07 July 2007

Spurgeon on the Truth War

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "The Sword of the Spirit," a sermon preached on Sunday April 19th, 1891, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London. This bit would have made a wonderful epigraph for my pastor's latest book, The Truth War. Spurgeon had no sympathy with the post-evangelicals of his era who called for a truce with wisdom of the age and declared their belief that friendship with the world would actually be a more effective evangelistic strategy than warfare. Spurgeon not only regarded such a strategy as stunningly naïve and hopelessly ineffectual, but he also pointed out that it was totally unbiblical.

"Take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."—Ephesians 6:17.


o be a Christian is to be a warrior. The good soldier of Jesus Christ must not expect to find ease in this world: it is a battle-field. Neither must he reckon upon the friendship of the world; for that would be enmity against God. His occupation is war. As he puts on piece by piece of the panoply provided for him, he may wisely say to himself, "This warns me of danger; this prepares me for warfare; this prophesies opposition."

Difficulties meet us even in standing our ground; for the apostle, two or three times, bids us—"Stand." In the rush of the fight, men are apt to be carried off their legs. If they can keep their footing, they will be victorious; but if they are borne down by the rush of their adversaries, everything is lost. You are to put on the heavenly armor in order that you may stand; and you will need it to maintain the position in which your Captain has placed you.

If even to stand requires all this care, judge ye what the warfare must be! The apostle also speaks of withstanding as well as standing. We are not merely to defend, but also to assail. It is not enough that you are not conquered; you have to conquer: and hence we find, that we are to take, not only a helmet to protect the head, but also a sword, with which to annoy the foe. Ours, therefore, is a stern conflict, standing and withstanding; and we shall want all the armor from the divine magazine, all the strength from the mighty God of Jacob.

It is clear from our text that our defense and our conquest must be obtained by sheer fighting. Many try compromise; but if you are a true Christian, you can never do this business well. The language of deceit fits not a holy tongue. The adversary is the father of lies, and those that are with him understand the art of equivocation; but saints abhor it. If we discuss terms of peace, and attempt to gain something by policy, we have entered upon a course from which we shall return in disgrace. We have no order from our Captain to patch up a truce, and get as good terms as we can. We are not sent out to offer concessions.

It is said that if we yield a little, perhaps the world will yield a little also, and good may come of it. If we are not too strict and narrow, perhaps sin will kindly consent to be more decent. Our association with it will prevent its being so barefaced and atrocious. If we are not narrow-minded, our broad doctrine will go down with the world, and those on the other side will not be so greedy of error as they now are. No such thing. Assuredly this is not the order which our Captain has issued. When peace is to be made, he will make it himself, or he will tell us how to behave to that end; but at present our orders are very different.

Neither may we hope to gain by being neutral, or granting an occasional truce. We are not to cease from conflict, and try to be as agreeable as we can with our Lord’s foes, frequenting their assemblies, and tasting their dainties. No such orders are written here. You are to grasp your weapon, and go forth to fight.

Neither may you so much as dream of winning the battle by accident. No man was ever holy by a happy chance. Infinite damage may be done by carelessness; but no man ever won life’s battle by it. To let things go on as they please, is to let them bear us down to hell. We have no orders to be quiet, and take matters easily. No; we are to pray always, and watch constantly.



The one note that rings out from the text is this:—TAKE THE SWORD! TAKE THE SWORD! No longer is it, talk and debate! No longer is it, parley and compromise! The word of thunder is—Take the sword. The Captain’s voice is clear as a trumpet—Take the sword! No Christian man here will have been obedient to our text unless with clear, sharp, and decisive firmness, courage, and resolve, he takes the sword. We must go to heaven sword in hand, all the way. "TAKE THE SWORD."

C. H. Spurgeon

13 comments:

jbuck21 said...

Amen for that admonition.

"Shall I be carried to the skies
On flowery beds of ease
While others fought to win the prize
And sailed through bloody seas?

Sure I must fight if I would reign
Increase my courage, Lord.
I'll bear the toil, endure the pain
Supported by Thy Word."

-Isaac Watts

Dan said...

Hi Phil!

Got a question.

I fully understand the need for standing up for "truth" in terms of core historical orthodox doctrine.

My question, is more about the comments you set up Spurgeon's words with:

"that friendship with the world would actually be a more effective evangelistic strategy than warfare. Spurgeon not only regarded such a strategy as stunningly naïve and hopelessly ineffectual, but he also pointed out that it was totally unbiblical."


I lived right next door to Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, and while there I ended up visiting several times and reading a lot about his life and remember he was a very strong supporter of Hudson Taylor. He and his church were supportive of Hudson Taylor financially as well as sending missionaries there to China to serve there with Taylor.


So, my question is understanding that Spurgeon was living in London which was at that time a fairly Christianized place in terms of plenty of churches and the people of England having a somewhat Christian understanding and worldview and ethics and morals. So, ministry was done in a certain way because of the specific culture and time period of London, England.

