Charles Haddon Spurgeon was born in 1834. Charles’ father was a minister, so Charles was influenced by the Word of God from an early age. Charles was a bright boy. Even as a young boy in Essex he had been an avid reader, he read Pilgrim’s Progress when he was only six years old – a book he would read more than 100 times during his life.

After graduating from high school Spurgeon missed being admitted to college because a servant girl inadvertently showed him into a different room than that of the principal who was waiting to interview him. Later, he determined not to reapply for admission when he believed God spoke to him, “Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not!”

Spurgeon heeded those words and at the age of seventeen he became pastor of a handful of believers at Waterbeach, in Cambridgeshire, meeting in what had been a aviary. Within five years he had become the best known minister in the Metropolis. Within two years he was chosen to lead a service of National Humiliation when almost 24,000 persons came out to hear him speak.

God blessed Charles’ ministry and he was called to be the pastor of the well known New Park Street Chapel in London. The New Park Street Chapel invited Spurgeon to come for a 6-month trial period, but Spurgeon asked to come for only 3 months because “the congregation might not want me, and I do not wish to be a hindrance.”

When Spurgeon arrived at The New Park Street Church, in 1854, the congregation had 232 members. By the end of his pastorate, 38 years later, that number had increased to 5,311. (Altogether, 14,460 people were added to the church during Spurgeon’s tenure.) The church was the largest independent congregation in the world.

Spurgeon’s father recalled a conversation soon after his son had accepted the call. “Your son will never last in London six months; he has no education.” His own reply was, “You are terribly mistaken, he has the best education that can possibly be had; God has been his teacher, and he has had earthly teachers too.” He was twenty years old at the time.

The church later changed its name to Metropolitan Tabernacle and they found a larger building, but Spurgeon remained its pastor for 38 years, until his death. His phenomenal success is unparalleled to this day. It has been estimated that Charles Spurgeon preached to more than 10,000,000 during his lifetime. He would sometimes preach as many as ten times in a week. We have copies of his sermons today which would fill 63 volumes, more text than the 9th edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica. His sermons contain between 20-25 million words! It is not hard to understand why Charles Spurgeon was called the Prince of Preachers.

There are many more amazing facts concerning Charles Spurgeon’s life which give us great evidence of the hand of God upon his life: He read 6 books per week and could remember what he had read — and where — even years later. Spurgeon began a pastors’ college that trained nearly 900 students during his lifetime — and it continues today. In 1865, Spurgeon’s sermons sold 25,000 copies every week. They were translated into more than 20 languages.

On one occasion, Spurgeon was testing the acoustics in the vast Agricultural Hall in London. Spurgeon shouted, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” A worker high in the rafters of the building heard this and became converted to Christ as a result.

Spurgeon often worked 18 hours a day. Famous explorer and missionary David Livingstone once asked him, “How do you manage to do two men’s work in a single day?” Spurgeon, convinced that Jesus worked through him, replied, “You have forgotten that there are two of us.”

Spurgeon spoke out so strongly against slavery that American publishers of his sermons began deleting his remarks on the subject.

Occasionally Spurgeon asked members of his congregation not to attend the next Sunday’s service, so that newcomers might find a seat. During one 1879 service, the regular congregation left so that newcomers waiting outside might get in; the building immediately filled again.

Preachers today can read of the accomplishments of Pastor Spurgeon and think, “Boy, what a life! Wouldn’t it be great to preach to 20,000! Wouldn’t it be great to be able to take the Word of God and communicate it in such a way that people were constantly overwhelmed with God’s majesty, holiness, and grace!’ What a life.

Preachers aside, most of us look at people like Charles Spurgeon and think successful people have it made. We think, “If only I had such success, then I could be happy, all of my problems would cease, and I could really enjoy life.”

