committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

CHAPTER 17

IN COMBAT

It may be important as a matter of history although it is less agreeable to the general reader to give some account of the controversies into which Mr. Spurgeon at times was drawn. We have before stated that he had strong friends and bitter enemies. No man could have been more deeply and sincerely loved by promiscuous congregations of people than was Mr. Spurgeon. Some of them even asserted that their affection for him was stronger than their affection for their own families. He was a tower of defense to his friends and no persecuted person went to him for protection who did not at once secure all that his genius and generosity could give. The admiration of his acquaintances which amounted almost to worship naturally awoke in the jealous bosoms of ordinary human beings a counterpart spirit of envy and criticism.

The people well knew that it would please Mr. Spurgeon far more than any personal gift if they would remember the poor, the sick, the lame, the blind and the aged, as an indication of their respect for him. It is a magnificent thing to contemplate in the life of any person when the love of his friends for him manifests itself in deeds of Christian charity and the promotion of salvation.

A very excellent idea of the esteem in which he was held by those who had been acquainted with him through his ministry is shown in an address which was presented to him beautifully embossed on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday.

The twenty-five thousand dollars which was presented to him on that Fiftieth Anniversary with the assurance that he could do with it as he chose. He refused to accept it for himself and appropriated it to the various charities of the church. The accumulated power of ten thousand deeds of kindness necessarily exalted him in the minds of his friends and lifted him to such an eminence that he was a most prominent mark for the arrows of the infidel, the atheist and the unsuccessful. Even that Fiftieth Anniversary, while it multiplied his friends, also brought upon him severe contests with the enemies of the good and the true. The address which was presented to him on that occasion we give in full that it may be preserved as an important matter of history.

"To THE REV. C. H. SPURGEON, Pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle:–

With an united voice of thanksgiving to our ever-blessed God on your behalf; with a cordial acknowledgment of the good services you have rendered to the universal Church of our Lord Jesus Christ and with a profound sense of the high character and wide reputation you have established among your fellow-Christians, we beg to offer you our sincere congratulations on this the fiftieth anniversary of your birthday.

Accept our assurance that no language but the language of personal affection could fitly express the esteem in which you are held by ourselves and by the numerous constituency we represent. Were it possible for the lips of all those who love you as a brother, and those who revere you as a father in Christ, to sound in your ears the sentiments of their hearts, the music of their chorus at this glad hour would be like the noise of many waters.

Gathered together, as we now are, in this sacred edifice–sacred not by reason of any superstitious ceremony at the opening, but by the soul-saving miracles of grace subsequently wrought beneath its roof—it becomes us to greet you first as Pastor of this Ancient Church. More than thirty of those fifty years you chronicle to-day have been spent in our midst. As our Minister you are known to the utmost ends of the earth. Richly endowed by the Spirit of God with wisdom and discretion, your conduct as our Ruling Elder has silenced contention and promoted harmony. The three hundred souls you found in fellowship at New Park Street Chapel have multiplied to a fellowship of nearly six thousand in this Tabernacle. And under your watchful oversight the family group has in-creased without any breach of order.

You came among us in the freshness of your youth. At that flowering age when boys of good promise are wont to change their curriculum from school to college, you had already developed into manliness, and there was ripe fruit as well as pleasant foliage on your branches. The groundwork of your education appeared to be so solid, and the maturity of your character so thoroughly reliable, that you were unanimously elected by venerable members of the Church of Christ to preside over their councils. The fair prospect of your springtime has not suffered from any blight. Your natural abilities never betrayed you into indolent habits. The talents you possessed gave stimulus to your diligence. A little prosperity did not elate you, or a measure of success prompt the desire to settle down in some quiet resting-place. You spread your sails to catch the breeze. The ascendancy you began to acquire over the popular mind, instead of making you vain-glorious, filled you with awe, and increased the rigor of that discipline you have always exercised over yourself. These were happy auguries of your good speed. Not that the utmost vigilance on your part could have sufficed to uphold you amidst the vast and accumulating responsibilities that have devolved on you as the sphere of your ministry widened. He who ruleth in the heavens has screened you in times of peril; and piloted you through shoals and quicksands, through straits and rapids. His grace and His goodness, His promises and His providence have never failed you. From the hour when you first committed your soul, your circumstances, and destinies to the keeping of our Lord Jesus Christ, you have never feared such a disaster.

