Even as Spurgeon warned about the suffering promised to Christians, he insisted that the affliction experienced by believers was not purposeless. In fact, he urged, “When you and I enter upon a new trouble, we ought to fall on our knees and thank God that he is about to elevate us to a higher grace of discipleship.” He believed that “Sanctified afflictions are spiritual promotions,” and by this meant that Christian suffering, when received by faith, makes believers more like Christ. Spurgeon assured his congregation that the God who saves is the God who sanctifies. The God who predestines is the same God who preserves. The ultimate hope of persevering in faith owed not to the strength of the believer, but to the omnipotent power of God. As Spurgeon said, it is “[God’s] love to you, not your love to him, is the seal of your discipleship.” In recognition of Spurgeon’s zeal for discipleship, here are seven quotes on this topic from the Prince of Preachers.
For Charles Spurgeon, discipleship was not merely a process in the Christian life. Rather discipleship was the essence of the Christian life. From new birth to final breath, the Christian life was a life of discipleship.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ was the catalyst of the new birth, a new birth which commended the life of discipleship. Spurgeon believed that “There is no knowing Christ except through the new birth.” But while he insisted that “ ‘Ye must be born again,’” he knew that “The word of Jesus must be the object of our faith; into that Word we must enter, and in that Word we must continue.” The Gospel of Jesus Christ was more than just the spark which started the fire of Christian life. Indeed, the Gospel pressed the disciple forward. After being “quickened to newness of life” the Christian would grow into “the fullness of the stature of a man in Christ,” being made a “meet for a habitation of God through the Spirit.”
On this point, Spurgeon lamented that “Discipleship is too often forgotten,” although “it is as needful as faith.” In his view, being a “mere” disciple of Jesus Christ was one of the grandest things in the world. Indeed, in the kingdom of God “discipleship is the highest degree,” the very “patent of nobility.” The aim of this noble calling was to follow Jesus. Spurgeon urged his hearers to “follow Christ in your doctrines” and “believe what he teaches,” to “follow Christ in your faith” and “trust him implicitly with your soul,” and to “follow him in your actions” and “let him be your example and guide.” Simply, faithful following depended on learning from the example of the master. Not only was it wise to “[sit] at Jesus’s feet and [learn] of him,” it was also essential. As Spurgeon claimed, “A man cannot be saved unless he becomes a learner in the school of Christ.”
But, discipleship also required a true and genuine love for Christ, a love kindled by the Holy Spirit. In discipleship, the Holy Spirit was the one who would teach us “to abound in service” and “to do good abundantly to our fellow men.” But the Spirit would also warn us that “we must not fail in worship, in spiritual reverence, in meek discipleship, and quiet contemplation.” For Spurgeon, the matter of genuine devotion to Christ was so important that he remarked, “The bended knee is nothing,” but “the prostrate heart is everything.” He believed that “if the heart be absent the whole [Christian life] will be dead as a stone.” He insisted that the Christian, “must have such love to Christ that, for his sake, [the Christian] could forsake all that [he has].” Love for Christ must burn so bright “all other love shall burn but dimly” by comparison. Such love, divinely kindled, was fueled by gratitude, which “should urge [the disciple] to holiness, and to perfect obedience to him who has given [the disciple] this inestimable blessing!”
Furthermore, faith in the Lord Jesus compelled each disciple to sacrifice for the sake of Christ. Spurgeon knew that discipleship was difficult and acknowledged that “the first requisite of a disciple of Christ [was] wholeheartedness.” He did not pull punches when he described the cost of discipleship. Speaking for Christ, he warned, “you will have to deny yourselves, and to undergo self-sacrifice; for otherwise, if you will not do this, it is no use for you to pretend to be my servants.” Accordingly, Spurgeon pleaded, “Take up your cross! It is a part of the cost of true discipleship.” Concerned with the mass of nominal Christianity he cried “Take up your cross, my brother, or you cannot be Christ’s disciple,” calling out, “make the change, my brother, or you cannot be the Lord’s disciple.” The simple truth was that where there is no cross there is no crown. Where there is no sacrifice there is no glory, and where there is not suffering for Christ there is no everlasting peace.”