This morning I began reading Arnold Dallimore’s biography of Charles Spurgeon. This follows an excellent speech on Spurgeon’s formative younger days by Phil Johnson that I listened to while driving to Atlanta. I realized as I heard the speech that I knew very little about Spurgeon. When I saw the biography on my sister’s shelf I knew I had to read it. Fortunately she is generous and seems to have forgotten the other books I’ve borrowed from her and forgotten to return. Actually, now that I think about it, I believe the book belongs to my parents so she must have stolen it from them first. I guess this makes me a modern day Robin Hood, taking books from those who took them in the first place!
But I digress.
Prior to his conversion Spurgeon wrestled with his sin for many years. He knew he was a sinner and was destined for hell, yet he did not know how he could escape what he understood he deserved. Though he was very young at this time (between twelve and sixteen years old) he had already read and understood the writings of many of the great Puritan writers. He knew the precepts of Christianity inside and out. His theology was already well-developed and would likely have put many of us to shame – yet he was still unregenerate. And he knew it. The desire to know that he was right before God consumed him year after terrible year.
Finally his despair drove him to desperate measures. He decided that he would attend every church in town to see if he could find the answers to how he might be freed from his burden. At church after church he found sermons that were aimed at Christians while ignoring those who so badly needed to become Christians. The story of his conversion has been widely documented and I will not document it here. In brief, an uneducated man who was ineloquent and a rather ineffective communicator preached a sermon in a tiny church one day that provided Spurgeon the answers he so desperately sought. From that day on he was a changed man – freed from guilt. He resolved from that day never to leave people wondering how they could be freed from the guilt of their sin. He preached the gospel in every message, always giving people a chance to hear how they need only look to Christ for salvation.
In later years Spurgeon wrote “Too many think lightly of sin, and therefore think lightly of the Saviour. He who has stood before his God, convicted and condemned, with the rope about his neck, is the man to weep for joy when he is pardoned, to hate the evil which has been forgiven him, and to live to the honour of the Redeemer by whose blood he has been cleansed.”
As I read that quote it occurred to me that there are many things I do not understand. As we drove to Atlanta last week, our friend Louise, who accompanied us on our trip to Atlanta and back, told me about life as a widow. Just a few years ago God called home her husband Andy, one of my father’s dearest friends and a man who loved God with all his heart. September 1, the day after our long drive, marked the thirty-seventh anniversary of their wedding. For a few moments that day we talked about Andy and all that he meant to us – his love for Louise and their children, his love for others and his overwhelming love for his Saviour. For a few moments we cried, each lost in our memories. I cried as much for Louise as I did for Andy, wishing that for just a few moments she could have Andy by her side to comfort her one last time.
I cannot understand what it is like to lose a soul-mate – to lose someone who has stood by me through all the hell that life can throw at me; someone who loved me more than life itself. To see someone as strong and bold as Andy lose his battle with cancer. How can I understand that? I can use my imagination and try to think what it must be like to hear a doctor deliver a grave diagnosis to Aileen, telling her she has only a few weeks to live. I can try to imagine watching a coffin be lowered into the ground. I can try to imagine my anniversary coming and going without a hug and a kiss from the one I love so much. I can try, but I can’t truly understand it. To understand it I would have to go through it.
But I can understand sin. I sin every day. Some days I commit sins that seem small while other days I commit sins that shock even me. I know that my heart is deceitful and so desperately wicked. My soul tells me how awful my sin is. My heart tells me that my sin has offended a God who is perfect and that this sin has forced him to cast me out of His holy presence. And I know that in doing this He is just. I hate to think about my sin, for it is shameful. As I think about the things I have done, sometimes my eyes water and my cheeks burn with shame. Time and again I have forsaken God, preferring myself to Him – my comfort to His commands. I have been unfair and unjust with my wife, my children, my friends. There hasn’t been a day or hour of my life where I have lived the perfection that God demands. To say that I don’t understand sin is to deny something that is patently obvious, for it surrounds me every moment of every day.
It is at these moments that I am able to avoid thinking lightly of my Saviour. When I think lightly of my sin, I think lightly of my Saviour. If I committed only small sins, I would need only a small Saviour. But when I see how awful my sins are and begin to understand how much they have offended my God, I can only stand in awe of the greatness of He whom I serve. The tears of shame are replaced with tears of joy. It is only when I have stood before God as one convicted and condemned that I can know the joy of His full pardon. The rope which was beginning to tighten around my neck, beginning to choke away my life is removed, leaving me free to run to Him; free to dance before Him with joy; free to live before Him in honour.
On the way home from Atlanta Louise read me the following words, also penned by Spurgeon. “My Lord is more ready to pardon than you to sin, more able to forgive than you to transgress. My Master is more willing to supply your wants than you are to confess them.”
I pray that I will never think lightly of sin, but will grow ever-more aware of the depths of my depravity, that I may never think lightly of my Saviour.