Spurgeon’s Theory of Theological Controversy

I have received a measure of pity because I am in opposition to so many; but the pity may be spared, or handed over to those on the other side. Years ago, when I preached a sermon upon Baptismal Regeneration, my venerable friend, Dr. Steane, said to me, “You have got into hot water.” I replied, “No; I do not feel the water to be hot. The truth is far otherwise. I am cool enough; I am only the stoker, and other folks are in the hot water, which I am doing my best to make so hot that they will be glad to get out of it.” We do not wish to fight; but if we do, we hope that the pity will be needed by those with whom we contend.1

“Ahab’s quenchless feud seemed mine,” so Ishmael confessed in the quest for Moby Dick. Spurgeon clearly saw the white whale of destructive error tear the spiritual limbs from many a seeker and dare an assault on the integrity and rule of God himself. No area of Christian truth had been without its detractors and all revolt and rebellion seemed renewed in his lifetime. It was his thorough satisfaction with the living waters of revealed truth that made his feud with error quenchless indeed.

Apt and Ready for Convictional Controversy

Though Spurgeon’s most intense concentration of mental energy and spiritual devotion was expressed in his commitment to preaching the gospel for the salvation of sinners, his lengthy and complex involvement in theological controversy was not far behind and was vitally connected to his first love of gospel preaching. Given the situation of truth unchallenged, Spurgeon could say, “To win a soul from going down into the pit is a more glorious achievement than to be crowned in the arena of theological controversy as Doctor Sufficientissimus.”2 And though one should not go around with his fist doubled up and with a theological revolver in the leg of his trousers, he must nevertheless “be prepared to fight, and always have your sword buckled on your thigh, but wear a scabbard.”3 Sometimes, as he later admonished, the scabbard must be thrown away.

If men preached ever so powerfully with natural gifts and yet had no saving message what good was any pretended kind of evangelism or how would they ever “win a soul from going down into the pit?” Christ invested churches with a saving gospel message and commissioned them to preach it with no warrant to alter that message. Its ministers were ambassadors, not legislators. The only lawgiver and king is Christ and his mandate is in Scripture alone. The minister is a man under authority and has no right to compromise either message or practice by introducing ideas from his own brain or from another source of religious tradition. Every system, therefore, that altered the shape of the gospel or that questioned the utter veracity of Scripture as divinely revealed truth was an enemy to the souls of men, to the glory of God, and to Spurgeon.

One cannot be true, Spurgeon believed, unless one were willing to make controversy on every challenge to true religion. “When the gage of battle is thrown down,” he told the Baptist Missionary Society, “I am not the man to refuse to take it up.”4 The unsheathed sword gleamed and the scabbard posed no temptation when vital truth suffered assault. He was not willing to do this for any kind of trouble at all, however, and preferred peace and would seek a high degree of toleration within the clearly marked sphere of central gospel verities. He wrote, “I had rather run a mile any day than quarrel, and that is saying a good deal, for miles are long to legs which have the rheumatism.”5

Though W. Y. Fullerton judged that “Mr. Spurgeon was too earnest, too intent on the eternal meaning of things, too sure of his own standing to be a good controversialist,”6 one must take seriously that Spurgeon purposefully named his monthly magazine, not The Trowel, but, The Sword and the Trowel. His intent was to do battle. His earnestness, rather than weakening, intensified his qualifications. He was after something beyond himself, beyond the mere appearance of vanquishing a foe, and beyond the awe of men; he was after the glory of God in the defense of his truth. If this were not his intent, he chose very poor words for his preface to the first volume of the monthly magazine when he wrote, “Foes have felt the sword far more than they would care to confess, and friends have seen the work of the trowel on the walls of Zion to their joy and rejoicing.”7

