What Was the Downgrade Controversy Actually All About?

By / Jan 17

“For my part, I am quite willing to be eaten of dogs for the next fifty years; but the more distant future shall vindicate me.”[1] Spurgeon spoke these fateful words at the conclusion of his presidential address at the Annual College Conference, a gathering of current and former students of the Pastors’ College. He voiced them in the midst of the greatest conflict of his life, often referred to as the Downgrade Controversy. He was tired, discouraged, and disillusioned, yet also calm, resolute, and certain. He had made his stand for the truth, and he felt sure he could endure whatever opposition would come, confident in the knowledge that he had his Lord’s approval.

Most people familiar with Spurgeon’s story have at least a working knowledge of the Downgrade Controversy, which in many ways defined the final years of Spurgeon’s life. But if you ask people to identify the exact issues that were under debate, few would be able to name them. So what was the Downgrade all about after all?

In the famous controversy, Spurgeon had four main grievances with the men of his denomination, the Baptist Union. He summarizes them in one of the early articles that precipitated the Downgrade Controversy, “We cannot hold the inspiration of the Word, and yet reject it; we cannot believe in the atonement and deny it;… we cannot recognize the punishment of the impenitent and yet indulge the ‘larger hope.’ One way or the other we must go. Decision is the virtue of the hour.”[2]

Here we see that Spurgeon was concerned that some within the denomination were either flirting with, or in some cases openly promoting the following errors:

  1. The denial of the infallibility of Scripture.
  2. The denial of the necessity and substitutionary nature of Christ’s atonement.
  3. The denial of the existence and eternality of hell.
  4. The affirmation of universalism.[3]

Whatever one may notice about the above list, at least two things should stand out.

First, all four of these issues are doctrinal issues. Second, not only are they doctrinal, but they are matters of basic Christian orthodoxy, of first importance, and have to do with doctrines that have been universally affirmed by the church throughout its history. The infallibility of Scripture, the necessity and substitutionary nature of the atonement, the existence of an eternal hell, and the doctrine of divine wrath for all those who do not possess true saving faith in Christ are doctrines as old as Christianity itself. To deny them is to deny some of the most basic tenets of the Christian faith. In other words, Spurgeon’s stand in the Downgrade Controversy, simply put, was about defending matters of basic Christian orthodoxy. These were the only issues that would lead him to withdraw from his denomination in the autumn of 1887.

That last line is important. It might be asked, why was Spurgeon content to remain so long in the Baptist Union? Someone might answer that he must not have had disagreements with members of his denomination prior to the Downgrade Controversy. But that would of course be wrong, spectacularly so. The truth is Spurgeon maintained many disagreements with men in his denomination on a wide range of other issues for decades before the Downgrade Controversy.

Most of these issues fell under two main categories. First, Spurgeon disagreed with others in the Baptist Union over secondary doctrinal issues. For example, Spurgeon, a vocal proponent of Calvinism, remained in fellowship with men of Arminian persuasion. He disagreed with such men passionately and publicly, yet he continued to associate with them, completely content in doing so. He disagreed with men over the use of instruments in worship, whether or not communion should be open or closed, and how evangelism should be conducted. These and a host of other disagreements over second-tier doctrinal matters could be enumerated, and yet none of them ever suggested to Spurgeon that he should divide from men in his denomination.

The second category of disagreement between Spurgeon and others of his colleagues in the Baptist Union was differences over social, political, and cultural issues. Spurgeon held disagreements with some of the men in his denomination over whether or not ministers should frequent the theater, over the relative use of public schools, and over which political candidates should be supported. He disagreed with others on the temperance movement, the question of Irish Home Rule, the role of state paternalism in economic affairs, British foreign policy, and the best methods for relieving the poor. Many of these disagreements with his peers in the Baptist Union over social and political issues were often private, though sometimes public. At times they came to represent deep personal differences, yet none of these matters ever precipitated a serious division or schism between Spurgeon and his denomination. Spurgeon simply would not allow it to be so.

In light of these simple, yet important historical observations, I draw the following three conclusions:

  1. The Downgrade Controversy was about doctrinal matters that went to the very heart of Christian orthodoxy. Spurgeon would allow only such matters to become the grounds for separation and schism between him and his denomination.
  2. Spurgeon was comfortable being in denominational fellowship with men with whom he held numerous disagreements on second-tier doctrinal matters and on social, political, and cultural issues, as long as he shared basic agreement with them on matters that were essential to evangelical orthodoxy.
  3. Spurgeon believed that in order for true gospel unity to be authentic, there had to be a basic foundation of agreement on matters of primary doctrinal importance, particularly on those doctrines that were at the heart of the gospel itself. However, agreement on secondary doctrinal issues, or still further, agreement on social and political matters, were not necessary for true unity in the gospel to exist. Indeed, to insist on unity in such matters would be to require something more than unity in the gospel for fellowship and partnership.

Many in our day style themselves as modern Spurgeons standing against what they perceive as the various downgrades of today. Yet if they are to resemble Spurgeon himself and his original stand against downgrade in his own denomination, such stands will be on matters of primary doctrinal significance, not matters of legitimate disagreement between brothers and sisters who share the same orthodox doctrine, and in some cases, even the same confession of faith. The fact is Spurgeon was not willing to be eaten of dogs over his views regarding politics or second-order doctrines. Nor did he boast of the distant future’s verdict in these matters. However, with respect to issues of basic Christian orthodoxy, he beckoned the dogs to come, and he looked to Judgment Day for vindication.


[1] C. H. Spurgeon, An All-Round Ministry: Direction, Wisdom, and Encouragement for Preachers and Pastors, (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2018), 281.

[2] C. H. Spurgeon, The Sword and the Trowel (London: Passmore and Alabaster, September 1887): 465.