To your unwavering faith in His guardian care we venture to attribute the coolness of your head and the courage of your heart in all the great adventures of your life. Some of us have been with you from the beginning of your charge. According to a law as legibly written as any law of nature, the Scripture has said, "Instead of the fathers, shall be the children." Hence, in not a few instances, you must miss the sires while you meet the sons. The retrospect of your career, to those who have followed it throughout, appears like one unbroken series of successes; but as our memory retraces the steps you have taken, we can testify to the exhaustive labors in which you have blithely engaged, the constant self-denial you have cheerfully exercised, and the restless anxieties that have kept you and your comrades incessantly calling on the name of the Lord. By such an experience you have enlarged the field of evangelical enterprise in the various institutions of the Church. And it has been your happiness not only to see the growth of those institutions beyond the most sanguine hopes you cherished when planting them, but to have received the grateful thanks of those who derived unspeakable benefit in partaking of their fruits.

Such gratitude demands our notice, though only in the lowest degree. Your skillful general-ship has laid ten thousand happy donors to your charities under lasting obligations to you for providing outlets for their benevolence. It has pleased the Lord to make whatever you do to prosper. You have been the faithful steward and the kindly executor of hundreds and thousands of pious individuals, whose fond design has been to lay up treasure for themselves in heaven by paying into the exchequer on earth of their substance for the widow and the fatherless in their distress, for the poor, and those who have no helper. Let the acknowledgments of subscribers to the various purses you hold in your hands, as well as those of recipients, cheer you as you enter on a fresh decade of the days of the years of your earthly pilgrimage.

An occasion like this is so solemn, and an address like the present is so serious, that we may well search the sacred volume for suitable words. We feel sure that brethren in all parts of the earth pray for you. And we are equally certain that the churches which are in Christ throughout the world glorify God in you. The Lord preserve and keep you to the end. To this hour you have maintained an unsullied reputation among men. Erring as we all are before God, it is our sincere conviction that if such a thing were possible, a second edition of your life, revised by yourself, could hardly be an amendment.

You braved much calumny on the outset of your career, and you have outlived it. The secularists, who once denounced, now salute you. Where you theology has failed to convert them your philanthropy has sufficed to enchant them. You are lifted in public esteem above suspicion, as a true man—no traitor or time-server. Your kindness to everybody has made everybody kind to you. You have illustrated the force and the fullness of a divine proverb which has puzzled many a philosopher: "When a mans ways please the Lord he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him."

If; dear sir, you give us full credit for the intense sympathy we have felt when sickness and sorrow have weakened your strength in the way, you will not deny us the gratification of alluding to the private and domestic joys that pour down like sunbeams on your face and gladden your Jubilee.

Your beloved and estimable wife, whose life long trembled in the balance, has been restored to health. Had she been less heroic and more exacting in her protracted illness, you must have been more reserved and less generous in the consecration of your time and thought to the good works you were doing. In the stillness of enforced retirement her inventive genius discovered new channels of usefulness. Her ‘Book Fund’ is beyond all praise. Her delicate mission has been so appreciated, that throughout the British Isles, and in foreign lands, her name has become linked with your own at every station where an ambassador of Christ publishes the glad tidings of the Gospel.

Your father and mother, walking before God in quiet unpretentious piety, have both been spared to see their first-born son in the median of a career that has made their once obscure patronymic famous throughout the world.

Your worthy brother and trusty yoke-fellow in the pastorate is still by your side rendering good service, for which his fine business tact, and his manly but modest desire to second all your motions to go forward, eminently qualify him.

Your two sons have both devoted themselves to the ministry; and each of them in his own sphere of labor has found proof that he was divinely anointed to his pastorate.

To yourself, however, we turn as a central figure, recognized from afar by tens of thousands of people, to whom your name is an emblem of purity and power, and by whom you are accounted second to none among living Preachers, and your sermons are appreciated as a faithful exposition of the Gospel of God, instinct with the witness of the Holy Spirit, and therefore quickening in their influence on the conscience and the hearts of men.

On your head we now devoutly invoke those blessings which we believe the Almighty is abundantly willing to bestow.

May your steps in the future be ordered of the Lord as they have been in the past: May a generation yet unborn witness that your old age is luxuriant and fruitful as your youth. May your life on earth wind up like the holy Psalter that you so much love. Be it yours to anchor at last in David’s Psalm of Praise, prolific as it was of other Psalms, into which no groan or sigh could intrude. So may you rest in the Lord with a vision of the everlasting Kingdom dawning on your eyes, and Hallelujah after Hallelujah resounding in your ears.

