My Life as a Christian

Lecture #3: The Minister’s Fainting Fits

In this lecture, pastor Spurgeon discusses depression in the life of pastors and indeed we might extend these truths to the life of every Christian. He notes, “Fits of depression come over the most of us. Usually as cheerful as we may be, we must at intervals be cast down. The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy.”

Spurgeon observes five reasons that would cause depression in pastors.  First, they are human. “Being men, they are compassed with infirmity, and heirs of sorrow.” Secondly, as humans most of them are in some way or another unsound physically. By this he implies physical challenges especially sicknesses. Thirdly, he notes lack of enough rest from studying and work. A painter takes care of his brush but often a pastor ignores to care of his important tool, the brain or mind.

Fourthly he observes the following: “Our work, when earnestly undertaken, lays us open to attacks in the direction of depression. Who can bear the weight of souls without, sometimes sinking to the dust? Passionate longings after men’s conversion, if not fully satisfied, consume the soul with anxiety and disappointment. How often on Lord’s Day evenings, do we feel as if life were completely washed out of us! After pouring out our souls over our congregations, we feel like empty earthen pitchers which a child might break.”

Lastly he notes: “Our position in the church will also conduce to this. A minister fully equipped for his work, will usually be a spirit by himself, above, beyond and apart from others. In the ranks, men walk shoulder to shoulder, with many comrades, but as the officer rises in rank, men of his standing are fewer in number. There are many soldiers, few captains, fewer colonels, but only one commander-in-chief. Like their Lord in Gethsemane, they look in vain for comfort to the disciples sleeping around them; they are shocked at the apathy of their little band of brethren, and return to their secret agony with all the heavier burden pressing upon them, because they have found their dearest companions slumbering.”

Basing on his personal experiences, Spurgeon goes on to highlight moments that pastors are prone to be overcome by depression.  “The times most favorable to fits of depression, so far as I have experienced, may be summed up in the a brief catalogue. First among them, I must mention the hour of great success. When at last a long-cherished desire is fulfilled, when God has been glorified greatly by our means, and a great triumph achieved, then we are apt to faint.” He illustrates this point with the life of Elijah who gave in to depression soon after a great victory for the Lord on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18-19).

Secondly, “Before any great achievement, some measure of the same depression is very usual. Surveying the difficulties before us, our hearts sink within us. The sons of Anak stalk before us, and we are as grasshoppers in our own sight in their presence. The cities of Canaan are walled up to heaven, and who are we that we should hope to capture them…This depression comes over me whenever the Lord is preparing a larger blessing for my ministry; the cloud is black before it breaks, and overshadows before it yields its deluge of mercy. Depression has now become to me as a prophet in rough clothing, a John the Baptist, heralding the nearer coming of my Lord’s richer benison.”

Thirdly, “In the midst of a long stretch of unbroken labor, the same affliction may be looked for…Our Sabbaths are our days of toil, and if we do not rest upon some other day we shall break down. Even the earth must lie fallow and have her Sabbaths, and so must we. Hence the wisdom and compassion of our Lord, when he said to his disciples, “Let us go into the desert and rest awhile.” What! When the people are fainting? When the multitudes are like sheep upon the mountains without a shepherd? The Master knows better than to exhaust his servants and quench the light of Israel. Rest time is not waste time.”

Fourthly, “One crushing stroke has sometimes laid the minister very low. The brother most relied upon becomes a traitor. Judas lifts up his heel against the man who trusted him, and the preacher’s heart for the moment fails him. We are all too apt to look at an arm of flesh, and from that propensity many of our sorrows arise.  Equally, overwhelming is the blow when an honored and beloved member yields to temptation, and disgraces the holy name with which he was named…the trials of a true minister are not a few, and such as are caused by ungrateful professors are harder to bear than the coarsest attacks of avowed enemies. Let no man who looks for ease of mind and seeks the quietude of life enter the ministry; if he does so he will flee from it in disgust.”

Fifthly, “When troubles multiply, and discouragements follow each other in long succession…If there was a regulated pause between the buffetings of adversity, the spirit would stand prepared; but when they come suddenly and heavily, like the battering of great hailstones, the pilgrim may well be amazed.”

Lastly, “This evil will also come upon us, we know not why, and then it is more difficult to drive it away. Causeless depression is not to be reasoned with, nor can David’s harp charm it away by sweet discoursings.” Spurgeon emphasizes that in this case just as in all the other cases, our only hope is in Christ. “The iron bolt which so mysteriously fastens the door of hope and hold our spirits in gloomy prison, needs a heavenly hand to push it back; and when that hand is seen we cry with the  Apostle, “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” (2 Cor. 1:3, 4).”

Wrapping up the lecture, our professor has the following words of wisdom. “Be not be dismayed by soul-trouble. Count it no strange thing, but a part of ordinary ministerial experience.  Should the power of depression be more than ordinary, think not that all is over with your usefulness. Cast not away your confidence even if the enemy’s foot be on your neck, expect to rise and overthrow him. Cast the burden of the present, along with the sin of the past and the fear of the future, upon the Lord, who forsake not his saint.

