By C. H. Spurgeon
THE censure passed upon me by the Council of the Baptist Union will be weighed by the faithful, and estimated at its true value. “Afterwards they have no more that they can do.” I brought no charges before the members of the Council, because they could only judge by their constitution, and that document lays down no doctrinal basis except the belief that “the immersion of believers is the only Christian baptism.” Even the mention of evangelical sentiments has been cut out from their printed program. No one can be heterodox under this constitution, unless he should forswear his baptism. I offered to pay the fee for Counsel’s opinion upon this matter, but my offer was not accepted by the deputation. There was, therefore, nothing for me to work upon, whatever evidence I might bring. What would be the use of exposing myself to threatened law-suits to gain nothing at all? Whatever may be said to the contrary, if we go to its authorized declaration of principles, it is clear that the Union is incompetent for any doctrinal judgment, except it should be needful to ascertain a person’s views on baptism. I decline to submit to it any case which would be quite beyond its powers. Would any rational man act otherwise? I have rather too much proof than too little; but I am not going to involve others in litigation when nothing is to be gained.
I do not complain of the censure of the Council, or feel the least care about it. But was this the intent of its loving resolution? Is this the claw which was concealed by the velvet pad of its vote to send four doctors of divinity to me “to deliberate how the unity of the denomination can be maintained in truth, and love, and good works”? Did those who passed that resolution mean—we send these four men to put him to the question? Why, then, did they not say so? Did the world ever hear of such a result of a “deliberation”? The person with whom they deliberate upon union “in truth, and love, and good works” is questioned and condemned! Let plainsailing Christian men judge between me and this Council.
The question now to be answered is—”Does this decision represent the opinion of the Baptist Union?” It may be so. It may be that the Council is elected in such a manner that it is fairly representative. It may be that the churches will admire the conduct of their prominent men. I do not believe it. It is not for me, as an outsider, to raise the question; but surely there are members of the Union who will consider it, and act accordingly.
I have, in simple brotherly kindness, given the advice which was asked of me; but had I known the secret object of the deputation from the Council, I would not have given it any advice of any sort. These gentlemen came, avowedly, to me to deliberate upon “unity in truth, and love, and good works”; but their real errand was not what was openly avowed. What they were driving at is made clear by the facts. Before considering as a Council the advice which, in any fair English construction of the words, was the object aimed at, they censure the man with whom they professed to deliberate. How is this consistent with itself? It is quite as well that their resolutions should be as incomprehensible as their doctrinal position is indefinable. But this goes far to render my recommendations useless. Is it not a waste of breath to deliberate under such circumstances? When language is used rather to conceal a purpose than to express it, it becomes fearfully doubtful whether any form of doctrine can be so worded as to be of the slightest use. Nevertheless, I would like all Christendom to know that all I asked of the Union is that it be formed on a Scriptural basis; and that I never sought to intrude upon it any Calvinistic or other personal creed, but only that form of belief which has been accepted for many years by the Evangelical Alliance, which includes members of well-nigh all Christian communities.
To this it was replied that there is an objection to any creed whatever. This is a principle which one may fairly discuss. Surely, what we believe may be stated, may be written, may be made known; and what is this but to make and promulgate a creed? Baptists from the first have issued their confessions of faith. Even the present Baptist Union itself has a creed about baptism, though about nothing else. The churches of which it is composed have nearly all of them a creed of some sort, and the very men who object to a creed many of them hold offices which require adhesion to certain doctrines, implied, if not actually written down. Trust-deeds of chapels and colleges usually have some doctrinal declaration; and how persons who hold positions connected with churches and institutions having creeds can fairly object to them when they meet in a united character, I am quite unable to see. Certain members of the Council talk about having expelled Unitarians: does not this admit that they have already an unwritten Trinitarian creed? Why not print it? Possibly “modern thought” has methods of getting over this which have never occurred to my unsophisticated mind.
To say that “a creed comes between a man and his God,” is to suppose that it is not true; for truth, however definitely stated, does not divide the believer from his Lord. So far as I am concerned, that which I believe I am not ashamed to state in the plainest possible language; and the truth I hold I embrace because I believe it to be the mind of God revealed in his infallible Word. How can it divide me from God who revealed it? It is one means of my communion with my Lord, that I receive his words as well as himself, and submit my understanding to what I see to be taught by him.
