Thursday, June 26, 2014

Spurgeon on "Sudden Bereavements"

Twice in recent months, I have had the privilege of viewing some of the items in the Spurgeon collection now housed at Midwestern Seminary. At the latter of these two events, the Southern Baptist Convention in Baltimore, the Seminary was giving away posters bearing one of Spurgeon's more notable quotations:

"If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies." 

Being somewhat of a researcher by nature, I decided to go find the source of this quotation and read it in its larger context. I have read the full quotation in the past, but never "plowed the entire field" from which "this flower was plucked." A quick search led me to Spurgeon's sermon numbered 349, "The Wailing of Risca," delivered December 9, 1860 at Exeter Hall. The "Risca" to which Spurgeon's title refers, is a Welsh town that was once known for its rich coal deposits. On December 1, 1860, 140 miners were killed in an explosion in a mine there. A week later, Spurgeon delivered this message. In it, he recounts some of the details: 

Last Saturday week some two hundred or more miners descended in health and strength to their usual work in the bowels of the earth. They had not been working long, their wives and their children had risen, and their little ones had gone to their schools, when suddenly there was heard a noise at the mouth of the pit;—it was an explosion,—all knew what it meant. Men's hearts failed them, for well they prophesied the horror which would soon reveal itself. They wait awhile, the foul gas must first be scattered, brave men with their lives in their hands descend into the pit, and when they are able to see with the dim miner's lamp, the light falls upon corpse after corpse. A few, a handful are brought up alive, and scarce alive, but yet, thank God, with enough of the vital spark remaining to be again kindled to a flame; but the great mass of those strong men have felt the grip of death. Some of them were brought up to the top with their faces burned and scarred, with their bodies disfigured by the fire; but many are discovered whose faces looked as if they sweetly slept, so that it was scarcely possible to believe that they really could be dead, so quietly had the spirit quitted the habitation of clay.

As I read on, I came to the context from which the now famous quotation ("If sinners be damned ... ") was taken. And I must say, I was greatly blessed and helped by the great preacher's words. In speaking to a community of souls who had been shocked by the tragedy of sudden grief, Spurgeon's words are fitting for all who have been touched by tragedy, suffering, and grief. The entire sermon can be found online here, but allow me to share this extended portion of it. This is the first of three "points" that Spurgeon delivered in the message, which he heads with the phrase: "I. Our first sorrowful theme is SUDDEN BEREAVEMENTS." I have underlined for emphasis several salient quotations and major ideas that were most beneficial to my soul. 

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Alas! alas! how soon may we be childless; how soon may we be widowed of the dearest objects of our affections! O Lord, thou hast shown to us this day, how soon thou canst blast our gourds and wither all the fruits of our vineyard. The dearest ones, the partners of our blood, how soon can death proclaim a divorce between us—our children, the offspring of our loins, how soon canst thou lay them beneath the sod. We have not a single relative who may not become to us within the next moment a fountain of grief. All that are dear and precious to us are only here by God's good pleasure. What should we be to-day if it were not for those whom we love, and who love us? What were our house without its little prattlers? What were our habitation without the wife of our bosom? What were our daily business without our associates and friends to cheer us in our trials? Ah! this were a sad world indeed, if the ties of kindred, of affection, and of friendship all be snapped; and yet it is such a world that they must be sundered, and may be divided at any moment.

    From the fact that sudden bereavements are possible—not only to miners and to women whose husbands are upon the sea, but to us also—I would that we would learn profitable lessons. And first let us learn to set loose by our dearest friends that we have on earth. Let us love them—love them we may, love them we should—but let us always learn to love them as dying things. Oh, build not thy nest on any of these trees, for they are all marked for the axe. "Set not thine affections on things on earth," for the things of earth must leave thee, and then what wilt thou do when thy joy is emptied, and the golden bowl which held thy mirth shall be dashed to pieces? Love first and foremost Christ; and when thou lovest others, still love them not as though they were immortal. Love not clay as though it were undying—love not dust as though it were eternal. So hold thy friend that thou shalt not wonder when he vanishes from thee; so view the partakers of thy life that thou wilt not be amazad when they glide into the land of spirits. See thou the disease of mortality on every cheek, and write not Eternal upon the creature of an hour.