For his 1880 Almanack, Spurgeon wrote a piece bristling with a theological militancy indicative of deep-seated concerns. “When invasion threatened in olden times, they beat the drums and summoned all good citizens to the defence of their country.” Only the feeble and cowardly held back. Hearths and homes are dear and “rouse the patriot’s fighting spirit.” No less should be expected when the war is spiritual and we “know that truth is assailed, [and] the glory of God is the object of attack.” Using the weapons of the word and all-prayer, no enemy shall pass unchallenged. “Ritualism and Rationalism, a double enemy, have come in upon us,” and not only fight from without but now infiltrate our churches. Sensationalism and prideful academics join forces to impugn the old fashioned gospel as stale. “Let us, therefore, set our faces like flints against all adulteration of the pure word, [and] all bedizenment of simple worship. If we give them an inch they will take an ell.” Prefer the charge of bigotry than the reality of guilt before God for giving way to Popery and infidelity. “It is as much our duty, under God,” Spurgeon acknowledged in a familiar and oft-repeated refrain, “to conserve the truth as to convert sinners.” He reinforced the conviction with the stinging comment, “It is idle to talk about missions to this and that while the eternal truth is disregarded, [and] the essential doctrines are frittered away.” Generosity cannot be set in opposition to that which is just and the circumference cannot expand if the center disintegrates. “The Lord make his people more zealous for the faith once delivered to the saints.”8

In spite of what some resisted admitting and others viewed as regrettable, at least one American friend saw Spurgeon’s courage in controversy as a compelling quality. Rejecting the picture of Spurgeon as the “goody goody sort of man,” J. D. Fulton, a Brooklyn pastor, viewed Spurgeon as his “ally in proclaiming Christ as the Saviour of the lost, in fighting Romanism, in defending the Bible as essential to the life of liberty, in lifting the warning signal of danger concerning ‘The Downgrade’ and the so-called ‘New Theology,’ and in defending at every cost what he thought truth.”9

Distinctive Spheres of Engagement

Spurgeon’s controversies fall into three major types. Controversy at the first level came at the point of immediate conflict over scriptural teaching. This involved a clash of messages and a clash of confessions. Spurgeon had much to say in this area and spread his remarks over a wide field including persons, denominations, and movements. The second level of conflict emerged with those that held a confessional position ostensibly, but felt themselves justified in functioning in opposition to it. Sometimes this was because their theology was better than the confession, and led Spurgeon to admonish them to leave their church and place themselves at the behest of divine provision. Others ministered outside the parameters of, or in opposition to, their confessions because they believed less and worse than the confession proclaimed. For these he felt special alarm and was particularly disdainful of their hypocrisy. A third type of controversy focused on the theological differences that he had with other publications, including periodicals and books. For the most part this type involved a single interaction but on occasions resulted in prolonged, and sometimes bitter, insulting exchanges.

We look briefly at the third and first and then give a bit longer attention to the second.

Ongoing Strife with Periodicals

The numbers of periodicals that Spurgeon read was massive, and that he took issue from time to time with their viewpoints, politically, theologically, socially, or personally should come as no surprise. It was all in the interest of clarifying truth, or making those that gained the public’s attention more careful in their presentation. He had suffered much at the hands of pundits and cartoonists, and at times had benefitted from them, but he always shuddered at misrepresentation whether to his denigration or his advantage, whether a deflation or a puff. The intense interest in everything Spurgeon made it impossible for him to respond to everything, but certain types called for rapid and unwavering confrontation.

When the Westminster Review reported, “among other falsehoods and misrepresentations,” that some of his own deacons described him as “a regular pope,” Spurgeon called it “an unmitigated lie, for which there has never existed a shadow of foundation.” He challenged the paper to produce a single name and address and he would respond with all the names and addresses of the deacons so that the reporter could either verify the statement or “admit himself to have uttered a gratuitous falsehood.”10 When his friends Arthur Mursell and William Landels lectured before his college men, Spurgeon wryly observed, “It is most remarkable that, while the Westminster Review was announcing these brethren as our opponent, they were actually of their own free will serving us as friends.” Mursell’s lecture, in fact, took a particularly spurgeonic texture as he laid “such scathing sarcasm upon the modern schools of thought, and such a defence of the old orthodox faith, as we have seldom, if ever, heard” and he hoped that they would never forget it.11 In reviewing a book of interesting incidents in Baptist history by J. J. Goadby, Spurgeon remarked, “If this book does not interest a reader, we give him up; he must surely be as ignorant as the writer in the last Westminster Review, who evidently knew more about pewter pots that Baptists.”12