However, Hudson Taylor moved to China and ended up entirely changing how he went about ministry because of the sensitivity to the culture there being different than England.


He changed how he preached to a more personal style, a lot fo relational work befriending the Chinese people, he changed how he dressed and conformed to changing his hair and wardrobe to wearing the common garb and style of the Chinese at that time which was shaving the head and wearing a pigtail, he changed how he held meetings etc. (You can read about the specifics in various biographies, especially the long one written by his family. But it looked entirely different than the way ministry and evangelism was done in England, because he was senstive to the different culture and worldviews of China.


Ironically, it was the English people who sent him, whom got upset he was being so culturally sensitive and changing how he went about ministry and that he would adapt to the culture with his approach to dress, meetings etc. That is why he broke off and started China Inland Mission.


So Spurgeon believed in the ministry and supported it.


Taylor did not change core doctrines or the gospel in his teaching. But he did change how he went about preaching, building and launching churches and was certainly influenced to be sensitive to the Chinese culture, even to the point of entirely changing how he looked and dressed.


So if Spurgeon understood living in a "churched" England, you have ministry a certain way - but in a non-Christian China you are sensitive to culture - why isn't that what we should be doing today, in what is becoming more of a post-Christian culture in the USA?

Again, Hudson Taylor didn't change the gospel or core doctrines. So I am not saying culture changes that. But Taylor absolutely changed how he presented the gospel, how he befriended and relationally spent time with the Chinese, and culturally was very sensitive to "style".

The critics of his approach were the English who didn't understand missional work in a cross-cultural place. For me, I see our own country now much as China, but we are facing different things of course than China did then.

Was there something wrong with Hudson Taylor's cultural sensitivity and adaptation of how we went about ministry - and would you disagree with Spurgeon for supporting it?


Just wondering, as I have studied Husdons Taylor's life and he was been a model to me of adopting to a culture significantly, yet remaining pure to the gospel. But it did mean being culturally sensitive and that cultural sensitivity causes him critics from those in England, but not Spurgeon.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thank you!! I hope you are having a wonderful day whatever you are doing and wherever you are!

Dan

Robert N. Landrum said...

I feel the heat of the battle more and more. These are encourageing words. I have found that to stay on the defensive is to loose the battle. Our battle is such that we must fight to the death or be taken captive by the enemy.

jsb said...

"To be a Christian is to be a warrior. The good soldier of Jesus Christ must not expect to find ease in this world: it is a battle-field. Neither must he reckon upon the friendship of the world; for that would be enmity against God. His occupation is war."

Hopelessly outmoded, quaint and naive. The way of the Christian is to "have a good attitude." It is to "smile more." It is to "not let any negativity into your life."

Take the toothpaste! Take the toothpaste!

Phil Johnson said...

Dan: "Was there something wrong with Hudson Taylor's cultural sensitivity and adaptation of how we went about ministry—and would you disagree with Spurgeon for supporting it?"

No, of course not. In fact, I'm tempted to suggest that the point you seem to be trying to make is pretty far-fetched, based on what Spurgeon actually says in the above excerpt. He's calling for boldness in defense of the truth. That doesn't argue either for or against the legitimate brand of "cultural sensitivity" practiced by Hudson Taylor.

However, it certainly does argue against the kind of "contextualization" that's gaining popularity nowadays, where (often in the name of a "missional" strategy), people embrace postmodern attitudes toward truth, downgraded convictions about the Bible's authority and inerrancy, uncertainty about whether homosexuality is really sinful, skepticism about the eternality of divine punishment, distaste for the propitiatory aspects of the atonement, and a lack of clarity about the gospel.

The modernists in the church of Spurgeon's era were doing exactly the same things postmodernists in the church are doing today, using exactly the same arguments to justify compromise or accommodation—and Spurgeon execrated that tendency. I've been posting Spurgeon excerpts that prove the point for the past two years.

Incidentally, if you're suggesting that Hudson Taylor followed a philosophy of "cultural sensitivity" that Spurgeon himself didn't practice, you're wrong about that. Spurgeon fit into his own culture as much as he legitimately could. A Vanity Fair article of the era noted, for example, that Spurgeon was able to "extract edification out of slang."

Still, don't underestimate how hostile to Christianity the moral and intellectual climate of London's culture was already becoming in Spurgeon's day. All of England was in a spiritual free-fall during the Victorian era, and Spurgeon was constantly at war with evil trends in that culture. It was the age of Dickens's work-houses, the London of Jack the Ripper, and the dawn of Darwinism. The rising popularity of theatre among the upper class was having a profound secularizing effect on all society—and Spurgeon waged battle indefatigably against all those aspects of the culture. (Hudson Taylor likewise strongly opposed the immoral and harmful aspects of Chinese culture—such as the binding of little girls' feet. His desire to adapt as much as possible to the culture didn't include the stifling of his opposition to cultural evils.)

