C. H. Spurgeon.
(from the February 1874 issue)
|Prefatory note from The Spurgeon Archive: This was Spurgeon's reply to a newspaper article by the Rev. R. W. Dale, a leading congregationalist pastor from Birmingham. Dale thought of himself as progressive and as a result rejected many aspects of Reformed orthodoxy. For example, not long after Spurgeon published this reply to Dale's diatribe against Calvinism, Dale renounced the doctrine of eternal punishment and began teaching annihilationism.|
The positive assessment of British evangelicalism Spurgeon gave in this article proved to be overly optimistic. Within two decades, Spurgeon would be embroiled in the Down-Grade Controversy, in which he stood virtually alone against the incipient modernism that was being openly embraced not only by the Baptist Union but by most other "evangelicals" as well.
Iain Murray has written,
By the 1880's Spurgeon came to see that the tide was not for Calvinism but against it. When Dale, in 1881, repeated his belief that "Mr. Spurgeon stands alone in his fidelity to the older Calvinistic creed," Spurgeon did not attempt to refute it. Speaking to the editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, in June, 1884, Spurgeon made the following significant statement: "In theology I stand where I did when I began preaching, and I stand almost alone. . ." [The Forgotten Spurgeon (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1966), p. 176]
O two men would or could give the same description of a battle. Their points of view would differ; their estimates of forces, and their emotions would be very divergent; and even their eyes would not be precisely the same instruments of observation. The four evangelists, though inspired, differ in their accounts of the same event. Equally accurate narratives may vary; in theory this may seem impossible, but, it is matter of fact. To form a correct idea of the condition of religious thought would be far more difficult than to conceive the progress of a battle, or to record the doings of a great teacher, and a thousand persons might arrive at a thousand different conclusions, and yet be equally honest in their endeavour to be correct. We have said all this by way of guarding ourselves from seeming to impeach the truthfulness of the gentleman from whose opinion we are about to dissent. He sees from his point and we from ours; he has not our eyes, nor can we borrow his; the mists of Birmingham are slightly different from those of London, and the surroundings of the Birmingham School Board are not those of the Tabernacle; hence we can easily account for differing observations being equally conscientious.
Mr. Dale, in his admirable article published on Christmas-day in the Daily Telegraph, gives it as his opinion that Calvinism would be almost obsolete among Baptists were it not still maintained by the powerful influence of Mr. Spurgeon. The statement is most flattering to our vanity, but if we believed it, our intense sorrow for the low estate of Calvinism would effectually quench the faintest approach to self-congratulation. It is because we think it to be a gross misstatement that we feel at all at ease in reflecting upon it. Our own judgment is the very reverse of that of Mr. Dale; and so far as the Baptists are concerned, we believe our information is likely to be at least as good as our friend's. So far as the whole range of Nonconformity is concerned, his information is very deficient, though upon the condition of his own denomination he is an unquestionable authority. He has done us the honour to call our teaching Calvinism, and we accept the name as eminently descriptive, though not perfectly so. We have no disposition to quarrel either for or against the title, and are content to be called Calvinistic, though in truth we are other things beside. Assuming our doctrine to be Calvinism, we are persuaded that the Calvinism which it is our delight to preach, so far from being in obsolete theory, is growingly operative upon the minds of a large section of Christian people.
Exaggerated Calvinism has its adherents in the Baptist body, and it has a small following among Mr. Dale's brethren of the Independent order, but it might with much truth be described as on the wane. Its leading ministers have fallen of late like leaves in autumn, and their successors are not forthcoming. Our friends are in an evil case; their own periodicals bewail their low estate, and ask, "By whom shall Jacob arise, for he is small?" We believe that these brethren, whatever their failings may have been, have done good service in keeping much precious truth stirring among the churches; and we should therefore rejoice to see them renew their youth, with more loving hearts and candid minds. They have been far too much despised and slighted. They ought not to be driven into isolation, but their alliance should be sought by their other Baptist brethren, and Christian intercourse would lead to mutual advantage. As far as we have had an opportunity of judging, the bands of exclusiveness are not so strong as they once were, and a more liberal spirit is asserting itself among them.
