Reading Biographies Together - Spurgeon (V)
Today we continue our readings through Arnold Dallimore’s biography of Charles Spurgeon. I trust that some of you continue to read along as we make our way through it, a few chapters a week. I know it can be difficult to read at this sort of a pace—many of you have probably already finished it and have long since forgotten about it. But for the sake of reading together we’ll continue to at the current pace of 2 to 3 chapters per week.
This week we read about the almhouses and orphanages begun as a ministry of the church, we read about some of the illnesses that plagued Spurgeon and his wife and we read about Susannah Spurgeon and the work she did to encourage pastors and to support their families. Though she spent much of her life as a semi-invalid, she was active in ministry even from her bed.
The first chapter is one that would have gone well with last weeks’ reading as we looked at the vast number of ministries begun by Spurgeon and maintained through his church. Almhouses and orphanages were just two more of these, two more ministries that served the city (though in this case the almhouses were already in existence before Spurgeon arrived in London—they just grew under his watch). I wonder how many people in London today understand the influence of Spurgeon on their city, directly and indirectly, through his preaching ministry, through the tens of thousands who were saved, and through all of these ministries.
Chapter 13 is titled “Sunshine and Shadow” and discusses what would become a constant theme in the life of the Spurgeon’s—that of suffering. Says Dallimore, “From the late 1860s onward, life for both Spurgeon and his wife became a mixture of the joy of the Lord and the suffering of sickness.” Spurgeon’s health was constantly compromised by the huge workload he carried and the weight of all of the responsibility. He wore himself out through constant activity. He was wise to have his brother James come on staff as co-pastor, but even then Spurgeon still did an incredible amount of work. He also suffered from recurring attacks of gout and even became infected with smallpox along the way. Though he bore up well under affliction and maintained his spiritual strength, there is no doubt that all of this suffering took a lot out of him. It is little wonder that he would not live to be an old man (or, said otherwise, that he would become an old man even while he was quite young).
Meanwhile Susannah suffered as well. She was sick enough to require some kind of surgery and for the rest of her life would often be confined to home. And yet still she was busy, managing a ministry that sent Spurgeon’s books to pastors who otherwise could not afford them. She wrote books of her own, distributed sermons and began a benevolence fund for pastors and their families.
What do we learn about Spurgeon through all of this? Remember, the purpose of biography is not just to observe a person and to learn about his life, but to draw lessons from it. And here I see Spurgeon’s ability to bear up under suffering. Though he suffered greatly and in some ways suffered because of decisions he made (decisions that were reckless in regard to his own body) he suffered well, always understanding God’s sovereignty and always seeking to delight in it. He models godly suffering.
We can also learn that there is a cost involved in working hard for the Lord. I sometimes think that Spurgeon should have done less that he might have lived longer; and yet it seems that there are a few people in the course of history who are so talented and so gifted that for them to slow down is to disregard God’s call on their life. Spurgeon worked himself to death and worked himself to near-constant sickness. Should he have slowed down? I honestly don’t know.
For next Thursday, please read chapters 15, 16 and 17.
The purpose of this program is to read biographies together. So if there are things that stood out to you in this chapter, if there are questions you had, this is the time and place to have your say. Feel free to post a comment below or to link to your blog if you've chosen to write about this on your own site.