Charles Spurgeon knew the horrors of disease and social unrest. Being attuned to the needs of his church, he provided his listeners with a biblical framework which helped them to understand and respond to the tragedies that flooded over them. Spurgeon’s insights still blossom with benefits for modern the Christian. Let’s take a look.
In his 1866 sermon on the cholera outbreak, Spurgeon noted that “Disease…is a trumpet that must be heard.” The sounds of death touched the beggar on the street corner and the politician in her country home. None could escape its noise. Events like cholera, the coronavirus, and riots crash through the barriers of luxury and security that bread “pride, heathenism and forgetfulness of God.” They revealed humanity to be weak, vulnerable, and in need of a savoir. When asked why God sounded that trumpet of death in 1866, Spurgeon replied,
If you ask me what I think to be the design, I believe it to be this—to waken up our indifferent population, to make them remember that there is a God, to render them susceptible to the influences of the gospel, to drive them to the house of prayer, to influence their minds to receive the Word, and moreover to startle Christians into energy and earnestness, that they may work while it is called to-day.https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/sermons/the-voice-of-the-cholera#flipbook/
Similarly, Spurgeon viewed social unrest as gospel trumpet. He said,
I feel persuaded that there are such things as national judgments, national chastisements for national sins—great blows from the rod of God, which every wise man must acknowledge to be, either a punishment of sin committed, or a monition to warn us to a sense of the consequences of sins, leading us by God’s grace to humiliate ourselves, and repent of our sin.https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/sermons/fast-day-service#flipbook/
To press the gospel forward into their often spiritually deaf nations and churches, Spurgeon encouraged Christians to call sinners to repentance and to pray for their nation’s deliverance when storm clouds appeared.
Call For Repentance
Though Spurgeon thanked God for blessing England with political, social, and economic success, he knew England would not remain favored if her sin continued unchecked. God had crushed Syria and Babylon and would in time deal with Great Britain. Since the people of England still had time, he called every Christian to “try to shake off the sins of his nation from his own skirt, and let each one to the utmost of his ability labor and strive to purify his land of blood and oppression and everything evil that still clingeth to her.”
Before God would once again bless a nation, the nation had to wrestle with her sins. The nation that refused to repent should expect nothing other than judgement. Spurgeon noted,
“Even so must it be with every nation of the earth that is guilty of oppression. Humbling itself before God, when his wrath is kindled but a little, it may for awhile arrest its fate; but if it still continue in its bold unrighteousness, it shall certainly reap the harvest of its own sowing….There is no God in heaven if the iniquity of slavery go unpunished. There is no God existing in heaven above if the cry of the [black man] does not bring down a red hail of blood upon the nation that still holds the black man in slavery… The Lord God is the avenger of every one that is oppressed, and the executor of every one that oppresseth.”https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/sermons/the-scales-of-judgment#flipbook/
Flushing out his convictions, the Prince of Preachers addressed, the “great public” sins of his day that continued to threaten England after she abolished slavery. Spurgeon called the rich to repent of having “down-trodden” the needy and the poor. He pleaded with the working classes to work as unto the Lord. He lamented drunkenness which had swept through London. He called for the end of prostitution and sexual sin, noting “there can be no..doubt that amongst all classes and ranks of men there is enough lewdness to bring down Heaven’s wrath upon our city.” He identified the “Constant neglect of the worship of God” as another grand sin that needed to be repented of. He also addressed the gross sins of the church, fearing that pastoral neglect of the gospel would bring God’s wrath upon England. As the trumpet of affliction sounded, Spurgeon believed Christians should bang the drum of repentance calling both sinner and saint to flee from sin.
After the saint had address the sins in his or her own life and called other to repentance, Spurgeon believed the Christian should intercede for his or her nation.
When England groaned under the strains of war, economic depression, and a bad harvest in 1879, Spurgeon downplayed the importance of national prayer days. He knew that God would reject the petitions of sinful men and women who cried out for blessing while refusing to turn from their sins. He noted “Many a public prayer will be regarded as absolutely ridiculous.”
The Prince of Preachers feared such secular prayer could harm the gospel because sinners thought they had prayed when they had not. Because their prayers went unheard, sinners often laid the ineptness of their pleas at God’s feet, deeming Him to be either powerless or careless. Yet the fault lay not with God but with unholy men and women who did not realize that their sin separated them from the presence of the Holy God. Jesus would not bless unholy men and women so that they could continue to feast on sin. God only heard the unrighteous if they called out for the saving power of his son. The sinner’s other request never made it past the no-mans land of vague spirituality.
Instead of asking the world to pray, Spurgeon thought , “All hope for a country lies in the true believers who dwell therein.” He wanted Christians to pray for their nation. Though the world knows not how to approach heaven, Christians do know how to pray for they have been clothed in Jesus’ holiness. Like Abraham, Moses, and Aron, they should intercede with God for their nations, pleading with God to forgive their neighbors’ sins. “Confess the sin of this nation before God. If it will not repent, repent for it,” Spurgeon pleaded. Unless the church intercedes for her nation, the Christian has little reason to expect that God’s providence will smile upon their land.
When Spurgeon lead the national prayer services following the military revolt of 1857, he tied his prayers for justice to prayers of forgiveness. He said, “We are a sinful nation; we confess the sins of our governors and our own particular iniquities. For all our rebellions and transgressions, O God have mercy upon us!”
Christians could not wash their hands of their nation even if their personal lives were above reproach. The believer could not expect to escape her nation’s sorrow through personal piety. Spurgeon thought the Christian who benefited from the privileges and protections afforded to her by her government would also suffer under her government’s divine judgement. The Christian had every reason to pray for her nation as the gospel and a her instinct for self-preservation demanded it.
Such intercessory prayers were also pregnant with hopefullness, proving to be an antidote to the despair that came with sickness and social unrest. Spurgeon noted, “The hour of prayer is often the hour of deliverance.” When the church prayed, God acted. Spurgeon concluded, “it was God that gave Abraham Lincoln, who led the nation to “Emancipation”…it was God that gave Wilberforce.” To initiate social and political change, the church must pray. Spurgeon remained ever hopeful for he knew God heard the intercessory prayers of his people.
I believe that a country can never have a larger blessing, a truer safeguard for the present, or a firmer security for its future greatness, than a band of praying men and women who make mention of it before the throne of God.https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/sermons/the-present-crisis#flipbook/
Spurgeon also offered encouragement to the oppressed. He knew Joseph went to jail unjustly. He knew Jesus and the apostles were unfairly slandered. He knew that
“God’s people may sometimes be so oppressed that they scarcely able to speak for themselves at all…They dare not speak, they have to confine their language to a sigh…they dare not go and tell a friend their wrong, lest further mischief should come ot it.”
Like Hannah who pleaded for a son, the believer today maybe able to do little more than sigh because he feels crushed by oppression. Yet God hears our sorrows. Spurgeon said,
When we think we have not prayed at all, we have often prayed the best. When we imagine that our groanings have been empty, they have often been the fullest. When we sigh because we think we do not sigh, God…hears the grief when the grief has no voice, he hears the sorrow when the sorrow cannot find a tongue.https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/sermons/the-power-of-a-sigh#flipbook/
God responds to the prayers of his people.
When the trumpet of adversity sounds, Spurgeon called his listeners to examine their hearts and to evaluate the faults of their nation, calling for repentance. Then, they were to take their knowledge of their hearts and of their land to the Lord, confessing sins and expecting the blessing of God. How are we doing?