Spurgeon at Year’s End

I have very much enjoyed this devotional this year, and fully intend to do it again in the coming year, this time with my wife. From First Things:

Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) was a cigar-smoking Baptist pastor in Victorian London whose influence, even in his own lifetime, extended far beyond the bounds of his own nation and denomination. Known as “the boy wonder of the fens” for his notable preaching in the villages of Cambridgeshire, Spurgeon took London by storm when he was only nineteen years of age.

Though derided by some as an “Essex bumpkin” for his countrified ways and lack of university training, Spurgeon’s congregation soon numbered in the thousands. In fact, each week more than six-thousand persons thronged to his famous Metropolitan Tabernacle. Spurgeon was a megachurch pastor before megachurches were cool. On occasion, Prime Minister William Gladstone came to hear him preach, as did Her Majesty herself according to some reports. By all accounts, Spurgeon was a pulpit spellbinder, “dramatic to his fingertips,” as one observer put it.

Spurgeon was also a public theologian. He spoke out on the Irish question, opposed military adventures of imperial Britain, and cared deeply about the plight of the urban poor, especially neglected and mistreated children. His “all-round ministry” included many charitable works. One of these was an orphanage he organized to care for the many Oliver Twists who roamed the streets of London.

Many thousands of people who never heard or met Spurgeon in person were influenced by his vast literary output. Some four-thousand different Spurgeon sermons were published during his life, and the sixty-three-volume Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit includes many others as well. Today, websites, research centers, and entire libraries are devoted to Spurgeon, his theology, his social impact, and his place in the history of global Christianity. One of these is the recently founded Charles H. Spurgeon Center for Biblical Preaching at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, which owns more than six-thousand books from Spurgeon’s personal library. (My son, Christian T. George, who directs this center, is currently editing a new cache of hitherto unpublished early Spurgeon sermons.) The recent documentary by Canadian filmmaker Stephen McCaskell, “Through the Eyes of Spurgeon,” explores Spurgeon’s role in nineteenth-century Victorian Britain, his evangelical Calvinism, and his continuing impact among Christians of all denominations around the world today.

Among Spurgeon’s many published works that remain in print today is the devotional classic Morning and Evening. Originally published in two volumes, Morning by Morning and Evening by Evening, Spurgeon’s daily meditations were brought together in a single volume in 1869 and has never been out of print since then. Some of Spurgeon’s exegesis will not please modern biblical scholars, for he often sounds more like Athanasius or Bernard of Clairvaux (especially on the Song of Songs) than he does Benjamin Jowett or David Friedrich Strauss. Deeply rooted in the Puritan tradition, Spurgeon read Bunyan’s famous allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress, more than one hundred times. But he does not hesitate to offer figural readings of the Bible, drawing on patristic, medieval, and Reformational patterns of interpretation.

Morning and Evening was not meant as a substitute for common prayer and public worship but rather as an aid to personal spiritual reflection. The beginning and the ending of each day are important times for such meditations. “The morning is the gate of the day and should be well-guarded with prayer,” Spurgeon wrote. “It is one end of the thread on which the days’ actions are strung and should be well-knit with devotion. If we felt the majesty of life more, we would be more careful of its mornings. He who rushes from his bed to his business and does not wait to worship is as foolish as if he had not put on his clothes or washed his face. He is as unwise as one who dashes into battle without being armed.” Likewise, at the end of each day “it is dangerous to fall asleep till the head is leaned on Jesus’ bosom. . . . He surely never prays at all who does not end the day as all men wished to end their lives—in prayer. . . . To breakfast with Jesus and to sup with him also is to enjoy the days of heaven upon the earth.”

Here are Spurgeon’s meditations for the final day of the year:

Morning

“In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, if any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.”
John 7:37

Patience had her perfect work in the Lord Jesus, and until the last day of the feast he pleaded with the Jews, even as on this last day of the year he pleads with us, and waits to be gracious to us. Admirable indeed is the longsuffering of the Saviour in bearing with some of us year after year, notwithstanding our provocations, rebellions, and resistance of his Holy Spirit. Wonder of wonders that we are still in the land of mercy!

Pity expressed herself most plainly, for Jesus cried, which implies not only the loudness of his voice, but the tenderness of his tones. He entreats us to be reconciled. “We pray you,” says the Apostle, “as though God did beseech you by us.” What earnest, pathetic terms are these! How deep must be the love which makes the Lord weep over sinners, and like a mother woo his children to his bosom! Surely at the call of such a cry our willing hearts will come.

