Geese in Their Hoods
This collection of Spurgeon's writings on Roman Catholicism begins with several accounts of his travels from his autobiography. One is a letter he wrote while on a sojourn to "the continent," and another is an address to his fellowship upon his return. A third, A Sabbath in Rome, is his written account of a visit to the believing Christians in that city.
We begin with these compositions because we wish the reader to see what Spurgeon saw. In his travels to areas which were predominantly Roman Catholic, he saw women pressed into labor while men rested and watched. He saw men, women and children reduced to beggary in "filth, squalor, and poverty" (pg. 111). He saw technology that was years behind the comforts to which he was accustomed in Reformed England. Men who worked did so for long hours and little pay. He saw the proliferation of gambling, superstition and a disdain for the things of God. He saw a decaying culture that once burned with the flame of the Gospel of Christ during the Reformation. In short, Spurgeon recognized that there was an ongoing battle for the culture, and his comments on his journeys were as much an objective observation as they were a warning to the believers in England that a battle for our culture always rages. England faced similar prospects if it did not cling to the advances it had made.
It is precisely this point that Mr. Spurgeon makes in the next article, Mr. Spurgeon and the Church of England in 1861. His earnest plea was for England to keep itself from falling back into the follies of Romanism. This article makes that point repeatedly, both by outright condemnation of the ritualist Church of England which was "ruining souls, and turning this nation to Popery and infidelity" (pg. 40), and by many allusions to the English version of pomp and ceremonialism which was so characteristic of the "apostate church of Rome" (pg. 181). Almost prophetic in his observations, Spurgeon recognized the trend: such ritualism "boded no good to anybody, and was only one wheel in the machinery by which it is hoped to re-establish a universal Popedom, under certain modifications" (pg. 95).
Spurgeon was much like today's ecumenists who lament the passing of a "God-fearing, westernized, culture" and charge Christians daily to take back what is being lost to the secular world. But Spurgeon was different than today's ecumenists in one important way. He recognized that Rome was as much to blame for the cultural decay as were the ungodly desires of natural men. Where Rome prospered, there ignorance, technological backwardness and poverty flourished as well. Spurgeon--noting the exceptions where they were plain--never forgot that Rome was a cause of the cultural decay, and the Gospel alone was the cure.
We follow Spurgeon's accounts of his journeys and his condemnation of the Establishment with his article on The Florentine Monk for this reason. Florence of the late 1400s was rife with all of the cultural evils that we are saddened to see proliferating in this era: gambling, drinking, debauchery, the pursuit of all vanity and worldly pleasures. Jerome Savonarola, a Dominican monk in Florence, was troubled by this and brought about great reformation to that region. Spurgeon surmises that Savonarola may have been one of the heralds of the Reformation, the effects of which Christians today still enjoy. He notes well that Rome was not only impotent in the effort to bring about moral reformation in Florence, but also that Rome was the very cause of the cultural decay. But a rude moralist agenda was not the solution. It was not a union between Christians and Rome that set things aright in Savonarola's town. It was the preaching of the Gospel that completely reformed it, and Savonarola's clear and decisive "testimony in favour of justification by faith and not by works, the forgiveness of sins by Christ and not by man" (pg. 54) is what changed the people of Florence. It also got Savonarola tortured and burned at the stake, and that by order of the Pope. It seemed that Rome preferred darkness, superstition and licentiousness to the light of the Gospel of Christ. To find that out cost Savonarola his life.
Spurgeon was dealing with a fallen culture in England, too. But his solution to the problem was simple: "How shall we deal with all this? Shall we invent some socialistic system of reform? Shall we preach up some new method of political economy? No! the cross, the old cross is enough..." (pg. 168). Here we see clearly, as Spurgeon did, what so many of today's moralist culture warriors cannot. A safe, prosperous, peaceful western culture is one of the many effects of the preaching of the Gospel of Christ. As Spurgeon correctly notes, "the English Reformation preceded the English Revolution, and was at once its cause and guarantee" (pg. 57). The comforts and freedoms Spurgeon enjoyed, he realized, were due to the Reformers separating from Rome, which is why he also observed, "popery will ruin liberty if liberty does not ruin popery" (pg. 59). He knew that Romanism was as much the enemy of western culture as anything else to which the blame had been attached.
But a western culture itself is not the Gospel. And while we may positively assert that debauchery, poverty, licentiousness, and cultural and technological backwardness are not the gospel of Rome, they surely are the effects of it! This is why Spurgeon would be baffled by today's Christian moral religionists who wish to unite with Rome to stay the loss of a western culture. In sum, they are attempting to join a cause of our safe, prosperous, peaceful western culture (the Gospel of Christ) with a cause of its demise (Romanism). Were they to back up one step, they would see that the two ingredients of their agenda to bring about moral reform in society are completely and wholly incompatible because they hold to two different gospels and produce radically opposite effects! If they could see that the Gospel alone can bring about the effects they desire, they would then see that a union with Rome is not only unnecessary, but that it would actually damage their cause all the more. We think Spurgeon's commentary on his journeys, the condition of England's state church, and his account of the Florentine monk are worth the reading, if for this reason only.
