Blog Entry

3 Truths from Spurgeon about the 1858 Solar Eclipse

By Christian George Aug 22, 2017

Yesterday, the sun darkened above the Spurgeon Library in Kansas City. Much of the United States witnessed a partial eclipse. But the 70 mile-wide path of the total solar eclipse passed right above our heads.  

This was not the first time the moon withheld light from Spurgeon’s tomes.    

On a Monday afternoon around 1:00 p.m., twenty-four-year-old Spurgeon witnessed the famous solar eclipse of March 15, 1858. (He was only two years old when the previous eclipse dimmed London’s light.)

“We are all expecting tomorrow to witness one of the greatest sights in the universe—the annular eclipse of the sun. It is possible that many of us shall have gone the way of all flesh before such a sight shall again be seen in this country and we are therefore looking for it with some degree of expectation.”

Crowds flocked to Trafalgar Square and throughout London to see the once-every-thirty-year phenomenon. Photography—still an industry in infancy—captured the historic moment as it is happened.

“The whole centre of the sun was quite black,” said one observer standing in the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Spurgeon did more than merely stare at the sky. Like St. Patrick and other Celtic missionaries who evangelized the sun-worshipping druids, Spurgeon seized the opportunity to leverage the eclipse for the kingdom.

The day before, Spurgeon preached a sermon entitled “The Solar Eclipse” (Sermon 183). His text was Isaiah 45:7, “I form the light, and create darkness.”      

“Without a doubt, if there be sermons in stone, there must be a great sermon in the sun.”

Here are three truths Spurgeon saw in the solar eclipse of 1858.

1. Darkness makes us treasure the light.

God sometimes withholds light from humanity. Spurgeon said,

“In providence the eclipse shall sometimes overshadow the earth. I mean, the adversities, the wars, the famines, which sometimes fall on the human race, are but a part of God’s divine plan of governing the earth, and have some beneficial object in their falling upon us. . . . It is equally as much a part of the plan of his providence to reduce the earth to famine, and bring the human race to misery at certain stated seasons, when he sees that an eclipse is absolutely necessary for their good.”

Spurgeon was no stranger to the darkness. When his own physical and emotional health deteriorated in the 1860s, he often had to sing in the shadows.

In his sermon “Songs in the Night,” Spurgeon said,

“It is easy to sing when we can read the notes by daylight; but the skillful singer is he who can sing when there is not a ray of light to read by—who sings from his heart. . . .We can sacrifice to ourselves in day light—we only sacrifice to God by night.”

The Puritans used to say that stars shine the brightest when seen from the deepest wells. John Bunyan would agree. He was inspired to write The Pilgrim’s Progress (Spurgeon’s favorite book outside the Bible) from a prison in Bedford.

“Thank God, whatever eclipse happens to a Christian, it is never a total eclipse: There is always a ring of comfort left, a crescent of love and mercy to shine upon him.”

The same is true for us. In the dark places of our lives, Christ shines brightly. Difficulties may dim our experiences, but they also raise our gaze to the God who “wraps himself in light” (Psalm 104:2). Your pain has a purpose. God uses our midnight moments to help others find the Light.

2. Troubles are temporary. God is unchanging.

Spurgeon experienced plenty of changes in his life. He was a country bumpkin, after all. Yet from the rolling pastures of Essex, Spurgeon moved to the university town of Cambridge. At nineteen, he transitioned to London—the biggest city in the world.  

“It involves no change of the sun when an eclipse overshadows it. The sun has not moved from its predestined spot.”  

The smog-filled neighborhoods in London blocked so much of the preacher’s sunlight that every year he had to retreat to France to experience it again. Yet although Spurgeon’s seasons and scenery changed, the God he worshipped never did. Small wonder that Spurgeon’s first sermon at London’s New Park Street Chapel was “The Immutability of God.” 

“God’s glory is undimmed, even when the eye cannot see it.”

God has a remarkable knack for taking us out of our comfort zones. Isn’t that how the gospel first spread throughout the Roman Empire? Peter, Andrew, James, and John probably thought they would spend the rest of their lives fishing from the blue waters of Galilee. But Jesus rocked their boats and sent them to the ends of the earth. Yet, even there, Christ assured them, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

The solar eclipse in 1858 reminded Spurgeon that the Christ who took him from the meandering streams in Cambridgeshire wouldn’t abandon him on the southern bank of the River Thames.

“Your sickness, your bereavement, your contempt, all these things are as much ordained for you, and settled in the path of providence, as your wealth, your comfort, and your joy. Think not that God has changed. It involves no change of the sun when an eclipse overshadows it.”  

3. Jesus experienced a solar eclipse, too.

Spurgeon never preached a sermon that didn’t crescendo to Christ. Even though the doctrine of substitutionary atonement had fallen out of fashion near the end of his life, Spurgeon never hesitated to declare that Jesus absorbed the full wrath of the Father on behalf of sinners.

“When God creates light he has a reason for it, and when he creates darkness he has a reason for it too.”

As Christ hung from the cross, the noonday sun was blocked and “darkness came over all the land” (Matthew 27:45). We don’t know exactly how this happened, whether by natural or supernatural means. But this we know: the Son of God experienced the absence of his Father’s light and cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

Spurgeon concluded his sermon on the 1858 solar eclipse with these words:

“May God the Holy Spirit first teach you that you are a sinner, then lead you to believe that Christ died for sinners, and then apply the promise, so that you may see that he died for you; and that done, you may ‘rejoice in hope of the glory of God,’ and your sun shall never set in an eclipse, but shall set on earth to rise with tenfold splendor in the upper sphere, where it shall never know a cloud, a setting, or an eclipse.”

A Final Word

The next time a total solar eclipse darkens the Spurgeon Library, none of us will be here to see it. That’s one great impact of a solar eclipse—it connects us to the past while pointing to the future.

One day, there will be no sun to eclipse.

John wrote, “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp” (Revelation 21:32).

Until then, let’s avoid stealing God’s glory by blocking out his light. After all, the “ungrateful moon,” as Spurgeon said, “would be a black blot if the sun did not shine on her.”  

Instead, let’s fix our eyes through the sun to the Son and “look at him while he is shining brightly.”