[3] For more information on the Downgrade Controversy, see Mark Hopkins, Nonconformity’s Romantic Generation: Evangelical and Liberal Theologies in Victorian England (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2006), 193–248.


Alex DiPrima is the Senior Pastor of Emmanuel Church in Winston Salem, NC. He holds a Ph.D. from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in historical theology with an emphasis on the ministry of Charles Spurgeon.



Preparing to Suffer

By / Jan 11

The best time to work on your theology of suffering is not when you are in it, but before the suffering comes. Spurgeon would know a lot of suffering in his adult years – gout, depression, kidney disease, opposition, and much more. But we see him developing his theology of suffering well before those years. As a young pastor in Waterbeach, Spurgeon was healthy and his ministry was thriving. But he pastored a congregation that dealt with the trials and hardships of everyday life. And so, he had to equip them with theological truths to strengthen them for the suffering ahead.

This is what Spurgeon did in sermon #290, found Lost Sermons, Vol. 6. Preaching on Psalm 11:5, “The Lord trieth the righteous…,” how did Spurgeon prepare his people, and himself, to suffer well? He did so by giving them three vital theological truths:

1) Suffering is a part of the Christian life

Spurgeon understood that there are all kinds of wrong teachings about suffering. Some Christians believe that “religious persons must never be troubled, never tremble but ever be on the mount of strong confidence.” Others teach that all Christians must “come up to a certain standard in trouble or else be no Christian.” But both ideas fall short of the truth.

Instead, Spurgeon taught his people that suffering is a part of the Christian life. “The real tendency of religion is to make us happy, but while dwelling in a fallen world we cannot but have sorrows as well as joys. As men we share in all the incidental ills of life, as Christians we surmount them and find profit in them.”

In other words, Christians do not escape suffering in this life. Like the rest of humanity, we are subject to the curse of this fallen world and therefore, this means that we will experience all the hardships and trials that everyone else experiences. However, because of their hope in God, Christians will also “find profit in them” and rejoice amid their trials.

This was the message of Psalm 11:5. It is the LORD who tries the righteous. Suffering does not come ultimately from the hand of Satan but from God’s sovereign and wise design. Spurgeon writes, “God our loving Father, sitting at the helm of the universe, could no doubt have so ordered all things that the truly good man should have no affliction, nor even the pain of death. But it is not so.” In other words, God did not choose to create a world where the righteous live pain-free lives. Therefore, in our suffering, we can submit in hope to a God who is at work for the good of his people.

But why are trials sent to the people of God? Spurgeon provides two answers:

2) “God glorifies himself by means of these troubles”

It is through our trials that God displays His power and grace. And He does so, particularly in three ways.

First, he frustrates “the designs of our foes.” The Bible is filled with examples of how God has done this. From Pharaoh to Haman, to Caesar, again and again, God displays his power by using the schemes of the Evil One to accomplish His purposes.

Second, God glorifies himself as he supports Christians under trials. “Perhaps nothing brings more glory to God than that calm peace… the saints enjoy during trouble.” Here, Spurgeon recounts the story of Mary Wilson, who refused to recant her faith and sang the Psalms and recited Romans 8 as her captors tortured and drowned her. These instances of “patience under sicknesses, losses, etc.” bring glory to God more than the Christian’s gratitude for blessings.

Finally, God glorifies himself “by happy deliverance” of the Christian from trials. This is not to say that Christians will always be delivered from their trials. But when it does happen, “the mercy seems to be great indeed. And the glory to God is great in proportion.” Once again, the Bible and church history are filled with wonderful stories of God’s power displayed in delivering his people, all for his glory.

3) “He thus confers benefit on his people”

But God’s glory is not the only purpose of trials in our lives. There are times when we can see God’s purposes are aimed at “the profit of the tried one.” This is what James reminds Christians in James 1:2-4. Once again, Spurgeon provides five ways that God brings benefit to the Christian through trials.

First, “it leads us to do our first works.” It is easy for the Christian life to grow stagnant. But through suffering, “we begin to believe afresh, to pray anew, to throw away every false ground of comfort and make our calling and election sure.”

Second, “it makes us more grateful for our mercies.” It is so easy to take everyday mercies for granted. But “none value them like losers of them. The sick man loves the fresh air, the hungry man feasts even on bitters.” Suffering helps us cultivate thankfulness to God for his abundant, undeserved blessings.

Third, “it makes us more humble, gentle and full of sympathy towards those who are tried.” Suffering prepares us to walk alongside other fellow sufferers and to offer them the comfort that we ourselves have received (2 Cor. 1:3-7).

Fourth, “it shows us more the vanity of all carnal things, makes us wish to spend our time in promoting the cause of God, and makes us esteem earthly things as trifles.” For many people, suffering is a wake-up call, warning us not to waste our lives and reminding us that life is short.

Finally, “it makes us long for heaven, removes some of the dread of death, unlooses the strings which pin us to earth, and gives us wings wherewith to soar on high.” Suffering reminds us that this world is not our home and that we have a better home awaiting us, where death and sorrow will reach us no more.

Conclusion

In preparing his people to suffer, Spurgeon gave them these two main ideas: God is sovereign over your suffering and God has a purpose for your suffering. The first truth is what makes the second truth possible. And if God has a purpose for your suffering, then your pain is not meaningless. God is out to glorify Himself through you and draw near to you in your pain. As an 18-year-old, Spurgeon likely did not know the truth of these doctrines as much as he would in his later years. Still, it was his grounding in these truths that prepared him to face the sufferings that would come later in life.

Are you prepared to suffer?