Provision is made most plenteously; all is provided that man can need to quench his soul’s thirst. To his conscience the atonement brings peace; to his understanding the gospel brings the richest instruction; to his heart the person of Jesus is the noblest object of affection; to the whole man the truth as it is in Jesus supplies the purest nutriment. Thirst is terrible, but Jesus can remove it. Though the soul were utterly famished, Jesus could restore it.

Proclamation is made most freely, that every thirsty one is welcome. No other distinction is made but that of thirst. Whether it be the thirst of avarice, ambition, pleasure, knowledge, or rest, he who suffers from it is invited. The thirst may be bad in itself, and be no sign of grace, but rather a mark of inordinate sin longing to be gratified with deeper draughts of lust; but it is not goodness in the creature which brings him the invitation, the Lord Jesus sends it freely, and without respect of persons.

Personality is declared most fully. The sinner must come to Jesus, not to works, ordinances, or doctrines, but to a personal Redeemer, who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree. The bleeding, dying, rising Saviour, is the only star of hope to a sinner. Oh for grace to come now and drink, ere the sun sets upon the year’s last day!

No waiting or preparation is so much as hinted at. Drinking represents a reception for which no fitness is required. A fool, a thief, a harlot can drink; and so sinfulness of character is no bar to the invitation to believe in Jesus. We want no golden cup, no bejewelled chalice, in which to convey the water to the thirsty; the mouth of poverty is welcome to stoop down and quaff the flowing flood. Blistered, leprous, filthy lips may touch the stream of divine love; they cannot pollute it, but shall themselves be purified. Jesus is the fount of hope. Dear reader, hear the dear Redeemer’s loving voice as he cries to each of us,

“IF ANY MAN THIRST,

LET HIM

COME UNTO ME

AND DRINK.”

Evening

“The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.”
Jeremiah 8:20

Not saved! Dear reader, is this your mournful plight? Warned of the judgment to come, bidden to escape for your life, and yet at this moment not saved! You know the way of salvation, you read it in the Bible, you hear it from the pulpit, it is explained to you by friends, and yet you neglect it, and therefore you are not saved. You will be without excuse when the Lord shall judge the quick and dead. The Holy Spirit has given more or less of blessing upon the word which has been preached in your hearing, and times of refreshing have come from the divine presence, and yet you are without Christ. All these hopeful seasons have come and gone–your summer and your harvest have past–and yet you are not saved. Years have followed one another into eternity, and your last year will soon be here: youth has gone, manhood is going, and yet you are not saved. Let me ask you–will you ever be saved? Is there any likelihood of it? Already the most propitious seasons have left you unsaved; will other occasions alter your condition? Means have failed with you–the best of means, used perseveringly and with the utmost affection–what more can be done for you? Affliction and prosperity have alike failed to impress you; tears and prayers and sermons have been wasted on your barren heart. Are not the probabilities dead against your ever being saved? Is it not more than likely that you will abide as you are till death forever bars the door of hope? Do you recoil from the supposition? Yet it is a most reasonable one: he who is not washed in so many waters will in all probability go filthy to his end. The convenient time never has come, why should it ever come? It is logical to fear that it never will arrive, and that Felix like, you will find no convenient season till you are in hell. O bethink you of what that hell is, and of the dread probability that you will soon be cast into it!

Reader, suppose you should die unsaved, your doom no words can picture. Write out your dread estate in tears and blood, talk of it with groans and gnashing of teeth: you will be punished with everlasting destruction from the glory of the Lord, and from the glory of his power. A brother’s voice would fain startle you into earnestness. O be wise, be wise in time, and ere another year begins, believe in Jesus, who is able to save to the uttermost. Consecrate these last hours to lonely thought, and if deep repentance be bred in you, it will be well; and if it lead to a humble faith in Jesus, it will be best of all. O see to it that this year pass not away, and you an unforgiven spirit. Let not the new year’s midnight peals sound upon a joyless spirit! Now, now, NOW believe, and live.

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Overwhelming Joy: Ebenezer Scrooge in Stave Five

This is such a great article, another from The Imaginative Conservative. I know it is another post about A Christmas Carol. I don’t know why I have been so drawn to this story this year, but it has definitely resonated with me. It amazes me how something that you have been familiar with for the greater part of your life can suddenly take on new significance. Scrooge’s transformation has really touched me this year and I have just seen the story in a new light. This, my favorite quote from the article, really gets to heart of it:

The Church and the Feast of the Nativity are not side notes to Dickens’ tale, but rather the underpinning. It is the incarnation of God-made-man that allows for Ebenezer to be redeemed. Ebenezer lives this redemption out for the rest of his days, his immediate joy of being alive and having a second chance is fulfilled in living a life of cheerfulness.

