Opinions were never lacking for Charles Spurgeon. This 19th-century British Baptist is on record for everything ranging from pancakes to the person and work of Christ. Whether you are reading his sermons, devotionals, or books, you learn what the man believed, what he thought, and where he stood. Even about Christmas.
Spurgeon a Scrooge?
While researching a new book project on Spurgeon, I searched for some merry thoughts and choice comments on Christmas. So I thought.
I began reading his sermon, "The Great Birthday." His humbugs startled me.
There is no authority whatever in the word of God for the keeping of Christmas at all, and no reason for keeping it just now except that the most superstitious section of Christendom has made a rule that December 25th shall be observed as the birthday of the Lord…you are under no bondage whatever to regard the regulation."
Could it be that the Prince of preachers was also the Scrooge of scrooges? Could it be that my dead mentor, my figure from church history, couldn't stand celebrating Christmas? The Puritans were known for objecting to many of the trappings of Christmas, and Spurgeon was an heir of the Puritans. I calmed myself by thinking, "Maybe this was one of those sermons that every preacher has, the one where you wish you would have stuck closer to your notes and not chased that zinger."
I was wrong. Spurgeon had more to say. In a sermon titled "The Incarnation and Birth of Christ," Spurgeon let it fly.
I hold it to be one of the greatest absurdities under heaven to think that there is any religion in keeping Christmas day. There are no probabilities whatever that our Savior Jesus Christ was born on that day…"
Can you believe it? Spurgeon railed against the observance of Christmas. But the context of Spurgeon's comments reveals what he was truly against.
…and the observance of it is purely of Popish origin. Doubtless those who are Catholics have a right to hallow it, but I do not see how consistent Protestants can account it in the least sacred."
Spurgeon was not against recognizing the birth of Christ or even celebrating the holiday of Christmas. He was against the empty religiosity of Christmas-keeping. He couldn't stand the thought of people recognizing December 25th as the actual day of Jesus's birth, and then people finding some spiritual assurance in observing the day. The analog for today would be people thinking they are Christians simply because they are "CEO Christians"—at church on Christmas and Easter Only.
A Merry Spurgeon
Spurgeon loved Christmas. From his letters and writings in his magazine, we see that he wrote to the children in his orphanage, wishing them a merry Christmas. And when possible, he loved visiting the orphans on Christmas day. He wanted the children to have a festive, delicious, joy-filled Christmas—and lots of presents too. By surveying his writings, it appears Spurgeon enjoyed having a Christmas tree in his home and while resting in Mentone, France.
He preached many sermons on the incarnation of Christ, the birth of Jesus, the virgin birth, and the announcement of the gospel. His exposition of Christmas doctrine is everywhere. He also saw the benefits and joys of Christmas, saying, "I wish there were ten or a dozen Christmas days in the year." Why? Because he loved how people were off from work, home with their children, and enjoying family and friends. Spurgeon delighted in all the peripheral gifts that erupt from the centrality of Christ's birth. "I love to see holy mirth. I delight to see men well feasted. I like Christmas. I wish it came six times a year. I like the generosity of those who give to the poor. Let it be extended. I would not stop a smile. God forbid me!" He was no Scrooge. And we would do well to notice the grace and gifts this holiday season.
We can be honest and recognize that Christmas is merry, in part because the kids are home, work is minimal to zero, and the gifts of friends, family, and food are overflowing. These are good gifts from God, too. And to be honest Christians, we must also recognize that Christmas joy is only possible because of the Messiah. And because of Jesus, Spurgeon tells us to party like it's Anno Domini. "It will be a happy Christmas if you have God with you."
On December 25, kitchens will be churning festive cookies and golden turkeys, and yet, Spurgeon reminds us Christians to have a feast of feasts because of the King of kings.
I shall say nothing today against festivities on this great birthday of Christ…Feast, Christians, feast. You have a right to feast. Go to the house of feasting tomorrow, celebrate your Savior's birth. Do not be ashamed to be glad, you have a right to be happy!…Go your way, rejoice tomorrow, but, in your feasting, think of the Man in Bethlehem. Let him have a place in your hearts, give him the glory, think of the virgin who conceived him. But think most of all of the Man born, the Child given. I finish by again saying,—"A HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO YOU ALL!"
Amen! Merry Christmas, friends!