[Today’s guest post comes from Josh Bishop. We think he might be a long lost cousin of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Be sure to check out his website at Josh Bishop Writes. If you’d like to submit your work to the Rabbit Room, check out our submissions policy here.
I never expected Charles Spurgeon — that cigar-smoking Calvinist preacher from the late 1800s — to take my breath away. Like so many of my great-grandfathers’ well-thumbed volumes that sit inherited and unread on my shelves, Spurgeon seemed a dusty relic, old before my grandparents were young.
Yet when I was pointed to an excerpt from one of his sermons, I found something unexpected: a full-throated delight in the natural world, an unashamed defense of the pleasures to be found all around us. It was Spurgeon who, before Chesterton and his “unutterable muddiness of mud” or Capon’s lamb for eight persons four times, first taught me to bite into an overripe world and let its juices dribble into my beard.
“The man who is altogether bad seldom delights in nature,” Spurgeon said. “One of the purest and most innocent of joys, apart from spiritual things, in which a man can indulge, is a joy in the works of God.”
This world isn’t a distraction from God, like some of those misguided, naysaying and pinch-faced neo-Puritans would have us believe, but a means of seeing and knowing and enjoying him better than we could were we to shutter our windows against the world in an act of mistaken piety.
No, Spurgeon reminds us that ours is a Christ who can be found “on the hills, and by the shores of the sea”; we “hear [our] Father’s voice in the thunder, and listen to the whispers of his love in the cadence of the sunlit waves.”
His sermon proclaims a view of the world in which creation points to and participates in the goodness of God. It carries within itself the loveliness and beauty of the Artist who made it and gifted it to us, his children. And it points beyond itself to the higher glories of the new birth, of creation made and remade.
Here was a view of the world better suited, I thought, to poetry than to sermon. No, perhaps not better suited — at least as suited to poetry. One that should be preached from a thousand pulpits, yes, but also one that could comfortably fit in the formalwear of metered verse.
In any case, I was determined to try. Spurgeon’s sermon had gripped me and would not let me go. When I looked out the car window on my morning commute or visited the local petting barn with my sons, I saw Christ there; every summertime trip to the beach or midwinter slide down the sledding hill had become a new vision of our Father’s wonder-full world. I heard Spurgeon’s voice urging me on. His words haunted me.
I’m not bold enough to think that my scribbled lines have reached Spurgeon’s heights. Please, when you’re finished here, read his homily yourself — this message is better heard straight from the churchman’s mouth. I pray that he gives you, as he did me, new eyes to see our great Savior in the world he made.
Lord’s Day, July 5, 1891 Adapted from a sermon by Charles Spurgeon
It is righteous, this pleasure in natural things: In these star-speckled heavens – sky-scattered delights! – In these meadows, pale garnished with daisies and kingcups; In seas, where beasts creep from deeps darker than night’s Vasty pitch; in these woods, sounding round as with wing Beats swift minstrels mark time and, mid-carol, take flight.
They are madmen who marvel the mountains and say Of their chisel-chipped peaks – here brushed light, there daubed dark – “No, I see here no God,” though the Maker’s mark’s made In pinched clay. There is something of him in this art. Only look: Lift your eyes from that beauty-blind way To rejoice – echo: “Good” – as God praised from the start.
O what gladness – what joy! – in the craft of his hands. Hear our Christ in the hills – how he thundering raves! Hear him whisper his hush at the sea’s pebbled strand, Where his cadence sings soft in the sun-stippled waves. When admiring these works of our Father we stand All the nearer, among them, to him. If we say,
Then, that bulbs’ goblets gold, filled with sunlight in spring, Speak of life newly waking from winter-wrapped rest – How much more must the sight of a man new-born bring News of goodness and grace? How much more should a breast Choked with thorns, once – once withered with sin’s leeching sting – Give us joy when revived by Christ’s cross-borne caress?
How much more than the buds of the silver-leafed birch Bursting new should those walking, once-dead, now proclaim: “Let this slum-become-temple, this whorehouse-turned-church – This old life dawning new like the darkness turned day – Spur your praise!” Though there’s joy to be found when we search Shore and brake, glory’s more in creation remade.