More than a century before satellites beamed Christian TV programs across the globe, Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) was a renowned British pastor. Due to the depth and eloquence of his preaching, contemporaries dubbed him the “Prince of Expositors.” He spoke to jam-packed sanctuaries while still in his 20s. So many folks in London wanted to hear him preach that he occasionally pleaded with church members to stay home so unsaved visitors could get a seat and hear the gospel. Spurgeon’s mental gifts dwarfed typical Christian leaders. Publishers still disseminate his devotional books and sermons throughout the world.
At first glance, you’d think he’s the last person to feel inadequate or dependent. Surely the strengths of this behemoth of Church history far eclipsed his weaknesses.
Recurring depression dogged Spurgeon most of his adult life. His first episode descended at age twenty-four. Here’s what he wrote about it: “My spirits were sunken so low that I could weep by the hour like a child, and yet I know not what I wept for.” Repeated incidences spawned these words: “Causeless depression cannot be reasoned with…as well fight with the mist as with this shapeless, indefinable, yet all-beclouding hopelessness.” In a sermon titled “When a Preacher Is Downcast,” he modeled transparency long before it was in vogue: “The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy…Good men are promised tribulation in this world, and ministers may expect a larger share than others, that they may learn sympathy with the Lord’s suffering people, and so may be fitting shepherds of an ailing flock.”
Painful gout attacks impaired him physically, especially as he aged. In 1888, as he lay prostrate with this debilitating form of arthritis, he said, “I cannot get better till I am in another climate, and I cannot reach that other climate till I get better.” One of Spurgeon’s favorite Bible verses was Psalm 50:15: “Call on me in the day of troubles; I shall rescue you, and you will honor me.” Of this verse Spurgeon wrote, “Here is a ….covenant that God enters into with you who pray to Him, and whom He helps. God says, ‘you shall have deliverance, but I must have the glory’…Here is a delightful partnership: we obtain that which we so greatly need, and all that God getteth is the glory which is due His name.”
A reassuring irony of Christian living is that God receives more glory through our weaknesses and dire circumstances, because that’s when we most need Him – that’s when He gets a chance to do what only God can do! Spurgeon understood experientially how human need magnifies the sufficiency of God. He wrote, “We shall bring our Lord most glory when we get from Him much grace.”
Think of a person who maintains a fruitful ministry despite physical frailty, painful circumstances, or weakness of temperament. What evidences of fruitfulness can you identify in his or her life? How does this person’s life and ministry offer hope within you?