Throughout all the years after his name had become so prominent it was not possible for him to espouse any cause without becoming its principal champion. He was so much better known than any other man and his example had so much more force that he was at once selected from among the entire ranks as the chief object in the battle. Mr. Spurgeon’s disposition shows that balance of ability and judgment which is rare to find among persons even in his profession. His heart was large, his affections very strong and his sympathies most tender; and yet when aroused to conflict he could strike almost fiercely and hurled a free lance with a strong hand.

He spoke decidedly and bluntly, he called evils by their right names and was unsparing in his bitter denunciation of deceit, hypocrisy and sin. It made no difference to him to what class in society his opponents might belong nor how aristocratic may have been their family’s coat of arms. If they were found in the ranks of the enemies of Christ they must surrender or give most valiant battle.

From the beginning of his pastorate in London he was called upon often to espouse some forlorn hope or to stand prominently forth as the defender of some cherished doctrine and while he made many enemies in these contests he also increased the number of his supporters. He held himself strenuously to the Baptist doctrines of the separation of Church and State and was necessarily set in opposition to the established Church of England.

During the early years of his pastorate the dignitaries of the established Church did not deign to notice the "Essex bumpkin," otherwise than to make slurring reference to him in private conversation. But when the common people heard him so gladly and thousands waited upon his ministrations until the public press was compelled as a matter of ordinary news to report the proceedings at his gatherings, these dignified occupants of a political office found that they must enter into the conflict for the defense of their cherished faith.

Some of them conducted most honorable warfare and the greater portion of them respected Mr. Spurgeon for his plain advocacy of his conscientious principles, but occasionally there were found men who used their clerical positions to say contemptibly false things concerning him and to sadly misrepresent his doctrines and his practices.

The replies he made to them contained some of the sharpest thrusts from his intellectual sword and some of the hottest shot from his doctrinal battery that are to be found in any literature. But he did not confine his assaults to the members or doctrines of other denominations. Whenever he found a traitor in the camp or a spy in the fortress, he pounced upon him with a vigor and alertness that often astonished his most intimate acquaintances. It is a surprising thing in his history that in all these assaults upon the different forms of evil and the persons who represented them, that he never had occasion to retrace his steps and seems never to have met with defeat. In some cases his companions felt for a time that he ought to apologize for the hot chain shot which he sent into the enemy’s country, but the subsequent experience confirmed the wisdom of his utterances and often led his opponents to an apology. He stood forth for the doctrines of his denomination with a strength and perseverance which would be noble in the advocate of . any denomination or creed, and could not overlook errors in Christian faith or principles even among his dearest friends. His sectarian feelings were always subordinate to his Christian charity, but he was, nevertheless, that which every disciple of Christ should be, an open defendant of the principles which as a Christian he had espoused.

He serves his denomination best who serves Christ most, and it may be stated with approximation to the truth that he serves Christ best who serves his denomination most.

He would not remain in voluntary association with any assembly of churches where the principles in which he believed were not closely and conscientiously adhered to. If preachers or churches advocated or practiced the principles which were at variance with the fundamental doctrines of Christianity as he understood them he insisted without fear or favor in withdrawing from their fellowship unless they changed their teaching and conduct. A most excellent idea of this feature of his character may be gained from one of the later controversies in which he engaged which became known to the religious world as the "Down-Grade" controversy. In the articles which he wrote upon it before his withdrawal from the Baptist Union, and before uniting with the Surrey and Middlesex Baptist Associations we see this side of his character most strongly exhibited. One of the articles will give the reader a more accurate and comprehensive view of this side of Mr. Spurgeon’s life than anything that could otherwise be written concerning him.

The Baptist Union was composed of Baptists and Congregationalists and was a very free and liberal organization which did not attempt to hold any person very strictly to doctrine or creed. Yet many of the strongest preachers in the Baptist denomination in and about London were members of that Association. In the membership there were also a number of pastors who taught in their pulpits some of the modern ideas of science—so called—and who advocated the theories of the higher criticism and a more liberal and loose construction of the old Testament records. Upon this subject Mr. Spurgeon wrote:–

No lover of the gospel can conceal from himself the fact that the days are evil. We are willing to make a large discount from our apprehensions on the score of natural timidity, the caution of age, and the weakness produced by pain; but yet our solemn conviction is that things are much worse in many churches than they seem to be, and are rapidly tending downward. Read those newspapers which represent the Broad School of Dissent, and ask yourself. How much further could they go? What doctrine remains to be abandoned? What other truth to be the object of contempt? A new religion has been initiated, which is no more Christianity than chalk is cheese, and this religion, being destitute of moral honesty, palms itself off as the old faith with slight improvements, and on this plea usurps pulpits which were erected for gospel preaching. The Atonement is scouted, the inspiration of Scripture is derided, the Holy Ghost is degraded into an influence, the punishment of sin is turned into fiction, and the Resurrection into a myth, and yet these enemies of our faith expect us to call them brethren, and maintain a confederacy with them!

