The Dancing Puritan

Friday, November 6, 2015

Spurgeon's Study: A Place for Susannah to Pray

January of 1893, a year after Charles Spurgeon died, his wife Susannah described a tender scene from  her husband's study. Susannah, the caretaker of the Pastor's Book Fund, was at Spurgeon's desk to write a report about the Fund. (1) Her words reveal her heart, take the reader deep into her thoughts, and raise the curtain on her marriage to Charles. 
 I am writing in my husband’s study, where he thought, and prayed, and wrote. Every inch of the place is sacred ground. Everything remains precisely as he left it. His books (now my most precious possessions), stand in shining rows upon the shelves, in exactly the order in which he placed them, and one might almost fancy the room was ready and waiting for its master. But oh! That empty chair! That grave portrait over the door! The strange, solemn silence which pervades the place now that he is no longer on earth! I kneel sometimes by his chair, and laying my head on the cushioned arms which so long supported his dear form, I pour out my grief before the Lord, and tell Him again that. Though I am left alone, yet I know that ‘He hath done all things well.’ Then wandering from room to room, looking with tear-dimmed eyes at the home treasures my dear one loved and admired, almost expecting to hear the sound of his footsteps behind me, and the sweet tones of his tender voice in loving greeting,--I have, alas! to realize afresh how true were King David’s words when he said in his sorrow, “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.’ (2)

Spurgeon was a man of prayer and the books that surrounded his desk helped him in his preaching, writing, and understanding of Scripture.  As Susannah worked from his study (as she often did) she remembered her beloved husband and cried out to God in prayer. Prayer was Charles and Susannah's response to difficulty while he was alive, and nothing changed on that front for Susannah after he died. As she knelt beside his chair and prayed from a grieving heart, her faith was strengthened as she remembered the faithfulness of God. While Susannah "wandered from room to room" she brought words from the Bible to her mind and was comforted.

Where do you go with your grief? God's Word is available to you just it was to Susannah Spurgeon in her grief. God's ears are ready to receive your humble cries.

1.The Pastor's Book Fund began in the summer of 1875 after Charles Spurgeon completed the first volume of Lectures to My Students. Susannah Spurgeon was so moved after reading it that she articulated to Charles her desire to give a copy to "every minister in England." He responded, "Then why not do so?" He then challenged her to be the first donor to the fund, which she did. She supplied the money to send out the first hundred copies of Lectures and "the Book Fund was inugurated."  Charles Ray, The Life of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1903), 370.

2. Mrs. C.H.  Spurgeon, Ten Years After!: A Sequel to 'Ten Years of My Life in the Service of the Book Fund,' (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1895), 213.

Ray Rhodes is President of Nourished in the Word Ministries (NITW). NITW is a teaching, writing, and resource ministry. Ray is married to Lori and they live in North Georgia. Ray is a doctoral student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

A Birth Announcement

Today is the birthday of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (June 19, 1834).  

One of the benefits in reading biography is that you can always go back to the beginning. A couple of days ago Spurgeon died (in my reading). I was sad. It was not the actual historical day of his death, but it seemed to me like Spurgeon had just died. Today is a much happier day. 

If I could go back in time today, I would travel to the little cottage at Kelvedon, in Essex, where Spurgeon was born. So, let me try. "It is June 19, 1834, June 19, 1834, June 19, 1834, June 19, 1834." It worked for Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve) in the movie Somewhere in Time. By dressing in period attire, traveling to the The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island Michigan, and repeating "Its June 27, 1912, Its June 27, 1912," Collier attempted time travel. Eventually he succeeded and found Elise McKenna (Jane Seymour) waiting. 

Enough of that. We assume that time travel is not possible, EXCEPT, through reading. It is indeed possible to be so absorbed in a book and character that it seems that you are back in time. You know like Rush Revere who is always "rush, rush, rushing, into history." 

Enough rabbit trails.

