A few days before Christmas 1891, while recovering in Mentone, France, from poor health, Charles Spurgeon wrote a moving letter to the children of his orphanages. From the time Spurgeon moved to London in 1854, he was deeply concerned about the plight of the hundreds of orphans that lined the city’s streets. Between 1866 and 1876, he led his church to build two orphan’s homes.1
As long as Spurgeon’s health allowed him to remain in London during the cold winter months, he, along with Susannah, visited the orphans each Christmas Day. He led the children to remember generous benefactors who supplied funds for the orphanages, to be kind to their caretakers, and to give thanks to God for his provision. Affectionately, he put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a coin for each child.2
As what would be Spurgeon’s last Christmas Day drew near, he wanted the orphans to know that he loved them. In his letter, Spurgeon wished them a “glorious,” “jolly,” and “merry” Christmas. When the children received his letter, they cheered. The children wrote back warmly telling him that they prayed for him every day “that God would make you well again, for what should we do without you?”3 Spurgeon’s care for his orphans each Christmas Day demonstrates his positive outlook on the holiday.
To assert that Spurgeon was a Scrooge, as some have suggested, is to misunderstand him. It is true that he opposed ecclesiastical enforcement of, and superstitious practices related to, Christmas.4 He also denounced excesses that were prevalent at Christmas, such as drunkenness and gluttony. However, he did not discourage Christians from celebrating the birth of Christ. Spurgeon valued Christmas Day and said, “I love it as a family institution.” He wished there were “20 Christmas Days.”5 He viewed Christmas as one of “England’s brightest days,” because laborers rested, families gathered, and joy was expressed.6
Spurgeon, a great admirer of the Puritans, broke with them on the question of Christmas. He recalled,
In Cromwell’s days, the Puritans thought it an ungodly thing to keep Christmas. They, therefore, tried to put it down, and the common crier went through the street announcing that Christmas was henceforth no more to be kept, it being a Popish, if not a heathenish ceremony.7
Spurgeon imagined that the people ignored the crier’s command and celebrated Christmas anyway. He asserted, “I am quite certain that all the preaching in the world will not put Christmas down.” He encouraged Christians to take advantage of the numerous benefits that Christmas affords.8
Spurgeon believed that the Christmas holiday benefitted hardworking laborers by giving them a day of rest. He challenged employers to not withhold pay from their employees on Christmas Day.9 At this point Spurgeon was in agreement with one of his favorite novelists, Charles Dickens, who often wrote about Christmas and the plight of the hardworking and poor. When Spurgeon wished for 20 Christmas Days each year, he was expressing compassion towards those who worked hard but had only a few days set aside for rest. He believed that “there is work enough in the world.”10 He wanted employers to be concerned that their workers had heat for their homes, food for their table, and clothes for their children.11
A second benefit that Spurgeon appreciated about Christmas Day was that it afforded opportunities for family and friends to gather. He encouraged such gatherings as occasions to deepen family relationships and to reconcile with one another when needed. He urged his congregation to “go home for Christmas and tell what Christ had done for them.”12 For Spurgeon, family was important, and going home for Christmas was an opportunity to show love to one’s closest relations.
Spurgeon believed that Christmas Day should especially be a day of joy. In a sermon from December 20, 1857, Spurgeon looked to the angels as illustrative of the kind of joy Christians should exemplify. He took occasion to challenge “somber religionists” who “think a smile upon the face is wicked and that for a Christian to be glad and rejoice is to be inconsistent.” He mused, “Ah, I wish these gentlemen had seen the angels when they sang about Christ.”13
How might we follow Spurgeon’s example and embrace Christmas in God-glorifying ways? First, we should have compassion for those who work hard and yet struggle to make ends meet. Spurgeon’s practical counsel to employers is instructive. If you are financially able, identify a person who could use your help. Do they need assistance with their electric bill? Perhaps they would appreciate a hot meal delivered to their home. Maybe a gift card to a clothing store would be a welcomed gift to a needy family.
Second, look for opportunities to gather with family and friends during the Christmas season. Strike up conversations that provide opportunity for you to testify of God’s grace. Seek reconciliation with family members and friends whom you are at odds with. Work hard to promote peace and love in your family.
Finally, express joy! Like Spurgeon, make singing a part of your December family worship times. Consider a night of Christmas caroling in your neighborhood. Spurgeon observed, “If the angels ushered in the gospel’s great Head with singing, ought I not to preach with singing? And ought not my hearers to live with singing?”
For Spurgeon, Christmas, like everything else, should be seized as an opportunity to speak about Christ. Like Spurgeon we must reject sinful excesses connected with the holidays, but we ought to joyfully worship God, minister to the needy, and tell others about Jesus during the Christmas season.
Ray Rhodes, Jr. is author of Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon from Moody Publishers and the upcoming Spurgeon in Love, also from Moody.
This article originally appeared at B&H Academic Blog.
- In 1866 Spurgeon challenged his congregation to pray for a new ministry opportunity. The result was the establishment and development of two orphanages. Arnold Dallimore: C. H. Spurgeon: The New Biography (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984), 126-30. Spurgeon’s letter to orphans was included in The Sword and the Trowel, 1892, under the section “The Christmas Festivities at the Orphanage.”
- Dallimore, C. H. Spurgeon. Dallimore noted: “Whenever Spurgeon visited the orphanage the children thronged around him. He knew virtually all of them by name, and he always had a penny—a coin of some value in those days—for each of them.”
- Spurgeon, The Sword & Trowel(London: Passmore and Alabaster, January, 1892), 78.
- C. H. Spurgeon,Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit(Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1970-2006), 7:34. Hereafter, this work will be referred to as MTP. The first six volumes of this series are entitled The New Park Street Pulpit(NPSP). Though Spurgeon did not believe that December 25thwas the birthday of Jesus, nor did he accept that Christmas should be a required Christian celebration, he had no problem using the word Christmasin a positive manner, nor encouraging his congregation to celebrate Christmas. He often preached Christmas sermons the Sunday before Christmas Day.
- Spurgeon, NPSP, 3:18.
- Spurgeon, NPSP, 3:18-19.
- Spurgeon, MTP, 7:34.
- Spurgeon, NPSP, 3:19.
- Spurgeon, NPSP, 2:25.
- Spurgeon, NPSP, 4:32.
- Spurgeon, NPSP, 3:18-19. See also, MTP, 7:38ff.
- Spurgeon, NPSP, 4:25.