The gospel potential soars at the holidays. Between family gatherings and social celebrations, we often find an increase of unhurried time together with family and friends. How do we spend these times together — ready to share the hope that it is in us, or ready to pull out our smartphones from our pockets?
Long before the digital age, in preparing hearts for this missional potential, Charles Spurgeon preached a sermon to prepare his growing church for the coming Christmas season. On Sunday morning, December 21, 1856, his message “Going Home” encouraged each member of his congregation to humbly, wisely, and appropriately find opportunities to share their personal testimony with family and friends.
The sermon was urgent and timely.
Spurgeon was only 19 years old when he became the senior pastor of New Park Street Church in April of 1854. Then the total membership numbered a little over 230. Two and a half years later, as he prepared to deliver this Christmas sermon, the membership was exploding, shortly to reach 4,400 members in the new year ahead. Central to the explosive growth was a large number of newly converted Christians transformed under his pulpit ministry, and few of these new believers had any experience stewarding Christmas for gospel purposes.
For the occasion, Spurgeon chose an unsuspecting text, Mark 5:1–20, the dramatic account of Jesus healing the Gerasene demoniac. “Attempts had been made to reclaim him,” said Spurgeon of the demoniac’s transformation, “but no man could tame him. He was worse than the wild beasts, for they might be tamed; but his fierce nature would not yield. He was a misery to himself, for he would run upon the mountains by night and day, crying and howling fearfully, cutting himself with the sharp flints, and torturing his poor body in the most frightful manner.”
Spurgeon narrowed on the divine commission from Christ: “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19).
The gospel of Jesus Christ can tame the most ferocious sinner — and then send him back to spread the good news with his family, who could see his radical change. The same joy-giving gospel was changing lives in London, and the time had come for these new Christians to return home to testify of the gospel’s power in their own lives.
Go Home and Tell
This imperative — “go home” — became Spurgeon’s call to his mushrooming London congregation.
In the sermon, Spurgeon develops fifteen relevant points for every Christian during the holidays, which I have summarized with headings that you can scan (direct quotes from Spurgeon follow).
1. See your gospel commission in light of your personal deliverance.
Out of gratitude to his deliverer, he said, “Lord, I will follow you wherever you go. I will be your constant companion and your servant, permit me so to be.”
“No,” said Christ, “I esteem your motive, it is one of gratitude to me, but if you would show your gratitude, go home to your friends and tell them of the great things the Lord has done for you, and how he has had compassion on you.”
2. Embrace Christmas as a prime season for gospel sharing.
True religion does not break the bonds of family relationship. True religion seldom encroaches upon that sacred — I had almost said divine — institution called home. It does not separate men from their families, and make them aliens to their flesh and blood. . . .
Christianity makes a husband a better husband, it makes a wife a better wife than she was before. It does not free me from my duties as a son; it makes me a better son, and my parents better parents. Instead of weakening my love, it gives me fresh reason for my affection; and he whom I loved before as my father, I now love as my brother and co-worker in Christ Jesus; and she whom I reverenced as my mother, I now love as my sister in the covenant of grace, to be mine forever in the state that is to come. . . .
For my part, I wish there were twenty Christmas days in the year. It is seldom that young men can meet with their friends; it is rarely they can all be united as happy families. . . . I love it as a family institution, as one of England’s brightest days, the great Sabbath of the year, when the plough rests in its furrow, when the din of business is hushed.
3. Aim to share the story of God’s grace in your life.
It is to be a story of personal experience: “Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee.”
You are not to repair to your houses to preach. You are not to begin to take up doctrinal subjects and expatiate on them, and endeavor to bring persons to your peculiar views and sentiments. You are not to go home with sundry doctrines you have lately learned, and try to teach these. You are to go home and tell not what you have believed, but what you have felt — what you really know to be your own; not what great things you have read, but what great things the Lord hath done for you; not alone what you have seen done in the great congregation, and how great sinners have turned to God, but what the Lord has done for you. And mark this: there is never a more interesting story than that which a man tells about himself. . . .
Go home, young man, and tell the poor sinner’s story; go home, young woman, and open your diary, and give your friends stories of grace. Tell them of the mighty works of God’s hand which he hath wrought in you from his own free, sovereign, undeserved love. Make it a free grace story around your family fire.
4. Use your story to edify other believers.
If you want to make your mother’s heart leap within her, and to make your father glad — if you would make that sister happy who sent you so many letters — go home and tell your mother that her wishes are all accomplished, that her prayers are heard, that you will no longer chaff her about her Sunday-school class, and no longer laugh at her because she loves the Lord, but that you will go with her to the house of God, for you love God. . . .
Cannot you imagine the scene, when the poor demoniac mentioned in my text went home? He had been a raving madman; and when he came and knocked at the door, don’t you think you see his friends calling to one another in affright, “Oh! there he is again,” and the mother running upstairs and locking all the doors, because her son had come back that was raving mad; and the little ones crying because they knew what he had been before — how he cut himself with stones, because he was possessed with devils. And can you picture their joy, when the man said, “Mother! Jesus Christ has healed me, let me in; I am no lunatic now!”
5. Expect tension, and pray for reception, when sharing with the lost.
I hear one of you say, “Ah! Sir, would to God I could go home to pious friends! But when I go home I go into the worst of places; for my home is amongst those who never knew God themselves, and consequently never prayed for me, and never taught me anything concerning heaven.”
Go home to them, and tell them, not to make them glad, for they will very likely be angry with you, but tell them for their soul’s salvation. I hope, when you are telling the story of what God did for you, that they will be led by the Spirit to desire the same mercy themselves.