It is Spurgeon's Birthday. Today is a day of celebration. So bring out the cigars (Spurgeon's doctor told him that cigars were good for his health), take a walk at Mentone, visit the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, watch the Spurgeon movie, listen to Shai Linne rap Spurgeon, or best of all, read a Spurgeon biography.

Who was Charles Haddon Spurgeon? J. Manton Smith wrote a book titled, The Essex Lad Who Became England's Greatest Preacher. Spurgeon was not only, "England's greatest preacher" he was one of the greatest preachers in all of history.

However, Spurgeon would have chaffed beneath such a descriptor. His single-focus was Christ. If he were here today, he might say:

What the hand is to the lute,
What the breath is to the flute,
What fragrance is to the smell,
What the spring is to the well,
What the flower is to the bee,
That is Jesus Christ to me.
                                                                                           Arranged by Spurgeon.

Today shouts of joy are heard in my office. Thank God for raising up Spurgeon. Spurgeon, though dead, still speaks.


Tuesday, June 2, 2015


Pastors love to stand in the pulpits of great preachers. Even Spurgeon, when visiting Geneva in 1860, was excited to stand in Calvin's pulpit.

During our recent trip to London, I had the opportunity to stand in a few prominent pulpits and Lori had the great privilege of taking photos of me. Enjoy at your own risk.

Our first stop was Westminster Chapel. Pastor Greg Haslam graciously gave us a tour. Pictured is the pulpit that was occupied by  D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. We also were invited into the pastor's vestry (and even saw the Doctor's robes).

The next stop on our pulpit tour was Spurgeon's Metropolitan Tabernacle. We were welcomed into the study of Dr. Peter Masters and allowed to take photos of Spurgeon's pulpit.

                Spurgeon's hand print is obvious and he had a clock built into his pulpit.

Spurgeon's first pastorate was Waterbeach Chapel (just north of Cambridge). Though the original building burned after Spurgeon left for London, he helped the church to rebuild. He commissioned the architect of the Metropolitan Tabernacle to design the new chapel at Waterbeach as a sort of mini-model (interior) of the prominent London Church. Spurgeon returned to Waterbeach annually to preach from the pulpit pictured above (of course without the power point and the silly smile). Pastor and Mrs. Ensell were wonderful hosts.

The final stop on our pulpit tour was Spurgeon's College. Dr. Peter Morden, Vice Principal of the college, gave us a look around. The college now owns the pulpit from which the sermon was delivered the day that Spurgeon was converted. Diverted by a snowstorm from the church where he was headed, Spurgeon ducked into a Primitive Methodist Chapel and heard a message from Isaiah 45:22, "Look unto me and be saved." That day, Spurgeon looked unto Christ and was converted.

Travelling England, looking for Pulpits

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Front Door of the Church

Local churches often face trouble. This is not a surprise, for the Scripture declares the certainty of church division (I Corinthians 11:17-22). However, it is incumbent upon church leaders to act in wisdom when receiving new people into membership. Diligence concerning the reception of church members can go a long way to help church-member-candidates avoid presumption regarding salvation, carelessness in choosing a church, and such diligence cultivates the greater potential for happiness in church relationships.

Recently I had the privilege of viewing a couple of the "Inquirers'" books, from the days of Charles Spurgeon, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle (MT). The books are numbered and contain testimonies concerning those who applied for church membership at the MT. The accounts provide a snapshot into the love and care that the people of the MT received by the elders of the church. Consider the following account from The Sword and the Trowel.