It was not, however, to this ultra kind of Calvinism that Mr. Dale referred, for it has never been maintained by us, though we would ten thousand times rather embrace it in its most rigorous form, than fall into the any-thing-arianism of modern thought. Even the stern spirit of our high doctrine friends we would prefer to that of the new theology. We used to think that Hyper-Calvinists were sometimes rather acid, but since we have met with religious liberalism we count all things sweet in comparison with the proud, contemptuous airs of large-hearted bigots for liberality. Some articles of a certain freethinking Christian paper, in their supreme contempt for "the simple gospel," exceed anything ever before manifested in that line; the art of sneering could no further go; they display a scorn which would be less intolerable if it could be regarded as the fruit of strong convictions. A strong, hard-shelled Calvinist holds his own tenaciously, because he believes that there are truths in the world worth holding, but your "cultured thinker" abhors in his magnificent soul all who will not make ducks and drakes of gospel doctrine after his own fashion.
But to return to our subject. Calvinism such as was taught by Owen, Charnock, Bunyan, Newton, Whitfield, Romaine, and men of that class, is no more obsolete than is the law of gravitation, neither are its friends at all inclined to bewail its influence as dying out. Among the ministers of the Baptist denomination, there was never greater attachment to evangelical principles than at this moment, and those principles are more or less flavoured with the Calvinism now under discussion. Brethren whom we have known and loved for years, but who gave very great prominence to the angles of truth which look towards arminianism, have of late years, to our knowledge, looked with a more genial eye upon the doctrines which face the opposite quarter of the compass. They might not admit that they are more Calvinistic, neither would we care for the term, but they certainly give more prominence to the grace of God, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the Godward side of salvation. What our Calvinism regards as sound views of truth are in the ascendant; without being ostentatious about it, the brethren are orthodox as a general rule, even when weighed in the scales of this reputedly "obsolete theory." Our intercourse among Baptist ministers is very free and easy, and considerably extensive, but we use no charity whatever when we gladly record the fact that we meet with very little with which we are not agreed. Occasionally they facetiously charge us with being as much an Arminian in some of our discourses as even the General Baptists could be, to which we reply with equal good will, that we are glad to see that they also can be as high in doctrine as the highest of us when the text requires it; and we wind up with the mutual acknowledgment that the truth of God is wider than either of the two great systems, and that there is some truth in both of them. If such Calvinism as this, and it is the Calvinism of Calvin, and the only one which we maintain, is really growing obsolete, we must henceforth doubt our ears and disbelieve the statements of the best of our brethren. If the sermons now preached in Baptist pulpits could all be printed, they would be found to contain vastly more of what we call Calvinism than they did twenty years ago. The party names and terms are less used, for which we are devoutly thankful, but the essence and spirit of that side of truth, which has for brevity's sake been called Calvinistic, are more powerful among us now than they ever were at any previous part of the century. We have in this matter a right to judge, because the question relates to that Calvinism which is "maintained by the powerful influence of Mr. Spurgeon," and therefore no man is more likely to know than Mr. Spurgeon himself. He is by no means a very sanguine soul, nor one given to flatter, and it he is found content with the progress of the Calvinism which he is said to maintain, the business cannot be in a very bankrupt condition.
Furthermore, it is well known to all who care to observe that the General Baptist churches entertain a very different feeling towards Calvinism from that which they have exhibited in former times when they saw it under harsher aspects. Exaggerated and distorted, it awoke the ire of the valiant leaders in their camp; exhibited in Scriptural proportions, it does not arouse their indignation, and in many instances commands their respect. It is a matter of fact that General Baptist churches, contain in them a considerable proportion of lovers of the doctrines of grace, and if a minister be but thoroughly in earnest in seeking the salvation of sinners, be will be none the less loved by General brethren for preaching a full gospel as well as a free one. It may be said that we have gone down to these brethren quite as much as they have come up to us, and this is very possible; if truth lies in the valley between the two camps, or if it comprehends both, it is well for us to follow it wherever it goes. We have certainly not thrown away the Five Points, but we may have gained other five, and far be it from us to deny it; but this does not in the slightest degree affect the statement of our Birmingham friend, for it still remains a fact that the "Calvinism," or whatever it is, which is maintained by us, does not make us enemies among the General Baptists, but is read by thousands of them regularly, and ensures for us a warm place in their hearts, as many letters, donations, and kindly actions abundantly prove. Whatever it may be which we maintain, and we do not demur to Mr. Dale's description of it as Calvinism, for it contains a great deal of Calvinism, we are sure that far more of it is read and endorsed among General Baptists than at any other period in history.