What many fail to realize today is that Charles Spurgeon was not a man of leisure, he didn’t know a life of ease, free of pain and suffering. Charles Spurgeon knew the peace of God that surpasses all understanding because he never lost sight of the sovereignty and majesty of Almighty God. Spurgeon pressed on through the turbulent high seas of conflict, depression, venomous attacks from fellow ministers, sickness, and deep sorrow so that he might arrive at the islands of peace before boarding the ship of faith to head out to sea once again proclaiming the Word of God.

There were many tragedies and trails that swirled around Spurgeon’s life. On October 19, 1856 he preached for the first time in the Music Hall of the Royal Surrey Gardens because his own church would not hold the people. The 10,000 seating capacity was far exceeded as the crowds pressed in. Someone shouted, “Fire!” and there was great panic in parts of the building. Seven people were killed in the stampede and many more were injured.

Spurgeon was 22 years old and was overcome by this calamity. He said later, “Perhaps never soul went so near the burning furnace of insanity, and yet came away unharmed.” But not all agreed he was unharmed. The tragic incident haunted him for years and one close friend and biographer said, “I cannot but think, from what I saw, that his comparatively early death might be in some measure due to the furnace of mental suffering he endured on and after that fearful night.”

Spurgeon also knew the adversity of family pain. He had married Susannah Thomson January 8, 1856, the same year of the calamity at Surrey Gardens. His only two children, twin sons, were born the day after the calamity on October 20. Susannah was never able to have more children. In 1865 (nine years later), when she was 33 years old she became a virtual invalid and seldom heard her husband preach for the next 27 years till his death. Spurgeon’s burdens were mounting.

He also knew unbelievable physical pain. Spurgeon suffered from gout, rheumatism and Bright’s disease (inflammation of the kidneys). His first attack of gout came in 1869 at the age of 35. It became progressively worse so that approximately one third of the last twenty-two years of his ministry was spent out of the Tabernacle pulpit, either suffering, or convalescing, or taking precautions against the return of the illness. In a letter to a friend he wrote, “I thought a cobra had bitten me, and filled my veins with poison; but it was worse, it was gout.”

For over half his ministry Spurgeon dealt with ever increasingly recurrent pain in his joints that cut him down from the pulpit and from his labors again and again. The diseases finally took his life at age 57 while he was recuperating in Mentone, France.

On top of the physical suffering Spurgeon had to endure a life time of public ridicule and slander, sometimes of the most vicious kind. In April 1855 the Essex Standard carried an article with these words:

His style is that of the vulgar colloquial, varied by rant….All the most solemn mysteries of our holy religion are by him rudely, roughly and impiously handled. Common sense is outraged and decency disgusted. His rantings are interspersed with coarse anecdotes.

The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent said, “He is a nine days’ wonder — a comet that has suddenly shot across the religious atmosphere. He has gone up like a rocket and ere long will come down like a stick.”

His wife kept a bulging scrapbook of such criticisms from the years 1855-56. Some of it was easy to brush off. Most of it wasn’t. In 1857 he wrote: “Down on my knees have I often fallen, with the hot sweat rising from my brow under some fresh slander poured upon me; in an agony of grief my heart has been well-nigh broken.”

His fellow ministers criticized from the right and from the left. Across town, from the left, Joseph Parker wrote,

Mr. Spurgeon was absolutely destitute of intellectual benevolence. If men saw as he did they were orthodox; if they saw things in some other way they were heterodox, pestilent and unfit to lead the minds of students or inquirers. Mr. Spurgeon’s was a superlative egotism; not the shilly-shallying, timid, half-disguised egotism that cuts off its own head, but the full-grown, over-powering, sublime egotism that takes the chief seat as if by right. The only colors which Mr. Spurgeon recognized were black and white.

The sting of ridicule from fellow ministers, the broken heart of a wife who was unable to care for herself, the haunting sounds of people being trampled to death, the hollowness of deep depression, and volumes of other afflictions pursued Charles Spurgeon all of his life, but he was relentless with his pursuit of Almighty God and living in obedience to His will.

