“Mountains are not meant to envy. In fact they are not meant even to be possessed by anyone on earth. They are, as David says, ‘the mountains of God’ (Psalm 36:6).
If you try to make your Minnesota hill imitate a mountain, you will make a fool of your hill.
Hills have their place. So do the plains of Nebraska. If the whole world were mountains, where would we grow bread? Every time you eat bread say, ‘Praise God for Nebraska!’
I’m talking about Charles Haddon Spurgeon. I am warning my wavering self that he is not to be imitated.
Spurgeon preached as a Baptist pastor in London from 1854 until 1891—thirty-eight years of ministry in one place.
He died January 31, 1892, at the age of fifty-seven.
His collected sermons fill sixty-three volumes equivalent to the twenty-seven-volume ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica and stand as the largest set of books by a single author in the history of Christianity.
He read six serious books a week and could remember what was in them and where.
He read Pilgrim’s Progress more than one hundred times.
He added 14,460 people to his church membership and did almost all the membership interviews himself.
He could look out on a congregation of 5,000 and name the members.
He founded a pastors’ college and trained almost 900 men during his pastorate.
Spurgeon once said he had counted as many as eight sets of thoughts that passed through his mind at the same time while he was preaching.
He often prayed for his people during the very sermon he was preaching to them.
He would preach for forty minutes at 140 words a minute from a small sheet of notes that he had worked up the night before.
The result? More than twenty-five thousand copies of his sermons were sold each week in twenty languages, and someone was converted every week through the written sermons.
Spurgeon was married and had two sons who became pastors.
His wife was an invalid most of her life and rarely heard him preach.
He founded an orphanage, edited a magazine, produced more than 140 books, responded to 500 letters a week, and often preached ten times a week in various churches as well as his own.
He suffered from gout, rheumatism, and Bright’s disease, and in the last twenty years of his ministry he was so sick that he missed a third of the Sundays at the Metropolitan Tabernacle.
He was a politically liberal, conservative Calvinistic Baptist who smoked cigars, spoke his mind, believed in hell, and wept over the perishing, tens of thousands of whom were saved through his soul-winning passion.
He was a Christian hedonist, coming closer than anyone I know to my favorite sentence: “’God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.’
Spurgeon said, ‘One thing is past all question; we shall bring our Lord most glory if we get from Him much grace.’
What shall we make of such a man? Neither a god nor a goal. He should not be worshiped or envied.
He is too small for the one and too big for the other. If we worship such men, we are idolaters. If we envy them, we are fools.
Mountains are not meant to be envied. They are meant to be marveled at for the sake of their Maker. They are the mountains of God.
More than that, without envy, we are meant to climb into their minds and hearts and revel in what they saw so clearly and what they felt so deeply.
We are to benefit from them without craving to be like them. When we learn this, we can relax and enjoy them.
Until we learn it, they may make us miserable, because they highlight our weaknesses. Well, we are weak, and to be reminded of it is good.
But we also need to be reminded that, compared with our inferiority to God, the distance between us and Spurgeon is as nothing. We are all utterly dependent on our Father’s grace.
Spurgeon had his sins. That may comfort us in our weak moments.
But let us rather be comforted that his greatness was a free gift of God—to us as well as him. Let us be, by the grace of God, all that we can be for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 15:10).
In our smallness, let us not become smaller by envy, but rather larger by humble admiration and gratitude for the gifts of others.
Do not envy the mountain; glory in its Creator.
You’ll find the air up there cool, fresh, and invigorating and the view stunning beyond description.
So don’t envy. Enjoy!”
–John Piper, “Mountains Are Not Meant to Envy: Awed Thoughts on Charles Spurgeon,” A Godward Life: Savoring the Supremacy of God in All Life (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 1997), 263–265.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon was born on June 19, 1834.