Today's guest blogger is Susan Verstraete. Susan is the Women's Ministry coordinator, a children’s Sundayschool
teacher and leader of a book discussion group at Faith Community Church in Kansas City, North,
where she also serves as church secretary.
It’s a good thing he wasn’t born in the 20th
century. Many believing brothers and sisters would label his tendency to
melancholy sinful, or evidence of a lack of self-discipline, or even the result
of shallow faith. A psychologist would probably send him away with a
prescription and a self-help book with twelve easy steps to overcome
depression. But Charles Haddon Spurgeon, perhaps the greatest preacher of the
19th century, had a different attitude toward his affliction.
Spurgeon knew "by most painful
experience what deep depression of spirit means, being visited therewith at
seasons by no means few or far between." He warned his students,
"Fits of depression come over the most of us. Usually 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." Although he said, "Spiritual
darkness of any sort is to be avoided, and not desired," he never assumed
that a Christian suffering depression must necessarily be in sin. Instead, he
wrote, "I note that some whom I greatly love and esteem, who are, in my
judgment, among the very choicest of God’s people, nevertheless, travel most of
the way to heaven by night."
Spurgeon goes on in his book, Lectures
to my Students, to give some of the reasons believers fall into sadness. He
also provides hope for those so overtaken.
"Is it not first, that they are
men?" Spurgeon acknowledged
that being a Christian did not make a man or woman immune from suffering. In
fact, he said, "Even under the economy of redemption it is most clear that
we are to endure infirmities, otherwise there were no need of the promised Spirit
to help us in them. It is of need be that we are sometimes in heaviness. Good
men are promised tribulation in this world." But he points out that
through this suffering, we "may learn sympathy with the Lord’s suffering
people." Paul says something similar in 2 Corinthians 1:4; God
"comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort
those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are
comforted by God."
"Most of us are in some way or another
unsound physically." Spurgeon
suffered terribly with a joint disorder that was diagnosed as gout. He was
forced to stay in bed, sometimes for weeks at a time in excruciating pain.
"I have been brought very low," he wrote to his congregation during
one long bout, "My flesh has been tortured with pain and my spirit has
been prostrate with depression. . . . With some difficulty I write these lines
in my bed, mingling them with the groans of pain and the songs of hope."
With characteristic balance, Spurgeon
understood that physical pain and natural temperament contribute to depression,
but did not allow his students to use them as an excuse for despair.
"These infirmities may be no detriment to a man’s career of special
usefulness," he said. "They may even have been imposed upon him by
divine wisdom as necessary qualifications for his peculiar course of service.
Some plants owe their medicinal qualities to the marsh in which they grow;
others to the shades in which alone they flourish."
"In the midst of a long stretch of
unbroken labor, the same affliction may be looked for." Spurgeon’s schedule was exhausting. In a
typical week, he preached ten times. He answered approximately 500 letters,
taught in a ministerial college, administrated an orphanage and dealt with
dozens of individuals concerning their souls. He wrote for publications,
entertained visitors at his home, taught his own family and encouraged his
bedridden wife. It is no wonder that his health suffered under such a workload.
Spurgeon’s church finally insisted on regular vacations for him each year.
Spurgeon told his students, "The bow cannot be always bent without fear of
breaking. Repose is as needful to the mind as sleep to the body. . . . Rest
time is not waste time. It is economy to gather fresh strength."
"One crushing stroke has sometimes laid
the minister very low." On
October 19, 1856, the 22 year old Spurgeon spoke for the first time in the
Surrey Gardens Music Hall in London. The church was no longer big enough to
contain the crowds of people who wanted to hear him preach. Thousands packed
into the music hall, seating themselves in aisles and stairways after all the
regular seating was full, and hundreds more waited outside, hoping to hear part
of the sermon through the windows. Just after Spurgeon began to pray, someone
in a balcony shouted "Fire!" People pushed and shoved to get out of
the building, and a stair railing gave way under the pressure. Seven people
were killed and 28 more were injured. The tender-hearted Spurgeon never
completely recovered from the emotional impact of this incident. He wrote,
"I was pressed beyond measure and out of bounds with an enormous weight of
misery. The tumult, the panic, the deaths, were day and night before me, and
made life a burden."
Many have experienced a natural disaster, the
death of a loved one, devastating financial loss or overwhelming disappointment
when a child or a fellow believer has fallen into sin. Spurgeon offers hope
from his own experience. "The fact that Jesus is still great, let his
servants suffer as they may, piloted me back to calm reason and peace. Should
so terrible a calamity overtake any of my brethren, let them both patiently
hope and quietly wait for the salvation of God."
"The lesson from wisdom is, be not
dismayed by soul-trouble." In the
end, Spurgeon acknowledged that depression may come to some believers for no
discernible reason. He did not consider it an illness, a sin, or surprising
condition, but an inevitable season in the life of a Christian and an
opportunity to demonstrate trust in the God who will one day wipe away every
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.
—Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to my Students
Susan Verstraete and her husband Michael have two adult
sons, Patrick and Christopher. Susan's book, Your
People: Stories from Church History is
available from Amazon. Find more articles by Susan at www.susansbookgroup.com.
Labels: Guest Blogger- Verstraete