Sermons from the Pastor of Waterbeach Chapel – The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon, Vol. 6

By / Dec 15

You’ve probably heard of Spurgeon, the famous pastor in the 19th century, who pastored a church of over 5,000 members, published over a hundred books, founded two orphanages, trained hundreds for pastoral ministry, planted dozens of churches, and, of course, who preached thousands of rich, Word-centered, Christ-exalting sermons for over 38 years from his pulpit in London. 

If you’ve ever read Spurgeon’s sermons, it’s easy sometimes to associate his huge platform with his preaching. But what few people know is that before Spurgeon ever had any platform, he was already preaching excellent sermons.

Today marks the release of Volume 6 of The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon. These sermons were preached sometime between 1852-1854, over a year before Spurgeon arrived in London. 

At this point, Spurgeon is a bi-vocational pastor. He is working during the day as a tutor in Cambridge, teaching young boys Latin, grammar, logic, and the classics. It’s only in the evenings and on the weekends that he is working on sermons and ministering to his people.

Not only that, but Spurgeon is a village pastor. Waterbeach was a farming community composed mostly of farmers, laborers, and other agricultural workers. His salary often included “potatoes, turnips, cabbages, apples, and sometimes a bit of meat,” which helped him make ends meet. In other words, this was a far cry from London.

And as an eighteen-year-old, Spurgeon is still a student preacher. Since the first volume of the Lost Sermons, Spurgeon has grown exponentially in his preaching. But in Volume 6, he is still in his first two years of pastoral ministry, learning the rhythms of preaching to the same people week-in and week-out. Against his father’s wishes, Spurgeon did not quit his pastorate to go to college but considered Waterbeach to be the place of his pastoral training. These sermons represent that training.

And yet, as the Lost Sermons series have shown, despite not having much of a platform, we find Spurgeon preaching excellent sermons. From Volume 1 to Volume 6, young Spurgeon has been growing in his preaching and now, this latest notebook contains the best sermons he has preached yet. 

What I love about these sermons is that they show that Spurgeon didn’t wait for a huge platform before he devoted himself to the task of preaching. He was faithful, even when he was just a teenager, preaching to farmers and laborers, and pastoring bi-vocationally.

By the time we get to these sermons, 18-year-old Spurgeon has preached over 500 sermons… the equivalent of nearly a decade of preaching experience. So though Spurgeon is young, he is not a novice. His preaching gifts and his love for Christ shine brightly through these sermons.

So I commend this volume to you. These sermons are rich, Word-centered, Christ-exalting sermons. As with previous volumes, we’ve provided facsimiles of Spurgeon’s sermon notes, so that you can see his own handwriting. We’ve also provided footnotes that connect these early sermons to his later ones and expand on the content of these early sermons. Whether you are an experienced pastor, or a bi-vocational pastor, or a student preacher, or just someone wanting to grow in your love for Christ, I commend this volume to you as a reminder to be faithful wherever God has placed you. 

Learn more about The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon, Volume 6.



Highlights from the Final Three Years, S&T 1890-1892

By / Dec 9

The year 1892 marked the last year that Charles Spurgeon served as the chief editor of The Sword and the Trowel. Up to the end, the magazine existed for the two-fold mission for which it was founded: fighting error and building up the church. Throughout 1890 and 1891, a very sick and heartbroken Spurgeon published articles that continued to expose the errors of the growing theological liberalism and called churches to faithfulness. While Spurgeon continued to be influential on a popular level, leaders in the Baptist Union and other denominations had largely moved on from his doctrinal positions, seeing them as old-fashioned and antiquated. Still, many respected him for all that he had accomplished during his life. Their respect for him would be made evident at his death.

On January 31, 1892, Spurgeon laid down his sword and trowel and entered into his heavenly rest. Later that spring, four memorial services would be held at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. On the day of his burial, shops closed, flags flew at half-mast, and a crowd of over 100,000 lined the way from the Tabernacle to Norwood cemetery. This would be a fitting tribute for one who had such a worldwide impact in the 19th century. Though he died embattled for his theological views, many church leaders turned out to pay their respects.

Spurgeon was shunned for his stand for historic Christian orthodoxy in his day, but he understood that he would be one day vindicated for his faithfulness to the gospel. Of course, that ultimate vindication still lies in the future. But it can be seen in part in our day, as Spurgeon’s works continue to serve the cause of Christ in fighting error and building up the church. He preached a timeless gospel and therefore, he remains relevant in our day.

Below are a few highlights from these last three years. As you read through these issues, send us a note on Twitter (@SpurgeonMBTS) if you find anything interesting!

(To jump straight to the article, click on the link, then click the “View this Resource” button.)

1890

Stand Fast in the Faith – Though the events of the Downgrade Controversy had passed, Spurgeon knew the battle was not over. Writing to Christians and church leaders, he calls them to stand fast in the truth once for all delivered to the saints.

Stand fast.” Get good foothold. Know your standing; make sure that it is firm, and then be sure that you are firmly on it. What is the basis of your confidence? Is there rock beneath you? It is all in vain to be yourself immovable if that which is beneath you is crumbling from under your feet. To be firm in error is only to make your ruin the surer. Nothing but eternal truth is a fit foundation for an immortal soul. Let us hold truth, truth only, truth certified by inspiration: then may we stand fast. 

Gambling at an Institute – With the decline of theology comes the decline of morals. Spurgeon tells a story of the danger of using worldly vices and entertainments to draw young men to the church.

Christian young men are better at home with their wives and families than spending their evenings in covert gambling, even though that gambling be on the smallest scale. We saw a bagatelle-table in a vestry the other day, and we could not help thinking of this story, as the flower which is likely to grow out of that kind of seed. Surely there are enough places of amusement without using our vestries and school-rooms for such purposes.

Thoughts about Church Matters – Spurgeon here warns of how churches can unwittingly call theologically liberal pastors because of their dishonesty about their doctrinal positions. Therefore, church leaders needed to be especially on guard and aware of the ongoing debate.

