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Counseling from the Pulpit: Spurgeon on Anxiety

Brandon Rhea December 8, 2020

Between COVID-19 and the presidential election, this year’s events have contributed to and exposed the always present sin of anxiety. Recently, the New York Times published an article highlighting a remedy—edible marijuana—which grows in usage and acceptability in our society. To combat the stress caused by the November 3rd election, some people turned to a drug “in the form of gummy bears, cookies, chocolates and gel capsules, all infused with a dose of cannabis.”[1] These people, including grandmas and working mothers, put their trust in this drug to quiet the torrent of waves in their soul. Of course, these measures fail to bring lasting peace. After establishing the habit of eating marijuana-infused food, these individuals had to buy more and more, because this temporary peace vanished like a mirage.

In contrast, Charles Spurgeon put forward God’s spiritual remedy to overcome the spiritual problem of anxiety. On Thursday, January 12, 1888, Spurgeon preached from Philippians 4:6-7, entitling his message, “Prayer, The Cure for Care.” He took his title from the KJV translation, which employed “care” for “anxiety” to translate the Greek word.  In his discourse, he argued three points to free the Christian from anxiety.

First, Spurgeon believed that anxiety is a sin. He proclaimed, “The indulgence of this evil habit of anxiety leads to its getting dominion over life, till life is not worth living by reason of the care we have about it.”[2] To be set free from its cold chains, a Christian must see anxiety as evil and as a life-dominating sin. Instead of bringing peace, anxiety produces chaos, desperation, and despair.

Moreover, anxiety has no limits. Anything and everything can become fodder for this sin. According to Spurgeon, “You can always find a stick with which to beat a dog and if you want a care, you can generally find a care with which to beat your own souls; but that is a poor occupation for any of you.”[3] Thus, once a person establishes the habit of anxiety, there will be no escape. His fears will metastasize to all areas of life.

In addition to viewing anxiety as a sin, Spurgeon’s second point provides a remedy—prayer. With every temptation to be anxious, Spurgeon calls sinners to “turn everything that might be a subject of care into a subject of prayer.”[4] What if you have many cares or causes for anxiety? Spurgeon retorts, if “[c]ares are manifold and therefore, let your prayers be as manifold. Turn everything that is a care into a prayer.”[5]

To illustrate the point, Spurgeon compares a Christian to an alchemist who knows the proper way to make new metals. Spurgeon exhorted, “Let your cares be the raw material of your prayers, and as the alchemists hoped to turn dross into gold, so do you, by a holy alchemy, actually turn what naturally would have been a care into spiritual treasure in the form of prayer. Baptize every anxiety into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and so make it into a blessing.”[6] Consequently, through the temptation of anxiety, a Christian cries out to the Triune God in prayer.

What if a person is worried about his financial needs? Spurgeon recommends the same remedy of prayer. “If you have a large family, a slender income, and much ado to make ends meet, and to provide things honest in the sight of all men,” writes Spurgeon, “you have so many excuses for knocking at God’s door, so many more reasons for being often found at the throne of grace.”[7] In Spurgeon’s view, God will never reject one of His children. Knock away because He will open the door.

To prove the point, Spurgeon compares God’s response to being asked for help to the response of a friend. He states, “You may call on a friend too often when you are hard up; he may be very pleased to see you till he hears what you are after; but if you go to your God, he will never give you the cold shoulder, he will never say that you come too often. On the contrary, He will even chide you because you do not come to Him often enough.”[8] God does not shut the door on a needy soul, and in fact, He will rebuke you for not knocking more frequently in your times of need.

What if a person is anxious about the future? Once again, Spurgeon exhorts the faint-hearted to prayer. Spurgeon advises, “Indeed, when you are in such a fog that you cannot see the next lamp, then is the time that you must pray. The road will clear before you very suddenly.”[9] An anxious heart, therefore, should not fret over his blindness, but he should entrust himself to God who sees all, knows all, and controls all.

