How to Live Like a Christian (and Be Happy, Not Miserable)

Charles Spurgeon's advice for following Jesus

By David Mills Published on June 27, 2020

He calls this a “law” of the way our character develops: “Good comes to better, and Bad to worse.” Then the great English preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon offers his real insight: “bad does not [become] good except by conversion.” We don’t get gradually good. People tend to think we just kind of get better over time, just by trying to be a little nicer. We don’t. We get worse. If we want to get better, we must actually, actively turn to God.

Spurgeon wrote this in a book called Salt-cellars. (We would say “salt shakers.”) He published the book three years before he died in 1892. One of the giants of his age, he was a Baptist, but read widely by other English Protestants. In the two big volumes of Salt-cellars, he collects hundreds of proverbs and gives his own take on them. He’s usually insightful, often striking, and sometimes funny. The text of the book can be found here if you want to copy sections from it and here if you want read the original.

See last week’s article for an explanation of why Spurgeon wrote this way. And learn from the great preacher “How to Speak Like a Christian (and Not Like a Fool, a Bully, or a Buffoon).”

Here are a few of his insights on living life as a Christian, chosen almost at random. The book offers many, many more. Next week we’ll share some of his insights on living well, which also apply to living as a Christian.

For more from the wise men and women of the past, see #StreamChristianClassics.


The farmer’s care makes fields to bear
Yet God we know makes harvests grow
How the omnipotence of God works through the labour of man we know, for we see it before us every day. We work as if we did all, but we trust in God, knowing that all power belongs to him.

Evil society is the death of piety
He cannot smell sweetly who sleeps in a bed of garlic.

Make your mark, but mind what the mark is.
Too many seem eager for mere notoriety; but if we are not famous for goodness we are practically infamous.

That is vain which vanisheth
Therefore fix thy heart on nothing but that which is eternal.

Make much of little
By charitable judgments come to a favourable conclusion concerning those in whom you see even a little grace. One can see the sky in a single drop of rain, and a work of grace in a tear of repentance.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Nature abhors a vacuum
When a man’s head is empty, some nonsense or other is sure to get in, and when his stomach is empty it will not be comfortable till it is filled. Empty purses also are very restless things.

Mice must not pay with kittens
Nor must men toy with temptations, for they are not able to resist them.

The best of men are but men at the best
When trial comes it is seen to be so. What fault one man commits another may commit. Those are not the best of men who forget that they are only men.

Go through your closet to your shop or your field
Let prayer be the preface to all your business.

First look up, and then look out
Look to God first, and then watch for every honourable opportunity of getting on in business.

God helps those who help themselves
God helps those who cannot help themselves
These two proverbs are equally true; but the last is very sweet to the hopeless and helpless. Our extremity is God’s opportunity; and he is never slow to begin when we have reached the end of our own power and wisdom.

Have no faith in a man who has no faith
If he does not believe in God, do not believe in him.

God will grind to powder those who grind the poor

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Make much of little
By grateful praise express your value of the least of God’s mercies.

The birds see the bait, but not the net
So men see the present pleasure of sin but not its fatal result.

Men lose their lives by accident but not their souls

That you may be loved be lovable
Else you cannot expect people to love you nor should you even desire them to act in so unreasonable a way as to love that which is not worthy of love. Love and be loved — being loved, love.

God gives thee six days; steal not the seventh

He does much who does a little well
He doeth much who loveth much
Love to God is the mainspring of activity, and sets a man doing much. Even when the good work is apparently little, the abundance of love which is in it makes it. much in the sight of God.
“He doeth well who doeth good
To those of his own brotherhood;
He doeth better who cloth bless
The stranger in his wretchedness:
Yet best, yea, best of all, doth he
Who helps a fallen enemy!”

Frenzy, heresy, and jealousy, these three
Seldom or never cured be
They feed upon themselves, and grow most rapidly without other food, and hence there is little hope of their abatement.

Fowls should roost where foxes cannot reach
It is wise to rise above the tempter’s grip by living on high with God. 

You will not be loved yourself if you love none but yourself

The base pretender, being short in weight, dreads the scales
Testing is what he abhors. He cannot endure a creed for his faith, nor a law for his practice. But the man who is sound at heart comes to the light and to the scale.

More light, more life, more love
Worthy to be a common wish and to grow into a holy proverb.
Light without life is a candle in a tomb.
Life without love is a garden without bloom.

Follow the Master more than the pastor
The pastor must only be followed while he follows his Pastor. Happy is it for a people when their minister walks with God, for then they may follow him everywhere.

Many have gifts from God but not the gift of God
They have the comforts of life but not eternal life.

Zeal without knowledge is fire without light and knowledge without zeal is light without fire

Zeal without knowledge soon becomes cold
There is nothing to feed its fires and so it dies down and is very hard to rekindle.

Faith looks to precepts as well as to promises
It takes the whole Word of God, and obeys commands as well as trusts promises.

Men cannot practise unless they know, but they know in vain if they practice not.

That man is lost indeed who is lost to shame
There is nothing left to work upon. The creature’s hide is too thick for us to make him feel. We shall have to let him run away, for he has become too hard in the mouth for our bit.

That fish will soon be caught which nibbles the bait
The fish that nibbles at the bait, is very soon upon the plate. Toying with temptation is extremely dangerous work.

Make a crutch of your cross
Use it as a help on the road to Heaven.

God’s wrath comes by measure; his mercy without measure

God is no man’s debtor, but every man’s creditor

You have only one soul — give it to your one Saviour


David Mills is a senior editor of The Stream. After teaching writing in a seminary, he has been editor of Touchstone and the executive editor of First Things. He edits the site Hour of Our Death and writes the monthly “Last Things” column for the New Oxford Review and a weekly column for the English Catholic Herald. He is finishing a book on death and dying to be published by Sophia Institute Press.

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