Spurgeon on suspicion in ministry

From Lectures to My Students on Preaching. It’s an annoyingly long quote, but I just couldn’t resist it.

There are so many good lines (a suspicious minister is like a spider: “There he sits in the center, a mass of sensation, all nerves and raw wounds, excitable and excited, a self-immolated martyr drawing the blazing faggots about him, and apparently anxious to be burned”; a minister anxious to get feedback on his sermon “seeking compliments like little children when dressed in new clothes, who say, “See my pretty frock.””!).

Even if you only read a paragraph or two, you will be both wonderfully amused and deeply challenged:

Avoid with your whole soul that spirit of suspicion which sours some men’s lives, and to all things from which you might harshly draw an unkind inference turn a blind eye and a deaf ear. Suspicion makes a man a torment to himself and a spy towards others. Once begin to suspect, and causes for distrust will multiply around you, and your very suspiciousness will create the major part of them. Many a friend has been transformed into an enemy by being suspected. Do not, therefore, look about you with the eyes of mistrust, nor listen as an caves-dropper with the quick ear of fear.

To go about the congregation ferreting out disaffection, like a gamekeeper after rabbits, is a mean employment, and is generally rewarded most sorrowfully. Lord Bacon wisely advises “the provident Stay of inquiry of that which we would be loath to find.” When nothing is to be discovered which will help us to love others we had better cease from the inquiry, for we may drag to light that which may be the commencement of years of contention. I am not, of course referring to cases requiring discipline which must be thoroughly investigated and boldly dealt with, but I have upon my mind mere personal matters where the main sufferer is yourself; here it is always best not to know, nor to wish to know, what is being said about you, either by friends or foes. Those who praise us are probably as much mistaken as those who abuse us, and the one may be regarded as a set off to the other, if indeed it be worth while taking any account at all of man’s judgment. If we have the approbation of our God, certified by a placid conscience, we can afford to be indifferent to the opinions of our fellow men, whether they commend or condemn. If we cannot reach this point we are babes and not men.

Some are childishly anxious to know their friend’s opinion of them, and if it contain the smallest element of dissent or censure, they regard him as an enemy forthwith. Surely we are not popes, and do not wish our hearers to regard us as infallible l We have known men become quite enraged at a perfectly fair and reasonable remark, and regard an honest friend as an opponent who delighted to find fault; this misrepresentation on the one side has soon produced heat on the other, and strife has ensued. How much better is gentle forbearance! You must be able to bear criticism, or you are not fit to be at the head of a congregation; and you must let the critic go without reckoning him among your deadly foes, or you will prove yourself a mere weakling. It is wisest always to show double kindness where you have been severely handled by one who

thought it his duty to do so, for he is probably an honest man and worth winning. He who in your early days hardly thinks you fit for the pastorate may yet become your firmest defender if he sees that you grow in grace, and advance in qualification for the work; do not, therefore, regard him as a foe for truthfully expressing his doubts; does not your own heart confess that his fears were not altogether groundless? Turn your deaf ear to what you judge to be his harsh criticism, and

endeavor to preach better.

Persons from love of change, from pique, from advance in their tastes, and other causes, may become uneasy under our ministry, and it is well for us to know nothing about it. Perceiving the danger, we must not betray our discovery, but bestir ourselves to improve our sermons, hoping that the good people will be better fed and forget their dissatisfaction. If they are truly gracious persons, the incipient evil will pass away, and no .real discontent will arise, or if it does you must not provoke it by suspecting it. Where I have known that there existed a measure of disaffection to myself, I have not recognized it, unless it has been forced upon me, but have, on the contrary, acted towards the opposing person with all the more courtesy and friendliness, and I have never heard any more of the matter. If I had treated the good man as an opponent, he would have done his best to take the part assigned him, and carry it out to his own credit; but I felt that he was a Christian man, and

had a right to dislike me if he thought fit, and that if he did so I ought not to think unkindly of him; and therefore. I treated him as one who was a friend to my Lord, if not to me, gave him some work to do which implied confidence in him, made him feel at home, and by degrees won him to be an attached friend as well as a fellow-worker.

The best of people are sometimes out at elbows and say unkind things; we should be glad if our friends could quite forget what we said when we were, peevish and irritable, and it will be Christlike to act towards others in this matter as we would wish them to do towards us. Never make a brother remember that he once uttered a hard speech in reference to yourself. If you see him in a happier mood, do not mention the former painful occasion: if he be a man of right spirit he will in future be unwilling to vex a pastor who has treated him so generously, and if he be a mere boor it is a pity to hold any argument with him, and therefore the past had better go by default.

