30 September 2007

Pathological Paradigm-Shifting: Why It's Bad for You

(And Why Constantly Changing One's Theological Perspective Is Not a Sign of Growth or Maturity)

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 Form of Sound Words," a message preached Sunday morning, 11 May 1856 (while Spurgeon was still a young man in his early 20s).

he tendency of the day is to give up old landmarks and to adopt new ones, and to avow anything rather than the old-fashioned divinity.

Well, my dear friends, if any of you like to try new doctrines, I warn you, that if you be the children of God you will soon be sick enough of those new-fangled notions, those newly invented doctrines, which are continually taught. You may, for the first week, be pleased enough with their novelty; you may wonder at their transcendental spirituality or something else that entices you on; but you will not have lived on them long before you will say, "Alas! alas! I have taken in my hands the apples of Sodom; they were fair to look upon, but they are ashes in my mouth."

If you would be peaceful, keep fast to the truth, hold fast the form of sound words: so shall "your peace be like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea."

"Hold fast the form of sound words," again, let me say, because it will tend very much to your growth. He who holds fast the truth will grow faster than he who is continually shifting from doctrine to doctrine.

What a mighty number of spiritual weathercocks we have in this world now. We have men who in the morning hear a Calvinistic preacher, and say, "Oh, it is delightful;" in the evening they hear an Arminian, and they say, "Oh, it is just as good; and no doubt they are both true, though one contradicts the other!"

The glorious charity of the present day is such, that it believes lies to be as good as truth; and lies and truth have met together and kissed each other; and he that telleth truth is called a bigot, and truth has ceased to be honourable in the world!

Ah! beloved, we know better than to profess such unlimited, but false charity. The truth is, we know how to "hold fast the form of sounds words," which has been given to us, because in this way we grow. Changeable people cannot grow much. If you have a tree in your garden plant it in one place to-day, and tomorrow place it somewhere else, how much bigger will it be in six months? It will be dead very likely; or if it does not die, it will not be very much grown; it will be marvellously stunted.

So it is with some of you: you plant yourselves there; then you are persuaded that you are not quite right, and you go and plant yourself somewhere else. Why, there are men who are anythingarians; who go dodging about from one denomination to another, and cannot tell what they are; our opinion is, of these people, that they believe nothing, and are good for nothing, and anybody may have them that likes; we do not consider men to be worth much, unless they have settled principles, and "hold fast the form of sound words."

You cannot grow unless you hold it fast. How should I know any more of my faith in ten years' time, if I allowed it to take ten forms in ten years? I should be but a smatterer in each, and know nothing thoroughly of one. But he that hath one faith, and knoweth it to be the faith of God, and holdeth it fast, how strong he becomes in his faith! Each wind or tempest doth but confirm him, as the fierce winds root the oaks, and make them strong, standing firmly in their places; but if I shift and change, I am none the better, but rather the worse.

For your own peace sake then, and for your growth, "hold fast the form of sound words."

C. H. Spurgeon


David said...

Excellent quote. This reminds me of something Jerry Wragg wrote: "...if a single verse or passage would so readily change your conviction, then your present view is thinly constructed, and your next view too easily gained." Solid convictions are formed through sober study over long periods of time. I know I've regretted virtually every change of mind that came quickly.

Keith B said...

If you have a tree in your garden plant it in one place to-day, and tomorrow place it somewhere else, how much bigger will it be in six months? It will be dead very likely; or if it does not die, it will not be very much grown; it will be marvellously stunted.

What a clear comparison even in our day. Thanks for the timeless quotes.

steve said...

Spurgeon speaks as if he's seen many ministers rise and fall in regard to their convictions, yet he spoke these words in his second year of ministry at Park Street.

He was well beyond his years in wisdom. Amazing.

Anonymous said...

If you really believe that...why are you at a conference this week?
Why not stay home, save the money and just read the bible?

David A. Carlson said...

Too bad C.S. wasn't around to give Luther some good advice

Little Shepherd said...

I can understand the point about easily-changed faith being shallow, but aren't there times when we are confronted with new knowledge and must make a change for the better? To steal from Spurgeon's analogy, if you leave a tree in stagnant soil rather than move it to more fertile soil, will it not also be stunted and possibly die? Sometimes leaving the tree where it is only hurts it. In my few years of being a Christian, I've seen the dangerous opposite of what Spurgeon spoke on. I've seen too many people stick with bad theology when all evidence would have convinced a more reasonable person to admit he was wrong and change his views.

I'm not even sure why he brought up the Calvinist/Arminian divide. The differences aren't of salvational importantance, I know people in both camps who have demonstrated incredible spiritual growth, and the more I look into soteriology the more I wonder if it's even possible to be right, and know one is right(i.e. not just be making a "best guess").

As much as I've loved your weekly doses of Spurgeon since I started following this blog, I think this time he may have painted with a bit too broad a brush.

steve said...

Little Shepherd:

Note that Spurgeon is talking about new doctrine, new ideas, as opposed to the truths that have long been confirmed and established by generations of faithful believers before us.

Once we have established ourselves in that which is tried and true and we have labored diligently to rightly divide the Word, we should abstain from being taken captive by new ideas that, above ground, look appealing but below ground are not rooted in Scripture.

And, more along the lines of what you're talking about, if a believer who has rooted himself in faulty doctrine comes to realize such after careful study of the Word, then he should uproot himself from that bad soil and establish himself in fertile soil.

John D. Palmer said...

Did I miss the scriptural foundation that this excerpt is based on or was it just not there?

FX Turk said...


You missed it. In Phil's intro to these remarks, he linked to the full text of the original sermon, which comes from 2 Tim 1:13.

Mike Riccardi said...

This was phenomenal. It was like taking a shower, washing off the postmodern ideology of today.