Our words are not meant exclusively for any one denomination, nor have they been so all along; our warning is for all Protestant churches alike; for though there be degrees of departure from the faith, and double-dealing with ecclesiastical terms may not in every sect be an equally flagrant fault, yet these evils are afflicting all the churches. The torrent of unbelief and worldliness rises above the hills, while it swamps the valleys. The duplicity which we denounce is not to be seen as a lone malignant star in one quarter of the heavens, but discerning eyes can detect its evil beams both in the northern, the southern, and the western sky. This omen of ill should send us to our knees, and make us cry continually unto our Lord. 

1891

Brief Note on Plagiarism – We can settle the debate once-for-all: Spurgeon was opposed to plagiarism! At the same time, he recognized that some license could be given for lay-preachers, students, and others who were in challenging circumstances. But for regular preachers of God’s Word, there is no excuse for plagiarism.

It is not to be thought of for a moment that any minister would appropriate a sermon bodily, and preach it as his own. Such things have been done, we suppose, in remote ages, and in obscure regions; but nobody would justify a regular preacher in so doing. We give great license to good laymen, who are occupied with business all the week, and too much pressed with public engagements to have time to prepare. When princes and peers have speeches made for them, a sort of tolera­tion is understood; and should a public functionary be so anxious to do good that he delivers a sermon, we excuse him if he has largely compiled it; yes, and if he memorizes the whole of it, and bravely says so, we have no word of censure. But for the preacher who claims a divine call, to take a whole discourse out of another preacher’s mouth, and palm it off as his own, is an act which will find no defender. 

Practical Effort for Truth – Part of Satan’s strategy is to use theological debates to distract people from the work they should be doing for Christ and bring entertainment and amusements into the church. But Spurgeon understood that Christian activism was not only the fruit of the gospel but could also be used by God to preserve people in the truth.

In our holy warfare, to attack is often the best defence. Work for the Lord keeps off many a temptation. It is wise to carry the war into the enemy’s country. Continual activity has a purifying power. Rivers cleanse themselves as they flow. When a church is intensely occupied with soul-winning it seldom cares for setting up worldly amusements; when it is seeing conversions daily, it has little patience with unbelieving novelties. 

Mr. Spurgeon’s Confession of Faith – In the summer of 1891, a confession was published in the newspapers as “Mr. Spurgeon’s Confession of Faith.” Thirty pastors in all signed this confession which contained primarily a clear statement on their belief in the verbal inspiration of the Holy Scripture. Here was the heart of the Downgrade debate: is the Bible the Word of God? The denominational newspapers ridiculed Spurgeon for his position. But Spurgeon challenged other Christians to come forward and avow their belief in the Word of God.

We, the undersigned, banded together in Fraternal Union, observing with growing pain and sorrow the loosening hold of many upon the Truths of Revelation, are constrained to avow our firmest belief in the Verbal Inspiration of all Holy Scripture as originally given. To us, the Bible does not merely contain the Word of God, but is the Word of God. From beginning to end, we accept it, believe it, and continue to preach it. To us, the Old Testament is no less inspired than the New. The Book is an organic whole. Reverence for the New Testament accompanied by scepticism as to the Old appears to us absurd. The two must stand or fall together. We accept Christ’s own verdict concerning “ Moses and all the prophets ” in preference to any of the supposed discoveries of so-called higher criticism.

1892

Sweet Experiences in 1842 and 1892 – As the editor, Spurgeon always wrote the opening article in the January edition of The Sword and the Trowel. As January 1892 approached, he wasn’t sure what he would write about until he received a packet of letters written by his grandfather back in January 1842. He was moved to see that these letters contained much of the same experiences and challenges of the Christian life that are faced by God’s people 50 years later. Such a long-term perspective was important. During a time of discouragement, the church needed to be reminded of God’s faithfulness.

I have enjoyed the reading of the old manuscript, not because of its brilliance, or depth, or poetical suggestiveness; but as a precious fragment of experience, full of grace and truth. These plain, home-spun sentences deal with realities upon which some of us live. We care nothing for the philosophies and the scepticisms of the period; we cling to realized facts. Whatever hawks may hover in the sky, our place is under the shadow of the sacred wings. The world is armed for war, the churches are to a large degree making ready for the return of chaos and mediaeval darkness, the men who are sound themselves lie side by side with those who are rotten;—but the Lord liveth, his purpose abideth, his power remaineth, and his truth must and will prevail by the might of the Holy Ghost. Therefore we sing, “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him.”

Breaking the Long Silence – This short meditation was preached by Spurgeon in Mentone, France on the night of New Year’s Eve 1891 and into New Years Day 1892. In many ways, this serves as a reflection from Spurgeon over the journey of life. A month later, his journey on this side of eternity would come to an end.

DEAR FRIENDS,—I am not able to say much to you at present. I should have gladly invited you to prayer every morning if I had been able to meet you; but I had not sufficient strength. I cannot refrain from saying a little to you, on this the last evening of the year, by way of Retrospect, and perhaps on New Year’s morning I may add a word by way of Prospect. We have come so far on the journey of life; and, standing at the boundary of another year, we look back. Let each one gaze upon his own trodden pathway. You will not need me to attempt fine words or phrases; each one, with his own eyes, will now survey his own road. 

Mrs. Spurgeon’s Message of Thanks – After Spurgeon’s death, the March 1892 issue of The Sword and the Trowel contained tributes and expressions of thanks from those closest to Spurgeon. The opening article was a brief reflection from Susie Spurgeon, sharing her gratitude to God for the time she had with her husband, especially in the last months of his life.

