‘A merry heart doeth good like a medicine’
‘What a bubbling fountain of humour Mr. Spurgeon had! I laughed more, I verily believe, when in his company than during all the rest of my life besides.’ That’s what people said about Charles Spurgeon, the nineteenth century ‘prince of preachers’.
A 19th century cigarette card of Spurgeon. The text reads: ‘When I have found intense pain relieved, a weary brain soothed, and calm refreshing sleep obtained by a Cigar, I have felt grateful to God and have blessed His name.’
There was laughter everywhere with Spurgeon, too much so for some. Someone once complained about all the gags in his sermons, to which Spurgeon said ‘He would not blame me if he only knew how many of them I keep back.’
His love of cigars provided a steady stream of giggles. While he would enjoy a cigar en route to his church so as to prepare his throat, others felt this to be unchristian behaviour. ‘Mr Spurgeon, tobacco is the devil!’ said one outraged contemporary. ‘Yes, that’s why I burn it!’ replied the preacher. (Lest the reader is worried, he once told a fellow preacher that if ever he smoked excessively, he would quit smoking immediately. The suspicious colleague asked ‘What would you call smoking to excess?’ ‘Why, smoking two cigars at the same time’, replied Spurgeon.)
Such humour was an effective way of bringing to the surface the real issues in the people around him. One day, for instance, a rather pompous gentlemen loudly exclaimed to his face ‘Mr Spurgeon, I don’t agree with you about religion; I am an agnostic.’ ‘Yes!’ he replied, ‘that is a Greek word, and the exact equivalent is ignoramus; if you like to claim that title, you are quite welcome to.’
At other times, there wasn’t much of a reason, he just enjoyed the joke. During a heated few months when he debated some theologians who believed in baptismal regeneration, he quietly had a baptismal font installed in his back garden as a birdbath. ‘The spoils of war’, he called it
All this is made rather pertinent by the fact that Spurgeon used to suffer from terrible attacks of melancholy. More than anything else, his humour was a weapon for his own heart. He knew the truth of Proverbs 17:22. As he put it when preaching on Philippians 4:4, ‘I want you to notice, dear friends, that this rejoicing is commanded. It is not a matter that is left to your option…. You are commanded to rejoice, brethren, because this is for your profit.’