From 1853 to 1854 an epidemic of cholera swept through London. A 20-year-old pastor, newly appointed at Park Street Chapel, found himself shepherding a congregation and caring for a community in the midst of a major outbreak that would claim 10,675 London lives in the first year alone.
That man was Charles Spurgeon. Of that time Spurgeon wrote, “If there ever be a time when the mind is sensitive, it is when death is abroad. I recollect, when first I came to London, how anxiously people listened to the gospel, for the cholera was raging terribly. There was little scoffing then” (Spurgeon, Autobiography).
Spurgeon and the Park Street Chapel congregation continued to meet, prioritized ministry, cared for the suffering, evangelized the lost and entrusted themselves to God’s perfect providence and sovereignty. They remained salt and light during a season of death and darkness. The church today is called to no less of a task.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:13-16).
In Jesus’ day, salt was a precious commodity because of its preserving effects. The implication for followers of Christ is that as we persevere in the Christian life we have a preserving effect upon our culture. As we faithfully discharge our divine duties we delay the spread of spiritual decay. Believers impart a gospel flavor to the world that would otherwise be lacking.
When Jesus called his disciples “light,” he gave them a title of distinction. The purpose of light is to illuminate, expose and guide. Christians are meant to illuminate the gospel for the unbeliever, expose the darkness of sin and guide men to Christ in repentance. Just as a light is put upon a stand, so we are to be intentional about shining forth into the world. We cannot sit passively by, guarding our light from the attention of others – we are meant to shine.
In 1866 amid another wave of cholera, Spurgeon issued this charge to the Christian: “And now is the time for all of you who love souls. You may see men more alarmed than they are already; and if they should be, mind that you avail yourselves of the opportunity of doing them good. You have the Balm of Gilead; when their wounds smart, pour it in. You know of him who died to save; tell them of him.”
If our Christianity loses its saltiness, then it will inevitably decay. If our Christianity imitates the darkness, then we have nothing to show the world.
O Christian, you are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. May we take every chance to demonstrate to the lost what the hope and peace of Christ look like in the midst of confusion, fear and death. And as we continue in our gatherings and in our ministries, may we look out and see the immense opportunities we have to clearly and courageously preach the gospel – in both word and deed – to those aching for a word of hope.
Dani Potter is the office administrator at Grace Church Salida. She and her husband, Nathan – a local painter – have two children and enjoy being “indoorsy” people in an outdoorsy person’s paradise.