At the back of doctrinal falsehood comes a natural decline of spiritual life, evidenced by a taste for questionable amusements, and a weariness of devotional meetings. At a certain meeting of ministers and church-officers, one after another doubted the value of prayer-meetings; all confessed that they had a very small attendance, and several acknowledged without the slightest compunction that they had quite given them up. What means this? Are churches in a right condition when they have only one meeting for prayer in a week, and that a mere skeleton? Churches here are which have prayer-meetings several times on the Lord’s day, and very frequently during the week, yet feel their need of more prayer; but what can be said of those who very seldom practice united supplication? Are there few conversions? Do the congregations dwindle? Who wonders that this is the case when the spirit of prayer has departed?

As for questionable amusements, time was when a Non-conformist minister who was known to attend the play-house would soon have found himself without a church. And justly so; for no man can long possess the confidence, even of the most worldly, who is known to be a haunter of theaters. Yet, at the present time, it is a matter of notoriety that preachers of no mean repute defend the play-house, and do so because they have been seen there. Is it any wonder that church members forget their vows of consecration, and run with the unholy in the ways of frivolity, when they hear that persons are tolerated in the pastorate who do the same? We doubt not that, for writing these lines, we shall incur the charge of prudery and bigotry, and this will but prove how low are the tone and spirit of the churches in many places. The fact is, that many would like to unite church and stage, cards and prayer, dancing and sacraments. If we are powerless to stem this torrent, we can at least warn men of its existence, and entreat them to keep out of it. When the old faith is gone, and enthusiasm for the gospel is extinct, it is no wonder that people seek something else in the way of delight. Lacking bread, they feed on ashes; rejecting the way of the Lord, they run greedily in the path of folly.

An eminent minister, who is well versed in the records of Nonconformity, remarked to us the other day that he feared history was about to repeat itself among Dissenters. In days gone by, they aimed at being thought respectable, judicious moderate, and learned, and, in consequence, they abandoned the Puritanic teaching with which they started, and toned down their doctrines. The spiritual life which had. been the impelling cause of their dissent declined almost to death’s door, and the very existence of evangelical Nonconformity was threatened. Then came the outburst of living godliness under Whitefield and Wesley, and with it new life for Dissent, and increased influence in every direction.

Alas! many are returning to the poisoned cups which drugged that declining generation, when it surrendered itself to Unitarian lethargy. Too many ministers are toying with the deadly cobra of "another gospel," in the form of "modern thought." As a consequence, their congregations are thinning, the more spiritual of their members join the "Brethren;" or some other company cf "believers unattached;" while the more wealthy, and show-loving, with some of the unquestionable devoutness, go off to the Church of England.

Let us not hide from ourselves the fact that the Episcopal Church is awake, and is full of zeal and force. Dissenting as we do most intensely from her ritualism, and especially abhorring her establishment by the State, we cannot but perceive that she grows, and grows, among other reasons, because spiritual life is waning among certain dissenters. Where the gospel is fully and powerfully preached, with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, our churches not only hold their own, but win converts; but when that which constitutes their strength is gone—we mean when the gospel is concealed, and the life of prayer is slighted—the whole thing becomes a mere form and fiction. For this thing our heart is sore grieved. Dissent for mere dissent’s sake would be the bitter fruit of a willful mind. Dissent as mere political partisanship is a degradation and travesty of religion. Dissent for truth’s sake, carried out by force of the life within, is noble, praiseworthy, and fraught with the highest benefits to the race Are we to have the genuine living thing, or are we to have that corruption of the best, from which the worst is produced? Conformity, or nonconformity, per Se, is nothing; but a new creature is everything, and the truth upon which alone that new creature can live is worth dying a thousand deaths to conserve. It is not the shell that is so precious, but the kernel which it contains; when the kernel is gone, what is there justify that is worth a thought? Our nonconformity is beyond measure precious as a vital spiritual force, but only while it remains such will it justify its own existence.