Say what he may, I accept it because he says it, and therein pay him the humble worship of my inmost soul.
I am unable to sympathize with a man who says he has no creed; because I believe him to be in the wrong by his own showing. He ought to have a creed. What is equally certain, he has a creed—he must have one, even though he repudiates the notion. His very unbelief is, in a sense, a creed.
The objection to a creed is a very pleasant way of concealing objection to discipline, and a desire for latitudinarianism. What is wished for is a Union which will, like Noah’s Ark, afford shelter both for the clean and for the unclean, for creeping things and winged fowls.
Every Union, unless it is a mere fiction, must be based upon certain principles. How can we unite except upon some great common truths? And the doctrine of baptism by immersion is not sufficient for a groundwork.
Surely, to be a Baptist is not everything. If I disagree with a man on ninetynine points, but happen to be one with him in baptism, this can never furnish such ground of unity as I have with another with whom I believe in ninety-nine points, and only happen to differ upon one ordinance. To form a union with a single Scriptural ordinance as its sole distinctive reason for existence has been well likened to erecting a pyramid upon its apex: the whole edifice must sooner or later come down. I am not slow to avow my conviction that the immersion of believers is the baptism of Holy Scripture, but there are other truths beside this; and I cannot feel fellowship with a man because of this, if in other matters he is false to the teaching of Holy Scripture.
To alter the foundation of a building is a difficult undertaking.
Underpinning is expensive and perilous work. It might be more satisfactory to take the whole house down, and reconstruct it. If I had believed that the Baptist Union could be made a satisfactory structure, I could not then have remained in it; because to do so would have violated my conscience. But my conscience is no guide for others. Those who believe in the structure, and think that they can rectify its foundation, have my hearty sympathy in the attempt. Let them give themselves to it earnestly and with firm resolve: they will have need of all their earnestness and resolution. In the Assembly, in the Associations, and in the churches they can urge their views, and make it plain that they mean to make the Union an avowedly Evangelical body on the old lines of faith. This they must do boldly, and without flinching. I have no very assured hope of their success, for the difficulties are exceedingly great; but let them combine, and work unitedly, and persistently, year after year, and they may do something, if not everything.
It is not for me to lead in a work which I have been forced to abandon; but there are other men who are less known, but not less resolute, and these should take their turn. The warfare has been made too personal; and certain incidents in it, upon which I will not dwell, have made it too painful for me to feel any pleasure in the idea of going on with it. It might even appear that I desired to be reinstated in the Union, or wished to head a party in it, and this is very far from my mind. But let no man imagine that I shall cease from my protests against false doctrine, or lay down the sword of which I have thrown away the scabbard. However much invited to do so, I shall not commence personalities, nor disclose the wretched facts in all their details; but with confirmatory evidence perpetually pouring in upon me, and a solemn conviction that the dark conspiracy to overthrow the truth must be dragged to light, I shall not cease to expose doctrinal declension wherever I see it. With the Baptist Union, as such, I have now no hampering connection; but so far as it takes its part in the common departure from the truth, it will have to put up with my strictures, although it has so graciously kicked me under pretext of deliberation.
Will those who are with me in this struggle remember me in their constant prayers to the Lord, whom in this matter I serve in my soul and spirit?
NOTES. (MARCH 1888) THE “Down-Grade” controversy rages, and so it ought to do; for every one who follows it will see how every week the evil which we pointed out is more and more manifest. We have directed special attention to the postmortem salvation and purgatory heresies, because the existence of these needs no proof, for they are openly avowed; but other errors are also rife enough, and if any of the great truths of the gospel were set in a central light, and inquiry directed to the way in which they are preached, very singular discoveries would be made. It is quite enough for any one to tackle one error at a time, and especially when it is one which is a sort of corner-stone of the new theology. How the holders of the fine new nothing rage when they see their thing of darkness laid bare in the sunlight! Let any one read their utterances, and observe for himself how greatly secrecy was desired until the people should be educated up to the new dogmas. Alas, that work has been already done all too well! It was time that some one spoke.