Candidates for church-membership have an interview with one of the Elders, some of whom attend the Tabernacle for that purpose every Wednesday evening. A record is made by the Elder of the result of that interview in what is called the Inquirers' Book. If satisfied with the candidate, he gives a card, which qualifies for direct intercourse with Mr. Spurgeon, who devotes a fixed portion of his time to that office. If Mr. Spurgeon thinks favorable of the individual, the name is announced at a Church meeting, and visitors are appointed to make the most careful inquiries into the whole circumstances connected with the application. If this investigation is satisfactory, the candidate appears at a Church meeting where he is examined by the Pastor, after which he retires, and the visitor gives his report upon the case. It is then proposed to the Church for its adoption, and if approved, the Pastor gives the right hand of fellowship. As soon after this as convenient, the candidate is baptized, and on the next first Sabbath in the month ensuing, unites in the Communion Service, having first been recognized before the whole Church by again receiving from the Pastor the right hand of fellowship. The Sword and Trowel, vol. 1, 1865, 19.
Church membership is only for those who indicate by their testimony and their changed life that they are truly children of God by grace, through faith in Christ. Though pastors do not have the ability to see into the depths of one's heart and to always make a correct analysis of a person's spiritual condition, they do have the responsibility to watch over the church carefully. In part this means that they must be diligent in the reception of people into local church membership. The objective is not to be hardheaded with people, but to love Christ and his people enough to help member candidates through the front door of the church.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Preparedness: Key Quality of the Powerful Teacher

As a pastor, itinerant conference speaker, writer, and seminary student, I spend most of my time either preparing to teach or actually teaching.

Today I read an excellent piece by Rob Jenkins, "The 4 Properties of Powerful Teachers." Jenkins is an associate professor of English at Georgia Perimeter College. Writing about his experiences as a faculty member for 30 years, Jenkins argues:
Those experiences have led me to conclude that, when we boil down all the metrics, we’re left with four qualities that all powerful teachers possess. I’m not just talking about adequate, effective, or even good teachers. I’m talking about the ones who most move us, who have made the most difference in our lives, and whom we most wish to emulate. Perhaps we can’t all be that kind of teacher, but I suspect many of us at least aspire to be. 
Personality, Presence, Preparedness, and Passion.

All of Jenkins' points are excellent, but I want to focus on preparedness. According to Jenkins the foundation of a teacher's preparedness is rooted in his advanced degree. The advanced degree should serve the teacher well in his day-to-day teaching. It is the water-in-the-well that provides the teacher with essential foundational knowledge.

However, water that ponds up is stagnant and teachers, to be excellent, must be fresh. The water needs stirring.

Jenkins offers several points of consideration that, when followed, will help the teacher to become a powerful teacher. If the advanced degree serves as long-term preparation for the teacher: What does the teacher need in the medium term? The powerful teacher needs to be robustly engaged in continuing education. There are several continuing education examples that Jenkins offers (my comments follows them):

Reading: Teachers need to read extensively in their field. Excellent teachers want to know everything that they can know, in the time that they have, about the subject that they are most passionate about.

Attending Conferences and Seminars: Conferences and seminars provide a personal dynamic that reading cannot. Attending an excellent conference led by passionate teachers, inspires, informs, and provides an instructive model. Sadly many pastors seldom (or never) attend conferences and/or many churches never provide them opportunities to attend conferences.

Conducting and Presenting Your Own Research. The joy of discover in research is invigorating for a teacher. It is one thing (a necessary thing) to read the research of others. It is another thing to dig into foundational source material and come to your own conclusions about your topic. When you present (verbally and/or in print) you grow in knowledge, in your skill as a teacher, and in your ability to help your students.

Continue to Learn and Grow as a Teacher. We have all met the teacher who has stopped growing. Well, don't be that teacher. It is not only important to learn all that you can about your field of study but to also learn all that you can about teaching.

A short-term requirement that Jenkins offers for powerful teaching: "Go to every single class meeting as prepared as you can be, given the time you have."

Do you "go to every single class meeting as prepared as you can be, given the time you have?" Teaching is a stewardship. Your students will forgive you for your out-of-style hair, and your lack of knowledge about Taylor Swift's transition from Nashville to New York, but they will not forgive you for wasting their time.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Why Did They Do That? A Reflection on Psalm 36

Why does crossing the line of right and wrong resonate with people? Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart (Psalm 36:1). That verse tells us that a wicked person does wicked things because they have a wicked heart. Sin resonates with people because they love sin, way down deep in their hearts.

