posted by Phil Johnson
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "Advanced Thinkers," an article Spurgeon wrote for the November 1871 issue of The Sword and the Trowel.
here has by degrees risen up in this country a coterie, more than ordinarily pretentious, whose favorite cant is made up of such terms as these: "liberal views," "men of high culture," "persons of enlarged minds and cultivated intellects," "bonds of dogmatism and the slavery of creeds," "modern thought," and so on.
That these gentlemen are not so thoroughly educated as they fancy themselves to be, is clear from their incessant boasts of their culture; that they are not free, is shrewdly guessed from their loud brags of liberty; and that they are not liberal, but intolerant to the last degree, is evident, from their superciliousness towards those poor simpletons who abide by the old faith.
Jews in old times called Gentiles dogs, and Mahometans cursed unbelievers roundly; but we question whether any men, in any age, have manifested such contempt of others as is constantly evidenced towards the orthodox by the modern school of "cultured intellects." 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."
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."
These gentlemen of culture have certainly adopted peculiar tactics. The misbelievers and unbelievers of former ages withdrew themselves from churches as soon as they found out they could not honestly endorse their fundamental articles; but these abide by the stuff, and 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; for zealous Christians to contribute of their substance for the erection of a house, in which only the truths most surely believed among them shall be inculcated, is a treason against liberality; while the attempt to secure our pulpits against downright error, is a mischievous piece of persecution to be resented by all "intellectual" men.
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. If certain old fogies object to this, let them turn out of the buildings they have erected, or subside into silence under a due sense of their inferiority.
It appears to be, now-a-days, a doubtful question whether Christian men have a right to be quite sure of anything. . . . 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.
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.
The steward who defrauded his lord was liberal; so was the thief who shared the plunder with his accomplice; and so were those in the Proverbs, who said, "let us all have one purse." 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.
It may be said that the parallel does not hold, and that error is not deadly, but here we yield not, no, not for an hour. 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.
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.