I will tell you of one fact which has greatly comforted me in my deep grief; it will ever be a precious memory to me, and a theme of praise to God. It may rejoice your hearts also to have such an assurance from my pen. It is that the Lord so tenderly granted to us both three months of perfect earthly happiness here in Menton, before He took him to the “far better” of His own glory and immediate I presence! For fifteen years my beloved had longed to bring me here; but it had never before been possible. Now, we were both strengthened for the long journey; and the desire of his heart was fully given him. I can never describe the pride and joy with which he introduced me to his favourite haunts, and the eagerness with which he showed me each I lovely glimpse of mountain, sea, and landscape. He was hungry for my loving appreciation, and I satisfied him to the faul. We took long daily drives, and every place we visited was a triumphal entry for him. His enjoyment was intense, his delight exuberant. He looked in perfect health, and rejoiced in the brightest of spirits. Then, too, with what calm, deep happiness he sat, day after day, in a cosy corner of his sunny room, writing his last labour of love, The Commentary on Matthew’s Gospel! Not a care burdened him, not a grief weighed upon his heart, not a desire remained unfulfilled, not a wish unsatisfied; lie was permitted to enjoy an earthly Eden before his translation to the Paradiso above. Blessed be the Lord for such sweet memories, such tender assuagement of wounds that can never quite be healed on earth!



Spurgeon’s Guidance on Celebrating Christmas

By / Dec 1

Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) loved Christmas. Hear the glee from the 21-year-old Spurgeon:

I wish there were ten or a dozen Christmas-days in the year; for there is work enough in the world, and a little more rest would not hurt labouring people. Christmas-day is really a boon to us; particularly as it enables us to assemble round the family hearth and meet our friends once more. Still, although we do not fall exactly in the track of other people, I see no harm in thinking of the incarnation and birth of the Lord Jesus.[1] 

While he loved Christmas, he also guided his congregation to discern certain aspects of Christmas from the cultural perspective and the biblical perspective. While other valuable articles are certainly found elsewhere on this site, this article focuses on how Spurgeon guided his congregation in celebrating Christmas, rejecting the “superstitions” of the Roman celebrations, embracing much of the customs of the day without forgetting about the Christ-child, the reason for the day.

The Puritans and Christmas

Spurgeon’s childhood influences led him to embrace the Puritans. He valued them so much so that many scholars deem him the last of the Puritans.[2] As a result of this Word-centered influence, Spurgeon struggled with the origin and the day on which we celebrate Christmas.

There is no reason upon earth beyond that of ecclesiastical custom why the 25th of December should be regarded as the birthday of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ any more than any other day from the first of January to the last day of the year; and yet some persons regard Christmas with far deeper reverence than the Lord’s-day.[3]

Spurgeon always struggled with the rites of both the Roman Catholic (which he would often refer to as “popish”) and the Anglican Church and their “superstitious” celebrations of Christmas (i.e., Christ-Mass). In 1871, he went into more depth as to the reasons why he struggled with this season:

We have no superstitious regard for times and seasons. Certainly, we do not believe in the present ecclesiastical arrangement called Christmas: first, because we do not believe in the mass at all, but abhor it, whether it be said or sung in Latin or in English; and, secondly, because we find no Scriptural warrant whatever for observing any day as the birthday of the Saviour; and, consequently, its observance is a superstition, because not of divine authority. Superstition has fixed most positively the day of our Saviour’s birth, although there is no possibility of discovering when it occurred.[4]

The dismissal of the mass and the lack of Scriptural warrant regarding the day we observe the birth of Christ as well as the celebration itself always gave Spurgeon pause personally and pastorally. He always felt obligated to share with his congregation and any of his readers that the celebration of the day and the origin of the celebrations were not grounded in anything God said in regards to its observance.

However, Spurgeon was aware enough to recognize their error in the Puritans’ observance (or lack thereof) of Christmas as an overreaction to Catholic practices, throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater, if you will.

The old Puritans made a parade of work on Christmas-day, just to show that they protested against the observance of it. But we believe they entered that protest so completely, that we are willing, as their descendants, to take the good accidentally conferred by the day, and leave its superstitions to the superstitious.[5]

To use another expression in the vernacular, chew up the meat (the celebration of Christ’s incarnation) and spit out the bones (the superstitions). This recognition allowed Spurgeon to observe Christmas in a broader way that appreciated some positive aspects of the season in the culture that would help us even today.

First, Christmas brings the Incarnation to the church’s attention

In a quote from an 1876 sermon, after Spurgeon acknowledged the problematic origins of Christmas, he conceded this point.

Still, as the thoughts of a great many Christian people will run at this time towards the birth of Christ, and as this cannot be wrong, I judged it meet to avail ourselves of the prevailing current, and float down the stream of thought. Our minds will run that way, because so many around us are following customs suggestive of it, therefore let us get what good we can out of the occasion. There can be no reason why we should not, and it may be helpful that we should, now consider the birth of our Lord Jesus. We will do that voluntarily which we would refuse to do as a matter of obligation: we will do that simply for convenience sake which we should not think of doing because enjoined by authority or demanded by superstition.[6]

Much like today when we hear “Joy to the World” or “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!” as we Christmas shop in Target or Starbucks, we can, like Spurgeon, rejoice that “many Christian people will run at this time towards the birth of Christ.” The season draws the Church toward the incredible doctrine of the Incarnation.

Second, Christmas brings joy to the culture at large

In a later sermon in 1884, Spurgeon also conceded that the culture, unbeknownst to them, celebrate the joy of the season. “Knowing nothing of the spiritual meaning of the mystery, they yet perceive that it means man’s good, and so in their own rough way they respond to it.”[7]  Thus, those in the culture hopefully move closer to inquiring, understanding, and trusting in the Christ of the season.