I didn't realize you once lived next door to the Met Tab. You must have noticed that even today, they have a vibrant ministry to their own neighborhood, which is now as culturally and ethnically diverse as any inner-city location in the world. Both their congregation and deacon board reflect that diversity. They are having an amazingly effective impact right across the cultures, without any of the "missional" gimmickry all the Zondervan/YS books insist is necessary for reaching postmoderns.

And since you brought this up in your opening statement, I'll just reiterate what I've tried to say to you before: I think your contribution to Listening to the Beliefs of the Emerging Churches missed a golden opportunity to apply the principle Spurgeon is highlighting in the above excerpt. That book contains virtually every variety of illegitimate "contextualization" I have outlined above. It fairly begged for a strong, militant, biblical defense if the faith.

Dan said...

Thanks Phil!

Yes, I lived between the Elephant and Castle tube station and the Kennington one. So the church was walking distance from where I lived. I went there several times and they even followed up and knocked on my door after the first visit and I turned in a visitor card.


What you said about "legitimate cultural sensitivity" is what I am trying to express I am hoping we do as a church and what I see as what missional means (to me). But it does change things, as it did with Hudson Taylor - but without changing truth.

What I meant with Spurgeon was that he developed the church and what it looked like etc. to fit within London culture at that time period. With Hudson Taylor at the same exact time period, in a different culture - his ministry and how he went about evangelism and his own appearance was drastically different than Spurgeons. Different cultures - different approaches. Same gospel though. And that is what I am saying, that we can preach the same gospel and not waver from core truths - but how we go about ministry in different cultures are different.

Hudson didn't stand up and begin preaching against Buddha - he developed a lot of friendships with people and adapted culturally to who the Chinese people at that time period were. He of course did preach the gospel, but how he went about things looked drastically different than Spurgeon.


Thanks for responding. I love reading biographies of missionaries in different cultures.

Have a wonderful rest of weekend,

Dan

Habitans in Sicco said...

Phil, You really don't get it, do you? In these postmodern times, truth is a socially-constructed reality, so the distinction you are trying to make between truth and culture doesn't even work.

In fact, the defining attribute of our postmodern culture is a resistance to inflexible truth-claims, so if you want to contextualize Christianity for the times in which we live, you must either hold an elastic view of truth or at least pretend you do.

Also, you can either affirm, abbreviate, or challenge the core doctrines of Christianity, as long as you don't marginalize people with other views. What you cannot do is tell people these core doctrines are inflexible and that they should believe them also. If someone wants to call herself a Christian, you must extend the right hand of fellowship even if she denies your core doctrines. Refuse to do so and you might as well be wearing eskimo clothing while trying to evangelize people in Fiji.

Dan is right: if Hudson Taylor wore a Chinese ponytail and Spurgeon preached in the vernacular of his time, they would surely adjust their thinking to these new cultural realities in order to reach postmodernists today.

And if you understood that basic formula, you would not have had a problem with Dan's chapter. Quit being so obtuse, dude.

dks said...

The battle can only be won if we fight the Lord's way. Our way, whatever it is, will always result in failure.

"I" have tried winning some of my battles in the last two years. "I" failed each and every time because I didn't do it His way. We all are so busy so it is so easy to short change God and His ways. We also should never compare ourselves with others. God expects different things from different people.

I looked around and since "I" felt I was already spending more "time" with God than other folks that was enough. I was wrong!

Although this may seem like a small battle for some it has been a major one for me. Satan does not want to loose an inch of ground. I am beginning to fight this battle his way and will need the Lord's help every inch of the way.

TAKE THE SWORD, TAKE THE SWORD!!

dks said...

I have grown to dearly love Spurgeon.

Phil I appreciate your Pyro and Blog sites. I enjoy reading the interactions on the Blog.

DKS

Matt said...

Habitans - you are either an honest postmodern (how refreshing) or a cutting satirist. I don't know which. You say:

Phil, You really don't get it, do you? In these postmodern times, truth is a socially-constructed reality, so the distinction you are trying to make between truth and culture doesn't even work.

Truth is a socially constructed reality. Does that include the "truth" that "truth is a socially constructed reality"? Just curious. Because that statement is so blunt and to the point, I can't discern whether you are a hard-core postmodern or an evangelical with an excellent sense of homour!

jbuck21 said...

"Also, you can either affirm, abbreviate, or challenge the core doctrines of Christianity, as long as you don't marginalize people with other views."

Habitans,

Please tell me this is a joke...

Please.

brentjthomas said...

An inspiring Spurgeon sermon. Always worth while checking out this blog.
In taking the sword we would do well to study (or pursue)fencing, like Westley did (not the Methodist): Bonetti's Defense (fitting for rocky terrain), Capa Ferro, Thibault, and Agrippa.

brentjthomas said...

In taking the sword we would do well to study (or pursue) fencing as did Inigo Montoya (not Jose Baez Garrero's fictional Scottish scientist and philosopher, author of an essay on the "involutive character of religion", but rather the more famous Inigo Montoya with "an overdeveloped sense of vengeance").