So far as we can judge, there is no likelihood whatever that the Baptist Union will obtain a Scriptural basis. We are writing before the meeting of its Council, but we are greatly afraid that we shall not have the pleasure of being disappointed. This matter should be taken up by those churches and ministers that remain true to the old faith. There are many such, but nothing will be done unless they bestir themselves; even then a long struggle is before them, and none can prophesy how it will end.
Some of our readers may not see The Baptist newspaper. If they are Baptists, they ought to take it in. But our many other friends may like to see a letter which we sent to that paper. “To the Editor of the BAPTIST. “DEAR SIR,—I am very anxious to remove all personal grievances out of the present struggle, and, as I see that my remarks upon the action of the Council have been supposed to apply to Dr. Culross, I hasten to say that he is the last man upon whom I would direct an attack, even in self-defense. I did not suspect him, or any other person, of playing a double part personally. I merely intended to review the Council’s action as a whole, and I think it is open, fairly open, to my strictures. Men do in a body what no one of them would do by himself alone. A committee is a many-headed, manytongued thing, and its action is apt to be the result of internal compromise, or of momentary impetuosity, rather than of quiet, sober thought. In fact, there is no accounting for what may come out of the lucubrations of a hundred men. I wish, therefore, to view the Council as a whole, and not in its individual members; and to feel in my heart of hearts that I excuse each one while I yet criticize the whole. This may not be logical, but it expresses what I feel. “If Dr. Culross ever needs a champion to defend his guileless character, I would volunteer my best services. “I must, however, protest against anyone saying that he believes orthodox doctrines, ‘but not in Mr. Spurgeon’s sense.’ I believe these doctrines, so far as I know, in the common and usual sense attached to them by the general usage of Christendom. Theological terms ought to be understood and used only in their general and usual meaning. If I have any crotchets, or attach exaggerated meanings to these terms, I do not desire any living soul to be bound by my eccentricities. It is not Spurgeon’s sense, or John Smith’s sense, but the common and accepted meaning, which should be understood by doctrinal expressions. “Whatever the Council does, let it above all things avoid the use of language which could legitimately have two meanings contrary to each other. Let us be plain and outspoken. There are grave differences—let them be avowed honestly. Why should any man be ashamed to do so? Policy must not be our guide, nor the wish to retain this party or that. Right is safe, and compromise by the use of double meanings can never in the long run be wise. “I have no desire to say anything upon the bearings of the controversy upon myself personally. I shall survive the severest censures of individuals or Councils; but let us go on to the real points at issue without more ado. Is the Baptist denomination on the old lines or on the new? It cannot, as a whole, run upon both. “One thing more. I entreat my friends not to let our poorer brethren suffer in the matter of the Augmentation Fund. I told Dr. Booth that I should give the same amount as before, and that I would let him know to whom I gave grants on the same lines as the Union has done. Too few of our wealthy brethren have helped in this matter. I wish my personal friends, who are able to do so, would each select some needy pastor, and look after him, giving at least the usual £10 if his church would raise £10 more. When we are all of one faith, and our union becomes more real, I trust there will be heartier efforts in this direction. Whether in the Union or out of it, I shall never cease to honor and aid those who endure so much hardness for our Lord’s sake, and so richly deserve our practical sympathy. “Yours very heartily, “C. H. SPURGEON.”
The evil leaven has affected some few of the men who were educated in our College; and in our attempting to remove them from our Association, they have naturally found sympathizers, and this has been the sorest wound of all. Nevertheless, we have been greatly cheered by the loving enthusiasm of the faithful and thorough brethren who make up the great bulk of the host. Many will be all the better for the bracing up which the conflict has induced; and as a band of men we shall march on with all the greater and clearer confidence in God. Oh, that the College and its men may be a great breakwater, firmly resisting the incoming flood of falsehood!
We rejoice that, in several instances, ministers have written to say that the “Down Grade” papers recalled them to more hearty preaching of the gospel, and aroused their people to more prayer, and the consequence has been a deep and true revival. One or two of these cases are very striking, and are no mere imagination, for they are attested both by the ministers and their new converts.