Soul Care with Spurgeon: Good Cheer for the New Year

London, 1866
“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?

Soul Care with Spurgeon: Good Cheer for Christmas

It's no secret that for many, the fall and winter seasons, connected to holidays such as Christmas and New Year, can be an emotionally and spiritually difficult time. In the clinical mental health world, a diagnosis of Seasonal Affective Disorder for sufferers with a constellation of symptoms is possible, if specific criteria are met. 

Those who consider that their experience mirrors the clinical definition of SAD should consider consulting with a medical professional, even as they may also seek non-medical interventions, such as biblical counseling.

For others, sadness and depression during the holidays is linked to life events that are understandably difficult. The loss of a loved one, loss of a job or significant income reduction, family or marital strife, and any number of other risk factors present during the holidays can tempt a person toward sadness, depressiveness, or low mood in a time of year that is culturally conditioned toward joy and happiness. 

For those who are struggling emotionally during the holidays, all of this can lead to a greater sense of unmet expectations, failure, hopelessness, bitterness, and frustration.

In many scenarios, the person who experiences these emotions and circumstances can find themselves on a proverbial hamster wheel from which it seems there is no escape. 

Fortunately, even when there is a biological component to a seasonal sadness or depression, there are spiritual realities that must be dealt with, and God's word is uniquely sufficient to this task.

Whereas sadness and depression specialize in tempting our eyes away from the hope that belongs to the one who is united to Christ by grace alone through faith alone, the promises of God call and empower the sufferer to fix their gaze upon the One who died to redeem them from the valley.

A Sweet Release

On December 20, 1868, Charles Spurgeon preached a sermon that he called "Good Cheer for Christmas." His text was Isaiah 25:6, which reads:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.

In this verse, Spurgeon saw "this mountain" as pointing to the church, the "Lord of hosts" as the sole provider of the "feast," the meal itself as the fulness of the Gospel message, and "all peoples" as reflective of the "every tribe and nation" nature of God's redemptive work in the world.

Spurgeon's Christmas message was steeped in theological categories. Themes of justification, law, Gospel, adoption, covenant, and union with Christ were not just present in a hushed tone, but were explicitly drawn out of Isaiah's text, and expounded upon.

We live in an era of the church in America that commonly holds talk of theology and sound doctrine with suspicion. Truth is relative and doctrine divides, we're told by many. 

For this reason, many sermons and Christian books are theologically anemic. Spurgeon would say, perhaps, that the feast spoken of in Isaiah 25:6 has been reduced to a fast food menu item, full of carbs, and no "marrow" with which to nourish the suffering, sad, and depressed soul.

For Spurgeon, who struggled with depression himself, and who held the celebration of Christmas in what has been described by Dr. Christian George as a "love-hate relationship" (Spurgeon: Santa or Scrooge?), the Gospel message of Jesus Christ was to the soul "its sweet release from bondage and stress--its mirth and joy!"

He Thought of Me

Spurgeon opened his sermon by noting that while the "entire world in England [was] enjoying themselves with all the good cheer" they could afford, the "servants of God" were to be reminded that they alone held the "largest share in the person of Him who was born at Bethlehem."

Indeed, he writes, "Long before the Lord began to create the world, He had thought of me!" In this Gospel truth, connected, Surgeon would write, to the doctrine of election, the depressed soul finds comfort, joy, and hope in the face of emotions and circumstances which declare a false gospel of hopelessness.

Spurgeon preached to his audience that the loving call of God was "without repentance," that is, that once God set His love upon a man, "...He never turns away from doing him good." Spurgeon desired for his audience, and he would no doubt proclaim today, that in the cold and chaos of the Christmas season, that the sad heart might be warmed by the fires of biblical truth.

Sadness and depression, and particularly those experienced by many during the holidays preach a strong word. But, as has been said before, they often over-estimate the trouble we face, and under-estimate the help available to us in Christ and in His church.

If you struggle during the holidays with a grieving heart, hear the words of Charles Spurgeon preached on a December Sunday in 1868, and be encouraged of this greatest of all truths:

One of the dearest joys of the Christian life is a sense of perfect peace with God. Oh, I tell you when one is quiet for a while, and the din and noise of business is out of one's ears, it is one of the most delicious things in the entire world to meditate upon God and to feel He is no enemy to me, and I am no enemy to Him.

Join the Conversation

Do you suffer from seasonal depression and sadness?

If so, how do you fight for joy and what role does the Gospel message play in that effort?

New Weekly Feature: Soul Care with Spurgeon

"Reason, thy place is to stand and find out what this volume means, not to tell what this book ought to say." Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Sermon II, The Bible, March 18, 1855, Exeter hall

Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) is one of modern church history's most beloved preachers of God's word. An English Particular Baptist, Spurgeon was born into mid-nineteenth century England, the son of a common family. Saved as a young teenager on a snowy day in a Methodist church service he had no previous intention of attending, Charles would move to London at the age of nineteen, and go on to a prolific preaching, writing, and ministerial career in the church. 

Without the aid of formal theological education, or modern luxuries such as the internet, Spurgeon is estimated to have reached tens of millions of people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Theologian Carl F. H. Henry would later call Spurgeon, "One of evangelical Christianity's immortals." Fortunately, Spurgeon still speaks to us today through his written and spoken word thanks to book publishing, and incredible efforts to preserve his legacy in places such as The Spurgeon Center for Biblical Preaching at MidWestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

While many Christians today have heard something of this Charles Spurgeon, known in some circles as the "Prince of Preachers," too few have taken the opportunity to read his work beyond what is captured in memes via social media. There are many difficulties with this approach to maintaining an awareness of church history, not the least of which is that sometimes, what we find attributed to Spurgeon on social media he in fact never actually said. Spurgeon-ologist, Dr. Christian George, wrote about this issue here.

