The Dark Night of the Soul

I had never taken any interest in C. H. Spurgeon until a few weeks ago when I went to the Premiere of the new film “C. H. Spurgeon - The People’s Preacher” and the launch of the accompanying book by Peter Morden.

I had known of Spurgeon by name since childhood having grown up a few miles away from Spurgeon’s Bible College. However I had never taken too much interest in him as a person or his writings until I watched the film. Spurgeon was a young man who was called by God in such a way that he knew that God had a real plan and purpose for his life. He was an anointed speaker and is often described as the most popular preacher of the Victorian era. However, the part of the film that I found most moving and powerful was where it discussed the tragedy at the Surrey Gardens Music Hall when 10,000 or so people had gathered to hear Spurgeon and it appears troublemakers caused a commotion shouting fire.

The result of this commotion was a panic and as with football disasters of the twentieth century the result was a crush and a stairway collapse resulting in seven deaths and leaving many people injured. Initially Spurgeon did not realise what was happening as the venue was so large but when it transpired that lives were lost he was bereft feeling totally responsible for the deaths of those who had come to hear him.

As with today the press had a field day searching for headlines and someone to blame but even with his friends seeking to shield him from the worst of this “he was almost completely crushed in spirit” where he experienced “a deep spiritual depression.”

The horror, shock, trauma of the events left Spurgeon questioning, feeling isolated, and God seemed so distant. Spurgeon who had been a preacher at the zenith of his witness popularity was sent plummeting into the “dark night of the soul.”

As I read the account of Spurgeon’s experience I am reminded of Elijah’s reaction after the message from Jezebel following his encounter with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, he went from the pinnacle of his witness to God to the depths of despair when he “prayed that he might die. "I have had enough, LORD," he said. "Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors." 1 Kings 19v.4.NIV

We often look at the Prophets and Famous Preachers of the past and see them as super spiritual and super human and yet we do not recognise their frailty and humanity. In the case of Elijah, the Lord ensures that Elijah is fed and rested, and then meets with him. The Lord restores him and sends him on his way to anoint two kings and call Elisha to be trained up as his successor.

In the case of Spurgeon what seemed to be the depth of the pit with no sign of escape where prayer and Bible reading was impossible was replaced by God when “The person of Christ seemed visible to me, I stood still. The burning lava of my soul was cooled. My agonies were hushed… and the garden that had seemed a Gethsemane became to me a Paradise.” The Lord had met with him and led him out of the pit.

Spurgeon may have felt that his useful life for God was ended but this was not the case. God had a plan for him. He wanted to continue to use Spurgeon. Spurgeon recovered from his deep depression and although he had recurrent struggles for the rest of his life he was used mightily in God’s work.

Do not be discouraged. Take heart, the Lord does not easily give up on us and has a plan and purpose for each one. Whoever we are, whatever we may have done or wherever we may seem to be at present God wants to bring us back to him, to restore us, strengthen us and set us back on our feet.

C.H. Spurgeon - The People's PreacherReferences from “C. H. Spurgeon - The People’s Preacher” by Peter Morden, published by CWR

Jonathan Clark, 01/03/2010
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