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Spurgeon on Christmas

December 22, 2007

SPURGEON didn’t like Christmas. Or at least, one might get that impression from some of his comments. That is not to say that Spurgeon saw no value in Christmas. He most certainly took advantage of that time of year to preach the gospel. He particularly delighted in the opportunity to rest and spend extra time “assembling around the family hearth.” He urged his people to take advantage of the time in order to visit with lost family and friends, with the goal of bringing them to Christ. So, his wasn’t a total and complete rejection of all things Christmas. But Spurgeon did not believe the day should be marked above any other. Consider these remarks…

WE have no superstitious regard for times and seasons. Certainly we do not believe in the present ecclesiastical arrangement called Christmas: first, because we do not believe in the mass at all, but abhor it, whether it be said or sung in Latin or in English; and, secondly, because we find no Scriptural warrant whatever for observing any day as the birthday of the Savior; and, consequently, its observance is a superstition, because not of divine authority. Superstition has fixed most positively the day of our Savior’s birth, although there is no possibility of discovering when it occurred. Fabricius gives a catalogue of 136 different learned opinions upon the matter; and various divines invent weighty arguments for advocating a date in every month in the year. It was not till the middle of the third century that any part of the church celebrated the nativity of our Lord; and it was not till very long after the Western church had set the example, that the Eastern adopted it. Because the day is not known, therefore superstition has fixed it; while, since the day of the death of our Savior might be determined with much certainty, therefore superstition shifts the date of its observance every year. Where is the method in the madness of the superstitious? Probably the fact is that the holy days were arranged to fit in with heathen festivals. We venture to assert, that if there be any day in the year, of which we may be pretty sure that it was not the day on which the Savior was born, it is the twenty-fifth of December. Nevertheless since, the current of men’s thoughts is led this way just now, and I see no evil in the current itself, I shall launch the bark of our discourse upon that stream, and make use of the fact, which I shall neither justify nor condemn, by endeavoring to lead your thoughts in the same direction. Since it is lawful, and even laudable, to meditate upon the incarnation of the Lord upon any day in the year, it cannot be in the power of other men’s superstitions to render such a meditation improper for to-day. Regarding not the day, let us, nevertheless, give God thanks for the gift of his dear son.

(from “Joy Born at Bethlehem,” delivered December 24, 1871)

So in other words, we might as well make use of the day to meditate on the incarnation of Christ. But Spurgeon had more to say about the “superstition” that set the date for the birth of Christ at December 25. In fact, Spurgeon argued that this particular date was the least likely to be the correct date for the birth of Jesus Christ.

There is no reason upon earth beyond that of ecclesiastical custom why the 25th of December should be regarded as the birthday of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ any more than any other day from the first of January to the last day of the year; and yet some persons regard Christmas with far deeper reverence than the Lord’s-day. You will often hear it asserted that “The Bible and the Bible alone is the religion of Protestants,” but it is not so. There are Protestants who have absorbed a great deal beside the Bible into their religion, and among other things they have accepted the authority of what they call “the Church,” and by that door all sorts of superstitions have entered. 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, and the church by law established in this land has agreed to follow in the same track. You are under no bondage whatever to regard the regulation. We owe no allegiance to the ecclesiastical powers which have made a decree on this matter, for we belong to an old-fashioned church which does not dare to make laws, but is content to obey them. At the same time the day is no worse than another, and if you choose to observe it, and observe it unto the Lord, I doubt not he will accept your devotion: while if you do not observe it, but unto the Lord observe it not, for fear of encouraging superstition and will-worship, I doubt not but what you shall be as accepted in the non-observance as you could have been in the observance of it. Still, as the thoughts of a great many Christian people will run at this time towards the birth of Christ, and as this cannot be wrong, I judged it meet to avail ourselves of the prevailing current, and float down the stream of thought. Our minds will run that way, because so many around us are following customs suggestive of it, therefore let us get what good we can out of the occasion. There can he no reason why we should not, and it may be helpful that we should, now consider the birth of our Lord Jesus. We will do that voluntarily which we would refuse to do as a matter of obligation: we will do that simply for convenience sake which we should not think of doing because enjoined by authority or demanded by superstition.

