Preaching Through Adversity...

I do not know where I would be were it not for the clear evidence of God's grace in the lives of so many preachers before me. Charles Spurgeon is one of those men who have most captivated my attention because of the volume of his work and the honesty with which he wrote about his heart-breaks.

I have, in the past, posted a link to John Piper's profoundly comforting address on Charles Spurgeon which he presented at the 1995 Bethlehem Pastor's Conference. The following is just a bit about the man who knew what it was to preach through adversity:
Preaching is heart work, not just mental work. So the question for us is not just How you keep on living when the marriage is blank, and a child has run away, and the finances don't reach, and pews are bare and friends have forsaken you; the question for us is more than, How do you keep on living? It's, How do you keep on preaching. It's one thing to survive adversity; it is something very different to keep on preaching, Sunday after Sunday, month after month when the heart is overwhelmed...

For just over a year now that has been perhaps the uppermost question of my life. And, if I am not mistaken, I believe it is now, or will be, uppermost for many of you as well. Just last Sunday night I spent a half-hour on the phone with the wife of a pastor who would love to be here. He is under so much criticism and accusation that she found it hard to go to church and marveled that he could preach last Sunday morning—and I know this is a pure and faithful servant whose church I would gladly attend for the sake of my soul.

Preaching great and glorious truth in an atmosphere that is not great and glorious is an immense difficulty. To be reminded week in and week out that many people regard your preaching of the glory of the grace of God as hypocrisy pushes a preacher not just into the hills of introspection, but sometimes to the precipice of self-extinction.
I don't mean suicide. I mean something more complex. I mean the deranging inability to know any longer who you are. What begins as a searching introspection for the sake of holiness, and humility gradually becomes, for various reasons, a carnival of mirrors in your soul: you look in one and you're short and fat; you look in another and you're tall and skinny; you look in another and you're upside down. And the horrible feeling begins to break over you that you don't know who you are any more. The center is not holding. And if the center doesn't hold—if there is no fixed and solid "I" able to relate to the fixed and solid "Thou," namely, God, then who will preach next Sunday?

When the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:10, "By the grace of God, I am what I am," he was saying something utterly essential for the survival of preachers in adversity. If, by grace, the identity of the "I"—the "I" created by Christ and united to Christ, but still a human "I"—if that center doesn't hold, there will be no more authentic preaching, for there will be no more authentic preacher, but a collection of echoes.

O how fortunate we are, brothers of the pulpit, that we are not the first to face these things! I thank God for the healing history of the power of God in the lives of saints. I urge you for the sake of your own survival: live in other centuries and other saints.

I have turned to Charles Spurgeon in these days, and I have been helped...

What comes through again and again is Spurgeon's unwavering belief in the sovereignty of God in all his afflictions. More than anything else it seems, this kept him from caving in to the adversities of his life. He said,
"It would be a very sharp and trying experience to me to think that I have an affliction which God never sent me, that the bitter cup was never filled by his hand, that my trials were never measured out by him, nor sent to me by his arrangement of their weight and quantity" (see note 51).
This is exactly the opposite strategy of modern thought, even much evangelical thought, that recoils from the implications of infinity. If God is God he not only knows what is coming, but he knows it because he designs it. For Spurgeon this view of God was not first argument for debate, it was a means of survival.
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 favoured with a month of rheumatism, it would, by God's grace mellow them marvelously" (see note 52).
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 (see note 53).
He saw three specific purposes of God in his struggle with depression. The first is that it functioned like the apostle Paul's thorn to keep him humble lest he be lifted up in himself. He said the Lord's work is summed up in these words:
"'Not by might nor by power but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.' Instruments shall be used, but their intrinsic weakness shall be clearly manifested; there shall be no division of the glory, no diminishing of the honor due to the Great Worker ... Those who are honoured of 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" (see note 54).