not with Christ is against him, and he that gathereth not with him scattereth abroad. Where Christ is no man remains a neutral; he decides either for Christ or against him.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Christ—The Rise and Fall of Many,” MTP 15:907 (1869).
Do you above all things aim at saving souls? I am afraid that some have forgotten this grand object; but, dear friends, anything short of this is unworthy to be the great end of a Christian’s life. I fear there are some who preach with the view of amusing men, and as long as people can be gathered in crowds, and their ears can be tickled, and they can retire pleased with what they have heard, the orator is content, and folds his hands, and goes back self-satisfied. But Paul did not lay himself out to please the public and collect the crowd. If he did not save them he felt that it was of no avail to interest them.
Spurgeon, “Soul Saving is our One Business,” MTP 25:1507
The thankful eye sees far and deep. The man healed of leprosy, before he went on glorifying God, gave thanks to Jesus. If he had thanked Jesus and stopped there, I should have said that his eyes were not well open; but when he saw God in Christ, and therefore glorified God for what Christ had done, he showed a deep insight into spiritual truth. He had begun to discover the mysteries of the divine and human person of the blessed Lord. We learn much by prayer. Did not Luther say, “To have prayed well is to have studied well”? I venture to add a rider to what Luther has so ably said: To have praised well is to have studied better. Praise is a great instructor. Prayer and praise are the oars by which a man may row his boat into the deep waters of the knowledge of Christ.
–Spurgeon, “Where Are the Nine? or, Praise Neglected,” MTP 32:1935-1937 (1886).
To read the entirety of this beautiful sermon on thankfulness based on Luke 17:15-19, go here.
This is no common book. It is not the sayings of the sages of Greece; here are not the utterances of philosophers of past ages. If these words were written by man, we might reject them; but oh, let me think the solemn thought — that this book is God’s handwriting, that these words are God’s. Let me look at its date; it is dated from the hills of heaven. Let me look at its letters: they flash glory on my eye. Let me read the chapters: they are big with meaning and mysteries unknown. Let me turn over the prophecies: they are pregnant with unthought-of wonders. Oh, book of books! And wast thou written by my God? Then will I bow before thee. Thou book of vast authority, thou art a proclamation from the Emperor of Heaven; far be it from me to exercise my reason in contradicting thee. Reason! thy place is to stand and find out what this volume means, not to tell what this book ought to say. Come thou my reason, my intellect, sit thou down and listen, for these words are the words of God. I do not know how to enlarge on this thought. Oh! if you could ever remember that this Bible was actually and really written by God! Oh! if ye had been let into the secret chambers of heaven, if ye had beheld God grasping his pen and writing down these letters, then surely ye would respect them. But they are just as much God’s hand-writing as if you had seen God write them. This Bible is a book of authority; it is an authorized book, for God has written it. Oh, tremble, tremble, lest any of you despise it; mark its authority, for it is the Word of God.