posted by Phil Johnson
The following excerpts are from an editorial Charles Spurgeon published in The Sword and the Trowel in 1871, more than a decade before the famous Downgrade Controversy.
Spurgeon makes no effort to disguise his passion for the truth, hide his contempt for the skepticism of the day, or otherwise tone down his rhetoric in order to mollify people who were demanding that he be more "charitable" in his treatment of unorthodox opinions.
He also had nothing but disdain for the notion that uncertainty is a mark of holy humility or a sign of intellectual sophistication that ought to be cultivated.
The arguments Spurgeon employs make it clear that the movement he opposed (nineteenth-century modernism) had a lot in common with the postmodern cynicism that infects the wider evangelical movement today. He leaves little doubt about how he would respond to the writings of Brian McLaren, Steve Chalke, Tony Campolo, the Open Theists, and their fellow post-evangelicals.
Here are some especially poignant excerpts:
That these gentlemen . . . are not liberal, but intolerant to the last degree, is evident, from their superciliousness towards those poor simpletons who abide by the old faith.Why, it's almost as if he had been reading the latest issue of Christianity Today or surfing through some of the blogs I monitor.
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. Steeped up to their very throats in that bigotry for liberality, which, of all others, is the most ferocious form of intolerance, they sneer with the contempt of affected learning at the idiots who contend for "a narrow Puritanism," and express a patronizing hope that the benighted adherents of "a half-enlightened creed" may learn more of "that charity which thinketh no evil."Sounds suspiciously like some fellows I know who regularly use "TR" or "RB" (acronyms for "truly Reformed" and "Reformed Baptist") against their adversaries as if those were the grossest of obscenities.
To contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints is to them an offense against the enlightenment of the nineteenth century; but, to vamp old, worn-out heresies, and pass them off for deep thinking, is to secure a high position among minds "emancipated from the fetters of traditional beliefs."Spurgeon was quoting the precise expressions broad churchmen had published. He was clearly the unnamed target of their disdain. The hypocrisy of their subsequent pleas for "charity" was obvious.
Great is their indignation at the creeds which render their position morally dubious. Churches have no right to believe anything; comprehensiveness is the only virtue of a denomination; precise definitions are a sin, and fundamental doctrines are a myth: this is the notion of "our foremost men." For earnest people to band themselves together to propagate what they hold to be the very truth of God, is in their eyes the miserable endeavor of bigots to stem the torrent of modern thought. . . .Notice that the modernists of Spurgeon's era apparently had the same distaste for strong convictions that infects their twenty-first-century postmodern cousins:
The proper course, according to their "broad views," would be to leave doctrines for the dunces who care for them. Truths there are none, but only opinions; and, therefore, cultivated ministers should be left free to trample on the most cherished beliefs, to insult convictions, no matter how long experience may have matured them, and to teach anything, everything, or nothing, as their own culture, or the current of enlightened thought may direct them. . . .
It appears to be, now-a-days, a doubtful question whether Christian men have a right to be quite sure of anything. . . . He who teaches an extravagant error is a fine, generous spirit: and, therefore, to condemn his teaching is perilous, and will certainly produce an outcry against your bigotry. Where the atonement is virtually denied, it is said that a preacher is a very clever man, and exceedingly good; and, therefore, even to whisper that he is unsound is libelous: we are assured that it would be far better to honor him for his courage in scorning to be hampered by conventional expressions. Besides, it is only his way of putting it, and the radical idea is discoverable by cultured minds. As to other doctrines, they are regarded as too trivial to be worthy of controversy. . . .Spurgeon was well aware of how his criticism would be viewed by the tolerance-police of his day:
The right to doubt is claimed clamorously, but the right to believe is not conceded. The modern gospel runs thus: "He that believes nothing and doubts everything shall be saved." Room must be provided for every form of skepticism; but, for old-fashioned faith, a manger in a stable is too commodious. Magnified greatly is the so-called "honest doubter," but the man who holds tenaciously by ancient forms of faith is among "men of culture" voted by acclamation a fool.
Hence, it becomes a sacred duty of the advanced thinker to sneer at the man of the creed, a duty which is in most cases fully discharged; and, moreover, it is equally imperative upon him to enter the synagogue of bigots, as though he were of their way of thinking, and in their very midst inveigh against their superstition, their ignorant contentedness with worm-eaten dogmas, and generally to disturb and overturn their order of things. What if they have confessions of faith? They have no right to accept them, and, therefore, let them be held up to ridicule.
