But I must close, and the last point is THE PROMISE WITH WHICH CHRIST ENCOURAGES US TO AWAKE. The promise is, “Christ shall give you light.” What does that mean? Why, light may mean sometimes instruction. We are often in the dark, and puzzled about difficulties, but do you know half the difficulties in the Bible spring from a cold state of mind: but when the heart gets right, the head seems to get right too, in great measure. I remember a person puzzling himself fearfully with the passage in Scripture about Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. He went and looked at Dr. Gill about it, he went to Thomas Scott about it, and he went to Matthew Henry about it; and these good divines all puzzled him as much as they could, but they did not seem to clear up the matter.(Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 12, pp. 586-87 (Sermon 716, Section III))
The good man could not understand how Jesus Christ could say as he did, 'How oft would I have gathered thee, but thou wouldest not!' One day he received more grace, and got a love for souls, and then the old skin of narrow mindedness which had been large enough for him once began to crack and break, and he went to the passage then, and said, 'I can understand it now; I do not know how it is consistent withe such and such doctrine, but it is very consistent with what I feel in my heart.'
And I feel just the same. I used to be puzzled by that passage where Paul says that he could wish himself accursed from God for his brethren's sake. Why, I have often felt the same, and now understand how a man can say in the exuberance of love to others, that he would be willing to perish himself if he could save them. Of course it never could be done, but such is the extravagance of a holy love for souls that it breaks through reason, and knows no bounds. Get the heart right and you get right upon many difficult points.
As noted in the subject of this post, I'd like to provide three observations.
1. Something Spurgeon Got Right
Spurgeon was right to note the importance of getting one's heart right, if one wishes to understand doctrine. This is what the Puritans called "experimental" religion. The more modern word would be "experiential." Christianity involves a lot of doctrines, but Christianity is not just an academic exercise - it is primarily a way of life. If we are Jesus' disciples we follow Him: not just to the stacks of our local theological library, but in our heart and throughout our life. This living a life for Christ is, of course, informed by study - but it also informs our study. When we hate sin with our hearts, we can begin to appreciate the flaws of objections to the true religion from theodicy. When we love others and give of ourselves for them, we can begin to understand God's love for us. Of course, one must first hear and understand the basic gospel in order to begin to follow Jesus, but as we follow Jesus the head, the heart, and the feet should work together - one illuminating the other, through the efficacious work of the Holy Spirit.
2. Something of Interest to Gill-bashers
A few people who dislike Dr. John Gill have suggested that Dr. Gill was a "hyper-Calvinist" and have suggested that Spurgeon shared their distorted view of this learned doctor and eminent Calvinist theologian. This quotation should help to disabuse them of their error. Notice that here, even while Spurgeon is implicitly suggesting that neither Gill, Scott, or Henry has quite the right explanation of the verse in question, Spurgeon refers to these men as "good divines," and even gives Dr. Gill the dignity of first mention among the group.
3. Something that Spurgeon Got Wrong
Spurgeon made a very common mistake in misquoting the words of our Lord. He quotes the verse in question as "How oft would I have gathered thee, but thou wouldest not!" (another version of the sermon I found says, "How often would I have gathered you, but you would not!" but I believe this is simply an attempt to modernize the sermon's language) Jesus' real words were:
Matthew 23:37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
or in Luke
Luke 13:34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!
Notice what Spurgeon has got wrong:
1) "How often would I have gathered thy children" and
2) "and ye would not."
Spurgeon's modification of the verse seems to demonstrate that he himself did not fully understand it, for he changes what Jesus said, such that (as modified) Jesus is seeking to gather the same group as is willing contrary to His will. In fact, however, the text makes a distinction. As I have explained in more detail elsewhere (link), the first group are the denizens and people of Jerusalem, the latter group are the leaders of Jerusalem.
This is one instance of the reason one will find me rarely relying on Spurgeon for theology. I consider him to be an outstanding preacher - skilled in rhetoric and with a very moving manner of presentation. On the other hand, while he does sometimes provide some good insights (as noted above), there is an unfortunate lack of depth in his theological abilities. He is preeminently a preacher, not a theologian.