Prefatory note: Here Spurgeon cites an article he had written some four years previously, to defend himself against charges that his opposition to the Church of England represented a change of direction for his ministry. Spurgeon's contempt for the State Church is clearly evident.
We commend our words of four years ago to certain honourable men among our opponents who have through ignorance brought the same accusation against us, and we hope that they will not again call us a "masked battery." If we had changed, we do not see that it would be to our disgrace to have grown wiser or bolder. A man may do at one period of his life what he did not feel called upon to do at another, and yet he may not be guilty of vacillation. There is a time for gathering stones and a time for casting them abroad, a time for war and a time for peace. We preach the gospel as much and as earnestly as ever, and if we give more frequent warnings against the equivocations of religious teachers, it is only because we feel more deeply than ever the need of truth in the life, as well as on the lip, of the minister.
It has been affirmed, without the slightest foundation, that Churchmen assisted very materially in building the Tabernacle, and that we have in a manner broken faith with them. Church people may have given as others did to our public collections, but these must have been few and far between; and, although one or two conforming friends subscribed distinct sums, the amount was inconsiderable, and was given unconditionally and without pressure. Certain laymen who attend episcopalian places of worship have been, and are still, our warm friends, and rejoice greatly that we have stirred the waters of Baptismal Regeneration; but we never made, nor were expected to make, any compact with them as to what we should preach or not preach. No sane person ever subscribed a farthing to our cause under the idea that we were to be bought or bribed. We never asked help on such a condition, and should have scorned to take it. This is only one among many calumnies, and we rejoice that we can so easily refute it. Had any Christians, belonging to any community, offered us assistance in our work, we should gladly have received it, and should never have dreamed that they meant thereby to fetter our future course, or to taunt us with accepting their proffered kindness. To all who helped us we are deeply grateful, whether Dissenters, or Church people; but our gratitude to men shall not make us unfaithful to God. We have laboured for chapels, schools, societies, and charities belonging to all denominations, and still delight to do so, as we have it in our power; it was therefore no humiliation to us to accept any man's help; but, since the little received from Anglicans is making so loud a cry, it is a matter of congratulation to us that there is quite as little wool as in the case recorded in the fable. May the Lord whom we serve convince all true believers connected with the State Church of their inconsistency in remaining in it. May the godly clergy receive the gift of an awakened conscience, and then they will not be wrathful with those who rebuke them for their great sins, in remaining in the fellowship of a semi-popish Church, but will join with us in seeking to obey the commands of Jesus, as he has himself delivered them.
The passages quoted are from our article on the "Nonconformists' Burial Bill," June, 1861. They show clearly that we have long felt what we have of late expressed, and that our heaviness of soul, when at last we were constrained to speak out, was no result of hasty passion or caprice. Our love to the good men in the Church is not less now than it was then, but we cannot longer spare them, for their equivocation, not to say falsehood, is ruining souls, and turning this nation to Popery and infidelity.
As to forbearance, this, from the force of Christian charity, will endure many and serious trials; while the natural conservatism of the English people will aid their patience, until long-suffering expires under repeated injuries. This is not the age in which godly men fight for the wording of a sentence, or dispute concerning mere forms of ecclesiastical government. We are disposed to be lenient to all; and the prestige of the dominant church ensures especial immunity for its mistakes. Among those who mourn over the solemn iniquities of the Establishment, there are a large number who would not see her despoiled. "She is our sister," say they, "let us not see her shame; we, too, have our own failings, let us not be too severe." The day of judgment shall declare how often the Dissenters of England have silently endured supercilious behaviour in a clergyman when we would have resented it in another; how frequently we have winced at priestly assumption and sacerdotal impudence, because we would not seem to be uncharitable; and how constantly we have borne, in humble patience, the oppression of parish popes and priest-loving squires, rather than disturb the quiet of Christian spirits.