Twenty years prior, Spurgeon went into more detail about how the greeting “Merry Christmas” demonstrates a yuletide joy among everyone:

This is a season when all men expect us to be joyous. We compliment each other with the desire that we may have a “Merry Christmas.” Some Christians who are a little squeamish, do not like the word “merry.” It is a right good old Saxon word, having the joy of childhood and the mirth of manhood in it, it brings before one’s mind the old song of the waits, and the midnight peal of bells, the holly and the blazing log. I love it for its place in that most tender of all parables, where it is written, that, when the long-lost prodigal returned to his father safe and sound, “They began to be merry.” This is the season when we are expected to be happy; and my heart’s desire is, that in the highest and best sense, you who are believers may be “merry.”[8]

Here, Spurgeon shows the joy that comes with the day—none, one might note, are mentioned in Scripture as part of this celebration. Yet, he began to appreciate all that came with the Christmas season, even when some in the culture may not directly connect the customs with the coming of the Christ-child.

(As an aside, while many defend the greeting of “Merry Christmas” as a Christian greeting, notice than in Spurgeon’s day, the word “Merry” made some Christians “squeamish.”)

Third, he sometimes preached on a Christmas text on Christmas… and sometimes he didn’t

Echoing a sermon quoted above, even though these sermons are five years apart, Spurgeon had this conviction that he should make use of the season while his people’s hearts leaned toward the birth of Christ.

[T]he current of men’s thoughts is led this way just now, and I see no evil in the current itself, I shall launch the bark of our discourse upon that stream, and make use of the fact, which I shall neither justify nor condemn, by endeavoring to lead your thoughts in the same direction. Since it is lawful, and even laudable, to meditate upon the incarnation of the Lord upon any day in the year, it cannot be in the power of other men’s superstitions to render such a meditation improper for to-day. Regarding not the day, let us, nevertheless, give God thanks for the gift of his dear son.[9]

Yet Spurgeon was not beholden to preach on a Christmas text, even on the Sunday adjacent to Christmas. One Christmas sermon was based on Mark 5:19! On December 23, 1860, he preached a sermon called “A Merry Christmas.” The text? From Job 1:4-5. He makes the connection here:

I am quite certain that all the preaching in the world will not put Christmas down. You will meet next Tuesday, and you will feast, and you will rejoice, and each of you, as god has given you substance, will endeavor to make your household glad. Now, instead of the telling you that this is all wrong, I think the merry bell of my text gives you a license so to do. Let us think a minute. Feasting is not a wrong thing, or otherwise Job would have forbidden it to his children, he would have talked to them seriously, and admonished them that this was an ungodly and wicked custom, to meet together in their houses. But, instead of this way, Job only feared least a wrong thing should be made out of a right thing, and offered sacrifices to remove their iniquity; but he did by no means condemn it.[10]

That’s right—Spurgeon used the text from Job to show the biblical warrant of feasting with family at Christmas time when they would “meet next Tuesday”—December 25th. Spurgeon’s creative hermeneutic was at work. While the holiday centered around the incarnation, Spurgeon saw this as an opportunity for reflecting on all of the Christian life, including feasting.

Finally, Spurgeon urged his church to get to work

Tying this article together, Spurgeon urged his church in an 1865 sermon to differentiate themselves from how the world operated during this time of year.

At this season, the world is engaged in congratulating itself and in expressing its complimentary wishes for the good of its citizens; let me suggest extra and more solid work for Christians. As we think to-day of the birth of the Saviour, let us aspire after a fresh birth of the Saviour in our hearts; that as he is already “formed in us the hope of glory,” we may be “renewed in the spirit of our minds;” that we may go again to the Bethlehem of our spiritual nativity and do our first works, enjoy our first loves, and feast with Jesus as we did in the holy, happy, heavenly days of our espousals.[11]

So Spurgeon encouraged his parishioners to enjoy all that the season had to offer and to rejoice in how even in the culture minds and hearts are turned to the Christ-child (even if they do not recognize why), may we as Christians never forget the reason for the season and to “aspire after a fresh birth of the Saviour in our hearts.”

Merry Christmas, everyone!


Matthew Perry (Ph.D., Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, MO) serves as Lead Pastor of Arapahoe Road Baptist Church, Centennial, CO; and runs the blog All-Around Spurgeon at http://www.allaroundspurgeon.com.


[1]“The Incarnation and Birth of Christ,” NPSP 2 (1855)

[2]For instance, see Ernest W. Bacon, Spurgeon: Heir of the Puritans (Arlington Heights, IL: Christian Liberty Press, 2007). 

[3]“The Great Birthday,” MTP 22:1330 (1876).

[4]“Joy Born at Bethlehem,” MTP 17:1026 (1871)

[5]“The Incarnation and Birth of Christ” MTP 2 (1855).

[6]“The Great Birthday,” MTP 22:1330 (1876)

[7] “The Great Birthday of our Coming Age,” MTP 30:1815 (1884)

 

[8]”Mary’s Song,” MTP 10:606 (1864).

[9]“Joy Born at Bethlehem,” MTP 17:1026 (1871).

 

[10]”A Merry Christmas,” MTP 7:352-53 (1860).

 

[11]”The Holy Work of Christmas,” MTP 11:666 (1865).



Feed the Flock

By / Nov 22

Have you ever found yourself struggling with a sermon text and wondering how you will feed your flock with the feast of God’s Word? Pastors have many things to consider in preaching to the people entrusted to them. We want to be men of the Word, rightly dividing the Word of Truth (2 Tim 2:15). We want the Word of God to nourish our hearers through our preaching. In short, we want the meals we serve to our flock to be both delicious and nutritious. How are we to do this well?

