Over the years I’ve seen various Reformed websites that purport to quote Charles Spurgeon’s views on Christmas. While Spurgeon’s repudiation of Christmas as an ecclesiatical holiday is oft-cited, his accompanying assertions that it is never wrong to reflect on the incarnation of Christ are almost always ignored. Whether such omissions are deliberate or not I cannot say, but such citations have the effect of distorting Spurgeon’s views on the topic.
I believe it is worthwhile, and more accurate, to consider his thoughts in context. What follows are portions of five of Charles Spurgeon’s sermons, each preached around Christmas.
On December 23, 1855, Spurgeon preached on “The Incarnation and Birth of Christ” from Micah 5:2, beginning as follows:
This is the season of the year when, whether we wish it or not, we are compelled to think of the birth of Christ. I hold it to be one of the greatest absurdities under Heaven to think that there is any religion in keeping Christmas day! There are no probabilities whatever that our Savior, Jesus Christ, was born on that day and the observance of it is purely of Popish origin. Doubtless those who are Catholics have a right to hallow it, but I do not see how consistent Protestants can account it in the least sacred! However, I wish there were ten or a dozen Christmas days in the year — for there is work enough in the world — and a little more rest would not hurt laboring people. Christmas is really a gift to us, particularly as it enables us to assemble round the family hearth and meet our friends once more. Still, although we do not fall exactly in the track of other people, I see no harm in thinking of the Incarnation and birth of the Lord Jesus. We do not wish to be classed with those—
“Who with more care keep holiday
The wrong, than others the right way.”
The old Puritans made a parade of work on Christmas day, just to show that they protested against the observance of it. But we believe they entered that protest so completely, that we are willing, as their descendants, to take the good accidentally conferred by the day and leave its superstitions to the superstitious!
Spurgeon preached a message entitled, “Mary’s Song,” based on Luke 1:46-47 December 25, 1864.
Observe, this morning, the sacred joy of Mary that you may imitate it. This is a season when all men expect us to be joyous. We compliment each other with the desire that we may have a “Merry Christmas.” Some Christians who are a little squeamish, do not like the word “merry.” It is a right good old Saxon word, having the joy of childhood and the mirth of manhood in it, it brings before one’s mind the old song of the waits, and the midnight peal of bells, the holly and the blazing log.
I love it for its place in that most tender of all parables, where it is written, that, when the long-lost prodigal returned to his father safe and sound, “They began to be merry.” This is the season when we are expected to be happy; and my heart’s desire is, that in the highest and best sense, you who are believers may be “merry.”
Mary’s heart was merry within her; but here was the mark of her joy, it was all holy merriment, it was every drop of it sacred mirth. It was not such merriment as worldlings will revel in to-day and to-morrow, but such merriment as the angels have around the throne, where they sing, “Glory to God in the highest,” while we sing “On earth peace, goodwill towards men.” Such merry hearts have a continual feast.
I want you, ye children of the bride-chamber, to possess to-day and to-morrow, yea, all your days, the high and consecrated bliss of Mary, that you may not only read her words, but use them for yourselves, ever experiencing their meaning: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.”
On Sunday morning, December 24, 1871, he began a sermon entitled, “Joy Born at Bethlehem,” on Luke 2:10-12:
We have no superstitious regard for times and seasons. Certainly we do not believe in the present ecclesiastical arrangement called Christmas: first, because we do not believe in the mass at all, but abhor it, whether it be said or sung in Latin or in English; and, secondly, because we find no Scriptural warrant whatever for observing any day as the birthday of the Saviour; and, consequently, its observance is a superstition, because not of divine authority. Superstition has fixed most positively the day of our Saviour’s birth, although there is no possibility of discovering when it occurred. Fabricius gives a catalogue of 136 different learned opinions upon the matter; and various divines invent weighty arguments for advocating a date in every month in the year.
It was not till the middle of the third century that any part of the church celebrated the nativity of our Lord; and it was not till very long after the Western church had set the example, that the Eastern adopted it. Because the day is not known, therefore superstition has fixed it; while, since the day of the death of our Saviour might be determined with much certainty, therefore superstition shifts the date of its observance every year. Where is the method in the madness of the superstitious? Probably the fact is that the holy days were arranged to fit in with heathen festivals. We venture to assert, that if there be any day in the year, of which we may be pretty sure that it was not the day on which the Saviour was born, it is the twenty-fifth of December.
Nevertheless, since the current of men’s thoughts is led this way just now, and I see no evil in the current itself, I shall launch the bark of our discourse upon that stream, and make use of the fact, which I shall neither justify nor condemn, by endeavoring to lead your thoughts in the same direction. Since it is lawful, and even laudable, to meditate upon the incarnation of the Lord upon any day in the year, it cannot be in the power of other men’s superstitions to render such a meditation improper for to-day. Regarding not the day, let us, nevertheless, give God thanks for the gift of his dear son.
