Responding to Sorrow with Spurgeon

In his modern-day classic, Knowing God, J. I. Packer begins the book with a lengthy quote from Charles Spurgeon on the benefits of contemplating God. Over the years since the first time I read this book, the last bit of this quote has stuck with me as a needed reminder: “I know nothing which can so comfort the soul; so calm the swelling billows of grief and sorrow; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead.”¹

When Spurgeon says, “I know” here, we can be sure that such knowledge comes from experience. Knowing the comfort of meditating on God was not theoretical to our brother. He suffered deeply throughout his life with a downcast spirit, and he desperately sought to embrace the peace that can only be found in the Lord. His words, then, are not just a churchy platitude that you would expect any preacher to utter to his congregation. These are true words tested in the fire of heavy grief.

Knowing this, we would do well to heed his counsel. When grief lingers, do you engage in “a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead,” or is your musing more devoted to your circumstances or your feelings? Those musings will only increase your sorrow. When we forget God because our gaze is enveloped by the darkness around us and inside us, it is like we have forgotten there is an exit to the cave we feel trapped in. But if we will simply turn around, we will see reminders of God’s attributes as shreds of light seeping into the darkness that will lead us out into the joy and peace of our glorious King. To see this more clearly, consider a story that encouraged Spurgeon, which he recalled from the life of the reformer, Martin Luther:

On one occasion Luther fell so low in spirit that his friends were frightened at what he might say or do. Things were going ill with the great cause, and the Reformer might in his dreadful condition have upset everything. So his friends got him out of the way, saying to themselves, “The man must be alone, his brain is over-worked, he must be quiet.” He rested a bit, and came back, looking as sour and gloomy as ever. Rest and seclusion had not stilled the winds nor lulled the waves. Luther was still in a storm, and judged that the good cause was shipwrecked. He went home, but when he came to the door nobody welcomed him. He entered their best room, and there sat Catherine his wife, all dressed in black, weeping as from a death in the house. By her side lay a mourning cloak, such as ladies wear at funerals. “Ah,” says he, “Kate, what matters now, is the child dead?” She shook her head and said the little ones were alive, but something much worse than that had happened. Luther cried “Oh, what has befallen us? Tell me quick! I am sad enough as it is. Tell me quick!” “Good man,” said she, “Have you not heard? Is it possible that the terrible news has not reached you?” This made the Reformer the more inquisitive and ardent, and he pressed to be immediately told of the cause of sorrow. “Why,” said Kate, “have you not been told that our heavenly Father is dead, and his cause in the world is therefore overturned?” Martin stood and looked at her, and at last burst into such a laugh that he could not possibly contain himself, but cried, “Kate, I read thy riddle, what a fool I am! God is not dead, he ever lives, but I have acted as if he were. Thou hast taught me a good lesson.”²

Luther’s last words here are profound: “God is not dead, he ever lives, but I have acted as if he were.” When our grief lingers, it is often the case that we are forgetting God and acting as if our experience exists in a world where He is not reigning supreme and loving His children with “all things” (Romans 8:28). But why is it that David can say, “I have calmed and quieted my soul”? Is it not because he knew that the presence of God was with him like “a weaned child with its mother” (Psalm 131:2)? Why is it that Jeremiah can say, “I have hope” after uttering a train of lamentations? Is it not because he knew that “the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases” and “his mercies never come to an end” (Lamentations 3:21-22)?

Sometimes we can turn to a gripping novel or an engrossing TV series to run away from reality as we grieve, but when we contemplate the character of God, we are running toward reality as it truly is—a reality lived out under the sovereign rule and compassionate care of the God who sent His only Son to save us. Why would we want to think about our lives in any other way? The billows of sorrow may swell and the winds of trial may sting, but to muse upon the subject of the Godhead will be to know increasing peace and calm.

Note: This article originally appeared on We encourage you to visit The Center for Biblical Counseling and Discipleship where you can find helpful, biblical resources by a number of trusted pastors and authors.

¹ This quote originally came from a sermon by Spurgeon titled, “The Immutability of God,”

² This citation comes from the very helpful PhD dissertation by William Brian Albert, titled, “‘When the Wind Blows Cold’: The Spirituality of Suffering and Depression in the Life and Ministry of Charles Spurgeon,” 140-41,

Brent Osterberg




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