“Anxiety is vigilance that is out of control. Anxiety is vigilance minus faith in God.”
Dr. Bob Kellemen
On the morning of January 6, 1867, Charles Spurgeon preached a sermon that he titled, “Good Cheer for the New Year.” His text was Deuteronomy 11:12:
The eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year.
Of the variety of issues with which Spurgeon dealt in this message, themes related to anxiety, worry, and fear were evidently on his mind. Spurgeon was masterful in preaching to his audience a message that was both true to his text, and useful in its presentation for their sanctification and growth in faith.
On this first Sunday of 1867, Spurgeon knew well that his church needed a clear reminder of the trustworthiness of the promises of God to His “elect ones,” especially when faced with the sufferings of life in Victorian London.
Fearing the Unknown
On the heels of the 1866 cholera epidemic that killed some 5,000 people, many of them children, Londoners, to include those in Spurgeon’s church, were no doubt on edge. Anxiety, worry, and fear would have been ever present temptations for even the strongest of believers. Perhaps, even the Prince of Preachers, himself.
Spurgeon did not preach in a vacuum. Not on this Sunday, anyway. Behind his congregation was a year marked by suffering, with just as many unknowns for the year that lay before them.
Spurgeon commented, “Last year was perhaps the gloomiest of our lives. All the newspaper summaries are like the prophetic roll which was written within and without with lamentations [emphasis added]. The year has gone, and everybody is glad to think that we have entered upon a new one; yet, who knows but what 1867 may be worse?”
Like Old Testament Israel of Deuteronomy 11, Spurgeon was calling his audience to trust in the covenant promises of God, even, or especially, when the circumstances of life seem to dictate otherwise. Spurgeon knew from Scripture, and desired to communicate to his church, that the Christian’s hope is not rooted in hopeful circumstances, but in the biblical truth that, “…the pillar of fire and cloud will never leave us.”
Onward Let Us Go
For many of us, 2016 has been marked by sufferings of its own. Loved ones have been lost. Marriages have regrettably ended in divorce. Sickness has come. Jobs have been lost. Addictions have been uncovered. These are but a smattering of life’s unwanted turns in the year which ends in just a few short hours from now.
Spurgeon preached to his audience after the turn of the New Year into 1867, but with the Bible in his hand and the Gospel in his heart, he exhorted his church to press on in faith. He said to them, and to us who now face the uncertainties of another New Year:
Well, brothers and sisters let it be what God chooses it shall be. Let it be what He appoints: for there is this comfort in the assurance that not a moment from this Sunday night on to December 31, 1867, shall be without the tender care of heaven; not even for a second will the Lord remove His eyes from any of His people.
Spurgeon’s message was not at all fatalistic. Fatalism assumes, among other things, an ambivalent god at least, or a malevolent god at worst. Rather, Spurgeon’s God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was a good and sovereign God, with whom Spurgeon would boldly proclaim, “…pain becomes pleasure, and dying beds are elevated into thrones, but without God—ah, what could we do?”
Filled with Faith
One of the many temptations faced by ancient Israel was to look back at their years in Egypt, and despite the hardships they endured, to cling to a preference for the difficulties that were known over the anxieties of trusting God with the unknown.
Spurgeon would have none of it for his church.
He reminded them that while the godly face many of the same afflictions as the ungodly, they “…come as a gracious Father’s appointments and they go at the bidding of loving wisdom.”
Spurgeon insightfully added, “By faith the godly man casts his care upon God who cares for him, and he walks without worrying care because he knows himself to be the child of heaven’s lovingkindness, for whom all things work together for good” [emphasis added].
Around the globe, 2016 has been a year marked by suffering. Both the godly and the ungodly have been struck with affliction. But, the difference in how these two people groups examine and interpret suffering can only be measured in the distance from east to west.
In suffering, the godly find meaning, purpose, and value, even if the circumstances are utterly unwelcome. But, for the ungodly, suffering is that which is to be avoided at all cost precisely because it is arbitrary and cold. In this we see why Scripture exhorts the Christian repeatedly to leave anxiety behind. It is utterly useless to them!
In 2017, we will no doubt see that trouble will arise. Spurgeon said, “You have your trials and troubles to come—do not expect you will be free from them. The devil is not dead, and sparks still fly upward.”
Despite this, we can, indeed we must as Spurgeon preached, “March on boldly!” from the beginning to the very end of the year. We have a spring which “never grows dry.” Why then, Spurgeon asked, "should the pitcher ever be empty?"
Join the Discussion
What trials did you face in 2016?
How did God prove Himself faithful to His word?
How do those facts encourage you away from anxiety, worry, and fear at the start of 2017?