Following on the groundwork laid in The Florentine Monk, comes the article entitled, The Religious Revolution in France. This article--in which Spurgeon borrows substantially from Edgar Quinet, a very concerned French countryman--is the warning that summarizes our deepest concerns for today's Evangelical complicity with Rome. Mr. Spurgeon wanted his flock to see that "the general decadence and comparative ruin of Southern Europe" (pg. 56) was to be attributed to Rome's counter-reformation. Rome's answer to the gospel of Christ was the social and moral ruin of all her subjects. Spurgeon quotes Machiavelli who remarks, "We Italians are chiefly indebted to the church and the priests for our having become a set of profane scoundrels" (pg. 202). This makes Rome the last possible ally in the quest for social justice, moral righteousness and the freedom of the conscience. Freedom, said Spurgeon, "must be protected against her natural and implacable enemy the Romish Church" (pg. 56). For Protestants to sit at the table with Rome is to demonstrate a pitiable lack of historical understanding.
After this comes a compilation of various tracts, letters and writings, culminating finally in the 1874 article, Scala Santa, an account of Luther's conversion from Rome, and to the Gospel of Christ. We wish to end on this because it summarizes the vast spiritual chasm which exists between Romanism and Christianity, and it hinges on this: the just shall live by faith--the very cornerstone of the Gospel of Christ which Rome officially denied at the Council of Trent. It is this--justification by faith alone--that brought about the very same spiritual transformation in Luther that many would like to see in today's culture. We hasten to remind those who seek such cultural reform that the change which this gospel wrought in Luther cost Rome a monk! The cultural reform sought by many today will likewise cost them the alliance they seek with Rome. It must.
Many of the writings in this volume come from Spurgeon's newsletter, The Sword and the Trowel. This name comes from Nehemiah's account of the building of the walls of Jerusalem. Since the project for the recovery of Jerusalem's prominence was often interrupted by attacks from a backward culture, the workers held a trowel in one hand for building, and a sword in the other for defense, while a trumpeter stood by to sound the alarm in case of attack:
"They which builded on the wall, and they that bare burdens, with those that laded, every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon. For the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side, and so builded. And he that sounded the trumpet was by me" (Nehemiah 4:17-18).
Spurgeon had two goals then. One was to build up the body of Christ, and the other was to defend from outside attacks. If Spurgeon's trowel was drawn for the purpose of sculpting the members of his flock into mature Christian men and women, his sword was drawn for the purpose of protecting them from outside marauders who seek to steal and destroy. Much of the time, his sword was pointed squarely at Rome.
In Spurgeon's writings, we see the anguish of a pastor who had lost sheep to Rome's advances. We see a preacher with absolutely no fear of the Establishment, and no concern for offense by the preaching of the Gospel. God will save whom He will, and that through the preaching of the Word. We see in Spurgeon a man who knew he would be held to account for the position in which God had placed him; so, like we see in Paul's tears at Miletus, we also see in Spurgeon a drive to make sure that he "kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house" (Acts 20:20). Spurgeon knew that exposing Rome was an important part of what was profitable to his flock's well being.
There are, of course, some who will say that Spurgeon lived in a different time, a time when anti-Romanism was fashionable, and that with all of today's social concerns, even Spurgeon might be driven to reconsider his position. But Spurgeon knew that there was only one true social issue of which all the rest were merely a subset: the depravity of man. The question which Spurgeon knew to ask--and we wish that Christian's today would ask it--was, "What is the solution to man's total depravity?" The answer, of course, is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and Spurgeon knew well enough that Rome did not have it. If Rome could not save the souls of men, then she could not save humanity from the effects of its own depraved nature.
As we progress through this collection, we shall see that Spurgeon actually lived in a time when complicity with Rome was becoming more and more fashionable, and that he bore the brunt of upholding truth in the face of those who were willing to blur doctrinal distinctives for the sake of a false unity to accelerate social reform. When Spurgeon laments that Rome "fascinates a certain order of Protestants," and that "dignitaries of the papal confederacy are just now very prominent in benevolent movements" (pp. 122-3), we are hard pressed to see how his time was different from ours. And when Christians today are willing to forfeit the Gospel in order to save the culture from itself, we ask, "what will ye do in the end thereof?" (Jeremiah 5:31).
In the rest of this volume we hope the reader will see what Spurgeon saw in Rome, and the danger Rome holds for those who would wander after her. During Spurgeon's preaching career, Rome added both the Immaculate Conception of Mary, and Papal Infallibility to her errors. Since then, she has added even more. Rome is worse now than when Spurgeon was alive. He said rather plainly at that time, "The master-piece of Satan is Popery" (pg. 79). For this reason, we doubt that he would be persuaded to change his opinion of her today, much less to sit at the same table with her. We need not wonder what Spurgeon would have to say of John Paul II, the Assumption of Mary and the work of Mother Teresa. He has already spoken his motto, and that writ large: "No Peace With Rome!" (pg. 123). It is our motto, as well.
The reason for Spurgeon's emphatic statement is that he knew Rome was, as a system, a formal, official denial of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Rome has labored officially to undermine this Gospel at least since Trent, and unofficially, much longer than that. The gospel cannot be joined to the anti-gospel. The Good News cannot be reduced to just plain news. And Christ has no part with Belial. Ignore this, and those who would build a house with Rome labor in vain to change in man what only the Gospel can--to join with Rome is to forfeit Christ's Gospel. Seeing, however, that Rome does fascinate "a certain order of Protestants," we stand with Spurgeon and say that "it becomes all who would preserve their fellow-immortals from destruction to be plain and earnest in their warnings. ...for truth's sake, our Protestantism must protest perpetually" (pp. 122-3). And to those who think they can save our society by inviting Rome into the foxhole, we rightly call that an invasion, not an alliance! For this reason the trumpet has sounded, and we now lay down our trowels and draw our swords.
Mass Market Paperback - 206 pages 1st
edition (June 1, 1997)
White Horse Pubns; ISBN: 0963714171
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