You should definitely take ten minutes and go read the entire thing.

Celebrating Christmas at Christmastime

I have seen a lot about this in different places this week. It is changing my thinking on how we should celebrate Christmas. From The Imaginative Conservative:

About a hundred years ago, the usual jolly G.K. Chesterton can be found lamenting two things that are still a problem today: First, that as a writer, he has to write about Christmas long before Christmas in order for it to be published at Christmas. Second, the rest of the world seems to celebrate Christmas long before Christmas and then when Christmas comes, everyone stops celebrating. Should be just the opposite.

Though we love Christmas for the traditions that it entails, we have forgotten one of the most important traditions. For several centuries people waited until Christmas to celebrate Christmas. And then they celebrated it for twelve days. There was a fast leading up to the feast, and then there were many days of feasting. But in recent years, in spite of official attempts to deflate Christmas altogether, the festival lasts for over a month leading up to the actual feast, and then it vanishes instantly and all evidence of it is erased.

Says Chesterton: “Modern men have a vague feeling that when they have come to the feast, they have come to the finish. By modern commercial customs, the preparations for it have been so very long and the practice of it seems so very short. This is, of course, in sharp contrast to the older traditional customs, in the days when it was a sacred festival for a simpler people. Then the preparation took the form of the more austere season of Advent and the fast of Christmas Eve. But when men passed on to the feast of Christmas it went on for a long time after the feast of Christmas Day. It always went on for a continuous holiday of rejoicing for at least twelve days.” It ended, he points out, in a wild culmination that was famously commemorated by a writer most of us have heard of: William Shakespeare. He wrote a play called Twelfth Night. And while most of us have heard of the play, most have forgotten the meaning of Twelfth Night. It is the twelfth day of Christmas. The last of a dozen days of great celebration, that begins with the birth of Christ and ends with the visit of the Wise Men.

Chesterton thinks that Twelfth Night is much more important than New Year’s Day. “While Progressives are already looking forward to the New Year, Christians should still be looking back to Christmas. It is all the difference between looking back with enthusiasm to something and looking forward with earnestness to nothing. People praise the future because it is blank and featureless; they are afraid of the past because it is full of real and living things.”

The modern world with its obsession for being modern, that is, up-to-date, is always at war with tradition, or what it perceives to be “out-of-date.” Its watchword is “change,” but the only change, says Chesterton, is on “the frothy and frivolous surface of society.” Underneath are the same issues, the same struggles, and the same ideas that all men have had to face, even if they try to avoid facing them. But even in our complex world they are reminded by the simple things of the permanent things. One of the simple things that remind them is “the prudence of the peasant on ordinary days and the festivity of the peasant on feast days.” The shepherds have always figured things out before the wise men.

Every ritual points to something beyond itself. Our Christmas figurines evoke actual people and a historical event. Our simple symbols point to an ultimate reality. Our “ritual rejoicings” are an attempt to express an unfathomable joy that even a chorus of angels could barely express. Unto us a Savior is born. There has never been better news and never a better reason to celebrate.

But we have to wait for it. We have to prepare for it. The one who prepared the way of the Lord did so by preaching repentance. Never has our world needed repentance more than it does now.

We should treat Advent as we should Lent. It should be a time of prayer and penance and preparation. And privation. Pray early and often. Hold off on the treats. Give things up. Give alms.

One form of penance, of course, is enduring the awful “holiday” music that blares out of the loudspeakers in every public place during the month of December. There is no escaping it. But then, when that music is finally and mercifully turned off, and when the rest of the world is taking down the decorations, our great celebration will just be beginning. And our music will be better, too.

Franklin Graham: The War on Christmas Is a War on Christ

Millions of Christians around the world soon will be celebrating the birth of Christ. In many places, like ancient Bethlehem where Jesus was born, commemorating the birth of the Savior is still the main focus. Unfortunately, the United States in the last few decades has witnessed increased hostility toward the sacred nature of Christmas, erupting into what has become a blatant war on Christmas.

Stores, schools and communities across America continue to find new and intolerant reasons to remove any religious references to Christmas, stripping it of any holy or historical significance. Christian songs, prayers and other spiritually vital connections to the Lord Jesus Christ are deleted or diminished.

Two flagrant examples:

In Ramsey County, Minn., the courthouse banned red poinsettias because someone deemed them a “Christian symbol.”

A Veteran’s Administration hospital in Augusta, Ga., adopted a policy banning religious Christmas songs in public areas.

But none of this should surprise us.