The wicked person does not fear God.

Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes (1). 

Sin resonates with the sinner because he does not fear God. When a person fears God, they take God seriously. That is, they really believe that there is a God to whom they are accountable. The wicked person, though they may acknowledge that there is a God, does not really believe--down deep in their heart-of-hearts that God really cares much about what they do. In other words they believe that they can do what they want to do without ultimate consequences.  For he flatters himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated (2).

Have you ever watched one of those seemingly ubiquitous investigative television shows? Featured is a  criminal who gradually raises the stakes. Perhaps he starts out as a petty thief and later becomes an armed robber who murders. Every time that he doesn't get caught, and does not face consequences for his actions, he is emboldened and then he goes a bit further until finally--his day of reckoning comes. This is how the wicked person lives. Because he does not take God seriously, he imagines that he can get away with bad behavior. With that attitude, he just keeps on crossing lines and his friends wonder: "What happened to so-in-so?" And, "How could they do such a thing?" The wicked person formerly did not seem to be so wicked. But now? The words of his mouth are trouble and deceit: he has ceased to act wisely and do good. He plots trouble while on his bed: he sets himself in a way that is not good: he does not reject evil (4). Once he seemed ok but now he is on a bad pathway.

Can the wicked person be rescued?

Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgements are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O LORD (5-6).

God's love is high, high, high and strong, strong, strong, and deep, deep, deep. God is a saving God. But whom does he save?

How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light (7-9).

God saves sinners who "take refuge" in Him. One who takes refuge in God, takes God seriously. And, taking God seriously, he then sees the awfulness of his sin against God and against others. He acknowledges his pride (evidenced in refusal to fear God), he confesses his sin, and he sees the emptiness of his life apart from God. He recognizes that he is in great danger and turns to God for safety and finds in God a "river" of "delights." He finds "life" and "light." If the wicked will turn from his wickedness and turn to God he will find that a "feast" awaits him. He will find life.

Charles Spurgeon proclaimed:
Beware of thinking too little of the fall. Only the Divine Hand can reclaim us. The house of manhood has been shaken to its foundations; each timber is decayed; the leprosy is in the tottering wall. Man must be made new by the same creating hand that first made him, or he can never be a dwelling place fit for God. Let those who boast of their natural goodness look to the Garden of Eden and be ashamed of their pride, and then examine their own actions by the glass of God's most holy Law, and be confounded that they should dream of purity. As our mothers were sinful, such are we, and such will our children be; as long as men are brought into the world by natural generation, we shall be "born in sin and shapen in iniquity;" and, if we are to be accepted by God, we must be born again, and made new creatures in Christ Jesus."
We are sinners by nature and by choice. Our fall is deep, and our sin landed us in such darkness that we cannot be rescued, except by God himself.  God is a merciful God and has sent his son to live the life that we have not and cannot live. Jesus lived and never sinned and always did what was right. Sin never resonated in his righteous heart. Jesus died for sinners, was buried, and was raised again. He is the steadfast love of God and he is willing to save all who will but turn from their sin and turn to him in faith taking "refuge in the shadow of his wings."

What if the wicked person does not look to God for refuge?

There the evildoers lie fallen; they are thrust down, unable to rise (12).

The wicked person, for a time--perhaps a lifetime, swims in the sea of sinful pleasures. They delight in crossing lines. They imagine that there are no consequences for their actions. The problem? They are wrong. There is a God. There is a judgment. They must stand before God and give an account. And--then, it will be too late. They will be "thrurst down, unable to rise." Though the sinner may enjoy the pleasures of sin today, he walks on slippery ground and one day he will fall. And how great the fall will be. The jaws of hell are open and one day the unrepentant sinner will be swallowed up. Oh, sinner--flee from the wrath of God by fleeing to the arms of God by faith in Jesus Christ.