It is also within our knowledge that the Calvinism which it is our privilege to maintain has a far larger influence among Methodists of all classes than a stranger might imagine. There are, of course, large numbers of sturdy Arminians who would feel it an insult to be suspected of the most mitigated Calvinism, but there are numbers of others of a different mind. We have often said that if you want a free grace sermon now-a- days, you will be as likely to get it in a Wesleyan chapel as anywhere. Many of their preachers only differ from us in the terms they employ; or if they do differ in theory, their objections lie rather against certain angular statements than against the general spirit of our doctrinal system. We have a delightful circle of friends among Wesleyans, and for the most part they appear to us to be in experience, and in the fundamentals of their creed, as nearly like ourselves as an Israelite is to a Jew. In the pulpits of Methodists we are to be found continually preaching just the same doctrine as we do at the Tabernacle, and we receive no protests, but a great deal more of loving regard than we feel that we deserve. Our heart has often been melted by the warm-hearted congratulations of Wesleyan friends who have gloried in the Gospel which we have proclaimed. The Baptists and the Wesleyans are natural allies, because both of us believe something, which is more than can be said of all Nonconformists. We equally hold by the atonement, the fall of man, regeneration by the Spirit of God, and justification by faith and we do not leave these points to be moot questions among us; hence we are both driven and drawn into closer contact, and the result is at present, and will be still more so in the future, that we learn of one another. We catch the Wesleyan fire, and they do not close their eyes to our light. All haters of Ritualism and Rationalism are bound to come closer together, and they are evidently doing so. We are by no means dreaming, or living in a fool's paradise; we feel sure of the truth of our assertion, and one fact none can doubt, namely, that of the weekly circulation of our sermons, which contain this dreadful Calvinism, a very considerable part is found among Methodists of various kinds.
The theory, which "would be almost obsolete," is exercising such a degree of influence that we do not feel at all depressed. It is true that it does not command the praises of the superfine pens of literary men, and it is as well it does not, for as a rule, they know less of real religion than any other class in society; but it has the love of the devout, experienced, established Christians of most of our churches. A Generation wise in its own conceit may prefer a mingle-mangle of philosophical scepticism and metaphysics to the plain word of God, and the young ministers of a certain denomination may pander to this taste; but the bulk of Dissenters are still faithful to the old creed, and are restive under the new order of things. Murmurs deep, if not loud, come to us from many quarters; the sheep look up and are not fed, for "thought" is given to them instead of truth, Those who labour to smother "Calvinism" will find that it dies hard, and, it may be, they will come, after many defeats, to perceive the certain fact that it will outlive its opponents. Its funeral oration has been pronounced many times before now, but the performance has been premature. It will live when the present phase of religious misbelief has gone down to eternal execration amid the groans of those whom it has undone. To-day it may be sneered at; nonetheless, it is but yesterday that it numbered among its adherents the ablest men of the age; and to-morrow, it may be, when once again there shall be giants in theology, it will come to the front, and ask in vain for its adversaries. Calvinism, pure and simple, is but one form of Evangelism; it is not perfect, for it lacks some of the balancing truths of the system which arose as a remonstrance against its mistakes, but still it contains within it so large a measure of divinely immortal truth that it will never die. "Modern thought" is but the thistle-down upon the hillside; the wind shall carry it away, but the primeval mount of "Calvinism," which is none other than Pauline or Christian doctrine, shall stand fast for aye.