“Put no trust in frames and feelings. Trust in God alone, and lean not on the reeds of human help. Be not surprised when friends fail you: it is a falling world. Never count on the immutability in man. The disciples of Jesus forsook him; be not amazed if your adherents wander away to other teachers.

“Serve God with all your might while the candle is burning, and then when it goes out for a season, you will have the less to regret. Be content to be nothing, for that is what you are. When your own emptiness is painfully forced upon your consciousness, chide yourself that you ever dreamed of being full, except in the Lord. Continue, with double earnestness to serve your Lord when no visible result is before you. Any simpleton can follow the narrow path in the light: faith’s rare wisdom enables us to march on in the dark with infallible accuracy, since she places her hand in that of her Great Guide.”

Please mark these words of comfort from pastor Spurgeon: “Between this and heaven there may be rougher weather yet, but it is all provided for by our covenant Head (God). In nothing let us be turned aside from the path which the divine call has urged us to pursue. Come fair or come foul, the pulpit is our watch-tower, and the ministry our warfare; be it ours, when we cannot see the face of our God, to trust under THE SHADOW OF HIS WINGS.” Amen!

Taken from Lectures to my Students by C.H. Spurgeon

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My Life as a Christian

Lecture #2: The Call to the Ministry (Second Session)

Pastor Spurgeon continues with his lecture…

“The first sign of the heavenly call is an intense, all-absorbing desire for the work.  In order to a true call to the ministry there must be an irresistible, overwhelming craving and raging thirst for telling others what God has done to our own souls…If any student in this room could be content to be a newspaper editor, or a grocer, or a farmer, or a doctor, or a lawyer, or a senator, or a king, in the name of heaven let him go his way.

“We must feel that woe is unto us if we preach not the gospel; the word of God must be unto us as fire in our bones, otherwise, if we undertake the ministry, we shall be unhappy in it and unable to bear the self-denials incident to it, and shall be of little service to those among whom we minister. I speak of self-denials, and well I may; for the true pastor’s work is full of them.  (Therefore), the desire to ministry must be thoughtful one and must be thoroughly disinterested one meaning that if a man can detect, after the most earnest self-examination, any other motive than the glory of God and the good of souls, he must turn aside from it at once.

“In the second place, combined with the earnest desire to become a pastor, there must be aptness to teach and some measure of the other qualities needful for the office of a public instructor.  I do not claim  that the first time a man rises to speak he must preach  as well as Robert Hall did in his later days…If a man be called to preach, he will be endowed with a degree of speaking ability, which he will cultivate increase. If the gift of utterance be not there in a measure at the first, it is not likely that it will ever be developed.

“I have heard of a gentleman who had a most intense desire to preach, and pressed his suit upon his minister, until after a multitude of rebuffs he obtained leave to preach a trial sermon. That opportunity was the end  of his importunity, for upon announcing his text he found himself bereft of every idea but one, which he delivered feelingly, and then descended the rostrum. “My brethren,” said he, “if any of you think it an easy thing to preach, I advise you to come up here and have all the conceit taken out of you.”

“I should not complete this point if I did not add, that mere ability to edify, and aptness to teach is not enough, there must be other talents to complete the pastoral character. Sound judgment and solid experience must instruct you; gentle manners and loving affections must sway you; firmness and courage must be manifest; and tenderness and sympathy must not be lacking.

Gifts administrative in ruling well will be as requisite as gifts instructive in teaching well. You must be fitted to lead, prepared to endure, and able to persevere. In grace, you should be head and shoulders above the rest of the people, able to be their father and counselor. Read carefully the qualifications of an elder, given in 1 Timothy 3:2-7, and in Titus 1:6-9. If such gifts and graces be not in you and abound, it may be possible for you to succeed as an evangelist, but as a pastor you will be of no account.

“In order further to prove a man’s call, after al little exercise of his gifts, such as I have already spoken of, he must see a measure of conversion-work going on under his efforts, or he may conclude that he has made a mistake, and therefore, may go back by the best way he can…There must be some measure of conversion-work in your irregular labors before you can believe that preaching is to be your life-work…Brethren, if the Lord give you no zeal for souls, keep to the lapstone or the trowel, but avoid the pulpit as you value your heart’s peace and your future salvation.

“A step beyond all this is however needful in our inquiry. The will of the Lord concerning pastors is made known through the prayerful judgment of his church. It is needful as a proof of your vocation that your preaching should be acceptable to the people of God. God usually opens doors of utterance for those whom he calls to speak in his name…Standing up to preach, our spirit will be judged of the assembly, and if it be condemned, or if, as a general rule, the church is not edified, the conclusion may not be disputed, that we are not sent of God.

