Spurgeon’s Depression

During the sermon this past Sunday, I briefly mentioned Charles Spurgeon’s struggle with grief and depression. Spurgeon (1834-1892) was an English Baptist pastor who was known in his day all throughout England and America. He preached to thousands regularly and pastored a church that would still be considered large, even by today’s megachurch standards. The Prince of Preachers, as he is often referred to due to his soaring ability to marvelously preach God’s Word, is still admired and known by many today. However, his continual struggle with dark nights of the soul is lesser-known. I thought it would be helpful to give you a fuller picture than what time allowed in the sermon.

Michael Reeves introduces us to the beginning of Spurgeon’s struggle when he writes:

Aged twenty-two, as pastor of a large church and with twin babies at home to look after, he was preaching to thousands in the Surrey Gardens Music Hall when pranksters yelled “fire,” starting a panic to exit the building which killed seven and left twenty-eight severely injured. His mind was never the same again. His wife, Susannah, wrote, “My beloved’s anguish was so deep and violent, that reason seemed to totter in her throne, and we sometimes feared that he would never preach again. (Spurgeon On The Christian Life, pg. 163)

As you can imagine, experiencing such trauma as a young husband, father, and pastor would be overwhelming. To make matters worse, Spurgeon’s critics would launch unfair comments in public blaming him for the incident.

Spurgeon would later write of the days following the Surrey Hall tragedy: “I was so unmanned by it (the tragedy)…Someone watched me, for they did not know what might happen to me.” On another occasion he wrote: “I had almost lost my reason for some three weeks.” Zack Eswine points out that during that season even “the very sight of the Bible made Charles cry.” (Spurgeon’s Sorrows, pgs. 22, 81)

When He did finally return to the pulpit this is how he began his sermon:

I almost regret this morning that I have ventured to occupy this pulpit, because I feel utterly unable to preach to you for your profit. I had thought that the quiet and repose of the last fortnight had removed the effects of that terrible catastrophe; but on coming back to the same spot again, and more especially, standing here to address you, I feel somewhat of those same painful emotions which will-nigh prostrated me before. You will therefore excuse me this morning…I have been utterly unable to study…Oh, Spirit of God, magnify thy strength in thy servant’s weakness, and enable him to honour his Lord, even when his soul is cast down within him. (Spurgeon’s Sorrows, pg. 20)

This tragedy haunted him the rest of his life. Even some 25 years after these events as he stood to preach in a different venue Spurgeon had something of a flashback. Of that occasion he remembered that he was “entirely unmanned…leaning his head on his hand.” (Ibid, pg. 58)

Spurgeon’s sufferings would not end there. By the time he reached his mid-thirties he was suffering various chronic physical ailments. Then his wife, Susannah, at the age of 33 would suffer a debilitating chronic physical condition. As if these were not enough, he would continually be ridiculed mercilessly by his detractors. All of this coupled with the weight of his demanding ministry responsibilities was quite a load. Spurgeon was acquainted with grief and sorrow and he spoke openly of it in hopes of aiding fellow sufferers. He wrote honestly of his suffering:

I become so perplexed that I sink in heart, and dream that it were better for me never to have been born than to have been called to bear all this multitude upon my heart. (Spurgeon on the Christian Life, pg. 164)

That should sound familiar to us after looking at Job 3 this past Sunday. In Psalm 88, a Psalm of lament, verse 6 says; “You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep.” In a sermon, Spurgeon said the following of that verse:

The mind can descend far lower than the body, for in it there are bottomless pits. The flesh can bear only a certain number of wounds and no more, but the soul can bleed in ten thousand ways, and die over and over again each hour. (Spurgeon’s Sorrows, pg. 80)

Spurgeon knew that his sufferings made him a more gracious and compassionate Pastor. He said, “I have learnt from it to be very tender with all fellow-sufferers” (Spurgeon on the Christian Life, pg. 169). On another occasion he said, “Yes, we should feel more for the prisoner if we knew more about the prison” (Spurgeon’s Sorrows, pg. 75)

Yet, Spurgeon didn’t just speak honestly about the difficulty of suffering depression, he also pointed others to hope. What is that hope, our Lord Jesus, the man of sorrows. Of this hope he said:

Personally, I also bear witness that it has been to me, in seasons of great pain, superlatively comfortable to know that in every pang which racks his people the Lord Jesus has a fellow-feeling. We are not alone, for one like unto the Son of man walks the furnace with us. (Spurgeon’s Sorrows, pg. 84)

In closing, be encouraged by these words from Spurgeon to fellow ministers. He wrote:

Should the power of depression be more than ordinary, think not that all is over with your usefulness. Cast not away your confidence, for it hath great recompense and reward. Even if the enemy’s foot be on your neck, expect to rise and overthrow him. Cast the burden of the present, along with the sin of the past and the fear of the future, upon the Lord, who forsaketh not his saints. Live by the day—ay, by the hour. Put no trust in frames and feelings. Care more for a grain of faith than a ton of excitement. Trust in God alone…Between this and heaven there may be rougher weather yet, but it is all provided for by our covenant Head. (Lectures to My Students, pg. 189)

About Pastor Matt

Matt Baker is the Pastor of Redeemer Fellowship Church.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.