It would be better to be deceived a hundred times than to live a life of suspicion. It is intolerable. The miser who traverses, his chamber at midnight and hears a burglar in every falling leaf is not more wretched than the minister who believes that plots are hatching against him, and that reports: to his disadvantage are being spread. I remember a brother who believed

that he was being poisoned, and was persuaded that even the seat he sat upon and the clothes he wore had by some subtle chemistry become saturated with death; his life was a perpetual scare, and such is the existence of a minister when he mistrusts all around him. Nor is suspicion merely a source of disquietude, it is a moral evil, and injures the character of the man who harbors it.

Suspicion in kings creates tyranny, in husbands jealousy, and in ministers bitterness; such bitterness as in spirit dissolves all the ties of the pastoral relation, eating like a corrosive acid into the very soul the office and making it a curse rather than a blessing. When once this terrible evil has curdled all the milk of human kindness in a man’s bosom, he becomes more fit for the detective police force than for the ministry; like a spider, he begins to cast out his lines, and fashions a web of tremulous threads, all of which lead up to himself and warn him of the least touch of even the tiniest midge. There he sits in the center, a mass of sensation, all nerves and raw wounds, excitable and excited, a self-immolated martyr drawing the blazing faggots about him, and apparently anxious to be burned. The most faithful friend is unsafe under such conditions. The most careful avoidance of offense will not secure immunity from mistrust, but will probably be construed into cunning anti cowardice. Society is almost as much in danger from a suspecting man as from a mad dog, for he snaps on all sides without reason, and scatters right and left the foam of his madness. It is vain to reason with the victim of this folly, for with perverse ingenuity he turns every argument the wrong way, and makes your plea for confidence another reason for mistrust. It is sad that he cannot see the iniquity of his groundless censure of others, especially of those who have been his best friends and the firmest upholders of the cause of Christ. “I would not wrong Virtue so tried by the least shade of doubt.

Undue suspicion is more abject baseness Even than the guilt suspected.” No one ought to be made an offender for a word; but, when suspicion rules, even silence becomes a crime. Brethren, shun this vice by renouncing the love of self. Judge it, to be a small matter what men think or Say of you, and care only for their treatment of your Lord. If you are naturally sensitive do not indulge the weakness, nor allow others to play upon it.

Would it not be a great degradation of your office if you were to keep an army of spies in your pay to collect information as to all that your people said of’ you? And yet it amounts to this if you allow certain busybodies to bring you all the gossip of the place, Drive the creatures away.

Abhor those mischief-making, tattling handmaidens of strife. Those who will fetch will carry and no doubt the gossips go from your house and report every observation which falls from your, lips, with plenty of garnishing of their own. Remember that, as the receiver is as bad as the thief, so the hearer of scandal is: a sharer in the guilt of it. If there were no listening ears there would be no talebearing tongues. While you are a buyer of ill wares the demand will create the supply, and the factories of falsehood will be working full time. No one wishes to become a creator of lies, and yet he who hears slanders with pleasure and believes them with readiness will hatch many a brood into active life. Solomon says; “a whisperer separateth chief friends.” (Prov. 16;28.)

Insinuations are thrown out, and jealousies aroused, till “mutual coolness ensues, and neither can understand why; each wonders what can possibly be the cause. Thus the firmest, the longest, the warmest, and most confiding attachments, the sources of life’s sweetest joys, are broken up perhaps for ever.” This is work worthy of the arch-fiend himself, but it could never be done if men lived out of the atmosphere of suspicion. As it is, the world is full of sorrow through this cause, a sorrow as sharp as it is superfluous, This is grievous indeed! Campbell eloquently remarks, “The ruins of old friendships are a more melancholy spectacle to me than those of desolated palaces. They exhibit the heart which was once lighted up with joy all damp and deserted, and haunted by those birds of ill omen that nestle in ruins.” O suspicion, what

desolations thou hast made in the earth!

Learn to disbelieve those who have no faith in their brethren. Suspect; those who would lead you to suspect others. A resolute unbelief in all the scandalmongers will do much to repress their mischievous energies.

Matthew Pool in his Cripplegate Lecture says, “Common fame hath lost its reputation long since, and I do not know anything which it hath done in our day to regain it; therefore it ought not to be credited. How few reports there are of any kind which, when they come to be examined, we do not find to be false! For my part, I reckon, if I believe one report in twenty, I make a very liberal allowance. Especially distrust reproaches and evil reports, because these spread fastest, as being grateful to most persons, who suppose their own reputation to be never so well grounded as when it is built upon the ruins of other men’s.” Because the persons who would render you mistrustful of your friends are a sorry set, and because suspicion is in itself a wretched and tormenting vice, resolve to turn towards the whole business your blind eye and your deaf ear.

Need I say a word or two about the wisdom of never hearing what was not meant for you. The caves-dropper is a mean person, very little if anything better than the common informer; and he who says he overheard may be considered to have heard over and above what he should have done.

