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A Godward Life

Greetings All,

     This week's "thought" comes to you from John Piper and is found in his book, "A Godward Life."  This selection speaks of the extraordinary gifts of a man named Charles Haddon Spurgeon -- a man who has been called by many, "The Prince of Preachers," or "the best preacher that ever lived."

     After reading of his life accomplishments, it's nearly impossible for any pastor not to envy -- even though the 10th Commandment forbids that!  Yet, even though what Piper shares about Spurgeon's amazing life relate to his work in the pastorate, the things we can learn from our reaction to his accomplishments can apply to anyone we admire who is extraordinarily gifted. Thus I offer it to you for your consideration. Enjoy.

"Mountains Are Not Meant to Be Envied"
 Awed Thoughts on Charles Spurgeon
     "... If you try to make a Minnesota hill imitate a mountain, you will make a fool of your hill.  Hills have their place too. So do the Nebraska plains. If the whole world were mountains, where would we grow wheat for bread? Every time you eat bread say, "Thank God for Nebraska!"
     I'm talking about Charles Haddon Spurgeon. I am warning my wavering self he is not to be imitated.  Spurgeon preached as a Baptist pastor in London from 1854 until 1891 -- thirty-eight years of ministry in one place. He died January 31, 1892, at the age of fifty-seven. His collected sermons fill sixty-three volumes equivalent to the twenty-seven volume edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica and stand as the largest set of books by a single author in the history of Christianity.  He read six books a week and could remember what was in them and where [on one occasion quoting both the page and paragraph where a quote was found]. He read Pilgrim's Progress more than 100 times.
     He added 14,460 people to his church membership and did almost all the membership interviews himself. He could look out on a congregation of 5,000 and name the members. He founded a pastor's college and trained almost 900 men during his pastorate. Spurgeon once said he had counted as many as eight sets of thoughts that passed through his mind at the same time while he was preaching. He often prayed for his people during the very sermon he was preaching to them.  He would preach for 40 minutes at 140 words per minute from a small sheet of notes that he had worked up the night before. The result? More than twenty-five thousand copies of his sermons were sold each week in twenty-seven languages, and someone was converted each week through the written sermons.

     Spurgeon was married and had two sons (twins) who both became pastors. His wife Susannah (who died the same year as Charles, though three years older) was an invalid most of her life and rarely heard him preach. He founded an orphanage (funded mainly through the sales of his sermons), started a home for poor widows, edited a magazine, and produced more than 140 other books (three of which sold over 1,000,000 copies and one of which is still a best-seller). He responded to 500 letters a week and often preached ten times a week in various churches as well as his own. He suffered from gout, rheumatism and Bright's disease, and in the last twenty years of his ministry, he was so sick that he missed a third of the Sunday's at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. He was a politically liberal and conservative Calvinistic Baptist who smoked cigars, spoke his mind, believed in hell, and wept over the perishing, ten's of thousands of whom were saved through his soul-winning passion....
     What shall we make of such a man?  Neither a god nor a goal. He should not be worshiped or envied. He is too small for one and too big for the other. If we worship such men we are idolaters. If we envy them we are fools. Mountains are not meant to be envied. They are meant to be marveled at for the sake of their Maker. They are the mountains of God. More than that, without envy, we are meant to climb into their minds and hearts and revel in what they saw so clearly and what they felt so deeply. We are to benefit from them without craving to be them. When we learn this, we can relax and enjoy them. Until we learn it, they may make us miserable, because they highlight our weaknesses. Well, we are weak, and to be reminded of it is good. But we also need to be reminded that, compared with our inferiority to God, the distance between us and Spurgeon is nothing. We are all utterly dependent on our Father's grace.
     Spurgeon had his sins. That may comfort us in our weak moments. But let us rather be comforted that his greatness was a free gift of God -- to us as well as to him. Let us be, by the grace of God, all that we can be for the glory of God (I Corinthians 15:10). In our smallness, let us not become smaller by envy, but rather, larger by humble admiration and gratitude for the gifts of others. Do not envy the mountain, glory in its Creator.  You'll find the air up there cool, fresh and invigorating and the view stunning beyond description. So don't envy. Enjoy!" 

     There are few preaching pastors who did not study Spurgeon, and of those that did, probably most have coveted some of the many gifts he had or the things he was able to do.
     He had preached 600 times before he was 20 and had such a booming voice he once preached to a crowd of 23,654 people with no microphone or amplification.  He had a photographic memory, pastored the largest independent congregation in the world in his day, and was not tempted by money, giving most of it away to charity or missions. He worked 18 hours a day, had an uncanny ability to paint pictures with words, came up with phenomenal illustrations from everyday life on a regular basis (many of which I have used), and would frequently ask his members NOT to come to church the next Sunday so that the lines of visitors who waited outside each week might be able to get in to have a seat.
     Yes, it's easy to envy or want to be like Spurgeon (I have often)!  But that would be to question God's sovereignty. That would be to forget that God makes each person just as he desires, not that we may wish we were someone other than who we are, but that we might praise His wisdom and be content to simply be who he's made us to be -- weaknesses and all. The giants of the faith are there to inspire us, and we can thank God for their example. But they can actually be a distraction and cause us harm if we end up idolizing them and lamenting us.  God gives us mountains to admire, not imitate, for as Piper points out, the rolling hills and the flat plains have their particular purposes too! 

In the Bonds of Christian Charity, Pastor Jeff