One publication with which Spurgeon had an ongoing battle for more than two decades was The Christian World, the product of an entrepreneurial publisher named James Clark. He had begun this paper in 1857 as an unsectarian and evangelical newspaper, a “general intelligencer” for broadly evangelical thinkers in England. Spurgeon seems first to have paid close attention to The Christian World in 1866. The lead review for that year in The Sword and the Trowel gave a sterling recommendation from Spurgeon. He said that the editor “is manly in his utterances, and decided in his teachings, keeping back no truth because of its angularity or unpopularity.” This newly minted periodical avoided the malady of non-denominational publications in becoming “namby-pamby, truckling, timorous, and anything-arian.” He continued the recommendation of the editor by saying, “His leading articles are admirable, his selection judicious, and his news fresh and varied.” He recommended everything except “the religions novels, and if we should ever be able to screw up our grim judgment round to allow us to recommend works of fiction, we should most certainly put the tales in the Christian World in a very high place.” He urged his friends to seek the extension of the influence of a “paper so excellent” for it certainly commanded his “constant and increasing confidence.”13

Within six months, Spurgeon’s confidence began to decrease. By June, Spurgeon’s correspondents had disturbed his mind about the theological ambience of the religious periodical. He felt embarrassed that he had not noticed certain theological leanings and had given such an enthusiastic welcome. The mitigating circumstance featured the editor as “a gentleman whom we highly esteem, a man of great ability and generous spirit.” In addition, “his paper, for its freshness of news, and its power of writing, deserves every encomium, while its aid to all sorts of practical work, in the cause of religion and education, commands our gratitude.” Lately he had noticed, however, “from numerous letters and personal remarks… there is a growing want of confidence in the theology of the paper in certain directions.” He concurred. “Theologically,” he judged, “it does seem to us that of late the articles in the paper are generally loose and frequently dangerous.” He gave such a notice, not to interfere with the perfect freedom of the editor in the conscientious promulgation of his own views, but to dissociate his influence from the “promulgation and palliation of what we feel to be very serious error.”14 When his correspondents began to write to him complaining about the “the heterodoxy of the Christian World newspaper,” he responded that “no one is more grieved at the fact than we are, but we have not even the remotest share in the conduct of the paper, or any sort of connection with it.” Though he had always wished the paper well, he was “sorry that it takes the course it has.”15

Future days would prove the instincts of Spurgeon true. An obituary of the publisher, James Clarke, described him in terms exactly suited to irritate and alarm Spurgeon. “His breadth and boldness continually caused the weaker brethren to tremble. To admit into ‘News of the Churches’ the headings ‘Unitarian’ and ‘New-Church,’ was sure proof that he was on the ‘downgrade.’ Many were scandalized at the latitude afforded alike to Annihilationists and Universalists to advocate their heterodox views.”16 This reference is a scarcely subtle poke at Spurgeon as one of the “weaker brethren.”

Primary sources for illustrating his point throughout the Downgrade Controversy came from his perennial nemesis The Christian World magazine. Spurgeon described his relation to this magazine when he wrote, “We view matters from a point of view which is precisely the opposite of The Christian World.” When he quoted it, as he did frequently, in confirmation of his own observations, he referred to the paper as “our antagonistic cotemporary.”17 In exposing the doctrinal slide among so-called evangelicals, Spurgeon pointed to The Christian World as the periodical to which was “largely due the prevalence of this mischief.”

Confessional Clashes

Conscientiously-held theological divergence led to clashes. Often these were short lived and established a standing relationship on confessional differences. At their best, when doctrinal differences were small, these brief battles brought mutual respect for faithfulness while contending for the truth in its purity. Shots across the bow on particular doctrinal points would punctuate Spurgeon’s writings and preaching when he felt that reiteration of a theological idea in opposition to error was necessary. When these differences concerned matters that did not attack the doctrines of Scripture, God, Christ or salvation, Spurgeon sought ways in which to express his unity on these most central issues.

For example, Bishop Ryle was always good on experimental Christianity, the importance and craft of preaching, and the central issues of the gospel though he functioned under a cloud, in Spurgeon’s view, of episcopacy. When he preached the gospel, Ryle was right; when he played the bishop, Ryle could expect spurgeonic lampoons. His book Simplicity in Preaching “out-Ryles anything we have ever read for raciness and direct home-thrusting power.” Spurgeon saw so much power and wisdom in it that he recommended that every student of preaching should memorize it. “Dr. Ryle,” Spurgeon admitted, at least on this point, “has not been spoiled even by being made a bishop!”18 Even beyond Ryle’s gifts in preaching, Spurgeon would acknowledge, “While with all her faults he loves the Church of England still, he loves the souls of men much more, and most of all the gospel of their salvation.” Ryle’s experience of the gospel had made him great by its gentleness and earnest by its threats and promises. Spurgeon commended his intensity in appeal to sinners and denoted his evangelicalism even apart from a statement of the leading doctrines. “The practical claims of the gospel upon true believers are here most scripturally and lovingly enforced,” Spurgeon wrote of Ryle’s book Practical Religion, “and at the same time the self-deceived and unconcerned are called upon to see how much they also need the atoning blood.”19