Spurgeon offers us some of his own wisdom on this topic. In his inaugural address to The Pastors’ College in 1877, he lectured on these very ideas. Spurgeon taught a room full of preachers what it was to serve the Chief Shepherd by being a chef-shepherd. He taught these preachers four main ideas: Taste the food before you serve it, bring the sheep together with good food, prepare meals with love, and feed the sheep directly.

Taste the food yourself

Spurgeon shows us the importance of a preacher taking a bite of his sermon himself before he feeds the flock the meat of the Gospel. We wouldn’t eat raw food uncooked, unseasoned, or unprepared, would we? Then we must not feed the same to our people. A chef preparing food for his guests tastes everything before it makes its way to the tables. A preacher must do the same. In the Sword and Trowel 1877, Spurgeon covers this idea well for us:

“In order to preach the gospel well we must have such a knowledge of it that we are practically conversant with it. We must have it in our hearts, and also, as the proverb has it, at our fingers’ ends. We must be rich that we may scatter treasures. We must be scribes well instructed that we may be apt to teach. Let us see well to this, dear brethren; and if any of you have at all slurred your private studies and your communion with God, and your deep searching of the word, I pray you do not so; for you may get on a little while with the stores you have on hand, but they will be soon spent, or become moldy. Gather fresh manna every morning; gather it fresh from heaven. Manna is all very well out of a brother’s omer if I cannot go where it falls, but God’s rule is for each man to fill his own omer. Borrow from books if you will; but do not preach books, but the living word. Get much inward knowledge, and then deal it out.”[1]

Did that strike you? Gain much inward knowledge about the Gospel, and then deal it out. We must taste the food ourselves before it is tasted by others. In so doing we honor the Word of God by giving it the proper opportunity to speak to us about where we fall short; before we can speak to others.

Bring the sheep together with good food

What Spurgeon is referencing is this idea that a flock that is well fed will keep returning to the shepherd that feeds generous meals. In this way, the unity of the church is strengthened around His Word. This is a special work preacher. Let us prepare a message that people can feast on until God gathers them together again. This is no small task either. In both our preaching tone and practical applications there should be well-prepared ideas and theological precepts to bolster the Word of God to our people. We do this by carefully exegeting the Word of God and thinking and chewing on it ourselves. Our gatherings should be full of spiritual flavor and taste so that the people are drawn to them like children to the family table.

“I know of no way of keeping God’s people together like giving them plenty of spiritual meat. The simple shepherd said that he tied his sheep by their teeth, for he gave them such good food that they could not find better, and so they stayed with him. Be this our custom as the Holy Spirit shall help us.”[2]

Our sheep are best grown in their love for one another by being given proper truths from the whole counsel of God. So are you ready to serve up the next course?

Prepare meals with love

Spurgeon articulates that preaching a message was something that transported food to people, but it also brings them together in fellowship. A wonderful meal shared by a family is a singular thing; however, just as exceptional is the church banqueting together under the preaching of the Word of God. We sit together in our churches and feast together; how can the preacher help produce familial affection at the feast? By preaching and living among them in a way that shows his love for them and for their Lord.

“Let us also labor by our preaching to make church fellowship a great deal more real […] Try to make church fellowship full of life and love by preaching and living the gospel of love and brotherhood. Be to your people like a father among his children, or an elder brother among his brethren, that you may be the means of blessing to them…”[3]

May we be the means of blessing through our love for the sheep. Love should be a perpetual ingredient in our preaching. Love your people as a father his children. Our people should feel perpetually cared for in each discourse, not battered down. They should feel welcome in their own flock through the preached word, even when the food is more weighty than usual. Even if a side dish may have a bitter taste, the chef knows that it will accentuate the main course when it comes out. This should be the balance we are striving for.

Feed the sheep directly

What if we were just preaching our own points, thoughts, and teachings rather than the Word of God? What if we were preaching to some other audience, rather than to our own people? Of course, in that case, such meals would taste flat, dry, and bland. But if we preach God’s Word to our people, with all our heart, the Gospel can and will do tremendous things.

“We must preach as men to men, not as divines before the clergy and nobility. Preach straight at them. It is of no use to fire your rifle into the sky when your object is to pierce the heart […] Your work is to charge home at the heart and conscience. Fire into the very center of the foe. We have heard sermons preached in which the minister prayed God to save souls, but unless he had departed from his usual laws of procedure it was not possible for the Almighty God to use such discourses for any such purpose, for they have consisted of mere trifling with words, or an exposition of some minute point of opinion, or a philosophizing away of the mind of the Spirit. Pray the Lord to save your hearers, and then drive at them as though you could save them yourself. Trust in God, and then employ such logical arguments as may convince the judgment and such pathetic appeals as may touch the heart, so that if effects depend upon causes you may see them produced, God’s hand being with you.”[4]

Preacher, we must find an earnest and practical spirit in our applications and exhortations of the Gospel. Every preacher has made mistakes and blunders, as did Spurgeon. But we do not give up. Our job is to rightly divide the Word of God. This is no small or easy feat. We cannot relax in our duties because of its weight. Indeed, we must work tirelessly to use the right ingredients, cook it properly, and divide up the portions to all the sheep, from the youngest to the oldest in our flock. We preach the Gospel to a broken and dying world. We can only do this by preaching the Gospel to ourselves first, studying the message of the Bible and explaining it carefully, living an exemplar life of godliness and love for our people, and delivering the message to our people as the only means of salvation.


[1] S&T May 1877. P. 204.

[2] Ibid., P. 202.

[3] Ibid.,

[4] Ibid.



The Seven Crowns of Christ’s Sacrifice

By / Nov 16

On the night before his crucifixion, Jesus gave a parting command to his disciples, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” But love is not an abstract, sentimental idea. Jesus makes it clear that love is shown most powerfully in the act of self-sacrifice, even to the point of death. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” But Jesus wasn’t only talking about what we must do. He was also pointing to his death for us, the greatest of all acts of love.

