Reformed Baptist Fellowship

Spurgeon on the Vagaries of Emotionalism

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on December 6, 2010 at 12:14 pm
I’ve been reading Iain Murray’s excellent book The Old Evangelicalism: Old Truths for a New Awakening (Banner, 2005) this week.
In a chapter titled “Spurgeon and True Conversion,” Murray shares this Spurgeon anecdote on the vagaries of emotionalism:
A young preacher once remarked, “Were you not greatly struck to see so large a congregation weeping?” “Yes,” said his judicious friend, “but I was more struck with the reflection that they would probably have wept more at a play” (p. 52).
I shared this quote with a friend this week, and he told about a conversation he had with someone arguing for the priority of music over preaching in worship. His conversation partner noted in advocacy for the power of music that when he sang certain songs in worship his eyes always filled with tears. My friend replied, “Yes, but remember that unconverted men cried after 9/11 when they heard ‘Amazing Grace.’”
Jeffrey T. Riddle, Pastor
Christ Reformed Baptist Church
Charlottesville, Virginia
  1. And many that you see crying while the bag pipes belt out Amazing Grace will go back to their work places and go right back to using the Lords name in vain,excessive drinking,immoral thoughts and actions without shedding a tear. And as Romans says they glory in their sin and approve of others in theirs.Romans 1:32 I have spent to much of my Christian life in an emotional fog,it’s good to be in the clear light of the TURTH and to be sober minded in true joy.

  2. It reminds me of a time I went to see the movie about Joni Ereckson. I walked out of the theater sobbing but they were not tears of sadness but tears of joy that she had come to saving faith. It moved me so much I cried aloud and couldn’t stop until halfway home. The movie reflected on God’s work to bring one of His elect into His kingdom. Yes, music can move us but so can the words of God. Both are a blessing.

  3. A brother and I were just talking yesterday about the trend in evangelicalism for “worship leaders” to over-emote in order to try to stir up the congregation. We both agreed that oftentimes it just falls flat and appears fake. Nothing against stirring up the people to greater love of Christ or a greater joy and reverence of the Lord, but it often ends up producing emotionalism and not true emotions. Those leading worship (whether in the sung or spoken Word) must point to and magnify Christ, not themselves!

  4. Thanks for posting. I wonder what this says for people who show very little emotion in worship (whether under preaching, singing a good hymn, praying or reading of scripture), but show gads of emotion in other situations like sporting events, funerals, etc. In my limited experience, emotionalism (which is a very real danger) is more common in evangelicalism, but not so much in reformed circles. This quote actually seems to be criticism that the congregation was not as emotional as they should have been considering how they emote for other events. In my opinion emotional sterility is just as much of a sin as emotional excess. I think the real challenge is to have genuine emotions that are moved by truth. I know for myself I have hardly, if ever, been as broken as I should be by my own sin or the misery of my neighbors….or rejoiced with as much exuberance as the grace of God calls for. I am generally glad when I see people emotionally moved by the truth and I try not to question the genuineness of their experience without good reason.

  5. Matthew,

    I agree. I don’t think we can ever have too much emotion. The problem is wrong emotion not strong emotion. If our emotions are to be stirred by truth then to the degree our songs, prayers, and conversations contain truth they should elicit or stir up our affections. If our preaching is to contain truth then how much more should our preaching stir the affections of our people.

    Truth applied by the Holy Spirit is the cause of true emotional or affectionate worship. This comes to the heart through the mind. The Spirit doesn’t by-pass it (emotionalism) nor stop at it (intellectualism). May the Lord keep us from both evils.


  6. Good balance Matthew and Mike. I am not an advocate of the sour puss face in worship or the clown face but a face that reflects the joy of the worship,preaching and fellowsip of the WORD. When ever our Lord is lifted up it should stir in us a delight born of grattitude for such grace to unworthy sinners. And your right it should be genuine and natural not forced.

  7. Well said Matt:
    “In my opinion emotional sterility is just as much of a sin as emotional excess. I think the real challenge is to have genuine emotions that are moved by truth.”

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