(from “The Great Birthday,” delivered December 24, 1876)

Essentially, Spurgeon echoes the Word of God which says, One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He teaches that we are not obligated to recognize the holiday, nor are we obligated to celebrate. But, we are free to join in the celebration. And of course, celebrating and feasting and resting are good things any time, so there is no reason why we should not on this day.

Now, ye souls who would deny to your fellowmen all sorts of mirth, come and listen to the merry bell of this text, while it gives a license to the righteous especially — a license that they meet together in their houses, and eat and drink, and praise their God. In Cromwell’s days, the Puritans thought it an ungodly thing for men 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. Now, you do not suppose that after the crier had made the proclamation, any living Englishman took any notice of it; at least, I can scarcely imagine that any did, except to laugh at it; for it is idle thus to strain at gnats and stagger under a feather. Albeit, that we do not keep the feast as Papists, nor even as a commemorative festival, yet there is a something in old associations that makes us like the day in which a man may shake off the cares of business, and disport himself with his little ones. God forbid I should be such a Puritan as to proclaim the annihilation of any day of rest which falls to the lot of the laboring man. I wish there were a half-a-dozen holidays in the year. I wish there were more opportunities for the poor to rest; though I would not have as many saint’s days as there are in Romish countries; yet, if we had but one or two more days in which the poor man’s household, and the rich man’s family might meet together, it might perhaps, be better for us. However, I am quite certain that all the preaching in the world will not put Christmas down. You will meet next Tuesday, and you will feast, and you will rejoice, and each of you, as God has given you substance, will endeavor to make your household glad. Now, instead of telling you that this is all wrong, I think the merry bell of my text gives you a license so to do. Let us think a minute. Feasting is not a wrong thing, or otherwise Job would have forbidden it to his children, he would have talked to them seriously, and admonished them that this was an ungodly and wicked custom, to meet together in their houses. But, instead of this, Job only feared lest a wrong thing should be made out of a right thing, and offered sacrifices to remove their iniquity; but he did by no means condemn it. Would any of you ask a blessing upon your children’s attendance at the theater? Could you say, when they had been in such a place, “It may be they have sinned?” No, you would only talk thus of a right thing.

(from “A Merry Christmas” delivered December 23, 1860)

Urging us to make the most of these holidays, Spurgeon even encourages us to greet each other with a “Merry Christmas!” Consider his defense of the use of this phrase:

Observe, this morning, the sacred joy of Mary that you may imitate it. This is a season when all men expect us to be joyous. We compliment each other with the desire that we may have a “Merry Christmas.” Some Christians who are a little squeamish, do not like the word “merry.” It is a right good old Saxon word, having the joy of childhood and the mirth of manhood in it, it brings before one’s mind the old song of the waits, and the midnight peal of bells, the holly and the blazing log. I love it for its place in that most tender of all parables, where it is written, that, when the long-lost prodigal returned to his father safe and sound, “They began to be merry.” This is the season when we are expected to be happy; and my heart’s desire is, that in the highest and best sense, you who are believers may be “merry.” Mary’s heart was merry within her; but here was the mark of her joy, it was all holy merriment, it was every drop of it sacred mirth. It was not such merriment as worldlings will revel in to-day and to-morrow, but such merriment as the angels have around the throne, where they sing, “Glory to God in the highest,” while we sing “On earth peace, goodwill towards men.” Such merry hearts have a continual feast. I want you, ye children of the bride-chamber, to possess to-day and to-morrow, yea, all your days, the high and consecrated bliss of Mary, that you may not only read her words, but use them for yourselves, ever experiencing their meaning: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.”

(from “Mary’s Song,” delivered December 25, 1864)

Clearly then, Spurgeon saw the day as being an invention of an apostate church, and yet recognized the values of the day, urging his people to take full advantage. His preaching will suggest several activities that Spurgeon saw as important, and encouraged his people to engage in. The most obvious activity that Spurgeon urged was family time. Christmas is a wonderful opportunity to lay aside the cares of the world and to “make your household glad.” In other words, it is not a good day to set aside for fasting and prayer. God’s people do need to learn how to rest and how to feast.

