Charles Spurgeon’s body slumped beneath the cruel pain of gout and kidney disease. He was downcast in the dark valley of depression. And, he was embroiled in the last great theological battle of his life, the Down-Grade Controversy (1887-1890). During that time, he picked up his Bible to meditate deeply on the promises of God contained therein. It was then that he began writing his devotional work, The Cheque Book of the Bank of Faith.

“I commenced these daily portions when I was wading in the surf of controversy. Since then I have been cast into ‘waters to swim in,’ which, but for God’s upholding hand, would have proved waters to drown in. I have endured tribulation from many flails. Sharp bodily pain succeeded mental depression, and this was accompanied both by bereavement, and affliction in the person of one dear as life [Susannah]. The waters rolled in continually, wave upon wave. I do not mention this to exact sympathy, but simply to let the reader see that I am no dry-land sailor. I have traversed those oceans which are not Pacific full many a time: I know the roll of the billows, and the rush of the winds. Never were the promises of Jehovah so precious to me as at this hour. Some of them I never understood till now; I had not reached the date at which they matured, for I was not myself mature enough to perceive their meaning.”

Spurgeon was 53 when he wrote those words. He died four years later.

Spurgeon writes for Christians who are tossed about in threatening waters of trouble. His words are valuable for all Christians, but especially for those in local church ministry.

For Spurgeon, it was theological controversy, physical illness, mental depression, and the grief that he felt over the afflictions that wracked his dear Susannah’s body. It is interesting that he made the connection between mental depression and physical pain. It is well-known now that either one can produce the other in an individual suffering from either a sad spirit or bodily illness.

Susannah Spurgeon wrote: “Depression of spirit is frequently the outcome of oppression of the flesh.” She warned that it is during those times that “Satan, ever on the alert to vex, if he cannot harm us, takes advantage of our sad condition to insinuate doubts and fears which we should not tolerate when in vigorous health.”

Both Charles and Susannah were ahead of their times in understanding the connection between mental health, physical pain, and spiritual challenges. Both encouraged their readers to fight spiritual temptations, resulting from such difficulties, by prayer and by embracing the promises of God.

The anvil of theological controversy

Spurgeon’s experience offers a few helpful observations for the poor soul who is cast into the dangerous waters of trial.

Spurgeon found, in the “wave upon wave” that battered him, that the promises of God were especially precious. It was during the Down-Grade Controversy that he truly understood some of God’s promises for the first time. The suffering Christian is looking for hope when swimming in the treacherous ocean of suffering. Spurgeon found such hope in the promises of God.

While enduring “tribulation from many flails,” Spurgeon’s appreciation for the Bible grew. He asserted:

“How much more wonderful is the Bible to me now than it was a few months ago! In obeying the Lord, and bearing his reproach outside the camp, I have not received new promises; but the result to me is much the same as if I had done so, for the old ones have opened up to me with richer stores.”

Along with the decline of Spurgeon’s health, and his sadness of heart, the “Prince of Preachers” lost a number of friends during the controversy. Sounding the warning about theological declension was an alarm that was not appreciated by those whose first priority was unity. Spurgeon too desired unity, but not at the cost of Biblical truth. As we stand back these 127 years and reflect on the Down-Grade Controversy, it is difficult for us to understand the depth of Spurgeon’s pain. Susannah felt that it was this last great theological battle that ultimately cost Spurgeon his life.

Words of encouragement

Perhaps you are presently facing the “roll of the billows, and the rush of the winds.” If so, Spurgeon’s counsel is medicinal for you, especially if you are suffering on the front lines of gospel ministry. Here are seven words of encouragement from Spurgeon’s pen:

  1. God is good. Spurgeon declared that it was his desire to “comfort some of my Master’s servants! I would say to them in their trials—My brethren, God is good.”
  1. God will not forsake you. Because God is good, he will never abandon his people. Spurgeon encouraged his readers “that God will bear you through.”
  1. God awaits your prayers of faith. “There is a promise prepared for your present emergencies; and if you will believe and plead it at the mercy-seat through Jesus Christ, you shall see the hand of God stretched out to help you.”
  1. God’s Word will not fail you. “Everything else will fail, but his word never will.”
  1. God is supremely trustworthy. Spurgeon offers a personal testimony: “He has been to me so faithful in countless instances that I must encourage you to trust him. I should be ungrateful to God and unkind to you if I did not do so.” He further said: “God is glorified when his servants trust him implicitly.”
  1. God’s power is necessary. “I know that, without his divine power, all that I can say will be of no avail; but, under his quickening influence, even the humblest testimony will confirm feeble knees, and strengthen weak hands.”
  1. God is a loving heavenly Father. “Our young ones ask no question about our will or our power, but having once received a promise from the Father, they rejoice in the prospect of its fulfillment, never doubting that it is as sure as the sun.” Spurgeon wanted his readers to “discover the duty and delight of such child-like trust in God” as they read The Cheque Book of the Bank of Faith.

Standing on the promises

What must we do with God’s promises? Spurgeon taught that the believer is “to take the promise and endorse it with his own name by personally receiving it as true. He is by faith to accept it as his own. He sets to his seal that God is true, as true as to this particular word of promise.”

Do you believe that God is trustworthy? Spurgeon declared, “God has given no pledge which he will not redeem, and encouraged no hope which he will not fulfill.” Dear sufferer, as Spurgeon did in the heat of battle, run to your Bible, rediscover the promises of God, and trust him who has made such gracious pledges to his dear children.