Spurgeon could have been describing his own message. Concerning a cordial meeting of devotees of different denominations in Southampton, 27 October 1881, after Spurgeon had preached, he reported, “It was a singular sight to see at these services men of all grades and creeds, and even more remarkable to observe with what kindliness they received the preacher of the Word.” He observed softening, candor towards long-despised truth, friendly discussion, and, more important, “spiritual communion both in conversation and prayer.” In a statement of great ecumenical breadth, Spurgeon proclaimed, “The life of God in the souls of believers triumphs over even important difference of ceremonial and doctrine. In honestly dealing with each other in the spirit of love to Christ we shall, by the Holy Ghost’s guidance, find the way to mutual edification and enlightenment, and so to real unity.”20 Societies formed for the purpose of achieving unity will do less than “congresses, and conferences, and meetings,” in which opportunity is given for genuine spiritual fellowship built on shared experience and commonly held truth. Such meetings, Spurgeon believed, would increase knowledge and common regard for those differing in less central matters. Pointing out differences among such brethren was not unnecessary and had its appropriate place, but the large field of genuine camaraderie in revealed truth far transcended the stubborn differences.

Controversies that involved major confessional differences in vital areas evoked ongoing resistance on the part of Spurgeon and prompted his most exquisite displays of sarcasm and close analysis. Roman Catholicism and certain aspects of Anglicanism were major opponents in this type of conventional controversial engagement. Arminianism provided another chief position to which Spurgeon took explicit exception in its distinctive theological ideas. With many Arminians he managed warm and mutually respectful relationships, but he consistently resisted their defining peculiarities as erroneous while he commended them for their defense of biblical inspiration, their true zeal for souls, their urgency for conversion, and their proclamation of forgiveness on the basis of nothing less that the cross of Christ. Hyper-Calvinists he often scolded for their development of leading doctrines into an oppressive metaphysical system that produced serious omissions in their practice. Frequently, Spurgeon gave passing rhetorical references to the theological misperceptions behind those practical idiosyncrasies. In reviewing a work on the tabernacle by Robert Sears, Spurgeon called Sears “one of those thoroughly sound Suffolk Baptists, of the old school, of whom we should wish to see many more.” Sears was a “staunch old Calvinist, firm in the faith, but without the gall which generally goes with high doctrine.”21

Controversies over Confessional Infidelity

For those, however, that were untrue to their public confessional commitments he reserved a peculiarly tragic outlook. These were “Ministers Sailing Under False Colours.”22 Spurgeon knew ministers in the Reformed churches on the Continent who had endeavored to retain their “offices and their emoluments” while blaspheming the atonement and denying the deity of Christ. They deny the inspiration of Scripture “yet remain in churches whose professed basis is the inspiration of the Bible.”23

Much of his scorn on this issue fell, not on heretical divergence from an orthodox confession, but on orthodox evangelicals that functioned under the authority of a sacramental ritual. Ministers well-entrenched in the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith put into the mouths of babes, in accordance with the required rites of the church, a profession of their faith in Christ and their union with the church when those ministers knew that no such thing existed. He found the same thing true with evangelical Anglicans, an issue to be developed below.

These latter violated conscience, while the former violated justice. Spurgeon argued strongly for the civil right of every person to hold whatever theology he felt correct and to use all his energies to propagate it. Repression of conscience in these matters is an opprobrious and disgraceful business. At the same time, however, for a man to maintain his office who has denied a confession he has pledged to uphold has “all the elements of the lowest kind of knavery.” To claim such as a legitimate spiritual liberty reeks of reverse oppression, violation of conscience, and persecution; Spurgeon indicated nothing but the sternest abhorrence for the “license which like a parasite feeds thereon.” So obvious was the unreasonableness and absurdity of one’s claiming this as his right, that Spurgeon barely had patience to expose it. “The whine concerning persecution is effeminate cant,” he responded.24 “Treachery,” Spurgeon boiled, “is never more treacherous than when it leads a man to stab at a doctrine which he has solemnly engaged to uphold, and for the maintenance of which he receives a livelihood.”25 One who has made such a change must offer a resignation from the body whose faith he can no longer maintain nor nourish.