That’s because at its root and core, the war on Christmas isn’t really about Christmas at all—it’s about the Son of God. The war on Christmas is a war on Christ and His followers. It’s the hatred of our culture for the exclusive claims that Christ made: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

When Christ stepped out of eternity and into a cold animal stall in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, the angels announced His birth with these stunning words to shepherds huddled in the Judean darkness: “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

Jesus, the second Person of the Trinity, became as fully man as He was fully God. He took on human flesh for one reason—to die for our sins, to rescue us from eternal separation and unending punishment. He fulfilled that mission three decades later when He hung on a cross in Jerusalem, was buried, rose again and ascended into Heaven.

Believers in Christ call Jesus’ birth His first Advent, or His first Coming. It was a time for miracles and healings, but also a time for suffering at the hands of sinners. He was betrayed, scorned, beaten and crucified.

When Christ returns—His second Advent or Coming—it will be an entirely different experience. He will come with undiminished power and glory, as a conquering King who will cast Satan and unbelievers into an eternal lake of fire. His kingdom will be finally consummated with the new heavens and the new earth.

Scripture calls the time between those two Advents the last days. We don’t have to wait for them. Everyone born from the resurrection of Christ until His triumphant return has lived in them.

The Apostle Peter, in his first sermon at Pentecost, referred to the Holy Spirit’s outpouring with the words of the prophet Joel: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh” (Acts 2:17).

The writer of Hebrews began his letter with a magnificent description of Jesus Christ, saying that God “has in these last days spoken to us by His Son” (Hebrews 1:2).

And the Apostle Paul told his protégé Timothy that “in the last days perilous times will come” (2 Timothy 3:1). He goes on to list nearly 20 chillingly familiar character traits that describe those days, such as pride, brutality, treachery and heartlessness.

We should not be taken aback, then, when a day that should be devoted to meditating upon the marvelous, virgin birth of the Lord Jesus Christ is instead treated in a scandalously secular way that denies His deity and saving work.

The Name of Christ is an offense to the unbelieving world. The mention of His birth, or life, or death and resurrection, is an insult.

The world, the flesh and the devil all hate the mere mention of His glorious Name. They are mortal enemies of the Savior.

The world the Bible speaks of is the world system that is set against the rule and reign of Christ. It is enthralled with power and greed, and it wants no part of the Messiah’s absolute authority.

The flesh refers to the rebellious, sinful soul of man that is corrupted with deceitful desires and refuses to acknowledge God. It is willful, prideful disobedience that reacts with instinctive disdain for the Savior.

The devil animates it all. Knowing that his time to roam on earth is short and that he will one day be cast into the lake of fire, he opposes Christ at every turn. He and his demons will help gather all the nations into a great last-ditch rebellion against the King of kings before he is defeated.

Until then, however, we should expect stiff, relentless opposition to the Gospel message from our culture. The persecution that many believers already experience in many countries may still be far into the future for us, but don’t expect that it will not intensify and heighten.

However, since we know that Christ has already made every provision for sinners like us, we can steadily and obediently be about the Father’s work of letting our light shine before men. We can be about the business of living uprightly in an evil age, testifying of Christ’s power to deliver us from sin, Satan and the world.

The war on Christmas—the war on Christ—is doomed to fail. Christ came the first time to rescue us from our sin; He is coming a second time to establish His kingdom forever under His righteous reign.

Every believer from every age who has repented and trusted in Him for the forgiveness of sin will be with Him. The Babe at Bethlehem will be the conquering King.

So this Christmas, don’t worry if you see the opposition building. Praise Him that He came to earth 2,000 years ago on a rescue mission, that He has rescued you.

Joy to the World!

Adoration of the Shepherds by Charles Lebrun, 1689

The Gospel of John 1:1-18

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’ ”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

The Gospel of Luke 2:1-20

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

The Gospel of Matthew 1:18 – 2:12

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel

(which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

“And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.”

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

Governor Implies Parents Incapable Of Educating Kids

This is exactly what homeschoolers are going to have to keep fighting against. From RedState:

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said at a lunch yesterday that individuals can’t educate young people well, if at all, themselves. This will come as a surprise to the thousands of homeschool and school choice families across the state. If you are a homeschool parent, or believe there are educational advantages in pulling your child out from under government’s pervasive bureaucratic control, Hickenlooper’s assertion might offend you.

Despite the success homeschoolers have demonstrated in higher education, many politicians still seem to think parents are incapable of educating their children. HSLDA responded, noting there are “tens of thousands of children in Colorado whose parents educate them quite well at home.” However, this is not a rare opinion, and the fact that people who hold it also hold offices with the power to deny parents their right to educate their own children is very troubling.