Take care that thou puttest all thy dear ones into God's hand. Thou hast put thy soul there, put them there. Thou canst trust him for temporals for thyself, trust thy jewels with him. Feel that they are not thine own, but that they are God's loans to thee; loans which may be recalled at any moment—precious benisons of heaven, not entailed upon thee, but of which thou art but a tenant at will. Your possessions are never so safe as when you are willing to resign them, and you are never so rich as when you put all you have into the hand of God. You shall find it greatly mitigate the sorrow of bereavements, if before bereavement you shall have learned to surrender every day all the things that are dearest to you into the keeping of your gracious God.

Further, then, you who are blessed with wife and children, and friends, take care that you bless God for them. Sing a song of praise to God who hath blessed you so much than others. You are not a widow, but there are many that wear the weeds, and why is it not your lot? You are not bereaven of your spouse, but there is many a man whose heart is rent in twain by such a calamity,—why is it not your portion too? You have not to follow to-morrow your little ones to their narrow graves—early flowers that did but bud and never ripened, withering alas! too soon. Oh! by the sorrow which you would feel if they were taken away, I exhort you to bless God for them while you have them. We sorrow much when our gifts are taken away, but we fail to thank God that he spared them to us so long. Oh! be not ungrateful, lest thou provoke the Lord to smite very low the mercy which thou dost not value. Sing unto the Lord, sing unto his name. Give unto him the blessing which he deserves for his sparing favors which he has manifested towards you in your household.

And then permit me to remind you that if these sudden bereavements may come, and there may be a dark chamber in any house in a moment, and the coffin may be in any one of our habitations, let us so act to our kinsfolk and relatives as though we knew they were soon about to die. Young man, so treat thy hoary father as thou wouldst behave to him if thou knewest he would die to-morrow. When thou shalt follow him to the grave, amidst all thy tears for his loss, let there not be one tear of repentance because of thine ill behaviour to him. And you godly fathers and mothers, to you I have a special message—your children are committed to your care; they are growing up, and what if after they be grown up they should plunge into sin and die at last impenitent! Oh, let not the fierce regret sting you like an adder,—"Oh that I had prayed for my children! Oh that I had taught them before they departed." I pray you so live, that when you stand over your child's dead body you may never hear a voice coming up from that clay, "Father, thy negligence was my destruction. Mother, thy want of prayer was the instrument of my damnation." But so live, that when you hear the funeral knell, for a neighbour even, you may be able to say, "Poor soul, whether he is gone to heaven or to hell, I know I am clear of is blood." And with double earnestness be it so with your children. "Yes," says one "but I have thought of teaching my children more of Christ, and being more earnest in prayer for them bye-and-bye," but what if they should die to-morrow? "Yes," says the wife, "I have thought of speaking to my ungodly husband, and trying to induce him to attend the house of God with me, but I was afraid he would only laugh at me, so I put it off for a month or two." Ah! what if he dies before you have cleared your conscience of him? Oh, my brothers and sisters in Christ, if sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies; and if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay, and not madly to destroy themselves. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.

In the light, then, of sudden bereavements, let not another hour pass over your head, when you have reached home, before you have freed your conscience of the blood of your children's souls. Gather them together around you this afternoon, and say to them, "My dear children, I have learned to day that you may die; I knew it before, but I have had it impressed upon my mind by a solemn incident. My dear children, I cannot help telling you, that as you must die, I am anxious that God's Holy Spirit should graciously lead you to repent of sin and seek a Saviour." And then, when you have told them the way to salvation in simple terms, put your arms about their necks, and bid the little ones kneel down and pray, "O God! upon their infant hearts, stamp thou, the image of thyself. As they are in the image of the earthy, so make them in the image of the heavenly, that at the last I may be able to say, 'Here am I, and the children thou hast given me.'"

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