The question arises as to whether a standard of doctrine should be required at all. Preaching on the Bible at Exeter Hall in March of 1855, Spurgeon had affirmed the centrality of the doctrines of grace as standards of theological truth that should be believed if one were to believe the Gospel, when he began considering the wording at the beginning of the Athanasian Creed. He halted from such a start as this—“Whoever should be saved, before all things it is necessary that he should hold the Catholic faith, which faith is this.” Then Spurgeon stopped and said, “When I got so far, I should stop, because I should not know what to write.” He professed to believe “the Catholic faith of the Bible, the whole Bible and nothing but the Bible.” As far as making any other determination beyond that, Spurgeon asserted, “It is not for me to draw up creeds. But I ask you to search the Scriptures, for this is the Word of Life.”26 He demurred at the ostentation of placing an ecumenical creed at the level of absolute authority on a par with Scripture, but he did not resist the necessity of making clear condensations of biblical truth as a confession of what one believed and as a guideline for loyal ministry. Only a race of triflers would agree to have a minster unbound by any set of standards. Should churches throw away all creeds, Spurgeon’s argument would have no relevance, he admitted, “for where there is no compact there can be no breach of it.”27 This situation would have immediate and painful relevance seventeen years subsequent to the writing of this article, as it would be at the heart of the Downgrade Controversy. For the moment, however, Spurgeon only pointed out that churches do have creeds and doctrinal expectations. “Protest by all means against creeds and catechisms,” Spurgeon urged the conscientious non-subscriber, “but if you sign them, or gain or preserve a position by appearing to uphold them, wonder not if your morality be regarded as questionable.”28

If a minister is found to be inconsistent with the standards, what should be done? Spurgeon had a succinct and reasonable approach to the problem.

They should have a patient hearing that they may have opportunity to explain, and if it be possible to their consciences, may sincerely conform; but if the divergence be proven, they must with all the courtesy consistent with decision be made to know that their resignation is expected, or their expulsion must follow. The church which does not do this has only one course before it consistent with righteousness; if it be convinced that the standards are in error and the preacher right, it ought at all hazards to amend its standards, and if necessary to erase every letter of its creed, so as to form itself on a model consistent with the public teaching which it elects, or with the latitude which it prefers. However much of evil might come of it, such a course, would be unimpeachably consistent, so consistent indeed that we fear few ordinary mortals will be able to pursue it; but the alternative of maintaining a hollow compact, based on a lie, is as degrading to manliness as to Christianity.29

Within this same category, Spurgeon placed those that he denominated “Advanced Thinkers.” These lurked within all denominations during the latter half of the nineteenthcentury, according to Spurgeon, and every Christian in all denominations must be wary of them. Spurgeon had nothing but disdain for such puffed-up creatures. He hated their arrogance, their dishonesty, and their destructiveness. Their arrogance made them look upon themselves as the cultured intellectuals of the day. “Let half a word of protest be uttered by a man who believes firmly in something, and holds by a defined doctrine, and the thunders of liberality bellow forth against the bigot.”30 Some have given an honest look at the supposed fresh air of nineteenth century intellectual superiority and have found it a mere revamping of “old, worn-out heresies” passed off as deep thinking. The avant-garde, nevertheless, look with arrogant pity on those that still adhere to benighted creeds of the past. They consider themselves manly and courageous to be willing to preach their creedless message in churches founded on the doctrines that they assail. Spurgeon did not find this a point of manliness; if they would put themselves out and refuse to eat the bread of the orthodox they might be entitled to a verdict of manly honesty, but their retention of privilege shows that they fight, “not with the broad sword of honest men, but with the cloak and dagger of assassins.”31