Ultimately, in Spurgeon’s understanding, anxiety attacks God’s providence, because the anxious person acts as if he can rule his life better than God. Spurgeon admits the temptation “to try to wrest from the hand of God that office of providence which belongs to Him and not to ourselves.”[10] In the process, the anxious man tries to trade his responsibilities with God. Spurgeon continues, “It is making yourself the father of the household instead of being a child. It is making yourself the master instead of being a servant, for whom the master provides his rations.”[11] Instead of trusting in oneself to bring relief, believers “plant [their] feet upon the invisible, which is, after all, the eternal!”[12]

If prayer—an exercise of faith in God—provides the only remedy for anxiety, how does an anxious soul pray? Spurgeon instructs us:

            Get alone, and tell the Lord what you want; pour out your heart before him. Do not           imagine that God needs any fine language. No, you need not run upstairs for your prayer-     book, and turn to a prayer, you will be a long time before you find any stated prayer that   will fit you if you are really praying. Pray for what you want just as if you were telling            your mother or your dearest friend what your need is. Go to God in that fashion, for that           is real prayer, and that is the kind of prayer that will drive away your care.[13]

In this manner, a heart filled with turmoil may go before the One who calms the seas.

Spurgeon’s third and final point focuses on the result. Prayer brings inner peace. The preacher asks, “What is God’s peace? The unruffled serenity of the infinitely-happy God, the eternal composure of the absolutely well-contented God. This shall possess your heart and mind.”[14] For Spurgeon, God promises to bring tranquility, calm, and security for the anxious soul even when his circumstances look tumultuous and purposeless.

Only a Christian and not an unbeliever, however, can rest on this promise. “If you have a sham god and you merely go to church or chapel,” your empty religious actions cannot bring dawn to your midnight soul.[15] Yet, according to Spurgeon, “if you have a living God and you have real fellowship with him and constantly, as a habit, live beneath the shadow of the wings of the Almighty, then you shall enjoy a peace that shall make others wonder and make you yourself marvel, too.”[16] 

Spurgeon’s sermon did not take place in a vacuum. Three months earlier, October 29, 1887, he resigned from the Baptist Union over the Downgrade Controversy.[17] In his view, some of the pastors in the denomination were sliding into error, and the denominational leaders failed to take actions to correct it. Despite his resignation, the Controversy continued to rage. Leaders in the denomination including John Clifford requested a meeting with Spurgeon on the day he preached this sermon on anxiety.[18] They would meet the following day, Friday, January 13, 1888. More than likely, Spurgeon preached this text to himself along with his hearers to calm his soul in anticipation of this crucial appointment. He needed to hear God’s solution to anxiety too—prayer.

If, therefore, you remain in perpetual anxiety and fear, imitate Spurgeon by preaching God’s truth to yourself. Do not turn to edible marijuana, alcohol, or mindless entertainment to cope with the raging hurricane tide surge which drowns hope from your soul. Instead, remember that anxiety is an evil sin, prayer is the only cure, and the God to whom you pray promises peace as the eye of your storm.

Brandon Rhea is a pastor, Ph.D. student in Historical Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, and an ACBC certified Biblical counselor. He met his wife, Karise, while doing pulpit supply in 2013-14.  In April 2016, he accepted the call to pastor at Faith Baptist Church in Kirksville, Missouri. He loves history and has a heart for street preaching and evangelism. 

            [1] Sheera Frenkel , “The Election’s Over, but Not the Stress. Any Edibles Left?,” The New York Times, 11/25/2020,

            [2] Charles Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vols. 7-63 (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1972-2006), 40:110. In the following citations, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit will be shortened to MTP.

            [3] Ibid., 111-112.

            [4] Ibid., 112.

            [5] Ibid., 110.

            [6] Ibid.

            [7] Ibid., 111.

            [8] Ibid., 115.

            [9] Ibid., 111.

            [10] Ibid., 109.

            [11] Ibid., 112.

            [12] Ibid., 113.

            [13] Ibid., 115.

            [14] Ibid., 116.

            [15] Ibid., 117.

            [16] Ibid.

            [17] Mark Hopkins, Nonconformity’s Romantic Generation: Evangelical and Liberal Theologies in Victorian England, Studies in Evangelical History and Thought, (Milton Keyes: Paternoster and Wipf and Stock, 2006), 202.

            [18] Ibid., 213.

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