Spurgeon encouraged his people to make use of the day for meditating on the incarnation of Christ as well. Any day is a good day for that. But since the rest of the world is already thinking that way, it would be a shame for us to neglect that particular meditation on that day.

WE have nearly arrived at the great merry-making season of the year. On Christmas-day we shall find all the world in England enjoying themselves with all the good cheer which they can afford. Servants of God, you who have the largest share in the person of him who was born at Bethlehem, I invite you to the best of all Christmas fare-to nobler food than makes the table groan-bread from heaven, food for your spirit. Behold, how rich and how abundant are the provisions, which God has made for the high festival which he would have his servants keep, not now and then, but all the days of their lives!

(from “Good Cheer for Christmas,” delivered December 20, 1868)

Spurgeon also thought that Christmas time was a wonderful opportunity to share the gospel with the unsaved. In a sermon from early in his ministry, taken from the story of the demoniac of Gadara, he encouraged the young men returning home to be sure they told of Christ, and the change Christ had wrought in their lives.

Now, I will just tell you the reason why I selected my text. I thought within myself, there are a large number of young men who always come to hear me preach; they always crowd the aisles of my chapel, and many of them have been converted to God. Now, here is Christmas-day come round again, and they are going home to see their friends. When they get home they will want a Christmas Carol in the evening; I think I will suggest one to them — more especially to such of them as have been lately converted I will give them a theme for their discourse on Christmas evening; it may not be-quite so amusing as “The Wreck of the Golden Mary,” but it will be quite as interesting to Christian people. It shall be this: “Go home and tell your friends what the Lord hath done for your souls, and how he hath had compassion on you.” For my part, I wish there were twenty Christmas days in the year. It is seldom that young men can meet with their friends; it is rarely they can all be united as happy families; and though I have no respect to the religious observance of the day, yet I love it as a family institution, as one of England’s brightest days, the great Sabbath of the year, when the plough rests in its furrow, when the din of business is hushed, when the mechanic and the working man go out to refresh themselves upon the green sward of the glad earth. If any of you are masters you will pardon me for the digression, when I most respectfully beg you to pay your servants the same wages on Christmas-day as if they were at work. I am sure it will make their houses glad if you will do so. It is unfair for you to make them feast or fast, unless you give them wherewithal to feast and make themselves glad on that day of joy.

(from “Going Home – A Christmas Sermon” delivered December 21, 1856)

We would be remiss to overlook another issue that surrounds Christmas. More and more and more, we have forgotten how to rest. Consumerism knows no holiday. Stores find fewer days all the time to lock the doors. After all, they could be missing out on a few dollars profit. This is a shame.

The New Testament refers, from time to time, to what was called the “preparation day” for the Sabbath. This was the Friday leading up to the Sabbath. All work was to be completed, and with the arrival of the Sabbath, was to cease. Convenience has made us forgetful of this custom, but it is important, even necessary for us to prepare diligently for the start of the day. Let us finish with our work… it will be waiting for us on the other side of the day. And let us learn to rest.

This is the season of the year when, whether we wish it or not, we are compelled to think of the birth of Christ. 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 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. However, I wish there were ten or a dozen Christmas-days in the year; for there is work enough in the world, and a little more rest would not hurt laboring people. Christmas-day is really a boon to us, particularly as it enables us to assemble round the family hearth and meet our friends once more. Still, although we do not fall exactly in the track of other people, I see no harm in thinking of the incarnation and birth of the Lord Jesus. We do not wish to be classed with those

“Who with more care keep holiday
The wrong, than others the right way.”

The old Puritans made a parade of work on Christmas-day, just to show that they protested against the observance of it. But we believe they entered that protest so completely, that we are willing, as their descendants, to take the good accidentally conferred by the day, and leave its superstitions to the superstitious.

(from “The Incarnation and Birth of Christ” preached December 23, 1855)

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