In our text we have before us the sermon of the first evangelist under the gospel dispensation. The preacher was an angel, and it was meet it should be so, for the grandest and last of all evangels will be proclaimed by an angel when he shall sound the trumpet of the resurrection, and the children of the regeneration shall rise into the fullness of their joy. The key-note of this angelic gospel is joy—”I bring unto you good tidings of great joy.” Nature fears in the presence of God—the shepherds were sore afraid. The law itself served to deepen this natural feeling of dismay; seeing men were sinful, and the law came into the world to reveal sin, its tendency was to make men fear and tremble under any and every divine revelation. The Jews unanimously believed that if any man beheld supernatural appearances, he would be sure to die, so that what nature dictated, the law and the general beliefs of those under it also abetted. But the first word of the gospel ended all this, for the angelic evangelist said, “Fear not, behold I bring you good tidings.” Henceforth, it is to be no dreadful thing for man to approach his Maker; redeemed man is not to fear when God unveils the splendor of his majesty, since he appears no more a judge upon his throne of terror, but a Father unbending in sacred familiarity before his own beloved children.
On December 24, 1876, he preached “The Great Birthday,” from Luke 2:10:
There is no reason upon earth, beyond that of ecclesiastical custom, why the 25th of December should be regarded as the birthday of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ anymore than any other day from the first of January to the last day of the year. And yet some persons regard Christmas with far deeper reverence than the Lord’s-Day. You will often hear it asserted that, “The Bible and the Bible, alone, is the religion of Protestants,” but it is not so! There are Protestants who have absorbed a great deal beside the Bible into their religion and among other things they have accepted the authority of what they call, “the Church,” and by that door all sorts of superstitions have entered. There is no authority whatever, in the Word of God, for the keeping of Christmas at all! And there is certainly no reason for keeping it just now except that the most superstitious section of Christendom has made a rule that December 25th shall be observed as the birthday of the Lord and the Church, established by State Law in this land, has agreed to follow in the same track.
You are under no bondage, whatever, to regard the regulation. We owe no allegiance to the ecclesiastical powers which have made a decree on this matter, for we belong to an old-fashioned Church which does not dare to make laws, but is content to obey them. At the same time, the day is no worse than another, and if you choose to observe it and observe
it unto the Lord, I doubt not that He will accept your devotion. But, if you do not observe it, but unto the Lord observe it not for fear of encouraging superstition and will-worship, I doubt not but what you shall be as accepted in the non-observance as you could have been in the observance of it!
Still, as the thoughts of a great many Christian people will run, at this time, towards the birth of Christ — and as this cannot be wrong — I judged it meet to use ourselves of the prevailing current and float down the stream of thought. Our minds will run that way because so many around us are following customs suggestive of it. Therefore let us get what good we can out of the occasion. There can be no reason why we should not, and it may be helpful that we should, now, consider the birth of our Lord Jesus. We will do that voluntarily which we would refuse to do as a matter of obligation — we will do that simply for convenience sake which we should not think of doing because enjoined by authority or demanded by superstition!
Finally, in “The Star and the Wise Men,” from Matthew 2:1-10, preached December 24, 1882, Spurgeon does not speak particularly on the observation of Christmas, but demonstrates his willingness to meditate on the glory of the Incarnation of Christ even on Christmas Eve Day:
See, dear Friends, the Glory of our Lord Jesus Christ even in His state of humiliation! He is born of lowly parents, laid in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes, but, lo, the principalities and powers in the heavenly places are in commotion! First, one angel descends to proclaim the advent of the new-born King and suddenly there is with him a multitude of the heavenly host singing glory unto God! Nor was the commotion confined to the spirits above, for in the
heavens which overhang this Earth, there is a stir. A star is deputed on behalf of all the stars, as if he were the envoy and plenipotentiary of all worlds to represent them before their King! This star is put in commission to wait upon the Lord, to be His herald to men afar off, His usher to conduct them to His Presence and His bodyguard to sentinel His cradle!
Earth, too, is stirred! Shepherds have come to pay the homage of simple-minded ones—with all love and joy they bow before the mysterious Child — and after them from afar come the choice and flower of their generation, the most studious minds of the age! Making a long and difficult journey, they, too, at last arrive, the representatives of the Gentiles. Lo, the kings of Seba and Sheba offer gifts — gold, frankincense and myrrh! Wise men, the leaders of their peoples, bow down before Him and pay homage to the Son of God! Wherever Christ is, He is honorable. “Unto you that believe He is honor.” In the day of small things, when the cause of God is denied entertainment and is hidden away with things which are despised, it is still most glorious! Christ, though a Child, is still King of kings! Though among the oxen, He is still distinguished by His star!
Beloved Friends, if wise men of old came to Jesus and worshipped, should not we come, also? My intense desire this morning is that we all may pay homage to Him of whom we sing, “Unto us a Child is born; unto us a Son is given.” Let those of us who have long worshipped, worship anew with yet lowlier reverence and more tender love! And may God grant—oh, that He would grant it! — that some who are far off from Him, spiritually, as the Magi were far off, locally, may come, today, and ask, “Where is He that is born King of the Jews? For we have come to worship Him.” May feet that have been accustomed to broad roads, but unaccustomed to the narrow path, this day, pursue that way till they see Jesus and bow before Him with all their hearts, finding salvation in Him!