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 chapter 5 of An All Round Ministry, a chapter titled "A New Departure." I love this section, where Spurgeon takes to task all who have departed from the gospelranging from the End-Times-Obsessed dispensationalists to the Modernist precursors of today's Emergent postmodernism. His warning still appliesto both sides. (His chronicle of early candidates for the Antichrist is especially intriguing. I have a small collection of books from the first half of the twentieth century, each of which speculates on the identity of Antichristall of them guessing differently, and each of themof coursegetting it wrong. They follow the same kind of pattern Spurgeon noticed in his time. They began with Kaiser Wilhelm, then moved on to Hitler, Mussolini, Winston Churchill, etc. Some things never change.)
here is an evil under the sun which is as terrible as an open catastrophe,indeed, it works greater ill to the church in the long run,and that is, when a man's ministry is eaten through and through with spiritual dry rot.
I heard an old Indian describe the way in which furniture may be devoured by the white ants. The ants will come into the house, and eat up everything; and yet, to all appearance, nothing is touched. The bookcases stand just where they did, and the trunks and everything else remain exactly as they were; at least, it is so to the eye; but directly they are touched, they all crumble to pieces, for the ants have eaten the substance out of them.
In the same way, some men still remain in the ministry, and yet the soul of their ministry has gone. They have a name to live, yet they are dead: what can be worse than this condition? One might almost sooner have an explosion, and have done with it, than see men continuing to maintain the form of religion after vital godliness has gone, scattering death all around them, and yet maintaining what is called a respectable position. God save us from this last as much as from that first! If I am a rotten bough, let me be cut off; but to hang upon the tree, all verdant with parasitical lichen and moss, is deplorable. A respectable ministry, devoid of spiritual life, is little better than respectable damnation, from which may God deliver us!
When men drift into this condition, they generally adopt some expedient to hide it. Conscience suggests that there is something or other wrong, and the deceitful heart labours to conceal or palliate this fact. Some do this by amusing themselves with hobbies instead of preaching the gospel. They cannot do the Lord's work, so they try to do their own. They have not honesty enough to confess that they have lost gospel power, so they ride a hobby; and it is a very mild form of evil when they raise some side issue, which has no other fault about it than that it diverts them from the main point. Many are these playthings; I have no time to mention more than one.
I have known certain brethren give themselves solely to expound prophecy. Now, a man full of the life of God may expound prophecy as much as he likes; but there are some who, having lost their love of the gospel, try to win back what little popularity they once had by taking up with guesses at the future. They may be quite, sure that, if they cannot profit men by bringing them to the manger and the cross, they will make a complete failure of it if they handle the seals and the vials.
Did you ever notice, in Calvin's Commentaries, that there is no exposition of the Book of Revelation? Why not? He said, "I have not expounded that Book because I do not understand it." When I hear a man say, "I have found much in Matthew which does not belong to the Church, I have outgrown much of the Romans and Galatians, and I cannot enjoy the Psalms, for they do not rise to the perfection of my experience; I want something more elevated and spiritual, more abstruse and wonderful;" I conclude that this brother is spinning his last hank, and spending his last pennyworth of sense.
I have been amused by observing the manner in which speculators have been taken in when they have left the old ship of the gospel to become prophets. The beast of the Revelation was reported to be Napoleon I, and then the creature suddenly reappeared in his nephew, Napoleon III By-and-by, the deadly wound was healed, and the Prince Imperial wore the dreadful honours of the prophetic book; but the prince is now dead, and it will be needful for the seers to invent a new theory. There is no fear but what they will do it before long; and, meanwhile, "our Israelitish origin" will do to fill up the time.
In the story of Sindbad the Sailor, it is said that, as they sailed along, they saw an island, and at the sight thereof they greatly rejoiced. The crew left the ship, and feasted on the island, and were going to take possession of it in the name of the king, when suddenly it began to quiver and to plunge, and finally it went down altogether, for it was a whale's back, and not an island at all! I have known brethren disport themselves upon the back of some novel speculation, when suddenly the facts of history have gone against them, and the whole thing has gone down very like a whale.
I have mentioned one of the more harmless hobbies, but some have taken to fancies which have bred greater mischief. Speculation is an index of the spiritual poverty of the man who surrenders himself to it. His flour has all been used, so he tries plaster of Paris; he has no more gold or silver, so he coins the baser metals. He cannot prophesy after the measure of faith, so he exercises his immeasurable imagination. His own experience does not serve him with topics for his ministry, and therefore he takes airy flights into regions of which he knows nothing.
Far worse is it when a man so runs down in heart and spirit that he has no principles left, and believes nothing at all. He is a Baptist, but he would very cheerfully minister to a Paedo-baptist church. He is a Calvinist, but he is not narrow, and will promise to offend no one. He holds certain views, but "a view to the pastorate" is the chief of them, and in that view the salary is the charm. He boasts of possessing large-heartedness, and receptivity of spirit, and all that sort of thing. He has dry rot in his soul! That is the truth of the case, and he tries to cover it up with this nonsense!
