Spurgeon Broke with His Puritan Heroes on Celebrating Christmas
Christmas is a time to feast—to remember the great gift of God’s Son, to display concern for the poor, and to rejoice in the Lord.
On Sunday morning December 23, 1860, Charles Spurgeon preached a sermon from Job 1:4-5 that he titled, “A Merry Christmas.”
His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually. (Job 1:4-5)
The text seems a surprising one for a Christmas sermon but Spurgeon, nevertheless, skillfully applied it to the celebration at hand.
Spurgeon was a lover of the great Puritans of old. He was born, raised, and he lived until he was 19 years old in rural England just north of London—areas where Puritans had walked, ministered, and died. He was introduced to the Puritans via his grandfather’s library in Stambourne. There he had his first encounter with Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. His grandfather (a pastor) was arguably the most important early influence on Spurgeon. He lived, preached, and even looked like a Puritan. When Spurgeon died in January 1892, he had about 12K books in his library, half of which were books either by or about the Puritans. All that to say, Spurgeon’s Puritan credentials were rock solid.
However, he broke with his beloved Puritans on the subject of Christmas. Many of the Puritans viewed Christmas a popish celebration not to be welcomed by godly people into their homes. In Cromwell’s time, the town crier rode through the village decrying Christmas. They exhorted villagers not to feast in celebration of Christmas. Spurgeon imagined the townsfolks laughing and rejecting the crier’s exhortation as they made their way into their homes to prepare their tables for a time of feasting.
Spurgeon saw in the Job passage a family who gathered to feast without condemnation from Job or anyone else. Feasting was sanctioned by God and a good thing for a family to do—it indicated family unity and health and reflected their thanksgiving to God. Job, unlike the Puritan town crier, did not denounce the feast.
Spurgeon realized that any good thing could result in a bad outcome—including the feast. He recognized the dangers of feasting and merry making. Drinking could turn to drunkenness, feasting to gluttony, godly conversation to slander, gossip, and other kinds of unwholesome speech. Sin might usurp an otherwise good feast in even the godliest of homes. That’s why Job not only condoned their celebrations—he also made sacrifices on his children’s behalf for “It may be that my children have sinned.” Not—that they did sin but in case they sinned—and Job, the most righteous man on the earth—was concerned about his family’s holiness.
A Time to Ring the Merry Bell
Spurgeon saw the feasting of Job’s family as a “festive time” a time to “ring the merry bell.” And, employing their example, he said that all Christians have a license to celebrate.
“Now, ye souls who would deny to your fellow men all sorts of mirth, come and listen to the merry bell of this text, while it gives a license to the righteous especially—a license that they meet together in their houses, and eat and drink, and praise their God.”
Spurgeon surveyed his congregation; It’s not difficult to imagine a smile stretching across his face when he said, “You will meet next Tuesday [Christmas Day], and you will feast, and you will rejoice, and each of you, as God has given you substance, will endeavour to make your household glad.”
And then—with a burst of encouragement, he declared: “It’s not wrong [to celebrate, to feast at Christmas time]—You have a license to do so.”
Looking to Job, Spurgeon exhorted, “Feasting is not a wrong thing or else Job would have forbidden it to his children.” He further justified feasting by looking to Abraham, Sampson, David, Hezekiah, Josiah, others of the Kings “who gave to every man a loaf of bread, and a good piece of flesh, and a flagon of wine.” Those men “cheered their hearts and made merry before God.”
Feasting was commanded in the Old Testament—with various feasts being enjoined upon Israel. And, though the old feasts passed away—Jesus feasted and celebrated. His first miracle was at a wedding. Spurgeon asked: “Do you suppose that he went there and did not eat and drink? Was it not said of him, ‘Behold a drunken man and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners?’” Of course, as Spurgeon proclaimed, Jesus was not a drunken man or a wine bibber—but, ‘he came eating and drinking,’ to dash to pieces the Pharisaism which says “that which goeth into a man defileth a man.”
Spurgeon believed “that at the marriage feast, he [Jesus] joined with the guests” in drinking and feasting and likely he seemed,
“the gladdest of guests, most glad because he was the master of the feast, and because he saw in the wedding the type of his own marriage, his own divine espousals with the Church, which is ‘the bride, the Lamb’s wife.”
Free to Celebrate Christ’s Incarnation
Celebrating Christmas is not wrong. You have a license. Prepare the table, deck the halls, turn the music up, uncork the Welch’s (for my fellow Baptists), share some gifts—and dance if you are so inclined—its Christmas time—time to ring the Merry Bell.
But—sin is always “crouching at the door.” Spurgeon said that “Job only feared lest a wrong thing should be made out of a right thing.” That’s why Job offered sacrifices—in case his children had sinned in the midst of their rightful celebration. But—Job “by no means condemned it [the feasting].”
Fight temptation that will certainly come knocking. Don’t let sin crash your party—and leave you regretting words spoken or unspoken, attitudes unchecked, grumpiness, and unwholesome speech that dampens the merriment of celebrating God for his good gifts—especially the Incarnation of his Son.
God has certainly made in this world provision for man’s feasting. He has not given just dry bread enough for a man to eat, and keep body and soul together, for the harvests teem with plenty, and often are the barns filled to bursting. O Lord, thou didst not give simply dry bread and water for mankind, but thou hast filled the earth with plenty, and milk and honey hast thou given to us; and thou hast besides this laden the trees with fruit and given to men dainties. Thou art not illiberal; thou dost not dole out with miserable hand the lean and scanty charity which some men would give to the poor, but thou givest liberally, and thou upbraidest not! And for what purpose is this given? to rot, to mould, to be trodden on, to be spoiled? no, but that men may have more than enough, that they may have all they want, and may rejoice before their God, and may feed the hungry, for this indeed is one essential and necessary part of all true feasting.
Christmas is a time to feast—to remember the great gift of God’s Son, to display concern for the poor, and to rejoice in the Lord. It is a time to “ring the merry bell” as we worship God for his lavish kindness.
(Quotes from Spurgeon’s Sermon “A Merry Christmas” delivered on December 23, 1860.)