Working Themselves to Death for the Glory of God ...
This issue is something that Greg Haslam referred to at the "Preach the Word" conference on Saturday and it's been playing on my mind ever since. Greg referred to men such as Martin Luther and C H Spurgeon with quite mind-blowing work ethics. How do we match up? I read Dr John Piper's excellent mini-biography of Luther again from his work, "The Legacy of Sovereign Joy". Consider this:
"Walther von Loewenich said in his biography, "Luther was one of the greatest preachers in the history of Christendom ... Between 1510 and 1546 Luther preached approximately 3,000 sermons. Frequently he preached several times a week, often two or more times a day ...
For example, in 1522 he preached 117 sermons in Wittenberg and 137 sermons the next year. In 1528 he preached almost 200 times, and from 1529 we have 121 sermons. So the average in those four years was one sermon every two-and-a-half days. As Fred Meuser says in his book on Luther's preaching, "Never a weekend off—he knows all about that. Never even a weekday off. Never any respite at all from preaching, teaching, private study, production, writing, counseling ...
What he accomplished borders on the superhuman, and of course makes pygmies of us all ... ".
Piper quotes Luther himself:
"Let ministers daily pursue their studies with diligence and constantly busy themselves with them ... Let them steadily keep on reading, teaching, studying, pondering, and meditating. Nor let them cease until they have discovered and are sure that they have taught the devil to death and have become more learned than God himself and all His saints ". And Piper says quite rightly "that means never".
What of C H Spurgeon?
John Piper chose C H Spurgeon as his biography topic at the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors in 1995 and, concerning Spurgeon's work, Piper said this:
"He preached over 600 times before he was 20 years old. His sermons sold about 20,000 copies a week and were translated into 20 languages. The collected sermons fill 63 volumes equivalent to the 27 volume ninth edition of Encyclopedia Britannica, and "stands" as the largest set of books by a single author in the history of Christianity".
He quoted Spurgeon himself who said:
"No one living knows the toil and care I have to bear ... I have to look after the Orphanage, have charge of a church with four thousand members, sometimes there are marriages and burials to be undertaken, there is the weekly sermon to be revised, The Sword and the Trowel to be edited, and besides all that, a weekly average of five hundred letters to be answered. This, however, is only half my duty, for there are innumerable churches established by friends, with the affairs of which I am closely connected, to say nothing of the cases of difficulty which are constantly being referred to me"
Of Spurgeon's working week, Piper said:
"He typically read six substantial books a week and could remember what he read and where to find it. He produced more than 140 books of his own—books like The Treasury of David, which was twenty years in the making, and Morning and Evening, and Commenting on Commentaries, and John Ploughman's Talk, and Our Own Hymnbook ... He often worked 18 hours in a day".
Ah! But says a rational, sensible, mature friend reading this. What glory to God is there if we burn ourselves out by trying to emulate Luther and Spurgeon? Well Spurgeon had an answer to that:
"If by excessive labour, we die before reaching the average age of man, worn out in the Master's service, then glory be to God, we shall have so much less of earth and so much more of Heaven! ... It is our duty and our privilege to exhaust our lives for Jesus. We are not to be living specimens of men in fine preservation, but living sacrifices, whose lot is to be consumed".
Greg Haslam quoted a predecessor of his at Westminster Chapel who said that we should be ASHAMED if we wake up and hear the footsteps of the lost walking to work while we lie in bed. Serious stuff.