“Churches are not all wise, neither do they all judge in the power of the Holy Ghost, but many of them judge after the flesh; yet I had sooner accept the opinion of a company of the Lord’s people than my own upon so personal a subject as my own gifts and graces.”

Professor Spurgeon wraps up the session with this deep insight borrowed from John Newton’s letter to a friend:

“If it be the Lord’s will to bring you into his ministry, he has already appointed your place and service, and though you know it not at present, you shall at a proper time. If you had the talents of an angel, you could do no good with them till his hour is come, and till he leads you to the people whom he has determined to bless by your means. It is very difficult to restrain ourselves within the bounds of prudence here, when our zeal is warm: a sense of the love of Christ upon our hearts, and a tender compassion for poor sinners, is ready to prompt us to break out too soon; but he that believes shall not make haste.”

The lecture to be concluded later…

 

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My Life as a Christian

Pray That Your Piety Be Vigorous

Pastor Spurgeon continues with his lecture today. He is still teaching on the topic of “Minister’s Self-Watch.” In our last class, he pointed out the need for a minister or pastor to be converted. Today, he continues with the second point viz a viz a minister or pastor should be of vigorous piety.

“The first matter of true religion being settled, IT IS OF THE NEXT IMPORTANCE TO THE MINISTER THAT HIS PIETY BE VIGOROUS.

He is not to be content with being equal to the rank and file of Christians, he must be a mature and advanced believer; for the ministry of Christ has been truly called “the choicest of his choice, the elect of his election, a church picked out of the church…His pulse of vital godliness must beat strongly and regularly; his eye of faith must be bright; his foot of resolution must be firm; his hand of activity must be quick; his whole inner man must be the highest degree of sanity”

For sure Spurgeon is not equating maturity with age here since he himself became a preacher in his early twenties. We should have no doubts that he is implying spiritual maturity. Knowing that we can’t cultivate true piety with our own strength, the professor reminds us of the need to lean more and more on God’s grace.

“When God calls us to ministerial labor, we should endeavor to get grace that we may be strengthened into fitness of our position, and not be mere novices carried away by the temptations of Satan, to the injury of the church and our own ruin…We had need live very near to God, if we would approve ourselves in our vocation.”

Please not of this important point from our lecturer: “Recollect as minister or pastors, that your whole life, your whole pastoral life especially, will be affected by the vigor of your piety. If your zeal grows dull, you will not pray well in the pulpit; you will pray worse in the family, and worst in the study alone.”

Spurgeon explains further the need of piety in ministry because as he put it those in ministry are in greater danger. “You must remember , too, that we have need of every vigorous piety, because our danger is so much greater than that of others. Upon the whole, no place is so assailed with temptation as the ministry.” Because of this fact our professor encourages us to live a life of constant repentance since “To lose the personality of repentance  and faith is a loss indeed.”

Spurgeon then warns of pride that comes with a better  knowledge of the Scriptures.  “As wise and learned as you are, take heed to yourselves lest he (Satan) over-wit you. The devil is greater scholar than you, and a nimbler disputant; he can ‘transform himself into an angel of light to deceive. He will get within you and  trip you up your heels before you are aware; he will play the juggler with you undiscerned, and cheat you of your faith or innocence, and you shall not know that you have lost it, nay, he will make you believe it is multiplied or increased when it is lost.” What a profound truth!

As our class time is drawing to an end, the professor wraps up with this words: “Seek then strength from the Strong One, wisdom from the Wise One, in fact, all from God of all.”

The lecture continues next time….on behalf of professor Spurgeon I would like to thank you for sitting in this class today. Grace and peace.

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Christianity and Society

No Moderation, No Compromise

“Only you shall not go very far away” Exodus 8:28

This is a crafty word from the lip of the chief-tyrant Pharoah. If the poor bondaged Israel must go out of Egypt, then he bargains with them that it shall not be very far away; not too far for them to escape the terror of his arms, and the observation of his spies.

After the same fashion, the world…loves us (Christians) to be more lovable and not carry matters with too a severe hand…Worldly wisdom recommends the path of compromise, and talks of “moderation.” According to this carnal policy, purity is admitted to be very desirable, but we are warned against being too precise; truth is of course to be followed, but error is not to be severely denounced.

“Yes,” says the world, “be spiritually minded by all means, but do not deny yourself a little gay society…What’s the good of crying down a thing when it is so fashionable, and everybody does it?”

Multitudes  yield to this cunning advice, to their own eternal ruin. If we would follow the Lord wholly, we must go right away into the wilderness of separation, and leave its maxims, its pleasures, and its religion too, and go far away to the place where the Lord calls His sanctified ones.

When the town is on fire, our house cannot be too far from the flames. When the plague is abroad, a man cannot be too far from its haunts. The further from a viper the better, and the further from worldly conformity the better. To all true believers let the trumpet-call be sounded, “Come you out from among them, be you separate.”

Taken from “Morning and Evening” by Charles Haddon Spurgeon

 

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