Men, now-a-days, occupy pulpits with the tacit understanding that they will uphold certain doctrines, and from those very pulpits they assail the faith they are pledged to defend. The plan is not to secede, but to operate from within, to worry, to insinuate, to infect. Within the walls of Troy, one Greek is worth half Agamemnon's host; let, then, the wooden horse of liberality be introduced by force or art, as best may serve the occasion. Talking evermore right boastfully of their candor and hatred of the hollowness of creeds, etc., they will remain members of churches long after they have renounced the basis of union upon which these churches are constituted. Yes, and worse; the moment they are reminded of their inconsistency they whine about being persecuted, and imagine themselves to be martyrs.
This is most illiberal talk in the judgment of our liberal friends, and they will rail at it in their usual liberal manner; it is, however, plain common sense, as all can see but those who are willfully blind.His reply was a reminder about the source and the nature of the truth he was defending:
While we are upon the point, it may be well to inquire into the character of the liberality which is, now-a-days, so much vaunted. What is it that these men would have us handle so liberally? Is it something which is our own, and left at our disposal? If so, let generosity be the rule. But no, it is God's truth which we are thus to deal with, the gospel which he has put us in trust with, and for which we shall have to render account. . .He took a low view of that fashionable brand of "charity" which demanded approval for various new-fangled expressions of infidelity:
If truth were ours, absolutely; if we created it, and had no responsibilities in reference to it, we might consider broad-church proposals; but, the gospel is the Lord's own, and we are only stewards of the manifold grace of God, and of stewards it is not so much required that they be liberal, but that they be found faithful.
Moreover, this form of charity is both useless and dangerous. Useless, evidently, because all the agreements and unions and compromises beneath the moon can never make an error a truth, nor shift the boundary-line of God's gospel a single inch. If we basely merge one part of Scriptural teaching for the sake of charity, it is not, therefore, really merged, it will bide its time, and demand its due with terrible reprisals for our injustice towards it; for half the sorrows of the church arise from smothered truths.
False doctrine is not rendered innocuous by its being winked at. God hates it whatever glosses we may put upon it; no lie is of the truth, and no charity can make it so. Either a dogma is right or wrong, it cannot be indifferent. . . .
The rule of Christians is not the flickering glimmer of opinion, but the fixed law of the statute book; it is rebellion, black as the sin of witchcraft, for a man to know the law, and talk of conceding the point. In the name of the Eternal King, who is this liberal conceder, or, rather, this profane defrauder of the Lord, that he should even imagine such a thing in his heart?
Nor is it less important to remember that trifling with truth is to the last degree dangerous. No error can be imbibed without injury, nor propagated without sin. The utmost charity cannot convert another gospel into the gospel of Jesus Christ, nor deprive it of its deluding and destroying influence. There is no ground for imagining that an untruth, honestly believed, is in the least changed in its character by the sincerity of the receiver; nor may we dream that the highest culture renders a departure from revealed truth less evil in the sight of God.
If you give the sick man a deadly poison instead of a healing medicine, neither your broad views of chemistry, nor his enlightened judgment upon anatomy, will prevent the drug from acting after its own nature.
Spurgeon reminded his detractors of how the apostles responded to false teaching, and of the dangers of flirting with unbelief:
Paul pronounced a curse upon any man or angel who should preach another gospel, and he would not have done so, if other gospels were harmless. It is not so long ago that men need forget it, that the blight of Unitarian and other lax opinions withered the very soul of the Dissenting Churches; and that spirit has only to be again rampant, to repeat its mischief. Instances, grievous to our inmost heart, rise up before our memory at the moment of men seduced from their first love, and drawn aside from their fathers' gospel, who only meant to gather one tempting flower upon the brink of the precipice of error, but fell, never to be restored.Spurgeon's closing words are a fitting reply to the purveyors of doubt in our era:
No fiction do we write, 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. In all cases, the poison has not so openly developed itself, but we fear the inner ruin has been quite as complete. In the case of public teachers, cases are not hard to find where little by little men have advanced beyond their "honest doubt," into utter blasphemy.
We are not believers in stereotyped phraseology, nor do we desire to see the reign of a stagnant uniformity; but, at this present, the perils of the church lie in another direction. The stringency of little Bethel, whatever may have been its faults, has no power to work the mischief which is now engendered by the confusion of the latitudinarian Babel. To us, at any rate, the signs of the times portend no danger greater than that which can arise from landmarks removed, ramparts thrown down, foundations shaken, and doctrinal chaos paramount.Twenty-first century postmodern "emerging" types in the church love to try to paint themselves as the polar opposite of modernists. The fact that Spurgeon's criticism of early modernism so perfectly refutes the rhetoric of the postmodern innovators shows why that claim is bogus. Far from being the antithesis of modernism, "evangelical postmodernism" is really nothing more than Modernism 2.0.
We have written this much, because silence is reckoned as consent, and pride unrebuked lifts up its horn on high, and becomes more insolent still. 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.