This week as we pause to remember the terror attack on September 11, 2001, our prayers go out to the families suffering from the memory of the horrific tragedy. Sixteen years ago, 2,996 lives were lost in the coordinated attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C, and the hijacking of United Airlines Flight 93.
When African missionary David Livingstone died in 1873, a sermon by Charles Spurgeon was discovered in his pocket. The text of the sermon, preached by Spurgeon twelve years prior, was Luke 13:1-15 and the falling tower of Siloam. At the top of the tattered page, Livingstone wrote the approving words, “Very Good. D. L.”
In his sermon, Spurgeon addressed the tragedy of the sudden loss of life:
“The year 1861 will have a notoriety among its fellows as the year of calamities…We have had not only one incident for every day in the week, but two or three; we have not simply been stunned with the alarming noise of one terrific clash, but another, and another, and another. . . . Do not think that God’s providence has become more lax than it was, there always were sudden deaths, and there always will be.”
The words of his sermon brought comfort to his London congregation—a melting pot of working class Victorians constantly exposed to the tragic loss of human life. Death was a constant reality for those living in mid-nineteenth-century London. Spurgeon walked the banks of the River Thames often with tears in his eyes for those he saw in his ever-expanding city of two million citizens. Reoccurring cholera outbreaks, the brutal conditions of factory workers, construction accidents, and sudden surges of populations were common. No wonder Spurgeon sermons are flavored with words of comfort for those grieving the loss of life.
“As I look for a moment upon the poor mangled bodies of those who have been so suddenly slain, my eyes find tears.”
Over the course of his ministry, Spurgeon preached three sermons on September 11: “Songs for Desolate Hearts” (1865), “Light for Those Who Sit in Darkness” (1871), and “Is it Nothing to You?” (1881). In each of these sermons, Spurgeon confronts the fear, depression, grief, and trauma that comes with the sudden loss of human life. But he also offers hope in Jesus Christ—hope that, in light of our own nation’s collective mourning of September 11 and the other tragedies in our country and world, takes on new meaning:
“Glory be to God; when sorrow has brought on a midnight, grace can transform it into noon.”
“Be of good comfort, then, ye that sit in darkness: there are special promises for you.”
“What is my desolation? It is the black setting for the sapphire of his everlasting love.”
“My Saviour’s death is to me all things, I could live and die contemplating it. It stirs my blood, it opens the fountains of mine eyes, and makes my inmost heart dissolve.”
“You want to love Christ, but instead of a furnace of love, you can only find a spark in your soul.”
“The true light for a soul all in darkness is all in Christ.”
“Be not, therefore, cast down with any sudden fear, neither be ye troubled by these calamities. Go about your business, and if your avocations should call you to cross the field of death itself, do it, and do it bravely.”
“Punishment belongs not to this world, but to the world to come.”
“The visitation of God’s mercy should soon come to make desolation itself glad.”
“Courage! my brethren, courage! We cannot fail, for Christ is with us; and we must not cease, for Jesus ceases not.”
“God grant that that once dying may perpetually be in our minds, till we die daily, and find it not hard work to die at the last.”
The Cavity of the Cross
If you go to the 9/11 Memorial beside the World Trade Center in New York City, you’ll see the two cavities where the Twin Towers once stood. Streams of water, like tears, perpetually weep from the edges of the walls before disappearing into what appears to be a bottomless drain.
“I point you to the cross, and to the Man of sorrows there.”
Why does God allow suffering, violence, death, and terrorism? There are no easy answers. But with Spurgeon, we look to the cross—that moment in human history when Christ absorbed the terror of our transgressions “so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Our sins, many as they are, forever disappear in the cavity of the cross. And one day, God will wipe away our tears, and there will be a new world and the dead shall rise to eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:52).
Until then, may the Christ who suffered with us and for us also suffer through us as this week we “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).