6. Be alert for one-on-one opportunities to share your story.
Do not tell this story to your ungodly friends when they are all together, for they will laugh at you. Take them one by one, when you can get them alone, and begin to tell it to them, and they will hear you seriously. . . . You may be the means of bringing a man to Christ who has often heard the Word and only laughed at it, but who cannot resist a gentle admonition.
7. Don’t expect sharing to be easy, especially with those who have known you longest.
For I hear many of my congregation say, “Sir, I could relate that story to anyone sooner than I could to my own friends; I could come to your vestry, and tell you something of what I have tasted and handled of the Word of God; but I could not tell my father, nor my mother, nor my brethren, nor my sisters.”
8. Overcome the fear to honor your Savior’s love for you.
I know you love him; I am sure you do, if you have proof that he loved you. You can never think of Gethsemane and of its bloody sweat, of Gabbatha and of the mangled back of Christ, flayed by the whip: you can never think of Calvary and his pierced hands and feet, without loving him, and it is a strong argument when I say to you, for his dear sake who loved you so much, go home and tell it. If Christ has done much for you, you cannot help it — you must tell it.
9. Share your story with Godward gratitude.
No story is more worth hearing than a tale of gratitude. This poor man’s tale was a grateful story. A man who is grateful is always full of the greatness of the mercy which God has shown him; he always thinks that what God has done for him is immensely good and supremely great.
10. Share your story with humility — not condescendingly.
It must be a tale told by a poor sinner who feels himself not to have deserved what he has received. Oh! when we tell the story of our own conversion, I would have it done with deep sorrow, remembering what we used to be, and with great joy and gratitude, remembering how little we deserve these things. Why, then, my eyes began to be fountains of tears, those hearers who had nodded their heads began to brighten up, and they listened, because they were hearing something which the man felt himself and which they recognized as being true to him, if it was not true to them.
Tell your story, my hearers, as lost sinners. Do not go to your home, and walk into your house with a supercilious air, as much as to say, “Here’s a saint come home to the poor sinners, to tell them a story.” . . .
Do not intrude yourselves upon those who are older, and know more, but tell your story humbly; not as a preacher, but as a friend and as a son.
11. Share your story truthfully — don’t embellish it.
Do not tell more than you know. Do not tell John Bunyan’s experience, when you ought to tell your own. Do not tell your mother you have felt what only Rutherford felt. Tell her no more than the truth. Tell your experience truthfully, for one single fly in the pot of ointment will spoil it, and one statement you may make which is not true may ruin it all.
12. Share your story seriously — don’t get frivolous.
Let them see you mean it. Do not talk about religion flippantly; you will do no good if you do. Do not make puns on texts. Do not quote Scripture by way of joke. If you do, you may talk till you are dumb, you will do no good, if you in the least degree give them occasion to laugh by laughing at holy things yourself. Tell it very earnestly. . . .
Perhaps when you are telling the story one of your friends will say, “And what of that?” And your answer will be, “It may not be a great thing to you, but it is to me. You say it is little to repent, but I have not found it so; it is a great and precious thing to be brought to know myself to be a sinner, and to confess it; do you say it is a little thing to have found a Savior. . . . If you had found him too, you would not think it little. You think it little I have lost the burden from my back. But if you had suffered with it, and felt its weight as I have for many a long year, you would think it no little thing to be emancipated and free, through a sight of the cross.”
13. Don’t neglect your personal devotions during Christmas.
When you are at home for Christmas, let no one see your face till God has seen it. Be up in the morning, wrestle with God; and if your friends are not converted, wrestle with God for them, and then you will find it easy work to wrestle with them for God.
14. Rest upon the Holy Spirit’s help to share.
Do not be afraid, only think of the good you may possibly do. Remember, he that saves a soul from death has covered a multitude of sins, and he shall have stars in his crown forever and ever. . . . Let your reliance in the Holy Spirit be entire and honest. Trust not yourself, but fear not to trust him. He can give you words. He can apply those words to their heart, and so enable you to “minister grace unto the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29 KJV).
15. Remember, your Christmas testimony is a preview of your eternal autobiography.
When we go home to our friends in Paradise, what shall we do?
First we will repair to that blest seat where Jesus sits, take off our crown and cast it at his feet, and crown him Lord of all. And when we have done that, what shall be our next employ? We will tell the blessed ones in heaven what the Lord hath done for us, and how he hath had compassion on us.
And shall such tale be told in heaven? Shall that be the Christmas Carol of the angels? Yes, it shall be; it has been published there before — blush not to tell it yet again — for Jesus has told it before, “And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost’” (Luke 15:6).
Poor sheep, when you shall be gathered in, will you not tell how your Shepherd sought you and found you? Will you not sit in the grassy meads of heaven, and tell the story of your own redemption? Will you not talk with your brothers and sisters, and tell them how God loved you and has brought you there?
Perhaps you say, “It will be a very short story.” Ah! It would be if you could write now. A little book might be the whole of your biography; but up there when your memory shall be enlarged, when your passion shall be purified, and your understanding clear, you will find that what was but a tract on earth will be a huge tome in heaven. You will tell a long story there of God’s sustaining, restraining, constraining grace. And I think that when you pause to let another tell his tale, and then another, and then another, you will at last, when you have been in heaven a thousand years, break out and exclaim, “O saints, I have something else to say.” Again they will tell their tales, and again you will interrupt them with “Oh, beloved, I have thought of another case of God’s delivering mercy.” And so you will go on, giving them themes for songs, finding them the material for the warp and woof of heavenly sonnets.