Such persons remind me of an advertisement of a school in France; its concluding paragraph was to this effect: "The pupils will be taught any religion which may be selected by their parents." It is abominable when ministers as good as say that any religion will be taught which may be selected by the deacons. "Pray inform me whether the church likes a high-toned Calvinism, or prefers Arminianism." It is with such as it was with the showman who exhibited the battle of Waterloo, and in answer to the question, "Which is Wellington, and which is Napoleon?" replied, "Whichever you please, my little dears; you pays your money, and you takes your choice." These broad-churchmen are prepared to supply any article for which there is a demand. This is a terrible condition of things, but men do not generally rest there; in the lowest depth, there is still a lower deep.
When the heart has got out of order, and the spiritual life has run down, men soon fall into actual doctrinal error, not so much because their head is wrong, for many of them have not erred very much there, but because their heart is in an ill condition. We should never have known that some men had brains at all if they had not addled them.
Such departers from the faith usually fall by little and little. They begin by saying very little concerning grace. They serve out homoeopathic doses of gospel: it is marvellous what a very small globule of the gospel will save a soul, and it is a great mercy that it is so, or few would be saved. These snatches of gospel, and the preacher who gives them, remind us of the famous dog of the Nile, of whom the ancients said that he was so afraid of the crocodiles that he drank of the river in a great hurry, and was away from it directly. These intellectual gentry are so afraid of the critical crocodiles that the moment they touch the living water of the gospel they are away again. Their doubts are stronger than their beliefs.
The worst of it is that they not only give us very little gospel, but they give us much that is not the gospel. In this they are like mosquitoes, of whom I have often said that I do not mind their taking a little of my blood, but it is the poison which they put into me which is my great cause of quarrel with them. That a man should rob me of the gospel, is bad enough; but that he should impregnate me with his poisonous doctrine, is intolerable.
When men lose all love to the gospel, they try to make up for the loss of its attractions by sparkling inventions of their own. They imitate life by the artificial flash of culture, reminding me of the saline crystals which cover the salt deserts. There is a lifeless plain, in the heart of Persia, so sterile and accursed that even saline plants do not thrive; "but the salt itself, as if in bitter mockery, fashions its crystals in the form of stems and stalks, and covers the steppe with a carpet of unique vegetation, glittering and glistening like an enchanted prairie in the dazzling light of the Eastern sun." Woe be unto the poor congregations who behold this substitute for life, this saline efflorescence of dainty errors and fascinating inventions!
Alas, whatever a man may now propound, he will find learned personages to support him in it! Fontenelle used to say that, if he could only get six philosophers to write in its favour, people could be made to believe that the sun is not the source of light and heat; and I think there is a great deal of truth in the remark. We are told, "Well, he is a very learned man, he is a Fellow of Brazenface College, and he has written a book in which he upsets the old dogmas." If a learned man writes any nonsense, of course it will have a run; and there is no opinion so insane but, if it has the patronage of so-called scientific men, it will be believed in certain quarters.
I have myself watched the labours of novelists in theology, and have tried to get what I could out of their books, but I have been struck with the remarkably poor results of their lucubrations. I have stood by the shore at Mentone, and seen fishermen with miles of line, and a vast net buoyed up by great tubs, visible far out at sea. A dozen men are hauling at one rope, and as many more are pulling in another, drawing this great net to land. Pull away! Ahoy! Pull away at the ropes, and bring the fish to land. I believe that, on one occasion, I did see them produce a fish not so long as my little finger, but that was a rather successful occasion! Our German friends have diligently made vast nets with which they have enclosed the sea of thought: and upon drawing them out, what a noise there has been, and what a sensation, and what at trembling and a fainting among the old ladies of Christendom; but when we have seen their mighty catch, it has not been the tenth part of a sardine!
The next philosopher who came along, has fitted on his spectacles, with due gravity, after wiping them most solemnly, and then he has put his critical fork into this small fish, and, holding it up to be admired of all, he. has discoursed upon its species, till another philosopher equally wise has declared that it was rotten, and pitched it back into the deeps.
This kind of game is continually going on, and many young ministers have been fools enough to give up the apostolic fishery to join in this stupid waste of mental effort. What have they ever done, these doubters, since the world began? What will they do? What can they do? All that they can do now is to wriggle into our churches, and hiss from pulpits which were once filled by the orthodox. They cannot build places of worship of their own,they could not build a mousetrap; as a rule, there is not power enough in their teaching to gather a congregation, or to keep one when it is gathered. All the vitality, force, and energy they possess are spent, cuckoo-like, in laying their eggs in the nests which we take the trouble to fashion, for they cannot build their own.
God forbid that we should ever try to cover our decline of heart by the invention of our self-conceit! I hope that, when our ministry begins to lose power, we shall be driven to our knees, and to our God, that He may quicken us again by His good Spirit.