There is a great lesson for those of us who live more than a century later than the great preacher Charles Spurgeon. Spurgeon did not originate the idea of pressing through adversity to arrive at the place of peace – God’s Word is replete with illustration after illustration of such faith.

In our Scripture for today we find the Church experiencing a moment of peace, of a wonderful building-up of the Church, and of many being added to the fellowship of the believers. Let’s take a look at Scripture for today found in Acts 9:31.

Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord. (Acts 9:31 NIV)

This is a very interesting verse of Scripture, a verse that is quickly passed over by most of the commentators that I’ve read during the past week. I am convinced that the verse holds a deep truth for you and me if we will only humble ourselves before Almighty God and allow Him to speak to our hearts concerning its application for our lives.

Luke starts the sentence by saying, “Then.” What follows is wonderful! The churches throughout all of Judea, Galilee, and Samaria enjoyed peace, the churches were strengthened, they were encouraged by the Holy Spirit, they grew in their numbers, and they lived in the fear of the Lord. Those are lofty goals for any church to seek to gain. We know full well how sweet these wonderful characteristics of the early Church are to experience. We know that we’ve been blessed when we’ve enjoyed peace, been strengthened in our faith, and encouraged by the Holy Spirit as we’ve beheld the awesome majesty of Almighty God. Blessed may not be bold enough of a word. When we experience these wonderful blessings we want to stick around, we want more, we don’t want it to ever end. There is nothing wrong with desiring the good times God brings our way, but if that is all we are willing to accept from the hand of God then we are in for a long and frustrating ride. The early Church enjoyed those times of refreshing as much as we do, but I’m so glad that they were able to see God’s hand moving in the other times as well.

We can’t fully appreciate the glory of peace and blessing which God gave to the churches unless we understand what preceded “then.” Luke does tell us that “then” the church had peace and was built up and encouraged. I was wondering this past week what happened before the “then” of verse 31 so I went back and looked at chapters 1-9 all over again.

If you will look back over the past nine chapters of the book of Acts you will see that there were hard times back then, they had to choose a new disciple because of the defection of Judas back then, there was the arrest of Peter and John back then, there was the threat of death back then, there was the death of Ananias and Sapphira for lying to the Spirit of God back then, there was opposition from the Pharisees and Sadducees back then, there was ethnic tension in the church between the Greek speaking Jews and the Hebrew Jews back then, there was struggle back then, there was the killing of a young Christian named Stephen back then, there were Christians being driven out of their hometown back then, There was a madman named Saul on the loose looking for followers of Jesus to harass and kill back then. Back then times were tough, back then times were rough, but then ain’t now! Now there is a time of peace.

It is so easy for us to focus on the peace and building up of the church without taking time to consider the “back thens” of those men and women who pressed through the struggle and strain of having their faith stretched.

You may say, “But Mike there were good times back then as well. What about Jesus appearing to His followers in Acts 1:8 and giving them the assurance of His resurrection and orders to share the Good News with the world? What about Pentecot when Peter preached and 5,000 gave their life to Christ? What about the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch? What about Saul’s conversion?” I’m so glad you pointed that out. You have just firmly laid the foundation for the message God has laid upon my heart.

It is so easy for us to settle in under the dome of despair and discouragement or to keep up our frantic search for the sanctuary of solace and satisfaction. We must realize that walking with God with find us frequenting both abodes. Walking with God brings both times of refreshing and replenishing as well as times of depletion and deprivation.

