“Friendship seems as necessary an element of a comfortable existence in this world as fire or water, or even air itself.” – Charles Spurgeon
The Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon, has had a major impact on the evangelical world for many generations. His sermons and writings have shaped many ministries, and his work has stood the test of time. For this young preacher, I can’t say that anyone has had more of an influence on me than Charles Haddon Spurgeon. His voice seems to always bellow through the words on each page I read. He has been a stick in the wildfire of my imagination, and I am so grateful that God has preserved his work for so many to enjoy.
I think what draws me to Spurgeon the most is his honesty about his mental health. In one of his many sermons, he is quoted saying this, “My spirits were sunken so low that I could weep by the hour like a child, and yet I knew not what I wept for.” In a filtered world, filled with so many so-called ‘mighty men of God’ Spurgeon is a breath of honest fresh air. Can you relate to what he’s saying? I can. There are times my soul is so troubled, and I’ll ask myself, “Why are you so downcast oh my soul?” Yet, Spurgeon has taught me to rejoice and say, “How glorious is this downcast!” I would not trade this downcast for all the tranquility in the world. The further downcast I am, the higher my gaze toward Christ becomes. God has a mysterious way of showing Himself strong, through making us weak. God has a mysterious way of holding us through a storm, then leading us by still waters.
Spurgeon has shown me that it is not the strongest men who are most used by God, but the weakest. Strong men don’t have a great need for God, since they are so self-reliant. Weak men have a great need for Christ, since they have nothing else to rely upon. That’s why Spurgeon says, “I have a great need for Christ, and I have a great Christ for my need.”
Still, there are things we need to survive in this life. Air, water, and food. In the same way, there are things God provides to help our faith survive until our last breath. Means of grace like His Word, the local church, and Gospel friendships. We need the Word, we need the church, and we need gospel friendships. We have a great necessity in our soul for Christian friends. On this pilgrimage, we need others to spur us on, to tell us the truth, and to help us believe.
God provided Spurgeon one of the most unlikely friends imaginable. Thomas Johnson was an African American, born into slavery in Virginia in the 1800’s. The first freedom Johnson experienced was not physical, but spiritual. He was converted after hearing the gospel, and he said this, “As if a great burden was suddenly lifted, and the freedom that I had longed for was given to me, not in freedom from physical chains, but in the true freedom of my soul.” This was his first, and greatest experience with freedom. Not long after this conversion, he was given his physical freedom.
Johnson was led by God to lay his life down as a missionary to Africa. And through God’s providence he was able to become a student under Charles Spurgeon. Their first meeting really set the course for the rest of their friendship. Johnson noticed the trouble in the soul of Spurgeon, and had the courage to tell the distinguished preacher what he saw. The story goes that Johnson took the trembling hands of Spurgeon and said, “What about all of your sufferings that nobody can see?” Allow this scene to settle in your mind. A world-renown white English preacher, and an African American slave holding hands, and the now-freed slave providing spiritual healing, and spiritual freedom through genuine concern, and truthful speech. This friendship continued, and Johnson was by Spurgeon’s bedside as he took his last breath.
The wonderful moral of this story is that we need friends. We need other Christians who are going to see through the windows of our eyes, into the stormy seas of our souls, and have the courage enough to tell us the truth. We need brothers and sisters to bear our burdens. We need friends, like we need air. Charles Spurgeon needed Thomas Johnson, and Thomas Johnson needed Charles Spurgeon.
God has provided plenty of air for us to breath, and survive. God has also ordained friendships all around us. We are called to cultivate these friendships, to be intentional, genuine, and vulnerable. God has ordained it this way. We will all stumble at times on this pilgrimage, and only those who cultivated friendships, will have someone to pick them.