When a Preacher is Downcast by Charles Spurgeon
The Inevitable Blows of Betrayal, Slander, Criticism Depress God’s Best Preachers
“One crushing stroke has sometimes laid the minister very low. The brother most relied upon becomes a traitor. Judas lifts up his heel against the Man who trusted him, and the preacher’s heart for the moment fails him. We are all too apt to look to an arm of flesh, and from that propensity, many of our sorrows arise.
Equally overwhelming is the blow when an honored and beloved member yields to temptation and disgraces the holy Name with which he was named. Anything is better than this. This makes the preacher long for a lodge in some vast wilderness where he may hide his head forever and hear no more the blasphemous jeers of the ungodly.
Ten years of toil do not take so much life out of us as we lose in a few hours by Ahithophel the traitor or Demas the apostate. Strife also and division, slander and foolish censures, have often laid holy men prostrate and made them go ‘as with a sword in their bones.’ Hard words wound some delicate minds very keenly.
Many of the best of ministers, from the very spirituality of their character, are exceedingly sensitive—too sensitive for such a world as this. “A kick that scarce would move a horse would kill a sound divine.”
By experience the soul is hardened to the rough blows which are inevitable in our warfare. At first these things utterly stagger us and send us to our homes wrapped in a horror of great darkness. The trials of a true minister are not few, and such as are caused by ungrateful professors are harder to bear than the coarsest attacks of avowed enemies.
Let no man who looks for ease of mind and seeks the quietude of life enter the ministry. If he does so, he will flee from it in disgust.
To the lot of few does it fall to pass through such a horror of great darkness as that which fell upon me after the deplorable accident at the Surrey Music Hall*. I was pressed beyond measure and out of bounds with an enormous weight of misery. The tumult, the panic, the deaths were day and night before me and made life a burden.
From that dream of horror I was awakened in a moment by the gracious application to my soul of the text, “Him hath God exalted” (Acts 5:31). The fact that Jesus is still great—let His servants suffer as they may—piloted me back to calm reason and peace.
Should so terrible a calamity overtake any of you brethren, may you both patiently hope and quietly wait for the salvation of God.
When troubles multiply and discouragements follow each other in long succession, like Job’s messengers, then too amid the perturbation of soul occasioned by evil tidings, despondency despoils the heart of all its peace.
Constant dropping wears away stones, and the bravest minds feel the fret of repeated afflictions. If a scanty cupboard is rendered a severer trial by the sickness of a wife or the loss of a child, and if ungenerous remarks of hearers are followed by the opposition of deacons and the coolness of members, then, like Jacob, we are apt to cry, ‘All these things are against me.’
When David returned to Ziklag and found the city burned, goods stolen, wives carried off, and his troops ready to stone him, we read that he “encouraged himself in the Lord his God” (1 Sam. 30:6); and well was it for him that he could do so. He would then have fainted if he had not “believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13).
Accumulated distresses increase each other’s weight, play into each other’s hands and, like bands of robbers, ruthlessly destroy our comfort.
Wave upon wave is severe work for the strongest swimmer. The place where two seas meet strains the most seaworthy keel. If there were a regulated pause between the buffetings of adversity, the spirit would stand prepared; but when they come suddenly and heavily, like the battering of great hailstones, the pilgrim may well be amazed. The last ounce breaks the camel’s back, and when the last ounce is laid upon us, what wonder if we for awhile are ready to give up the ghost!
This evil will also come upon us, we know not why, and then it is all the more difficult to drive it away. Causeless depression is not to be reasoned with, nor can David’s harp charm it away by sweet discoursings. As well fight with the mist as with this shapeless, undefinable, yet all-beclouding hopelessness.
One affords himself no pity when in this case, because it seems so unreasonable, even sinful, to be troubled without manifest cause. Yet troubled the man is, even in the very depths of his spirit. If those who laugh at such melancholy did but feel the grief of it for one hour, their laughter would be sobered into compassion.
God Allows a Minister’s Troubles for His Glory
Uninterrupted success and unfading joy in it would be more than our weak heads could bear. Our wine must needs be mixed with water, lest it turn our brains.
My witness is that those who are honored by their Lord in public have usually to endure a secret chastening or to carry a peculiar cross lest by any means they exalt themselves and fall into the snare of the Devil.
How constantly the Lord calls Ezekiel “son of man” [24 times in Ezekiel]! Amid his soarings into the superlative splendors, just when with eye undimmed he is strengthened to gaze into the excellent glory, the word “son of man” falls on his ears, sobering the heart which else might have been intoxicated with the honor conferred upon it.
Such humbling but salutary messages our depressions whisper in our ears. They tell us in a manner not to be mistaken that we are but men, frail, feeble, apt to faint.
By all the castings down of His servants God is glorified, for they are led to magnify Him when again He sets them on their feet, and even while prostrate in the dust their faith yields Him praise. They speak all the more sweetly of His faithfulness and are the more firmly established in His love.
Such mature men as some elderly preachers are, could scarcely have been produced if they had not been emptied from vessel to vessel and made to see their own emptiness and the vanity of all things round about them.
Glory be to God for the furnace, the hammer and the file. Heaven shall be all the fuller of bliss because we have been filled with anguish here below; and earth shall be better tilled because of our training in the school of adversity.
Victory in Trouble Possible for God’s Man
The lesson of wisdom is: Be not dismayed by soul-trouble. Count it no strange thing, but a part of ordinary ministerial experience.
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 of reward [Heb. 10:35]. 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—aye, 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. Lean not on the reeds of human help. Be not surprised when friends fail you; it is a failing world. Never count upon immutability in man: inconstancy you may reckon upon without fear of disappointment.
The disciples of Jesus forsook Him, so be not amazed if your adherents wander away to other teachers. As they were not your all when with you, all is not gone from you with their departure. Serve God with all your might while the candle is burning, then when it goes out for a season, you will have the less to regret.
Be content to be nothing, for that is what you are. When your own emptiness is painfully forced upon your consciousness, chide yourself that you ever dreamed of being full, except in the Lord.
Set small store by present rewards, be grateful for earnests by the way, but look for the recompensing joy hereafter. Continue, with double earnestness, to serve your Lord when no visible result is before you.
Any simpleton can follow the narrow path in the light: faith’s rare wisdom enables us to march on in the dark with infallible accuracy, since she places her hand in that of her Great Guide. Between this and Heaven there may be rougher weather yet, but it is all provided for by our Covenant Head. In nothing let us be turned aside from the path which the divine call has urged us to pursue.
Come fair or come foul, the pulpit is our watchtower, and the ministry our warfare; be it ours, when we cannot see the face of our God, to “trust under the shadow of thy wings” (Psalm 36:7).
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