Jeremy Taylor wisely and justly observes, “Never listen at the door or window, for besides that it listeners seldom hear any good of themselves. Listening is a sort of larceny, but the goods stolen contains in it a danger and a snare, it is also invading my neighbor’s privacy, and a laying that open, Which he therefore encloses that it might not be open?’ It is a well worn proverb that are never a pleasure to the thief. Information obtained by clandestine means must, in all but extreme cases, be more injury than benefit to a cause. The magistrate may judge it expedient to obtain evidence by such means, but I cannot imagine a case in which a minister should do so.

Ours is a mission of grace and peace; we are not prosecutors who search out condemnatory evidence, but friends whose love would cover a multitude of offenses. The peeping eyes of Canaan, the son of Ham, shall never be in our employ; we prefer the pious delicacy of Shem and Japhet, who went backward and covered the shame which the child of evil had published with glee. To opinions and remarks about yourself turn also as a general rule the blind eye and the deaf ear. Public men must expect public criticism, and as the public cannot be regarded as infallible, public men may expect to be criticized in a way which is neither fair nor pleasant. To all honest and just remarks we are bound to give due measure of heed, but to the bitter verdict of prejudice, the frivolous faultfinding of men of fashion, the stupid utterances of the ignorant, and

the fierce denunciations of opponents, we may very safely turn a deaf ear. We cannot expect those to approve of us; whom we condemn by our testimony against their favorite sins their commendation would show that we had missed our mark:. We naturally look to be approved by our own people, the members of our churches, and the adherents of our congregations, and when they make observations which show that they are not very great admirers, we may be tempted to discouragement if not to anger: herein lies a snare. When I was about to leave my village charge for London, one of the old men prayed that! might be “delivered from the bleating of the sheep.”

For the life of me I could not imagine what he meant, but the riddle is plain now, and I have learned to offer the prayer myself. Too much consideration of what is said by our people, whether it be in praise or in depreciation, is not good for us. If we dwell on high with “that great Shepherd of the sheep” we shall care little for all the confused bleatings around us, but if we become “carnal, and walk as men,” we shall have little rest if we listen to this, that, and the other which every poor sheep may bleat about us. Perhaps it is quite true that you were uncommonly dull last Sabbath morning, but there was no need that Mrs. Clack should come and tell you that Deacon Jones thought so. It is more than probable that having been out in the country all the previous week, your preaching was very like milk and water, but there can be no necessity for your going round among the people to discover whether they noticed it; or not. Is it not enough that your conscience is uneasy upon the point? Endeavor to improve for the future, but do not want to hear all that every Jack, Tom, and Mary may have to say about it. On the other hand, you were on the high horse in your last sermon, and finished with quite a flourish of trumpets, and you feel considerable anxiety to know what impression you produced, Repress your curiosity: it will do you no good to enquire. If the people should happen to agree with your verdict, it will only feed your pitiful vanity, and if they think otherwise your fishing for their praise will injure you in their esteem. In any case it is: all about yourself, and this is a poor theme to be anxious

about; play the man, and do not demean yourself by seeking compliments like little children when dressed in new clothes, who say, “See my pretty frock.”

Have you not by this time discovered that flattery is as injurious as it is pleasant? It softens the mind and makes you more sensitive to slander. In proportion as praise pleases you censure will pain you. Besides, it is a crime to be taken off from your great object of glorifying the Lord Jesus by petty considerations as to your little self, and, if there were no other reason, this ought to weigh much with you. Pride is a deadly sin, and will grow without your borrowing the parish water-cart to quicken it. Forget expressions which feed your vanity, and if you find yourself relishing the unwholesome morsels confess the sin with deep humiliation.

Payson showed that he was strong in the Lord when he wrote to his mother,” You must not, certainly, my dear mother, say one word which even looks like an intimation that you think me advancing in grace. I cannot bear it. All the people here, whether friends or enemies, conspire to ruin me. Satan and my own heart, of course, will lend a hand; and if you join too, I fear all the cold water which Christ can throw upon my pride will not prevent its breaking out into a destructive flame. As certainly as anybody flatters and caresses me my heavenly Father has to whip me: and an unspeakable mercy it is that he condescends to do it. I can, it is true, easily muster a hundred reasons why I should not be proud, but pride will not mind mason, nor anything else but a good drubbing. Even at this moment I feel it tingling in my fingers’ ends, and seeking to guide my pen,” Knowing something myself of those secret Whippings which our good Father administers to’ his servants when he sees them unduly exalted, I heartily add my own Solemn warnings against your pampering the flesh by listening to the praises of the kindest friends you have. They are injudicious, and you must beware of them.

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