It’s true. Charles Spurgeon had a love/hate relationship with Christmas. In seventeenth-century England, Christmas was often associated with moral laxity and splurging. The Puritans resisted the Roman Catholic flavor of the festivities, and so did Spurgeon. Like his predecessors, the preacher often played the Scrooge and humbugged the holiday.
“Certainly we do not believe in the present ecclesiastical arrangement called Christmas: first, because we do not believe in the mass at all, but abhor it, whether it be said or sung in Latin or in English; and, secondly, because we find no Scriptural warrant whatever for observing any day as the birthday of the Savior; and, consequently, its observance is a superstition, because [it is] not of divine authority.”
“Many would not consider they had kept Christmas in a proper manner, if they did not verge on gluttony and drunkenness.”
“If there be any day in the year of which we may be pretty sure that it was not the day on which the Saviour was born, it is the twenty-fifth of December.”
But Spurgeon also loved Christmas. He preached at least twelve sermons on Christmas.
“I wish there were twenty Christmas days in the year.”
When Spurgeon’s grandfather was a boy, Christmas had fallen out of fashion among low-church traditions. However, as a child in the 1840s, Charles saw a total revitalization of the holiday in his nation. Spurgeon was nine years old when Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol – a story highlighting the struggles of the working class and put a premium on generosity and selflessness. Spurgeon loved this bestselling story and even purchased a copy to include in his personal library.
Spurgeon and Dickens both understood the difficulties of their day and worked hard to help the marginalized. They both also shared an intimate knowledge of London’s poverty-stricken Southwark. In fact, Dickens’s father was imprisoned only a few blocks from where Spurgeon’s New Park Street Chapel stood (not far from Shakespeare's Globe Theatre).
When Spurgeon was fourteen years old, Queen Victoria and her German husband, Albert, brought new life to Christmas. In 1848, The Illustrated London News published a picture of the royal family gathered around a Christmas tree. When he moved to London in 1854, Spurgeon’s puritanical reservations about Christmas were confronted with a new emphasis: the importance of family.
“Though I have no respect to the religious observance of the day, yet I love it as a family institution.”
“God forbid I should be such a Puritan as to proclaim the annihilation of any day of rest which falls to the lot of the labouring man. I wish there were a half-a-dozen holidays in the year.”
Throughout Spurgeon’s adulthood, the celebration of Christmas – like England itself – evolved. Newly laid railroads allowed Victorians to travel home for the holiday. Toys, once handmade, could now be mass-produced. Because of the Penny Post, Christmas cards could be mailed cheaply. The Victorians loved their turkeys. Butchers often hung the birds outside their shops throughout the last few weeks of December. Local markets even allowed customers to deposit money throughout the year into a personal Christmas fund.
Spurgeon participated in holiday festivities and celebrated Christmas Day with the children at his orphanage. He even dressed up like Santa Claus and personally distributed Christmas gifts to his orphans. But most of all, Spurgeon leveraged the holiday for the gospel. He saw Christmas as an opportunity to tell an old story about the “the grandest light in history” – a Light that dawned only decades before the sun first shone on the new fort of Londonium in AD 43.
Here are a few thoughts to remember as you, like Spurgeon, celebrate Christmas:
1. Remember the Miracle of Christmas.
“The Infinite has become the infant.”
“Mary took the Lord in her arms; oh that you may bear him in yours.”
“Ah Christians, ring the bells of your hearts, fire the salute of your most joyous songs, ‘Unto us a child is born, and unto us a Son is given.’ Dance, O my heart, and ring out peals of gladness! Ye drops of blood within my veins, dance every one of you! Oh! all my nerves become harp strings, and let gratitude touch you with angelic fingers.”
2. Remember the Message of Christmas.
“For this child is not born to you unless you are born to this child.”
“The birth of Christ should be the subject of supreme joy.”
“No forms of etiquette are required in entering a stable. . . . So, if you desire to come to Christ you may come to him just as you are.”
“Come to him, ye that are weary and heavy-laden! Come to him, ye that are broken in spirit, ye who are bowed down in soul! Come to him, publican and harlot! Come to him, thief and drunkard! In the manger there he lies, unguarded from your touch and unshielded from your gaze. Bow the knee, and kiss the Son of God; accept him as your Saviour, for he puts himself into that manger that you may approach him.”
“Never mind what the past has been; he can forget and forgive.”
3. Remember the Meaning of Christmas.
“When God stoops down to man it must mean that man is to be lifted up to God.”
“Behold, how rich and how abundant are the provisions, which God has made for the high festival which he would have his servants keep, not now and then, but all the days of their lives!”
“O blessed thought! the Star of Bethlehem shall never set. Jesus, the fairest among ten thousand, the most lovely among the beautiful, is a joy forever.”
4. Remember the Mission of Christmas.
“Come, then; I will try and argue with you, to induce you to do so, that I may send you home this Christmas-day, to be missionaries in the localities to which you belong, and to be real preachers, though you are not so by name.”
“When you are at home on Christmas-day, let no one see your face till God has seen it. Be up in the morning, wrestle with God; and if your friends are not converted, wrestle with God for them.”
“You must then keep this Christmas by telling to your fellow-men what God’s own holy Spirit has seen fit to reveal to you.”
“It is not office, it is earnestness; it is not position, it is grace which will enable us to glorify God.”
“Tell out what God has written within. . . . There is the little cluster round the hearth on Christmas night, there is the little congregation in the workshop, there is a little audience somewhere to whom you might tell out of Jesus’ love to lost ones.”
5. Remember the Ministry of Christmas.
“Express your joy, first, as the angels did, by public ministry.”
“Now, old gentleman, you won’t take your son in: he has offended you. Fetch him at Christmas. . . . Make peace in your family.”
“If you have room for Christ, then from this day forth remember, the world has no room for you.”
“I wish everybody that keeps Christmas this year, would keep it as the angels kept it. . . . Set an example to others how to behave on that day, and especially since the angels gave glory to God: let us do the same.”
“Find something wherewith to clothe the naked, and feed the hungry, and make glad the mourner. Remember, it is good will towards men. Try, if you can, to show them goodwill at this special season; and if you will do that, the poor will say with me, that indeed they wish there were six Christmases in the year.”
“If we are angry all the year round, this next week shall be an exception; that if we have snarled at everybody last year, this Christmas time we will strive to be kindly affectionate to others; and if we have lived all this year at enmity with God, I pray that by his Spirit he may this week give us peace with him. . . . I will say no more, except at the close of this sermon to wish every one of you, when the day shall come, the happiest Christmas you ever had in your lives.”
Jesus is Born to You. Are You Born to him?
Spurgeon's most popular Christmas sermon is "A Christmas Question" (read it here). In it, he makes a bold statement:
"This child is not born to you unless you are born to this child."
The true meaning of Christmas is not found in Christmas trees, ornaments, wrapped gifts, Santa, or even in the joy of families coming together. The true meaning of Christmas is Jesus Christ without whom there could be no joy. Spurgeon would have each us consider the cost of Christmas. Christ has been born to you; are you born to him?
From all of us at the Spurgeon Library, Merry Christmas!
And be sure to check out the "Ugly Spurgeon Christmas sweater" from our good friends at missionalwear.com.
Volume 2 of The Lost Sermons of Charles Spurgeon is now on sale for Christmas for $39.99. Click here for more details.