Spurgeon and the Sabbath: A Day of Joy

Spurgeon and the Sabbath: A Day of Joy

Charles Dickens utilized his pen to influence his readers’ opinions. In a Christmas Carol, he strikes out against the ill-treatment of the poor through stinginess. He prescribed for Scrooge’s spirit to be replaced with the love for the common man. In another work, Little Dorrit, Dickens turned threatening eyes upon a practice that stifles man’s freedom to live and enjoy life. What has enchained man to a life of bondage? The answer is the Victorian Sabbath.

The narrator in his story described “a Sunday evening in London, gloomy, close, and stale.… Melancholy streets in a penitential garb of soot, steeped the souls of the people who were condemned to look at them out of windows, in dire despondency.”[1] Dickens considered the Victorian Sabbath to be punishment for the laborer who toiled the previous six days. “Nothing for the spent toiler to do,” lamented the narrator, “but to compare the monotony of the seventh day with the monotony of his six days.”[2]

To replace the Victorian Sabbath, Dickens advocated for Sunday societies along with other intellectuals in Britian.[3] These groups began meeting in the 1860s and replaced the traditional Christian sermon with a lecture on science or another subject. Thus, the common man, on his only day off a week, would have another option of inquiry than attending a depressing church service. For Dickens, the Victorian Sabbath produced misery and not joy.

Charles Spurgeon, however, came to the opposite conclusion. God gave humanity the Christian Sabbath as a day of joy. “Time is the ring,” he preached, “and these Sabbaths are the diamonds set in it.… The Sabbaths are the beds full of rich choice flowers.”[4] Elsewhere, he called the Sabbath “the pearl of the week”[5] and “a day to feast yourselves in God.”[6] Moreover, “they are full of brightness, and joy, and delight.”[7]

Spurgeon also compared the gift of the Sabbath to the gift of marriage. He argued, “It is a blessing for which good men dwelling with affectionate wives praise God every day they live. Marriage and the Sabbath are the two choice boons of primeval love that have come down to us from Paradise, the one to bless our outer and the other our inner life.”[8] Certainly, this statement exalted the Sabbath day, considering Spurgeon’s blessed union with his wife.

Reflecting upon his letters to her, Susannah wrote, “To the end of his beautiful life it was the same, his letters were always those of a devoted lover, as well as of a tender husband.”[9] After thirty-six years of marriage, she saw herself as the “loving wife of the best man on God’s earth.”[10] From the couple’s letters and secondary historical accounts, it is natural to conclude that Charles and Susannah had an ideal marriage.[11] Given this fact, Spurgeon’s assertion that the Sabbath is one of God’s two greatest gifts discloses the happiness and gratitude with which he approached the day.

For a person to love the Sabbath, he must love the Lord of the Sabbath.

Spurgeon, therefore, saw the Sabbath commandment as a life-giving gift and not as a soul draining obligation. Why? God calls all people to rest from their normal labors to labor joyfully for Him. He invites us into His presence to hear the preaching of the Word, to sing hymns, to pray before His throne of grace, to give financial gifts, and to commune at the Lord’s Table. Furthermore, we can serve others in conversation, in evangelism, in visiting the shut-ins, in teaching our children, and in hospitality.  

What caused Dickens and Spurgeon to have opposite attitudes on the Sabbath? Spurgeon believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, and Dickens did not. For a person to love the Sabbath, he must love the Lord of the Sabbath. If God sets aside every Sunday for worship, a believer is “glad when the Sabbath arrives,” because he “look[s] forward to it with delight.”[12] When the services end, the believer would “wish that Sabbaths were never over” and would “look forward to the next occasion when we should meet the saints of God.”[13]

For a believer in Christ, the joy of the Sabbath anticipates the joy of heaven. We skip one Sabbath day after another across the river of life until we arrive at the eternal Sabbath. George Herbert, a 17th century Anglican poet whom Spurgeon admired summarizes this Christian experience. In his poem “Sunday,” he wrote,

Thou art a day of mirth:

And where the week-days trail on ground,

Thy flight is higher, as thy birth.

O let me take thee at the bound,

Leaping with thee from sev’n to sev’n,

Till that we both, being tossed from earth,

Fly hand in hand to heav’n! [14]

[1] Charles Dickens, The Works of Charles Dickens: Little Dorrit, Part 1,29. Spurgeon’s library in Kansas City contains a volume of this work: Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit (London: Chapman and Hall, 1865).

[2] Dickens, Little Dorrit, 30.

[3] John Wigley, The Rise and Fall of the Victorian Sunday, 126, 190.

[4] Spurgeon, MTP, 7:584.

[5] Spurgeon, MTP, 33:104.

[6] Spurgeon, MTP, 8:527.

[7] Spurgeon, MTP, 38:140.

[8] Spurgeon, MTP, 20:42.

[9] Spurgeon, Autobiography, 2:24.

[10] Ibid., 28.

[11] See Rhodes, Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon, 75–86. Rhodes titled the chapter that chronicles the Spurgeon’s courtship “A Marriage Made for Heaven” (italics in original).

[12] Spurgeon, MTP, 47:76.

[13] Spurgeon, MTP, 14:413.

[14] Herbert, The Complete English Poems, 69.


Brandon Rhea is a pastor, Ph.D. student in Historical Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, and an ACBC certified Biblical counselor. He met his wife, Karise, while doing pulpit supply in 2013-14. In April 2016, he accepted the call to pastor at Faith Baptist Church in Kirksville, Missouri. He loves history and has a heart for street preaching and evangelism.

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