Spurgeon and Suffering to Win Souls

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In The Soul Winner, Spurgeon recounts a particular incident when his emotional suffering was used to bring about the conversion of a man who was in the midst of suicidal despondency. Spurgeon states the circumstances surrounding the message as follows:

Some years ago, I was the subject of fearful depression of spirit. Certain troublous events had happened to me; I was also unwell, and my heart sank within me. Out of the depths I was forced to cry unto the Lord. Just before I went away to Mentone for rest, I suffered greatly in body, but far more in spirit, or my spirit was overwhelmed. Under this pressure, I preached a sermon from the words, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” I was as much qualified to preach from that text as ever I expect to be; indeed, I hope that few of my brethren could have entered so deeply into those heart-breaking words.1

It was a combination of spiritual and physical suffering that in Spurgeon’s understanding enabled him to preach his text. His preaching of the text did not prove to be successful because of his study, it proved to be successful in reaching the despondent man because Spurgeon had lived in the shadow of the text which he was preaching. Spurgeon knew personally the soul anguish of feeling forsaken of God and he knew the cure for the despondency as well. After making clear that he would not have been able to reach out to the man in question had he not suffered in such a way as to enable him to preach his text from personal experience, Spurgeon exhorts those who would win souls to see the importance of suffering in soul winning. Spurgeon begins by putting forward the premise that one would undergo a painful procedure to save lives, so it is with soul winning. Spurgeon says,:

Reckon, then, that to acquire soul-winning power you will have to go through fire and water, through doubt and despair, through mental torment and soul distress. It will not, of course, be the same with you all, nor perhaps with any two of you, but according to the work allotted you, will be your preparation. You must go into the fire if you are to pull others out of it, and you will have to dive into the floods if you are to draw others out of the water. You cannot work a fire-escape without feeling the scorch of the conflagration, nor man a lifeboat without being covered with the waves.2

One cannot get past this reality, that in order to reach sinners in a world of suffering with the gospel of a glorious and gracious Savior, one must walk through suffering and suffer likewise. We cannot be good to our people who suffer unless we know what it is to suffer. It does souls good to hear the promises of God and the gospel from the lips of one who has suffered and been encouraged and comforted by them. The choice before the minister is either to suffer in order that one might bring the gospel comfort to the afflicted, or to avoid suffering and being almost entirely useless to those you would do good.

1 Charles Spurgeon, The Soul Winner, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1963), 185-186.

2Ibid., 187-188.

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Review: When There Are No Easy Answers

When There Are No Easy Answers by John Feinberg is personal and powerful work on suffering and the Christian. Feinberg draws on his own personal experience of walking with his life through her initial diagnosis of Huntington’s disease and the subsequent course their life took giving practical advice in how to walk through suffering and how to minister to those who suffer.

Feinberg lays out his own personal wrestling with the problem of suffering, not just as a theoretical issue of philosophy but as a very real personal experience. He traces the feelings that those who experience might suffer pointing out the feelings of abandonment, anger, and betrayal that might arise. I think the third chapter of this book is one that could stand on its own. Often when we are dealing with others who are suffering we want to merely address the intellectual aspects and that too often with short glib answers. Feinberg effectively shows how these easy answers we try to address suffers with often hurt more than they help. Feinberg in the following chapters makes clear that in all of our suffering there is still evidence of God’s goodness to us. Feinberg struggled with a feeling that somehow God had deceived him by not telling them what awaited them in the future, Feinberg shows this too is God’s goodness as the present has enough to concern us.

As someone who is theologically and philosophically oriented this book was a helpful corrective for me. This book has helped me think through the personal and emotional aspects of suffering in addition to the intellectual questions that arise in light of suffering. I’d recommend this book to anyone. This isn’t just a book for ministers, this a book for anyone as we will all experience some suffering and we will walk with others through suffering.

Disclosure: I received this book free from the publisher for providing this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html

Why We Can’t Be Silent

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer,  a German pastor and theologian who laid down his life in his opposition to the evils committed by his own country, touched on the reasoning behind why many are silent about the suffering of others and why Christians must not be silent in the face of the suffering going on in our country today.

It must be clear to us that most people learned only through personal experience occuring to their own bodies. First, this explains why most people are remarkably incapable of any sort of preventative action. We keep thinking that we ourselves will be spared when disaster strikes-until it is too late. Second, it explains our insensitivity toward the suffering others; solidarity with suffering arises in proportion to our own increasing fear of imminent doom. Much can be said to justify this attitude. Ethically, we wish to avoid meddling with fate. We draw the inner calling and strength for action only from an actual and present crisis…From a Christian perspective, though, can conceal that the real issue is our hearts’ lack of magnanimity. Christ avoided suffering until his hour had come; then, however, he went to it in freedom, seized it, and overcame it…Although we are not Christ, if we want to be Christians we must participate in Christ’s own magnanimous heart by engaging in responsible action that seizes the hour in complete freedom, facing the danger. And should do so in genuine solidarity with suffering flowing forth, not from fear, but from the liberating and redeeming love of Christ toward all who suffer. Inactive “waiting-and-seeing” or impassive “standing-by” are not Christian attitudes. Christians are prompted to action and suffering in solidarity not just by personal bodily experience, but by the experience incurred by their fellows for whose sake Christ himself suffered.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Meditations on the Cross, (pp. 25-26).

We cannot be silently indifferent as followers of Christ because we have entered into the fellowship of His sufferings which were for the world. Though I may never personally experience what an African-American may experience, I must not and cannot be indifferent to the sufferings because of Christ. I may never know what those in law enforcement experience but I cannot be indifferent to the sufferings that they might undergo. We who are followers of Christ have been given this hour in our countries history not to sit back, be in different toward, or deny the reality of others sufferings but to join them in their suffering that we might faithfully point to Christ the one who has entered into and experienced our sufferings.