Soul Care with Spurgeon

As Charles Spurgeon so greatly influenced the church, particularly through his preaching ministry, and as we at Baylight Counseling hold to the sufficiency of Scripture, the importance of theology and sound doctrine, and the high value of the preaching of God's word, we are undertaking a new and exciting effort to relate fifty-two of Spurgeon's sermons, one per week, to biblical soul care in 2017.

Three motivations we have in view for this weekly blog post, to be published every Friday, are: 1) To admire the work of Spurgeon, and how it relates to biblical counseling, 2) To place a historical church figure before others in order to encourage them to read outside of contemporary work for life change, and 3) To highlight the way in which sound doctrine, the bedrock of true Christian care, arises out of God's word, which never changes, even with the passage of time.

Some may ask, "Why Spurgeon?" We think that's a good and fair question, given the hall of faith we have to choose from in church history. We've chosen Spurgeon in part because of his documented struggle with depression and sadness. Spurgeon was not only (or even firstly) a theologian. He was a man, a person like the rest of us who knew the sufferings of life. Dr. Zack Eswine has reflected well on this in his recent book "Spurgeon's Sorrows." Spurgeon didn't live in an ivory tower, but was a pastor-theologian for us all.

We hope you'll join us each week for "Soul Care with Spurgeon," a look at how the theology and preaching ministry of Charles Spurgeon encourage us to this day in our quest to apply Scripture to life's dominating circumstances. Sometimes, the answers will be obvious, other times, it may take a little extra effort to make application and connect the dots. Whichever the case, we expect it will be worth the investment!

Special Previews

While "Soul Care with Spurgeon" officially kicks off in 2017, we're going to preview this new feature the next two Fridays, December 23 and 30. Our two sermon reviews will include "Good Cheer for Christmas" (1868), followed by "Good Cheer for the New Year" (1867).

In addition, we'll largely be pulling from the Hendrickson Publisher's five-volume work "Spurgeon's Sermons." We'll be starting with volume one, sermon one, so feel free to pick up this set, and follow along!

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us. We'd love to hear from you. 

If you'd like to support this work or the work of providing biblical counsel to churches and people from throughout Tampa Bay, we'd be blessed to have you as a ministry partner. Click here to send your gift securely online, or for our mailing address. We are a donor-supported nonprofit ministry--your gifts matter to those we serve!

We pray you have a blessed Christmas season!

~ JW

Reformation 500: Martin Luther for Young Readers

Martin Luther, Reformation Heritage Books

The 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation is fast approaching, and with it a host of new resources with which to celebrate this world changing era. What took place on October 31, 1517 at the hand of an obscure, Augustinian monk was the recapturing of justification by grace alone through faith alone, a doctrine which Luther said was the article upon which the church stands or falls.

When Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, he couldn’t have known, indeed had no intention, that he was etching his name into the granite rock of church history. The young man from Eisleben, Germany, who had been preparing to be lawyer but chose to become a monk at the flash of a bolt of lightning, became the catalyst for what would become known as Reformed theology. Those who study his life and life’s work for the spread of the Gospel are blessed.

A New Resource

Luther’s theological works are legion. Their depth and sheer volume have been the focus of scholarly work for generations. Still, Luther is accessible and knowable by all. To this end, author Simonetta Carr and illustrator Troy Howell, in cooperation with Reformation Heritage Books and their series “Christian Biographies for Young Readers,” have joined together to offer parents and their children a new biography on this great reformer of the church.

Set into a book of sturdy construction that ought to last a lifetime if well cared for, Carr takes the reader on a chronological walk through the highlights of Luther’s life and ministry. The prose is accessible to both reader and hearer (i.e. if read aloud by a parent). Parent and child alike will come away from Martin Luther with a clear and articulate grasp of Luther and the effects of his ministry upon the church. As a bonus, the photography and illustrations bring it all together to form a book that young readers will indeed enjoy throughout their years.

The Contribution

Unfortunately, today’s young reader lives in an age that often finds theology and church history to be less than “practical.” The error of this view is clear to those who seek understanding. From a biblical counseling perspective, we understand that theology is not done in a vacuum. Whether we understand it or not, we read Scripture with those who have gone before us. Where ever this is rejected, error is sure to follow.

One of the values of this book, and the others that join it in the series, is the opportunity given to parents to introduce their young reader to church history, in this case, Martin Luther. As young readers engage this beautifully written and packaged book, they will connect the dots between the faith they hold today, and the saints of old, like Luther, who labored for the Gospel so long ago. For parents, this book will help bring a sense of enthusiasm to their child’s heart as they disciple them toward Christ.

A Counselor’s Recommendation

The work of counseling is usually thought of as strictly concerned with clinical diagnoses, and behavior modification. Not so with biblical counseling. We’re concerned with the entirety of the pursuit of sound doctrine and theology, and how they move toward changing a person’s heart. Soul work begins with the faith that Martin Luther came to know, as revealed in Scripture alone, and this book does a masterful job of introducing him.

There are few tasks in this life, if any, that surpass the greatness and responsibility of parenting. In today’s world, parents cannot have too many resources dedicated to shepherding their child’s heart. This series from Reformation Heritage Books is a blessing to the family, and this book on Martin Luther would be a wonderful place to start.

Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided to the reviewer at no charge in exchange for an impartial review.

~ JW