If you haven’t fallen in love with a dead person yet, you really should try it.
They say love makes you fall “head over heels.” But for me, it happened the other way around. I fell in love with Charles Spurgeon heels over head.
It all started when my father took me on a pilgrimage to England. We visited the chapel in Colchester where Spurgeon was converted, the river in Isleham where he was baptized, the Tabernacle in London where he ministered for nearly forty years. We saw Spurgeon’s tomb, his college, his house, and a dozen other haunts inhabited by the Victorian preacher.
Everything changed after that.
Spurgeon’s biographies came rushing to life. His sermons, illustrations, and analogies found living color within my teenaged soul.
And so it began.
My love affair with a Victorian morphed into a college paper, a master’s thesis, a PhD, a Lost Sermons project, a Spurgeon Library, and now a twice-weekly blog.
Even today, as I read Spurgeon’s glowing words, my heart strangely warms. Some of the greatest preachers in the English language have also felt this fire:
Martyn Lloyd-Jones: “I never tire of reading about him or anything connected to [Spurgeon]” (Eric Hayden, History of Tabernacle, preface).
W. A. Criswell: “When I get to Heaven, after I see the Saviour and my own dear family, I want to see Charles Haddon Spurgeon. To me he is the greatest preacher who ever lived” (NPSP 1:jacket cover).
Billy Graham: “I can think of no group of sermons that will mean more to sincere Gospel preachers of today than these great messages from the Word of God burning with the passion that marked Charles Spurgeon’s ministry” (The Watchman Examiner, January 24, 1952, 96).
My advice? “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). Go fall in love with dead pastors, preachers, theologians, authors, missionaries, or martyrs. Spend the rest of your life reading them, courting them. Get inside their heads. Get inside their hearts. Sit at their feet. Let them encourage you, challenge you, rebuke you, improve you. Find a soul mate, feed your crush, date the dead.
Why? Because like Abel who “still speaks, even though he is dead” (Hebrews 11:4), dead people still have something to say. They have something to teach us about the faith we hold precious.
However, as you pursue your own historical romance, allow me to offer three words of encouragement from mine:
1. Fall in love passionately. Go back to the future.
The same principle is true in football, soccer, hockey, and any sport: to send an object forward we have to reach backwards.
Our faith works like this too. In order to go into the future, we must reach into the past. We must go back to the future.
How else can we avoid making yesterday’s mistakes tomorrow? Church history reminds us we are not the first ones or the last ones to live out our faith. Others have walked this road, fought these sins, prayed these prayers, served this Christ.
The past teaches the present about how to go into the future.
The goal is not to hoard or squander our faith on the sideline. The goal is to pass the ball downfield to someone who can take it further:
“Through a long line of bold forefathers the banner of the truth has been handed down to you. From the Anabaptists, and the Covenanters, and the Puritans, and men of whom the world was not worthy, its folds have passed down to your protecting care” (C. H. Spurgeon, MTP 15:573).
Want to fall in love but don’t know where to start? Try speed-dating the dead. Read a book or two and then move on until you’ve found the one.
2. Fall in love prudently. Intimacy can lead to idolatry.
Whenever something enters your heart, it travels through your entire circulatory system. Love infects all of us, not just part of us.
Unchecked intimacy can lead to idolatry, which Spurgeon defined as “putting man where God should be” (MTP 8:186):
“We may very easily make an idol of anything, and in different ways. No doubt many mothers and fathers make idols of their children, and so many husbands and wives idolize each other, and we may even make idols of ministers, even as there were idol shepherds of old” (MTP 23:97).
“Any form of love which divides the heart from Jesus is idolatry” (MTP 23:104).
“If there is anything you would not give up for God it is your idol” (MTP 30:581).
“We are all far too prone to trust in something else instead of in God; and God is always jealous of these rivals” (MTP 47:309).
“We can make a god of anything by valuing it more than we do our Saviour, or by trusting in it beyond our God, or by refusing to trust in him apart from it” (MTP 40:457).
Spurgeon even preferred the accusation of murder to idolatry:
“Murder, great as the offense is, is but the slaying of man; but idolatry is in its essence the killing of God; it is the attempt to thrust the Eternal Jehovah out of his seat” (NPSP 5:266).
When you invite Spurgeon or anyone else into your heart, be sure to keep them in their proper place. A prudent love prevents us from elevating the creature (and preacher) over the Creator. After all, God’s middle name is Jealous (Exodus 34:14) and the throne belongs to Christ alone.
3. Fall in love purposefully. Look through, not just to.
Every time I walk into the Spurgeon Library, I pass through a transparent portrait of Spurgeon frosted into the glass door. It reminds me to look not just to Spurgeon but through Spurgeon to Jesus Christ.
Before its renovation, the library was the seminary chapel. The danger in putting Spurgeon in a chapel is the temptation to worship him. Yet insomuch as Spurgeon helps us see Christ, we do well to remember his life, legacy, and library.
That’s what church history does best. It exposes what God’s been up to in the lives of his people. It reveals God’s grand narrative of redemption and reminds us we are part of the story.
“The church, like a good ship beaten by the waves, has cut through every billow, and has been hastened on her way by the storm” (MTP 14:46).
Spurgeon admired the heroes, preachers, and martyrs of the past and urged his church to remember their witnesses:
“Learn, from Church History, what [God] has done from the days of Christ’s sojourn upon the earth until now” (MTP 49:449).
“God has purposely put his treasure in earthen vessels that the excellency of the power should be ascribed to himself alone” (C. H. Spurgeon, Eccentric Preachers, preface).
The Son Who Caused the Shadow
Spurgeon once said, “I would fling my shadow through eternal ages if I could” (W. A. Fullerton, C. H. Spurgeon, p. 181).
Truly, his shadow has spanned the century. In this Age of Information, it’s possible Spurgeon will gain more readers in the twenty-first century than he did in the nineteenth.
So let’s learn from the past. Fall in love with a dead guy. Live to make Christ famous. Because one day, someone in the future is going to fall in love with you.
When that happens, let’s make sure they see not just the shadow, but the Son who caused the shadow.