That is so difficult for some of us to even think about because of the popular cultural idea we have of God. We don’t have any problem understanding how God brings about times of refreshing and replenishing, but to seriously consider that God also brings about times of depletion and deprivation in our lives is an affront to the American way of thinking about God. We need to forget about the American way of looking at God and see through biblical eyes the holiness and sovereignty of Almighty God. Think about God’s Word and the times His servants went through dark nights of the soul, terrible times of depletion when they felt they could not go on, horrible instances of being deprived of rest, peace, food, shelter. Think about Jonah and the his difficult days which caused him to say, “Just let me die.” Take a look at Jonah 4,

Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. {7} But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. {8} When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.” {9} But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” “I do,” he said. “I am angry enough to die.” {10} But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. {11} But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” (Jonah 4:6-11 NIV)

Think about the Apostle Paul who told of being beaten, run out of town, threatened with death, stoned almost to the point of death, in danger from Gentiles and Jews alike, and much more. Take a look at 2 Corinthians 11,

Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. {25} Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, {26} I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. {27} I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. {28} Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. {29} Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? {30} If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. (2 Corinthians 11:24-30 NIV)

Paul also said that he knew what it was like to be in need and to have plenty, to have times of deprivation and times of replenishing. Take a look at Philippians 4,

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (Philippians 4:12 NIV)

You may think, “What madness! Why would God allow and bring about times of struggle for those who have committed their lives to living in obedience to Him?” Other questions might be, “Why would a coach allow his athletes to sweat? Why would a teacher allow her students to toil over class assignments? Why would a Fire Chief allow his fire fighters to bake under the extreme heat of a fire? Why would a drill instructor allow his recruits to spend their energy going through such strenuous physical exertion?

I don’t know that we will ever fully understand the full scope of the reasons until we see Him face-to-face, but I have come to learn some reasons. The times of hardships and struggle have served to teach and confirm to me that I am a needy person, not able to handle the stresses and demands of every day life. I am not God, I can’t chart my own course, unless I desire to wind up at a dead-end. I do not control this vast Creation. I am not at the center of the Universe – He is.

Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Our afflictions are the health regimen of an infinitely wise Physician.” He told his students, “I dare say the greatest earthly blessing that God can give to any of us is health, with the exception of sickness….If some men, that I know of could only be favored with a month of rheumatism, it would, by God’s grace mellow them marvelously.”

He meant this mainly for himself. Though he dreaded suffering and would willingly avoid it, he said, “I am afraid that all the grace that I have got of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours, might almost lie on a penny. But the good that I have received from my sorrows, and pains, and griefs, is altogether incalculable….Affliction is the best bit of furniture in my house. It is the best book in a minister’s library.”

What powerful words from a well-worn servant of Almighty God. I don’t want to mislead you and somehow cause you to think that all of life is toil and woe upon woe for it is not. There are wonderful times of refreshing, times of replenishing that which has been spent.

Spurgeon experienced deep bouts with depression, but he also saw thousands come to know Christ. The early Church suffered from persecution, but they reaped the rewards of Pentecost and much, much more!

The high, turbulent seas of turmoil, sorrow, struggle, and strain will beat against the hull of your ship. The waves will pound with a force that brings you to the brink of capsizing. The winds will blow, gales will rip and tear at your sails and send them flapping in the storm. Don’t lay down, don’t bury your face in your hands, don’t quit, don’t turn back looking for a brighter day before the storm clouds gathered. Set your jaw towards heaven and your sights on the island of peace and tranquillity just ahead. Press on to the place where peace will replenish your dry and dehydrated soul. Press on to the building up of your worn and weary spirit! Press on to the island of comfort where the precious Spirit of God will pick you up, strengthen your weakest parts, and bring you comfort! Press on the place where the awe of the Lord gives confidence that these many labors are not in vain, but that they are serving to bring glory to our King!

I do need to warn you about one thing. The times spent on the dry land where the waves are held back are not a once-and-for-all establishment of residence. No, the Lord will refresh and replenish our spirit so that He can send us back out into a dying world needing desperately to hear the Good News of the Prince of Peace. We will go through sorrow and heartache along with the rest of the world so that we can point the hurting souls to the Healer of broken hearts!

One day, when this life is over, then we will shall receive our eternal rest. Those who have asked Jesus to be Lord and Savior of their life will hear those coveted works, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Now enter into your rest!” I long to hear those words and to rest in the everlasting arms of Almighty God.

Then!
Acts 9:31