Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Book Review: Spurgeon on the Christian Life

Spurgeon On the Christian Life: Alive in Christ (Theologians on the Christian Life) Michael Reeves. 2018. Crossway. 192 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Crowds lined the streets, hoping to catch a glimpse of the olivewood casket as it made its way through the streets of south London.

Spurgeon on the Christian Life by Michael Reeves is one of the books in Crossway's Theologians on the Christian Life series. It is divided into four parts: "Charles Spurgeon," "Christ The Center," "The New Birth," and "The New Life." It blends the formats of biography and theology. Readers learn a bit about Charles Spurgeon--his life and the times in which he lived--and a lot about what Spurgeon believed (taught and preached).

In the introduction, Reeves writes:
This is a book about Spurgeon’s theology of the Christian life, and those were the concerns that lay at the heart of it. Spurgeon was unreservedly Christ-centered and Christ-shaped in his theology; and he was equally insistent on the vital necessity of the new birth. The Christian life is a new life in Christ, given by the Spirit and won by the blood of Jesus shed on the cross... What I have attempted here is to let Spurgeon’s theology of the Christian life shape the very structure—as well as the content—of this book. This is not a comprehensive analysis of Spurgeon’s overall theology, nor is it a biography, though it should help readers get to know both the man and the broad brushstrokes of his theology. 
Reeves decided to let Spurgeon do most of the talking for himself. He says, "In my own experience, I generally find reading Spurgeon himself like breathing in great lungfuls of mountain air: he is bracing, refreshing, and rousing. I want, therefore, to try to make myself scarce and let Spurgeon leap at readers himself."

I would say that Reeves was successful.

I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED Spurgeon on the Christian Life. I found it to be packed with great insight. It almost goes without saying that it's relevant as well.  Every page of this one has treasure. Most pages have treasures in heaps. That is how good Spurgeon is. But it is also how good Reeves is. He organized, clarified, and wove everything together into a lovely book.

I already loved Charles Spurgeon. This book made me love him even more. It definitely whet my appetite for MORE Spurgeon in 2018. I think this one would be a great book to introduce Spurgeon to new readers and/or new believers. Spurgeon is not an intimidating author--neither is Reeves. And he packs more truth per page--I stand corrected, packs more CHRIST per page--than most any other author I've read. This makes for rich reading indeed. How could you read it and not find it delightful?!

I discovered a kindred spirit in the pages of this book:
Spurgeon was a man who went at all of life full-on. He was not simply a large presence in the pulpit. In life, he laughed and cried much; he read avidly and felt deeply; he was a zealously industrious worker and a sociable lover of play and beauty. He was, in other words, a man who embodied the truth that to be in Christ means to be made ever more roundly human, more fully alive....It takes no great insight to see that Spurgeon was a big-hearted man of deep affections. His printed sermons and lectures still throb with passion. At times the emotional freight of his sermon would even overcome him, especially when it was about the crucifixion of Christ....Spurgeon publicly admitted that his temperamental sensitivity inclined him to be fearful.
He treasured the Bible and held it to be entirely trustworthy because he treasured Christ and held him to be entirely trustworthy. (And, sealing the bond between the two, he treasured Christ because the Bible self-evidently presents him as self-evidently good, beautiful, and true.) It also meant that Spurgeon could only be interested in the Christ of the Bible, unlike those who love a “Jesus” other than the one made known in Scripture. 
Spurgeon describing the ideal preacher:
I love a minister whose face invites me to make him my friend—a man upon whose doorstep you read, “Salve,” “Welcome;” and feel that there is no need of that Pompeian warning, “Cave Canem,” “Beware of the dog.” A man who is to do much with men must love them, and feel at home with them. An individual who has no geniality about him had better be an undertaker, and bury the dead, for he will never succeed in influencing the living. When a man has a large, loving heart, men go to him as ships to a haven, and feel at peace when they have anchored under the lee of his friendship. Such a man is hearty in private as well as in public; his blood is not cold and fishy, but he is warm as your own fireside. No pride and selfishness chill you when you approach him; he has his doors all open to receive you, and you are at home with him at once. Such men I would persuade you to be, every one of you. 
Spurgeon on joy and happiness:
God made human beings, as he made his other creatures, to be happy. They are capable of happiness, they are in their right element when they are happy; and now that Jesus Christ has come to restore the ruins of the Fall, he has come to bring back to us the old joy,—only it shall be even sweeter and deeper than it could have been if we had never lost it. A Christian has never fully realized what Christ came to make him until he has grasped the joy of the Lord. Christ wishes his people to be happy. When they are perfect, as he will make them in due time, they shall also be perfectly happy. As heaven is the place of pure holiness, so is it the place of unalloyed happiness; and in proportion as we get ready for heaven, we shall have some of the joy which belongs to heaven, and it is our Saviour’s will that even now his joy should remain in us, and that our joy should be full.
Spurgeon on doctrine:
Jesus is the Truth. We believe in him,—not merely in his words. He himself is Doctor and Doctrine, Revealer and Revelation, the Illuminator and the Light of Men. He is exalted in every word of truth, because he is its sum and substance. He sits above the gospel, like a prince on his own throne. Doctrine is most precious when we see it distilling from his lips and embodied in his person. Sermons are valuable in proportion as they speak of him and point to him. A Christless gospel is no gospel and a Christless discourse is the cause of merriment to devils.
Spurgeon on Bible-reading:
Much, then, that passes for Bible reading is really no Bible reading at all, as Spurgeon understood it. “Do not many of you read the Bible in a very hurried way—just a little bit, and off you go?” he asked. “How few of you are resolved to get at its soul, its juice, its life, its essence, and to drink in its meaning.” When the eye freewheels over verses and leaves the mind unengaged, that is no true reading. It is much more likely to be evidence of the crude superstition that religion demands an unthinking performance of a regular reading ritual. Where others go on pilgrimages and perform penances, evangelicals throw their eyes over chapters of the Bible—and could do it just as well with the book turned upside down. Indeed, Spurgeon would drive home this point deeper, arguing that the mind must be more than listlessly engaged:  There is an interior reading, a kernel reading—a true and living reading of the Word. This is the soul of reading; and, if it be not there, the reading is a mechanical exercise, and profits nothing. 
 “It is a grand thing to be driven to think, it is a grander thing to be driven to pray through having been made to think.”
Spurgeon on prayer:
Turning to prayer when prayer is hard needn’t mean going from silence to composing perfect speeches to God. That is another of those crushing expectations we often place on ourselves. Rather, we cry out—even babble—to God as we can. If you cannot speak, cry; if you cannot cry, groan; and if you cannot even groan to God, “let thy prayer be at least a breathing,—a vital, sincere desire, the outpouring of thine inner life in the simplest and weakest form, and God will accept it. In a word, when you cannot pray as you would, take care to pray as you can.” 

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

No comments: