ATTEMPTS AT THE IMPOSSIBLE
By C. H. Spurgeon
FRIENDS will have noticed with interest the repeated debates in the London Baptist Association, as to whether there should be a “credal basis,” and what that basis should be, if it were decided to have one. There seems to be a current opinion that I have been at the bottom of all this controversy, and if I have not appeared in it, I have, at least, pulled the wires. But this is not true. I have taken a deep interest in the struggles of the orthodox brethren; but I have never advised those struggles, nor entertained the slightest hope of their success. My course has been of another kind. As soon as I saw, or thought I saw, that error had become firmly established, I did not deliberate, but quitted the body at once. Since then my one counsel has been, “Come ye out from among them.” If I have rejoiced in the loyalty to Christ’s truth which has been shown in other courses of action, yet I have felt that no protest could be equal to that of distinct separation from known evil.
I never offered to the Union, or to the Association, the arrogant bribe of personal return if a creed should be adopted; but, on the contrary, I told the deputation from the Union that I should not return until I had seen how matters went, and I declined to mix up my own personal action with the consideration of a question of vital importance to the community. I never sought from the Association the consideration of “a credal basis”; but on the contrary, when offered that my resignation might stand over till such a consideration had taken place, I assured the brethren that what I had done was final, and did not depend upon their action in the matter of a creed.
The attempt, therefore, to obtain a basis of union in the Association, whatever may be thought of it, should be viewed as a matter altogether apart from me, for so indeed it has been.
I may, however, venture to express the opinion, that the evangelical brethren in the Association have acted with much kindness, and have shown a strong desire to abide in union with others, if such union could he compassed without the sacrifice of truth. They as good as said—We think there are some few great truths which are essential to the reception of the Christian religion, and we do not think we should be right to associate with those who repudiate those truths. Will you not agree that these truths should be stated, and that it should be known that persons who fail to accept these vital truths cannot join the Association? The points mentioned were certainly elementary enough, and we did not wonder that one of the brethren exclaimed, “May God help those who do not believe these things!
Where must they be?” Indeed, little objection was taken to the statements which were tabulated, but the objection was to a belief in these being made indispensable to membership. It was as though it had been said, “Yes, we believe in the Godhead of the Lord Jesus; but we would not keep a man out of our fellowship because he thought our Lord to be a mere man. We believe in the atonement; but if another man rejects it, he must not, therefore, be excluded from our number.” Here was the point at issue: one party would gladly fellowship every person who had been baptized, and the other party desired that at the least the elements of the faith should be believed, and the first principles of the gospel should be professed by those who were admitted into the fellowship of the Association. Since neither party could yield the point in dispute, what remained for them but to separate with as little friction as possible?
To this hour, I must confess that I do not understand the action of either side in this dispute, if viewed in the white light of logic. Why should they wish to be together? Those who wish for the illimitable fellowship of men of every shade of belief or doubt would be all the freer for the absence of those stubborn evangelicals who have cost them so many battles. The brethren, on the other hand, who have a doctrinal faith, and prize it, must have learned by this time that whatever terms may be patched up, there is no spiritual oneness between themselves and the new religionists. They must also have felt that the very endeavor to make a compact which will tacitly be understood in two senses, is far from being an ennobling and purifying exercise to either party.
The brethren in the middle are the source of this clinging together of discordant elements. These who are for peace at any price, who persuade themselves that there is very little wrong, who care chiefly to maintain existing institutions, these are the good people who induce the weary combatants to repeat the futile attempt at a coalition, which, in the nature of things, must break down. If both sides could be unfaithful to conscience, or if the glorious gospel could be thrust altogether out of the question, there might be a league of amity established; but as neither of these things can be, there would seem to be no reason for persevering in the-attempt to maintain a confederacy for which there is no justification in fact, and from which there can be no worthy result, seeing it does not embody a living truth. A desire for unity is commendable. Blessed are they who can promote it and preserve it! But there are other matters to be considered as well as unity, and sometimes these may even demand the first place. When union becomes a moral impossibility, it may almost drop out of calculation in arranging plans and methods of working. If it is clear as the sun at noonday that no real union can exist, it is idle to strive after the impossible, and it is wise to go about other and more practicable business.
There are now two parties in the religious world, and a great mixed multitude who from various causes decline to be ranked with either of them. In this army of intermediates are many who have no right to be there; but we spare them. The day will, however, come when they will have to reckon with their own consciences. When the light is taken out of its place, they may have to mourn that they were not willing to trim the lamp, nor even to notice that the flame grew dim.
The party everywhere apparent has a faith fashioned for the present century—perhaps we ought rather to say, for the present month. The sixteenth century gospel it derides, and that, indeed, of every period except the present most enlightened era. It will have no creed because it can have none: it is continually on the move; it is not what it was yesterday, and it will not be tomorrow what it is today. Its shout is for “liberty,” its delight is invention, its element is change. On the other hand, there still survive, amid the blaze of nineteenth century light, a few whom these superior persons call “fossils”: that is to say, there are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ who consider that the true gospel is no new gospel, but is the same yesterday, today, and for ever. These do not believe in “advanced views,” but judge that the view of truth which saved a soul in the second century will save a soul now, and that a form of teaching which was unknown till the last few years is of very dubious value, and is, in all probability, “another gospel, which is not another.”
It is extremely difficult for these two parties to abide in union. The old fable of the collier who went home to dwell with the fuller is nothing to it.
The fuller would by degrees know the habits of his coaly companion, and might thus save the white linen from his touch; but in this case there are no fixed quantities on the collier’s side, and nothing like permanency even in the black of his coal. How can his friend deal with him, since he changes with the moon? If, after long balancing of words, the two parties could construct a basis of agreement, it would, in the nature of things, last only for a season, since the position of the advancing party would put the whole settlement out of order in a few weeks. One could hardly invent a sliding-scale in theology, as Sir Robert Peel did in the corn duties. The adjustment of difficulties would be a task for ever beginning, and never coming to an end. If we agree, after a sort, today, a new settlement will be needed tomorrow. If I am to stay where I am, and you are to go traveling on, it is certain that we cannot long lodge in the same room. Why should we attempt it?
Nor is it merely doctrinal belief—there is an essential difference in spirit between the old believer and the man of new and advancing views. This is painfully perceived by the Christian man before very long. Even if he be fortunate enough to escape the sneers of the cultured, and the jests of the philosophical, he will find his deepest convictions questioned, and his brightest beliefs misrepresented by those who dub themselves “thoughtful men.” When a text from the Word has been peculiarly precious to his heart, he will hear its authenticity impugned, the translation disputed, or its gospel reference denied. He will not travel far on the dark continent of modern thought before he will find the efficacy of prayer debated, the operation of divine Providence questioned, and the special love of God denied. He will find himself to be a stranger in a strange land when he begins to speak of his experience, and of the ways of God to men. In all probability, if he be faithful to his old faith, he will be an alien to his mother’s children, and find that his soul is among lions. To what end, therefore, are these strainings after a hollow unity, when the spirit of fellowship is altogether gone?
The world is large enough, why not let us go our separate ways? Loud is the cry of our opponents for liberty; let them have it by all means. But let us have our liberty also. We are not bound to belong to this society, or to that. There is a right of association which we do not forego, and this involves a right of disassociation, which we retain with equal tenacity.
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.
At any rate, cost what it may, to separate ourselves from those who separate themselves from the truth of God is not alone our liberty, but our duty. I have raised my protest in the only complete way by coming forth, and I shall be content to abide alone until the day when the Lord shall judge the secrets of all hearts; but it will not seem to me a strange thing if others are found faithful, and if others judge that for them also there is no path but that which is painfully apart from the beaten track.
FAILURE at a crucial moment may mar the entire outcome of a life. A man who has enjoyed special light is made bold to follow in the way of the Lord, and is anointed to guide others therein. He rises into a place of love and esteem among the godly, and this promotes his advancement among men. What then? The temptation comes to be careful of the position he has gained, and to do nothing to endanger it. The man, so lately a faithful man of God, compromises with worldlings, and to quiet his own conscience invents a theory by which such compromises are justified, and even commended. He receives the praises of “the judicious”; he has, in truth, gone over to the enemy. The whole force of his former life now tells upon the wrong side. If the Lord loves him well enough, he will be scourged back to his place; but if not, he will grow more and more perverse, till he becomes a ring-leader among the opposers of the gospel. To avoid such an end it becomes us ever to stand fast.
NOTES. (JAN. 1889) THE CHRISTIAN WORLD, in its review of the nondescript Conference on “Evangelical” Preaching, which was held in the month of November, very accurately says of it: “It started from nothing, and it ends nowhere.” This may serve as a very fair description of much of the less pronounced theology of the period. We view matters from a point of view which is precisely the opposite of The Christian World; but we come to the same conclusion as it has done, namely, that what is sought to be palmed off upon the public by many as Evangelicalism, “on its intellectual side, lies neither here nor there, but is consistent with the most widespread differences of belief.” You may believe anything, everything, or nothing, and yet be enrolled in the “Evangelical” army—so they say. Will there arise no honest, out-spoken evangelicals among Dissenters to expose and repudiate this latitudinarianism? Are all the watchmen asleep? Are all the churches indifferent? We quote, however, from our antagonistic contemporary that we may reproduce its testimony to our correctness of judgment. It cannot be supposed to be a witness biased in our favor, but it says, “It is now established by abundant signs that Mr. Spurgeon is well within the mark in asserting that among Nonconformist preachers there is a very marked defection from the doctrinal standard maintained by their fathers, and still upheld by him; and every day that defection is becoming more visible. ” We do not now need this testimony, for ministers who at first denied our impeachment have passed far beyond that stage, and admitting the truth of what we objected to, are glorying in the defection as a happy advance, a laudable piece of progress, a matter not needing defense, but deserving to be carried still further. Is it not so? If it be so, upon whose heads will rest the guilt of this evil hour? The “Evangelical” leaders of the day, who are dallying with the grossest heresies must answer for it in the day of the Lord’s appearing.
As John Bunyan has, by a thousand-horse power engine, been dragged into the Down-Grade controversy, as though he was, or would have been, opposed to our protest, we thought we would look into his works, to see if he had ever been opposed to a creed; and, as our readers will have guessed, we soon found that he had one of his own, exceedingly full and clear. It seems like a joke, that the most reckless of our opponents should attempt to put Honest John on the wrong side; and, in no spirit of jest, but in downright earnest, we suggest to any who are inclined to repeat the clumsy experiment, that they should first study Bunyan’s own Confession of Faith. As we are half afraid that they will decline the task, we make them a present of his belief upon the Doctrine of Election. If they should not take delight in reading it, there may be others who will. At any rate, the Scriptural teaching which he sets forth in his homely way deserves consideration. Thus wrote the author of “The Pilgrim’s Progress”:— OF ELECTION. “ 1. I believe that election is free and permanent, being founded in grace and the unchangeable will of God. ‘Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then is it no more of works: other-wine grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace; otherwise work is no more work’ (Romans 11:5,6). ‘Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his’ (2 Timothy 2:19). ‘In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will’ (Ephesians 1:11). “ 2. I believe that this decree, choice, or election, was before the foundation of the world; and so before the elect themselves had being in themselves; for, ‘God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were’ (Romans 4:17), stays not for the being of things to determine his eternal purpose by; but having all things present to him, in his wisdom, he made his choice before the world was. Ephesians 1:4; Timothy 1:9. “ 3. I believe that the decree of election is so far off from making works in us foreseen, the ground or cause of the choice, that it containeth in the bowels of it, not only the persons but the graces that accompany their salvation. And hence it is, that it is said, we are predestinated ‘to be conformed to the image of his Son’ (Romans 8:29), not because we are, but ‘that we SHOULD BE holy and without blame before him in love’ (Ephesians 1:4). ‘For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them’ (Ephesians 2:10). He blessed us according as he chose us in Christ. And hence it is again that the salvation and calling of which we are now made partakers, is no other than what was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began; according to his eternal purpose, which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Ephesians 3:8-11; 2 Timothy 1:9; Romans 8:29. “ 4. I believe that Christ Jesus is he in whom the elect are always considered, and that without him there is neither election, grace, nor salvation. ‘Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.
In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace .... that in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him’ (Ephesians 1:5-7,10). ‘Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12). “ 5 . I believe that there is not any impediment attending the election of God that can hinder their conversion and eternal salvation. ‘Moreover, whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? ... Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth?’ etc. (Romans 8:30,31; 33-35). ‘What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded’ (Romans 11:7). ‘For Israel hath not been forsaken, nor Judah of his God, of the Lord of hosts; though their land was filled with sin against the Holy One of Israel’ (Jeremiah 51:5). When Ananias made intercession against Paul, saying, ‘Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name,’ what said God unto him? ‘Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel’ (Acts 9:13-15). “ 6. I believe that no man can know his election, but by his calling. The vessels of mercy, which God afore prepared unto glory, do thus claim a share therein: ‘Even us (say they), whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles. As he saith also in Osee [Hosea 2:23], I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not ‘beloved’ (Romans 9:24,25). “ 7. I believe, therefore, that election doth not forestall or prevent the means which are of God appointed to bring us to Christ, to grace and glory; but rather putteth a necessity upon the use and effect thereof; because they are chosen to be brought to heaven that way; that is, by the faith of Jesus Christ, which is the end of effectual calling. ‘Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure.’ Peter 1:10; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:12.”
QUESTIONS FOR “DOWN-GRADE” DOUBTERS. (MARCH 1889) DEAR MR.EDITOR,—At the recent meeting of the London Baptist Association, in endeavoring to show the inutility of the “seven statements” which it was proposed should be attached to Rule I. of the Constitution, I submitted the following seven questions. To these questions, which touch the very foundations of that mysterious theology in which so-called “Modern Thought” delights, no distinct answer is given by the seven statements. But, probably, they may be useful to others beside myself in the detection of error. I venture, therefore, to offer them to your readers for that purpose. The first question needs no explanation or comment.
I. Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be an infallible and sufficient guide in all matters of religious faith and practice?
II. Do you believe in the DEITY as well as divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, i.e., that he is himself God?
Note that a man may acknowledge Christ to be divine, as he might acknowledge the Bible to be divine, without admitting that he is God.
III. Do you believe that Christ, in his death, endured the penalty due to divine justice for human guilt?
Note—Many admit that he died for us, but exclude the idea of penalty from his death.
IV. Do you believe the Holy Spirit to be, not only a divine influence, but, in the true, real, and proper sense of the term, a divine person, and himself God?
V. Do you believe man to have become, by sin, a fallen creature, and to have lost, by his fall, his original peaceful, happy, and holy relations with his Maker?
Note—Schiller described the Fall as “a giant stride in the history of the human race.”
VI. Do you believe that, by regeneration, man becomes possessed of a new and higher life, described as spiritual? that this life is only rendered possible by the mediatorial work of Christ? that it is only rendered actual by the work of the Holy Spirit in the soul? and that, apart from these means, it can never be enjoyed?
VII. Do you believe in the resurrection of the dead, as an event of the future, and not of continual recurrence?
I think, Mr. Editor, that these questions may be made of great service in determining the whereabouts of many a man, sermon, or book.
Yours faithfully, JOHN TUCKWELL.
Bayswater. [We agree with our correspondent that there is a ready way of dodging round the seven statements; but even such questions as those which he suggests will not bring slippery gentlemen to book. We feel ashamed to have to draw up statements, and put questions to those who should be brethren. Methods which the subtlety of error renders necessary are, nevertheless, greatly distasteful to simple, trustful hearts. We prefer to quit the company of those who plead that creeds have no binding power: they only too plainly avow their own characters. When one has to weigh words with a person, fellowship is out of the question. The phrases adopted by the L. B. A. look right enough, but it is clear that they can be every one of them evaded. Knowing what we do know of some who are called ministers of Christ, and in their heart of hearts do not believe the old gospel, we are saddened in soul, and wonder what next will come.—ED.] NOTES. (MAY 1889) FRIENDS will have noticed the anxiety of the public press to put us into some ecclesiastical position which they can understand. To be the pastor of a church of Christ is enough for us; but it seems to them that we must join some one of the great religious communities: one day it is the Presbyterian, and the next the Episcopalian. Meanwhile, nothing has been said or done by us indicating any alteration in the position we have always held as to doctrine and church government. When we make a change, our friends will not need to learn it from the secular press: that when will not, probably, occur in this century, nor in the next. It does not yet dawn upon some minds that to quit a society like the Baptist Union involves no change in our position or sentiments. Baptist ministers are pastors of separate churches, which may associate with other churches, or cease to associate with them, as they judge best; but the minister and the church are not dependent upon the associations they may choose or decline. We are in fellowship with all the churches of our Lord Jesus which hold the truth, but have never entertained the thought of changing this way or that. Certainly we never dreamed of entering the Church of England.
The Baptist Union President, Dr. Clifford, took one of a series of Sunday afternoon addresses at South Place, Finsbury, a chapel which belongs to a people who are something more, or worse, than Unitarian. He figures with Messrs. Voysey and Picton, and others of the exceedingly broad school; and this not merely in his private capacity, but the bills are made clearly to state that he is President of the Baptist Union. This chapel is adorned with tablets, bearing the names of Moses, Voltaire, Jesus, Paine, Zoroaster, etc.
The blasphemous association of our Lord with Thomas Paine and Voltaire creates an indescribable feeling in a Christian mind, and makes us wonder how a man, professing to be a servant of the Lord Jesus, could associate himself with such a place. Well might the Union resent our complaints against its more obscure wanderers, when its President, before he closed his year of office, would thus publicly associate himself with the deniers of our Lord’s divinity. Has the body of Baptists over which this gentleman presides become so easy-going and docile that it will by its silence endorse the action of its President? Is it really so, that to preserve their confederacy any amount of looseness will be tolerated? We do not see that anything worse can be invented than that which the governing party either condones or admires. On the “Down-Grade” the train travels very fast: another station has been passed. What next? And what next?
We would like to agree with one who says that the bulk of our churchmembers love the old gospel; but we are not quite sure of it. If there were so general a soundness in the rank and file, would they quietly endure the abounding errors of the pulpits, and the babyish amusements with which congregations are being drenched? We fear the plague is among the people as well as among the priests. Yet, surely, there must be some who will fling aside the dastard love of peace, and speak out for our Lord, and for his truth. A craven spirit is upon many, and their tongues are paralyzed. Oh, for an outburst of true faith and holy zeal!
In The Sunday School Chronicle, of April 12, occurs an editorial note, which concludes as follows:—”Almost all writers now recognize the human element in the Bible, and see that this brings in human infirmity in matters of detail. We had a letter from a friend the other day, and there were several mistakes of spelling in it, but the letter quite fully conveyed to us our friend’s thought. And if there are some inexactnesses, and even some mistakes, in the Bible, it carries to us, nevertheless, the mind and will of God. A lamp may give light to the feet on a dark night, even if the tin is a little bent in, and one of the panes is cracked.”
Is the Sunday School Union going to teach our youth that the Bible is like an old cracked lantern? To this we call the attention of those who are charged with the superintendence of the Union literature. Surely there are members of the Committee who cannot allow such teaching to pass unchallenged.
NOTES. (JUNE 1889) OWING to the extreme pressure upon us this month, the notes are necessarily brief.
In The Freeman, April 19, in an article referring to the appearance in South Place Chapel of the then President of the Baptist Union, it was said, “these lectures, it should be stated, are arranged by ‘The Ethical Society,’ of which the Archbishop of Canterbury is the president.” Something else also should be stated. In answer to a letter, asking if the Archbishop was indeed in connection with the Ethical Society meeting in South Place, Finsbury, we received for answer: “His Grace is much obliged to you for giving him the opportunity of correcting the rumor as to his connection with the Ethical Society you mention. The report is, as you suppose, quite untrue— this being the first time the Archbishop has heard of the Society in question.” It does not matter much, but we may as well know the truth.
We receive daily notes concerning the departure from the truth of preachers in England and Scotland; and though the subject is wearisome to our heart, we cannot forbear entreating the Lord’s people to pray day and night for the afflicted church of God. He alone can stay the ever-growing evil, but he would have his people cry to him concerning it. The evil is by no means imaginary, but all too real. Our protest came not too soon, nor could it be too forcible. At this moment, those who have quitted the old faith may do what they please to silence papers and periodicals, but the evil reeks before high heaven. We trust it will not be long before the lovers of the gospel will awake to the danger, and speak out so as to be heard.
In the first week in June there are to be two special services at the Tabernacle. On Tuesday evening, 4th inst., Mr. John Courtnay and the Southwark Choral Society are to help us praise the Lord with some of the grand old fugal tunes that ought never to have gone out of use. We shall be glad to see a large muster of friends who love those ancient melodies.
On Thursday evening, June 6, C. H. S. has promised to preach another sermon for the British and Foreign Sailors’ Society, when Mr. Matthews, the energetic secretary of the Society, has promised to bring as many sailors as he can muster. He is anxious to distribute the sermon, when it is published, among those that go down to the sea in ships; and he will be very grateful for all contributions that are given to him for that object.
The secretary of the Tram-car and ‘Bus Scripture Text Mission, Mrs.
Wood,53, Paternoster Row, E.C., asks us to call our readers’ attention to the fact that for 10s. a text can be placed in a tram or ‘bus, and maintained in a good position for a year. She will be very glad to receive donations. COLLEGE.—Mr. A. G. Haste has settled at Carrickfergus; and Mr. Joseph Young has sailed for Jamestown, St. Helena.
Mr. F. R. Bateman has removed from Twickenham to Henley-in-Arden.
Mr. F. Dann, who returned from Minnesota some months since, for his health’s sake, has now sailed again for the United States.
Will all the members of the Pastors’ College Evangelical Association kindly note that Monday, June 24, has been fixed for the day of SPECIAL UNITED PRAYER? Will our brethren everywhere try to make this a day of real wrestling prayer? If all the churches take it up heartily, we may look for large blessing. EVANGELISTS.—Mr. J. E. Mathieson closes a very appreciative report of Messrs. Fullerton and Smith ’s services at Mildmay Park Conference Hall, as follows:—”I had not previously met with your valued evangelists, but I soon learned to appreciate and to love them ..... I know of no two brethren more fitted for great and important work for the Master than these two. I wish friends in every large town in our land would seek to share in the benefit which a visit from them is likely to impart.”
Since the Conference, our brethren have been at Dr. Barnardo’s Missionhall, The Edinburgh Castle, where great crowds attended the services, and many received the truth. They also conducted services on two afternoons and evenings at Beulah Chapel, Thornton Heath, where much blessing resulted.
Their future engagements are: June 1-9, Kilburn Hall; June 15-23, Bath Street Chapel, Poplar; June 30, Mildmay Park