Spurgeon gave positive marks to James White who delivered a series of nine lectures that surely helped settle their listeners in the faith. White’s presentation stood in contrast to the many Congregational churches where orthodoxy would be a novelty and emptiness a sparkling fascination. Spurgeon, relieving the sober tension with a playful representation, had heard recently of “Rev. Empty Brainbox” who had resigned his Independent church in Sleepyton. The newly at-large minister reasoned that he had “outgrown the creed of the Congregational body, and felt the necessity of greater liberty than he could obtain among the Independents.” Spurgeon was incredulous at the covetous grasp for more freedom. “What on earth could he want?” The creed had long been meaningless for he knew Congregationalists who believed anything and “some who believe nothing.” The limits of creed “would seem to have vanished into thin air.” In truth, Mr. Empty Brainbox simply had nothing to say; the cupboard was bare. “Doth the wild ass bray when he hath grass?”32

This aggressive assertion of the right of freedom is vicious and aims at total annihilation of Christian truth. True liberality, they contend, means that one should be sure of nothing. Opinions, not truths, we utter, and “therefore, cultivated ministers should be left free to trample on the most cherished beliefs, to insult conviction” and to teach anything as directed by their own cultured and enlightened thought. No more sacred duty for the enlightened minister may be conceived than that of sneering at the man of a creed. Spurgeon cynically observed the sense of duty exhibited in their imperative of entering the synagogue of confessional bigots under cover of adherence to outmoded doctrines in order to inveigh against them in the very midst of the darkened foes of enlightenment. These arrogant, dishonest men make it their duty to destroy the faith of others from the very pulpits consecrated to defend what they assail. If anyone bothers to object to this intrusion and oust the intruder, the charges of illiberality begin to fly and the ejected infidel becomes the object of sympathy and defense by the secular press. “Our pity,” Spurgeon protested, “is reserved to the honest people who have the pain and trouble of ejecting the disturber: with the ejected one, we have no sympathy; he had no business there, and, had he been a true man, he would not have desired to remain, nor would he even have submitted to do so had he been solicited.”33

Spurgeon objected to the charge from such broad-minded spirits that he and others of his confessional ilk were lacking in liberality. Their accusation would be true, Spurgeon admitted, if the matter between them was one of mere opinion. But Spurgeon had invented none of his doctrine; he received it from the witness of the church to the truth as contained in the historic creeds which were but witnesses to the deposit of truth given in Scripture. While he did not consider himself a believer in “stereotyped phraseology” nor a promoter of “stagnant uniformity,” he found removing the landmarks and throwing down the ramparts a sure method to produce doctrinal chaos. In short, he was a steward and a steward must be found faithful, not innovative or filled with liberality in the matter. A liberal spirit toward the matter of stewardship is nothing short of infidelity, even treason, to the master whose charge we keep. One may not negotiate with any of the truths given to us as a matter of trust; “it is rebellion, black as the sin of witchcraft, for a man to know the law, and talk of conceding the point.”34 To give a man poison under the guise of being liberal minded about chemistry or anatomy is still murder. “No fiction do we write,” Spurgeon testified, “as we bear record of those we have known, who first forsook the good old paths of doctrine, then the ways of evangelic usefulness, and then the enclosures of morality.”35

Spurgeon had advice and an observation for the proponents of the “Advanced Thought” that unshackled the intellect and gave such liberality of spirit.

Let our opponents cease, if they can, to sneer at Puritans whose learning and piety were incomparably superior to their own; and, let them remember that the names, which have adorned the school of orthodoxy, are illustrious enough to render scorn of their opinions, rather a mark of imbecility than of intellect. To differ is one thing, but to despise is another. If they will not be right, at least, let them be civil: if they prefer to be neither, let them not imagine that the whole world is gone after them. Their forces are not so potent as they dream, the old faith is rooted deep in the minds of tens of thousands, and it will renew its youth, when the present phase of error shall be only a memory, and barely that.36

In the Preface to the 1871 Sword, contextualizing his confidence that the old faith is rooted deep in the minds of tens of thousands, Spurgeon summarized his concerns for the theological direction of the churches which caused him “alarm and much distress.” He pointed to a “craving for novelty, a weariness of the once honored truth.” Sickened by the churches’ coquetting with Infidelity and toying with Ritualism, Spurgeon confessed that he did know which of the two lovers to despise the more. “They are both arrant knaves and seducers, and those whose hearts are true to the Lord Jesus will utterly detest them.” But such warnings, and such detestation, gained for the one that resisted their enchantment the epithets of “unenlightened, bigoted, and out of date.” That did not bother Spurgeon, and he would not be slow to warn for he was convinced that there was nothing new in theology but that which was false, and even that was as old as the serpent himself. “Our sword will never rust for lack of enemies to smite; they multiply like the race which sprang of the dragon’s teeth.” Should the time come, and he believed it would soon, restating his optimism of the month before, when a recoil from advanced thought would ensue, and the faithful would be “pestered with hypocrites as now we are with heresies.”37