The case is mournful. Certain ministers are making infidels. Avowed atheists are not a tenth as dangerous as those preachers who scatter doubt and stab at faith. A plain man told us the other day that two ministers had derided him because he thought we should pray for rain. A gracious woman bemoaned in my presence that a precious promise in Isaiah, which had comforted her, had been declared by her minister to be uninspired. It is a common thing to hear working-men excuse their wickedness by the statement that there is no hell, the parson says so. But we need not prolong our mention of painful facts. Germany was made unbelieving by her preachers, and England is following in her track. Attendance at places of worship is declining, and reverence for holy things is vanishing; and we solemnly believe this to be largely attributable to the skepticism which has flashed from the pulpit and spread among the people. Possibly the men who uttered the doubt never intended it to go so far; but none the less they have done the ill, and cannot undo it. Their own observation ought to teach them better. Have these advanced thinkers filled their own chapels? Have they, after all, prospered through discarding the old methods? Possibly in a few cases genius and tact have carried these gentry over the destructive results of their ministry; but in many cases their pretty new theology has scattered their congregations. In meeting-houses holding a thousand, or twelve hundred, or fifteen hundred, places once packed to the ceiling with ardent hearers, how small are the numbers now! We could mention instances, but we forbear. The places which the gospel filled the new nonsense has emptied, and will keep empty.

This fact will have little influence with "the cultured;" for, as a rule, they have cultivated a fine development of conceit. "Yes," said one, whose pews held only here and there a worshiper, "it will always be found that in proportion as the preacher’s mind enlarges, his congregation diminishes." These destroyers of our church appear to be as content with their work as monkeys with their mischief.

That which their fathers would have lamented they rejoice in ; the alienation of the poor and simpleminded from their ministry they accept as a compliment, and the grief of the spiritually-minded they regard as an evidence of their power. Truly, unless the Lord had kept his own, we would long before this have seen our Zion ploughed as a field.

The other day we were asked to mention the name of some person who might be a suitable pastor for a vacant church, and the deacon who wrote said: "Let him be a converted man, and let him be one who believes what he preaches; for there are those around us who give us the idea that they have neither part nor lot in the matter." This remark is more commonly made than we like to remember, and there is, alas ! too much need for it. A student from a certain college preached to a congregation we sometimes visit such a sermon that the deacon said to him in the vestry; "Sir, do you believe in the Holy. Ghost?" The youth replied: "I suppose I do." To which the deacon answered: "I suppose you do not or you would not have insulted us with such false doctrine." A little plain speaking would do a world of good just now. These gentlemen desire to be let alone. They want no noise raised. Of course thieves hate watch-dogs, and love darkness. It is time that somebody should spring his rattle, and call attention to the way in which God is being robbed of his glory, and man of his hope

It now becomes a serious question how far those who abide by the faith once delivered to the saints should fraternize with those who have turned aside to another gospel. Christian love has its claims, and divisions are to be shunned as grievous evils; but how far are we justified in being in confederacy with those who are departing from the truth? It is a difficult question to answer so as to keen the balance of the duties. For the present it behooves believers to be cautious, lest they lend their support and countenance to the betrayers of the Lord. It is .one thing to overleap all boundaries of denominational restriction for the truth’s sake; this we hope all godly men will do more. It is quite another policy which would urge us to subordinate the maintenance of truth to denominational prosperity and unity. Numbers of easy-minded people wink at error so long as it is committed by a clever man and a good-natured brother, who has so many fine points about him Let each believer judge for himself; but, for our part, we have put on a few fresh bolts to our door, and we have given orders to keep the chain up; for, under color of begging the friendship of the servant, there are those about who aim at robbing THE MASTER.

We fear it is hopeless ever to form a society which can keep out men base enough to profess one thing and believe another; but it might be possible to make an informal alliance among all who hold the Christianity of their fathers. Little as they might be able to do, they could at least protest, and as far as possible free themselves of that complicity which will be involved in a conspiracy of silence. If for a while the evangelicals are doomed to go down, let them die fighting, and in the full assurance that their gospel will have a resurrection when the inventions of "modern thought" shall be burned up with fire unquenchable.

The characteristics exhibited in that controversy, the history of which the world will soon care little about, displays his fearlessness and shows how delighted the oppressed, the injured, or the fearful would be to secure such a champion for themselves for their cause.

 
 
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