Joy: "the friend and helper of all good graces"
Given Charles Spurgeon’s battles with depression and the way he understood those times of spiritual darkness to serve the greater good of his growth in Christ, one might think that he resigned himself to suffer in this way and put little stock in the experience of joy. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Continue reading . . .
Given Charles Spurgeon’s battles with depression and the way he understood those times of spiritual darkness to serve the greater good of his growth in Christ, one might think that he resigned himself to suffer in this way and put little stock in the experience of joy. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Said Spurgeon:
“Cheerfulness, that compound of many excellencies, . . . may scarcely claim to be called a virtue; but it is the friend and helper of all good graces, and the absence of it is certainly a vice. If cheerfulness be not health, assuredly melancholy is disease. Practically, cheerfulness occupies a very high position, and without it the Christian labourer is destitute of a very considerable element of strength” (“Bells for the Horses!” The Sword and the Trowel, March 1866, in The Spurgeon Reader, 17).
The absence of cheerfulness, note well, “is certainly a vice.” Spurgeon never yielded to the melancholy from which he suffered, but saw it as a tool by which the Spirit could chisel away at his self-sufficiency and pride. Yet the aim of his life was joy: in God! He writes:
“The longer I am engaged in my Master’s service, the more am I confident that the joy of the Lord is and must be our strength, and that discontent and moroseness are fatal to usefulness. . . . Whoever may advocate dreary dullness, I cannot and dare not do other than impeach it as an enemy of true religion” (18).
Of course, Spurgeon is speaking here of “discontent and moroseness” as a permanent fixture of one’s experience. He himself suffered greatly from both, but they were, thank God, transient descents into depression and disillusionment. He was certainly no “advocate” of “dreary dullness” but at all times set his sights and faith on the renewal of joy in his life.
He recognizes that some Christians, perhaps by nature but more so because of the fear that too much joy would blind the believer to the serious side of Christian living, were suspicious of cheerfulness and regarded it as beneath the mature follower of Jesus. “Among professed Christians,” he noted, “there lurks an undefined and unexpressed idea, that cheerfulness, if not absolutely sinful in itself, is very dangerous; and to be kept like gunpowder in small quantities only, and always under lock and key, for fear of mischief” (18).
Cheerfulness or joy or delight in all that God is for us in Jesus is far from sinful. More “dangerous” than cheerfulness is the failure to experience that joy inexpressible and full of glory that comes when faith emerges from seasons of struggle and pain (1 Peter 1:7-8). I’m not sure what Spurgeon had in mind when he said that some professing Christians, as it were, hold joy at arm’s length “for fear of mischief,” but as far as he was concerned it was to be embraced with enthusiasm and cultivated as central and controlling in the believer’s experience.