Two decades would prove that Spurgeon’s confidence in how deeply rooted the old faith was in the churches was ill placed. The influence of the liberal spirits would increase in both content and spirit of toleration within his own Baptist denomination so that he, rather than they, would be severed, if not in fact ejected, from the fellowship of those whose heritage he defended. He would not pretend fellowship with those with whom he disagreed upon vital points of truth. If they would not leave, or could not be dismissed, he would sever from them by dismissing himself. When his act of personal dissociation from the unholy alliance replaced the act of disfellowshipping, the theological progressives, even though they could not stomach his theology, found his action insulting. He responded that “to separate ourselves from those who separate themselves from the truth of God is not alone our liberty, but our duty.” Having done so, he wished to be left free. “Those who are so exceedingly liberal, large-hearted, and broad might be so good as to allow us to forego the charms of their society without coming under the full violence of their wrath.”38

Spurgeon’s response to the surprisingly relentless advance of “advanced thought” in his own denomination led Kruppa to observe, “It was Spurgeon’s tragedy that he lived long enough to witness the comfortable intellectual assumptions of evangelicalism disrupted by the twin challenges of science and higher criticism. He saw his task as one of resistance rather than reconciliation, and he devoted his last energies to a fruitless crusade against modernism.”39 While it is true that he devoted his last energies to this crusade, one can see clearly that he devoted not only his last energies but his early energies. And he would never have admitted that his fight was fruitless; he maintained his own witness and faithfulness unimpaired and that, combined with his confidence that truth would descend from the scaffold to live, was fruit enough for him.

The decision to fight, however, according to Kruppa, “has impaired his reputation with posterity, for the future belonged to his opponents. He failed to stem the tide against the future, and his life ended on a note of defeat,” but nevertheless, a defeat without surrender. One could not have expected him to make any other decision or to care about his reputation with a posterity committed to heresy. He did not change his theological persuasion nor his posture toward theological modernists. Spurgeon knew, and so practiced, that constant vigilance was as much a necessity as a virtue in protecting the purity of the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

1 Charles H. Spurgeon, An All Round Ministry (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1960 [1978 paperback reprint]), 395.
2 Charles H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, 4 volumes in one (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1990) 1: 83.
3 Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, 2:43f.
4 W.Y. Fullerton, Charles Haddon Spurgeon: A Biography (London: Williams and Norgate, 1920), 303.
5 The Sword and the Trowel, April 1881, 160.
6 Fullerton, A Biography, 303.
7 S&T, Preface to 1865.
8 From a handwritten document in Archives at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
9 Justin D. Fulton, Charles H. Spurgeon, Our Ally (Chicago, IL: H. J. Smith & Co., 1892), ix.
10 S&T, January 1872, 46.
11 S&T, December 1871, 571.
12 S&T, November 1871, 531.
13 S&T, January 1866, 43.
14 S&T, June 1866, 286.
15 S&T, October 1871, 478.
16 Typo, 26 May 1888, 37. This was a religious magazine published in New Zealand.
17 S&T, January 1889, 40.
18 S&T, November 1883, 604.
19 S&T, August 1879, 393.
20 S&T December 1881, 626.
21 S&T, December 1875, 583.
22 S&T, February 1870, 69.
23 S&T, February 1870, 70.
24 S&T, February 1870 ,72.
25 S&T, February 1870, 70.
26 SS 1:37 (sermon delivered March 18, 1855).
27 S&T, February 1870, 71.
28 S&T, February 1870, 72.
29 S&T, February 1870, 73.
30 S&T, November 1871, 495.
31 S&T, November 1871, 496.
32 S&T, May 1874, 235.
33 S&T, November 1871, 498.
34 S&T, November 1871, 498.
35 S&T, November 1871, 499.
36 S&T, November 1871, 500.
37 S&T Preface, 1871.
38 S&T, “Attempts at the Impossible,” December 1888, 620.
39 Patricia Stallings Kruppa, Charles Haddon Spurgeon: A Preachers Progress (New York, NY: Columbia University, 1968), 47

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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