What other Protestant Church has been so lordly among the poor, so exclusive in her educational charities, so systematic in her denial of all ministry beside her own, so stubborn in the fast closing of her pulpits to all other believers? It is a miracle, indeed, that the grace of God has enabled her sister Churches to acknowledge her as one of the family, despite her domineering character. This high and haughty carriage is not to be excused, and it is not blindness to the sin, but love to the cause of Christ, which has constrained other Protestants to tolerate the impertinent wickedness.
To Churchmen who are not so obtusely exclusive as to have become irrationally bigoted, we would say in honest remonstrance, What right has your sect to be patronised by the State in preference to all others? Do you not perceive that the power which has made you the State-Church can unmake you, and withdraw its golden sanctions? Your Church was originally fashioned by despotic will, and elected to supremacy by an arbitrary power; but there are no despots now to whom you can look, no irresponsible conclaves on whom you can rely. The people of England are free to cast you off to-morrow if they see fit. Shake off the delusion that you are never to be moved. Monarchical institutions are endeared to Englishmen by the wise concessions which the throne has so cheerfully made; do you not perceive that your strength also must be sought, not in a haughty rejection of all our demands, but in generous conciliations which shall ensure our esteem? When the throne presumed upon a fancied right divine, it reeled beneath the weight of its own folly, but since it has conceded the claims of justice, it has become firm as the ancient mountains, and like some mighty vessel it rides the waves in peace, having grappled for its anchorage the heart-love of every Briton. Will you follow another course, because you imagine you are strong enough to play the despot? In the name of reason and religion, be not so foolish. For your own sakes be wise in time, and bethink you of the maxim of him whom you profess to serve, and do unto others as ye would that they should do to you. Treat your brethren as you would wish them to deal with you, if they were supreme in the State, and you were unfavoured and unendowed. Remember that your position requires the free Churches to exercise great forbearance towards you; do not increase the tax upon their patience by supercilious behaviour. They consider that your alliance with the State is a spiritual fornication, wholly unworthy of the honourable virgins who wait in the Lord's palace. They lament your unchastity to the only Head of the Church, but they would not cast you out of the family; they weep over your sin, and hope that you may yet repent and forsake it. It ill becomes you to boast over your poorer sisters because you are richly adorned with the jewels and rings which your earthly alliance has procured you, ornaments, let us remind you, which your sisters would scorn to wear, if offered them to-morrow, for they regard them as loathsome badges of degradation, and shameful tokens of apostacy from the simplicity of Christ. Do not let that unhallowed union, which is both your weakness and your shame, excite you to a proud and boastful spirit. Walk humbly with your God, and kindly towards your neighbour. Or, mark the word (for it is a true and kind heart which writes it, not in bitterness and wrath, but in full and fervent charity), if you will, as a Church, lord it over us, and make our yoke heavy, your end is near to come, and your judgment will not tarry. Justice may in her magnanimity endure much insult, but repeated wrongs shall awake the lion spirit, and woe unto the oppressor in that, day. We have been silent, and are willing to be silent still, but do not provoke the whole body of Dissenters to rise upon you; do not compel the spiritual Nonconformist to become political; do not extort our cries; do not wring lamentation from our patient hearts, or you shall know that we can cry aloud, and spare not. You shall rue the day in which oppression unloosed our tongues. We will expose your abuses to the very children in the street; we will teach the peasant at the plough to loathe the inconsistencies of your prayer-book, and the pauper on the road shall know the history of your ferocious persecutions in days of yore. We will collect statistics of your ministers, and let our citizens know how many or how few are Evangelicals; we will demand scriptural proof for Confirmation and for Priestly Absolution; and we will never again permit the nation to subside into the apathy so favourable to proud pretensions. We court not the struggle, but we are ready for it if you are ambitious for the combat. We know your unhealed and unmollified wounds, and our blows will tell upon your putrefying sores. Our armoury is filled with arrows feathered with your follies and barbed with your backslidings. Provoke not the fray. Let other counsels sway you; be content sorrowfully to reform within your own borders, and cheerfully to make concessions wherever a Christian spirit would suggest them; so shall a true evangelical alliance cover the land, and, unmolested, your Church may increase in influence, and advance in purity, to the heart's joy of those who are now compelled by stern duty solemnly to upbraid you.