Before I move onto quotes from the Prince of Preachers, which are just as relevant today as they were in the 19th century, it is important to keep in mind how much he loved studying and reading. Those Christians who disparage the value of formal education could take a leaf out of his book.
Encyclopedia.com describes his grandfather’s parsonage in Stambourne, Essex (southeastern England). Emphases mine below:
His favorite getaway was in the attic, in a secret little room he stumbled upon one day that had once served as the minister’s den before the windows were covered up. In this dark, little space, Spurgeon discovered countless books and fell in love with Puritan theology.
… Spurgeon particularly loved Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, a Puritan who had been jailed for his beliefs. Over the course of his lifetime, Spurgeon read the book more than 100 times. The attic also contained books on Scriptural theology and Christian martyrs. Reading them provided Spurgeon with a solid theological background.
In the attic, Spurgeon fell in love with reading. In his autobiography, posted on the Spurgeon Archive website, Spurgeon described the impact reading had on him: “Out of that darkened room I fetched those old authors when I was yet a youth, and never was I happier than when in their company.” This fondness for books lasted a lifetime. By the time he was an adult, Spurgeon read an average of six books a week and was well–read in Puritan theology, natural history, and Latin and Victorian literature. At his death, Spurgeon had 12,000 books in his personal library.
The numbers following the quotes below relate to his sermons.
Spurgeon clearly had a good knowledge — and understanding — of history as well as classical mythology, which, sadly, some churchgoers disdain today:
Ambition is like the sea which swallows all the rivers and is none the fuller; or like the grave whose insatiable maw for ever craves for the bodies of men. It is not like an amphora, which being full receives no more, but its fulness swells it till a still greater vacuum is formed. In all probability, Napoleon never longed for a sceptre till he gained the bâton, nor dreamed of being conqueror of Europe till he had gained the crown of France. Caligula, with the world at his feet, was mad with a longing for the moon, and could he have gained it the imperial lunatic would have coveted the sun. It is in vain to feed a fire which grows the more voracious the more it is supplied with fuel; he who lives to satisfy his ambition has before him the labour of Sisyphus, who rolled up hill an ever-rebounding stone, and the task of the daughters of Danaus, who are condemned for ever to attempt to fill a bottomless vessel with buckets full of holes. FA10
There are times in life when ambition can cause us to attempt or covet too much:
He who undertakes too much succeeds but little. PT140
You may burst a bag by trying to fill it too full, and ruin yourself by grasping at too much. PT140
Our endeavours to go up lead us to push others down. 2153.379
A man is never perfectly at peace if he is ambitious, and craving for this or that which as yet is beyond his reach. 2626.280
Men do not quarrel when their ambitions have come to an end. 2281.529
Are we accomplishing things for God’s glory or man’s?
And it is much the same also with ambition,—not the desire to use one’s capacities to the full, especially for God’s glory, and the good of our fellow-creatures; but that craving for so-called “glory” which makes a man court the homage of his fellow-men, and which will not let him be content unless he is set up on a high pedestal for fools to stare at. 2886.268
He had this advice for churchgoers:
Aspire to be something more than the mass of church members. Lift up your cry to God and beseech him to fire you with a nobler ambition than that which possesses the common Christian—that you may be found faithful unto God at the last, and may win many crowns for your Lord and Master, Christ. 867.232
In closing, this is worthwhile for seminarians who hope to rise to the top in their vocation:
Do you not know that the higher you rise, even in the Church of Christ, the more responsibility you have, and the heavier burdens you have to carry? 2871.91
Every time I read Spurgeon quotations I spend a period of time pondering each one. I hope you find them equally valuable.