Tag Archives: Church History

“I’m talking about Charles Haddon Spurgeon” by John Piper

“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.

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“A unique phenomenon” by Johann Nepomuk Huber

“Augustine is a unique phenomenon in Christian history. No one of the other fathers has left so luminous traces of his existence. Though we find among them many rich and powerful minds, yet we find in none the forces of personal character, mind, heart, and will, so largely developed and so harmoniously working.

No one surpasses him in wealth of perceptions and dialectical sharpness of thoughts, in depth and fervor of religious sensibility, in greatness of aims and energy of action. He therefore also marks the culmination of the patristic age, and has been elevated by the acknowledgment of succeeding times as the first and the universal church father.”

–Johann Nepomuk Huber, Die Philosophie der Kirchenväter (Munich, 1859), 312. Cited in Philip Schaff, “Prolegomena” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 1 Ed. Philip Schaff (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), 1:9-10.

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“Reading the Scriptures with the Church Fathers” by Christopher Hall

“Learning to read the Bible through the eyes of Christians from a different time and place will readily reveal the distorting effect of our own cultural, historical, linguistic, philosophical and, yes, even theological lenses. This is not to assert that the fathers did not have their own warped perspectives and blind spots.

It is to argue, however, that we will not arrive at perspective and clarity regarding our own strengths and weaknesses if we refuse to look beyond our own theological and hermeneutical noses. God has been active throughout the church’s history and we rob ourselves of the Holy Spirit’s gifts if we refuse to budge beyond the comfort zone of our own ideas…

Many postmodern interpreters doubt the possibility of genuinely entering another’s world. I disagree, but realize the task is a formidable one, requiring certain dispositions on the part of the voyager. Foremost among these is humility– a willingness to admit that our own self-estimation is often inflated and exaggerated. We must be convinced that the church fathers, people who spoke differently and lived strangely– at least at first glance– actually have something they can teach us.

Our ability to learn from them will largely be determined by our willingness to remain quiet and simply listen, perhaps listen more fervently than we have for a long time. In turn, our willingness to listen will be influenced by our expectations, hopes, prejudices and presuppositions. Some of us, especially those unfamiliar with the world of patristic thought, will have to trust the testimony of many who have come before us or have recently discovered the riches of patristic exegesis…

Listening will not come easily. We will struggle to overcome deep-set suspicions. Past prejudices will need silencing. Some of us will be tempted to react too quickly to perceived error. We will need to familiarize ourselves with new words, themes and concepts. And yet the effort will prove rewarding if we persevere…

My counsel is to surround your entrance into the world of the fathers with humility, self-awareness, a listening ear, prayer and a sense of humor. It is better to chuckle at the periodic patristic quirk than to allow our self-righteous anger to wall off their insights. We are all prone to error. We are all quick to spot the exegetical log in our brother or sister’s eye.

We are all apt to be blind to our own weaknesses in reading Scripture. We are all hermeneutically disabled in one area or another.How can we hope to understand the Bible if we needlessly cut ourselves off from our own community’s reflection and history? We need one another and each other’s insights, past and present, if we are to understand the Bible. The desert fathers were especially sensitive to the necessity of humility and community if one was to comprehend Scripture…

We will occasionally find the fathers infuriating, dense and perplexing. At other times we will wonder, Why have I never seen this in the Bible before? Why was I never taught this? How could I have been so blind? In their best moments the fathers will lead us into a renewed sense of wonder, awe and reverence for God and the gospel. Through the fathers’ influence, prayer and worship may well become more frequent companions to our exegetical study.

And though greater familiarity with the fathers will periodically magnify their own weaknesses, our own blind spots will be much more clear to us because of the time we have spent with figures such as Augustine, Chrysostom, Athanasius, Jerome, Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil, Ambrose or Gregory the Great. What are the blind spots in our culture or our own lives that need to be exposed to the light of ancient wisdom?…

Simply put, reading the fathers can be surprisingly relevant for the contemporary Christian because the fathers tend to grasp facets of the gospel that modern sensibilities overlook. They hear music in Scripture to which we remain tone-deaf. They frequently emphasize truths that contemporary Christians clearly need to remember.”

–Christopher Hall, Reading the Scriptures with the Church Fathers (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1998), 35-38.

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“By comparison, we are pygmies” by Donald Macleod

“We can never be content with parrot-like repetition of the definitions of the past. Yet it would be presumptuous to speak before we have listened to the fathers. Men like Athanasius and Augustine, Basil and Calvin, are the Newtons and Einsteins of theology. By comparison, we are pygmies. Our only hope of far-sightedness is to stand on the shoulders of the giants.”

–Donald Macleod, The Person of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 16.

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