"The Cloud of Christ's Transient Forsaking": Spiritual Depression as Preparation for Preaching2
It is the considered opinion of quite a few that Charles Spurgeon may well have been the greatest preacher of any age in the history of the church. His gift for speaking to the hearts of men and women and bringing to bear on them the tender mercies of Christ and his Spirit is perhaps without peer. Continue reading . . .
It is the considered opinion of quite a few that Charles Spurgeon may well have been the greatest preacher of any age in the history of the church. His gift for speaking to the hearts of men and women and bringing to bear on them the tender mercies of Christ and his Spirit is perhaps without peer.
As Spurgeon gave thought to the cause of periodic depression among pastors, he suggested that in some cases it may be in “preparation for eminent service” (“The Causes of Apparent Desertion,” in The Spurgeon Reader, edited by Tom Nettles, 5). Here is what he meant that phrase:
“By the experience of sharp inward trouble, the Lord’s mighty men are prepared for the fight. To them the heat by day and the frost by night, the shoutings of the war, the spear and the battle-ax are little things, for they have been trained in a sterner school. They are like plants which have lived through the severities of winter, and can well defy the frosts of spring; they are like ships which have crossed the deep and have weathered the storm, and are not to be upset by every capful of wind. To them the loss of man’s applause is of small account, for they have endured the loss of Christ’s smile, and have yet trusted him. To them the contumely [“insolent or insulting language or treatment”] of a world, and the rage of hell, are nothing, for they have suffered what is a thousand times worse – they have passed under the cloud of Christ’s transient forsaking” (5; emphasis mine).
Many who have experienced what Spurgeon here describes are nodding in agreement. Without knowing precisely why, they have discovered a powerful inner strength to endure slander and abandonment and financial loss. The reason, they soon realize, is that having suffered through “the cloud of Christ’s transient forsaking” (and praise be to God that it is only “transient” and never permanent!), they can endure anything that mere men can bring their way. Indeed, as Spurgeon says,
“There are no preachers in the world like those who have passed by the way of trouble to the gate of wisdom” (6).
I constantly remind myself of this incredible, though painful, truth. The wisdom we desire, the insight we pray for, the power for which we pray, often come only after we have “passed by the way of trouble.”
“It is often remarked that after soul-sorrow our pastors are more gifted with words in season, and their speech is more full of savor: this is to be accounted for by the sweet influence of grief when sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Blessed Redeemer, we delight in thy love, and thy presence is the life of our joys; but if thy brief withdrawals qualify us for glorifying thee in cheering thy saints, we thank thee for standing behind the wall; and as we seek thee by night, it shall somewhat cheer us that thou art blessing us when thou takest away thy richest blessing.”
What? How can we “thank” the Lord for “standing behind the wall”? Spurgeon’s answer is that if by enduring such grief we become more sensitive and attuned to the griefs and sorrow of our people it will more greatly glorify God. Only in this way can we with reason be happy when God “takest away” his “richest blessing.” Listen again as Spurgeon unpacks this truth:
“By sad experience of apparent desertion [and again I praise God that the desertion is but “apparent” and never real!] we are some of us enabled to preach to sinners with greater affection and concern than we could have exhibited without it. Our bowels yearn over dying men, for we know what their miseries must be, if they die out of Christ. If our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is yet at times the cause of great heaviness, what must an eternal weight of torment be? These thoughts, begotten by our sorrow, are very useful in stirring up our hearts in preaching, for under such emotions we weep over them, we plead with them; and, as though God did beseech them by us, we pray them in Christ’s stead to be reconciled to God.”