Spurgeon for the sick and afflicted

I’ve appreciated reading the sermons of 19th-century Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon over the years, and have quoted him on my blog a number of times. So when I came down with the flu and found myself in bed for three days straight, I thought it would be encouraging to pick up Arnold Dallimore’s short, well-researched biography of the man. Sick Calvinists of the world, unite! Spurgeon, so it happens, was a lot sicker than me for most of his life. He was seriously, often cripplingly ill—both mentally (with depression) and physically—from his mid-30s until his death at age 57. His wife Susannah also suffered from chronic illness which meant she was unable to attend meetings where he preached.
However, despite many ailments, Spurgeon’s life was full of the service of the Lord Jesus Christ. Here are a few examples.
• He was known in London for his pastoral visits to the houses of people dying during the cholera epidemic of the 1850s (cholera being, at the time, untreatable, and of unknown cause).
• He had a weekly time set aside to meet individually with people who wanted to become church members because they had become Christians. In this way, he came to know at least 6000 church members by name, as well as how they were converted.
• He began and ran a pastor’s college offering a two-year course. (For a sample of what he taught them, see Lectures to My Students.)
• By 1866, his trainees had begun 18 new churches in London alone.
• He began a door-to-door book-and-tract-sellers (colporteurs) organization to sell Bibles, as well as books, magazines and tracts produced by him. In the year 1878 alone, 94 colporteurs made 926,290 home visits. Their aim was not merely to sell books, but to talk about spiritual questions with the people they met.
Most weeks, Spurgeon wrote, delivered and published a weekly sermon; looked after an orphanage, a pastor’s college and an almshouse; read and responded personally to 500 letters; and preached up to 10 times in churches that he had started.
• Spurgeon began and maintained 65 different institutions, ranging from welfare organizations through to mission organizations, preacher training colleges, and organizations for the distribution of literature.
Contrary to appearances however, Dallimore’s biography is not a hagiography: it records with disappointment Spurgeon’s moderate drinking, smoking, and use of a church fete to raise money for the completion (debt free) of the Metropolitan Tabernacle.
I trust that, in God’s providence, this was the right book for me to read while I was sick in bed. But let me say that Spurgeon’s attitude to his own labours do not fit easily with our recommendations in Going the Distance, which is aimed at helping those in long-term ministry. Spurgeon wrote in 1876,

If I have any message to give from my own bed of sickness it would be this—
if you do not wish to be full of regrets when you are obliged to lie still, work while you can. If you desire to make a sick bed as soft as it can be, do not stuff it with the mournful reflection that you wasted time while you were in health and strength. People said to me years ago, “You will break your constitution down with preaching ten times a week,” and the like. Well, if I have done so, I am glad of it. I would do the same again. If I had fifty constitutions I would rejoice to break them down in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ. You young men that are strong, overcome the wicked one and fight for the Lord while you can. You will never regret having done all that lies in you for our blessed Lord and Master. Crowd as much as you can into every day, and postpone no work till tomorrow. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” (Ecc 9:10). (‘For the Sick and Afflicted’.1)

My uncomfortable feeling is that Spurgeon’s advice to the sick minister is closer to that of the Apostle Paul than the advice that I would offer. What do others think?


1. http://www.biblebb.com/files/spurgeon/1274.htm.]

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