If you have found refuge in God, remember that there was a time when you also--were "dead in your trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2). "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God."(Romans 3:23) And the only reason that you know the steadfast love of God, have found refuge in God, feast at God's table, and drink from the rivers of his delights is because of the mercy and grace of God. Rise up and be thankful, humble, and evangelistic. Take the message of God's saving grace in Christ to those who are enslaved to sin.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Sick in Love

"I am sick with love." 
Song of Solomon 2:5

Lovesickness is prominent in music, books, and movies. However, those mediums usually fail to grasp what it really means to be "sick with love." The Bible, however, gets it right. It is a fascinating book that takes the careful reader by surprise. The Bible offers, The Song of Solomon (SOS), which is certainly surprising. It is surprising, in part, because even Christians, often fail to see, taste, touch, grasp, and ponder the generosity of God. Therefore, when they encounter the lavish generosity of God in the Bible, they are surprised.

God is generous to his children in all things, including marriage. Ephesians chapter five makes it clear that marriage is a portrait of the gospel. Therefore, when reading Solomon's Song it is essential to keep the big picture of marriage in view; Marriage is about Christ and His church. In Solomon's portrayal of the deep, happy, sweet, unselfish, and even giddy love between a man and his wife we should see a snapshot of the treasury of God's generosity to us in Christ.

So, why are we surprised to read of unashamed expressions of marital love in the Bible? The truth is we should be surprised not to find uninhibited displays of romantic/erotic love. Perhaps, we need to saturate ourselves more in the sweet waters of God's goodness.

Our problem with the numerous sexual expressions in SOS is partly the result of a faulty theology of sexuality. Often embedded deep within the recesses of our hearts is the idea that intimacy, even in marriage, is a sort of "guilty pleasure." Sex is perceived to be naughty and dark, even between a husband and his wife.

Marital sex that is rooted in the gospel and driven by the Scripture is not dirty. It is a gift from God to be enjoyed. Marital sex is enjoyed by employing all of our senses with our most sanctified imagination. God is glorified when we receive his gifts and enjoy them for His glory and our good, even our pleasure. God is glorified when we are "sick with love" in a SOS sort-of-way. 

Lovesickness is a good thing. Yes, there is a Nicholas Sparks' love sickness that misses the mark and that is totally unsustainable. It is a worldly kind of "love" that is dreamy, ungrounded, and unstable. It is  lustful "love" that does not require marriage. It is fleshly and wandering. It is celebrated vicariously through books, magazines, the Internet, and the theatre, but it is woefully lacking. It is lacking because, at heart, it is self-centered. Godly marital intimacy, like the gospel that drives it, is first of all directed outwards. The husband seeks to bring pleasure to his wife and the wife to her husband. And both husband and wife find delight in the pleasures of the other. When a wife works in the marriage bed for the joy of her husband, the result is that she experiences greater pleasure than if she focused on her own isolated happiness.

Biblical lovesickness is grounded in Scripture and therefore saturated in the generosity and creativity of God as displayed in the gospel. Biblical lovesickness requires one to swim in the deep waters of God's grace. It requires knowing that God gives to his children not only what they need but also what they do not need. God is generous like that.

When we get wrapped up in eating, drinking, work, and sex for the sensations that such gifts give to us, then we cannot enjoy them, as we ought. When we understand that sex is a gift from God to be enjoyed by working for the rapturous delight of our spouse, to the glory of God, then God will keep us "occupied with joy." (Ecclesiastes 5:20) 

The husband, who views sex from a SOS perspective, would never do anything to purposefully bring pain to his wife. No! He is totally focused on her pleasure. When he focuses on her pleasure, lovesickness is cultivated. And the result will be a heartsickness over anything that deviates from the ultimate well being of their marriage.