Title:  The Suffering Letters of C. H. Spurgeon

Author:  Charles Spurgeon

Publisher:  Wakeman Trust, 2007; 155 pp. $13.99

Recommendation (4-star scale):  3-stars2

I first came across this title a few years when Phil Johnson wrote a post about it:  “Broken in Two by the Hammer of Pain.”

I was unable to find a copy somewhat locally, though I kept information in my “books of interest” file, and then a couple of months ago, I saw it displayed prominently in a bookstore.  I immediately snatched it up and purchased it.

In his long years of ministry, Spurgeon wrestled with depression and suffered long bouts of physical pain and frequently left London to recuperate elsewhere (Menton, France being a frequent destination, and the place where he would ultimately die on Jan. 31, 1892).  During his absences from this congregation, he regularly wrote letters to both the elders and to the congregation.  This volume contains many of those letters, including a number that have not previously been published.

Reading personal correspondence of others is fascinating, for it provides insight into the heart of a person and reveals how they are evaluating and processing circumstances while they are in them and without the privilege of the perspective of hindsight and historical perspective.  And that is just what is revealed in these letters from Spurgeon.

Three things were particularly notable to me as I read them:

I was appreciative of his godly interpretation of suffering and pain.  While in much pain and discomfort, he gives evidence in his letters to suffering well and trusting the kind providences of God.  He does not complain, but bears testimony to the grace of God in afflicting him so that God is exalted through his own humility.

Although great pain often disturbs the judgement [sic] I thank God I have not been allowed to doubt the goodness of the Lord in afflicting me, I bless his holy name for every sharp pang, and I entreat him to bring forth some good thing out of this present evil.  If he will but glorify himself in me or by me I shall be the happiest of men. [1876, p. 21]

Let us always seek sanctification through affliction rather than escape from it.  I have no question that there is great wisdom in the Lord’s laying aside his instruments.  It is for his own glory, for thereby he shows that he is not in need of them; and it is for their humbling, for hereby they learn how deep is their need of him.…We may be sure that, if the Lord dries up a cistern, it is because he would have us fly to the fountain of inexhaustible strength. [1890, p. 71]

I was encouraged by his obvious love for his people and concern for them.  The letters reveal a deep affection between Spurgeon and his people.  It is obvious he misses them while away, longs to return to them, and desires for them to be cared for and nurtured in his absence.

Let us each one labour after [real brotherhood], and take a deep personal interest in our fellow members, especially in those who are poor, or ill, or young, or despondent, or under peculiar temptations and afflictions. [1887, p. 62]

I have accepted the advice of the deacons, and of a number of friends who write with loving anxiety for my welfare, and I will remain here one week longer than I had purposed.  I joyfully expect, if the Lord will, to be in your midst on Feb. 8.  May it be as much a blessing to you as it will be a privilege to me! [1891, p. 76]

Continue to remember the poor. [1891, p. 77]

Peace be unto you as a whole; and peace be to each one!  I greet with whole-hearted gratitude my brother Dr. Pierson, and with unfeigned love each deacon, elder, and member, and worker.  My own dear brother in the flesh is also ever watching over the concerns of our great work.  May the Lord himself keep watch over all.  To Mr. Stott I wish a long and prosperous ministry where the Lord shall direct him.  Yours ever lovingly, C. H. Spurgeon. [Jan. 6, 1892 — he would die 25 days later; p. 119]

I was humbled by his desire for the ministry of the Tabernacle to expand in his absence.  While the expanse of his ministry was vast, he did not view it as his own.  He longed to see greater blessing on the church and other ministries in his absence.  He did not seek credit for himself, but only longed for the continuing expansion of the ministry by the conversion of unbelievers and the maturity of believers.

May the sermons of today be more useful than mine would have been, and some be brought to Jesus by them who have never come at my calling. [1880, p. 41]I shall be greatly rejoiced if in my absence meetings for special prayer are called, and some extra work done for pressing the claims of the gospel upon the unconverted.  What a joy it would be to hear that at the Tabernacle, and in all the churches of our beloved country, a revival of true religion had been wrought by the Spirit of God!  Seek this, and labour for it. [probably 1887, p. 63]

I expect a great revival.  I pray for it and I look for it.  If all remain lovingly united and hopefully active it will be so.  Let those who are not workers for the Lord get to the service at once; and let veteran workers try to do more.…Care for the poor, seek out the fallen, visit your fellow members when sick, by mingled prayer and thanks live near to God; and may the Lord bless you and your children both now and to eternity. [1891, pp. 105-6]

Included in this book are also a number of sermons and addresses that were given at significant stages of his ministry that addressed his illnesses and absences.  The supreme sermon of these, in my estimation, is the address that is given at the beginning of the book:  “Laid Aside — Why?”  In this sermon he addresses the benefits of suffering — truths that transformed his own life and heart, as his letters would later reveal.  What he instructed his congregation to believe and do was central to his own life, as his letters attest.

Is it not good for us to be nonplussed, puzzled, and forced to exercise our faith?…it is good to be thrown out of our depth and made to swim in the sweet waters of mighty love!  We know that it is supremely blessed to be compelled to cease from self, to surrender both desire and judgement [sic] and to live passive in the hands of God. [p. 14]

…surely it is desirable beyond all things that self should be kept low and the Lord alone magnified. [p. 15]

It is good for a man to bear the yoke of service, and he is no loser when it is exchanged for the yoke of suffering. [p. 16]

‘Though he slay me, yet I will trust in him,’ shall be our one unvarying determination, and may the eternal Spirit work in us a perfect acquiescence in the whole will of God, whatever that may be.” [p. 18]

Read this book to prepare your heart for suffering.