Preaching on this text in 1873, Spurgeon gives seven reasons for why Christ’s laying down his life was infinitely greater and more glorious than any act of sacrifice that has ever been performed. For each one of these, Spurgeon calls for crowns of glory and worship to be placed upon Christ’s head.

Crown #1: Jesus was immortal and never needed to die

Christ’s death was utterly unique because it was an entirely voluntary act of love.

When a man lays down his life for his friend, he does not lay down what he could keep altogether; he could only have kept it for a while, even if he had lived as long as mortals can, till grey hairs are on their head, he must at last have yielded to the arrows of death. A substitutionary death for love’s sake in ordinary cases would be but a slightly premature payment of that debt of nature which must be paid by all. But such is not the case with Jesus. Jesus needed not die at all; there was no ground or reason why he should die apart from his laying down his life in the room and place and stead of his friends.

Crown #2: Jesus sacrificed himself knowing he had no chance of escape

Some people may volunteer to die for another and yet may still have hope that they will escape death. This was not the case for Jesus.

He knew that if he was to give a ransom for our souls he had no loophole for escape, he must surely die. Die he or his people must, there was no other alternative. If we were to escape from the pit through him, he must perish in the pit himself; there was no hope for him, there was no way by which the cup could pass from him. Men have risked their lives for their friends bravely; perhaps had they been certain that the risk would have ended in death they would have hesitated; Jesus was certain that our salvation involved death to him, the cup must be drained to the bottom, he must endure the mortal agony, and in all the sufferings of death extreme he must not be spared one jot or little; yet deliberately, for our sakes, he espoused death that he might espouse us.

Crown #3: Jesus’ sacrifice was motivated by pure, unmingled love

One person might die for another out of a sense of duty or gratitude or debt. But Jesus had no such motivation. His death was an act of pure love.

But still you can see a wide difference between that noble sacrifice and the nobler deed of Jesus laying down his life for those who never obliged him, never served him, who were infinitely his inferiors, and who could have no claims upon his gratitude… Jesus had no motive in his heart but that he loved us, loved us with all the greatness of his glorious nature, loved us, and therefore for love, pure love, and love alone, he gave himself up to bleed and die.

Crown #4: Jesus died for his enemies

Jesus called his disciples “friends,” but we are those who rejected God as our enemy.

Greater love a man may have than to lay down his life for his friends, namely, if he dies for his enemies. And herein is the greatness of Jesus’ love, that though he called us “friends,” the friendship was all on his side at the first. He called us friends, but our hearts called him enemy, for we were opposed to him. We loved not in return for his love… Oh the enmity of the human heart to Jesus! There is nothing like it. Of all enmities that have ever come from the pit that is bottomless, the enmity of the heart to the Christ of God is the strangest and most bitter of all; and yet for men polluted and depraved, for men hardened till their hearts are like the nether millstone, for men who could not return and could not reciprocate the love he felt, Jesus Christ gave himself to die.

Crown #5: Jesus died for those who caused the difficulty which required death

One might sacrifice himself for a friend knowing that it is not his fault that he is in trouble. But in our case, we brought this trouble upon ourselves.

In our case there would never have been a need for any one to die if we had not been the offenders, the wilful offenders; and who was the offended one, whose injured honor required the death? I speak not untruthfully if I say it was the Christ that died who was himself the offended one. Against God the sin had been committed, against the majesty of the divine Ruler; and in order to wipe the stain away from divine justice it was imperative that the penalty should be exacted and the sinful one should die. So he who was offended took the place of the offender and died, that the debt due to his own justice might be paid.

Crown #6: Christ not only died for us, but he bore our sin and guilt

It is one thing to die knowing that you are doing a noble and righteous act. But Christ’s death meant that he was condemned as a guilty sinner.

Now, far be it from our hearts to say that Christ was ever less than perfectly holy and spotless, and yet there had to be established a connection between him and sinners by the way of substitution, which must have been hard for his perfect nature to endure. For him to be hung up between two felons, for him to be accused of blasphemy, for him to be numbered with transgressors, for him to suffer, the just for the unjust, bearing his Father’s wrath as if he had been guilty, this is wonderful, and surpasses all thought!

Crown #7: Christ bore the wrath of God so that we will never bear it

This is why Christian martyrs can go to their deaths singing, while we see Christ in agony in Gethsemane and at the cross. We will never face what he had to face.

But ah, to die upon a cross without a pitying eye upon you, surrounded by a scoffing multitude, and to die there appealing to God, who turns away his face, to die with this as your requiem, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!” to startle the midnight darkness with an “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani” of awful anguish such as never had been heard before: this is terrible. The triumph of love in the death of Jesus rises clear above all other heroic acts of self-sacrifice! Even as we have seen the lone peak of the monarch of mountains rise out from all adjoining alps and pierce the clouds… , so does this love of Christ soar far above aught else in human history, or that can be conceived by the heart of man. His death was more terrible, his passing away more grievous by far.

Conclusion

The greatest act of love ever displayed in all of human history is found in Jesus Christ. If you are looking for the proof of God’s love for sinners, even for you, then look to Christ.

As those who have received Christ’s love, may we crown him with many crowns and devote our lives to living out his command, “Love one another as I have loved you.”


Click here to read the above sermon, “Love’s Crowning Deed.”



Highlights from The Sword & the Trowel 1885-1889

By / Nov 9

When The Sword and the Trowel began in 1865, Spurgeon believed that the main challenge facing the church was the growing ritualism in the Church of England. In the first five years of its publication, Spurgeon would publish at least 22 different articles attacking Roman Catholicism and the Oxford Movement. Now, twenty years later, in 1885, Spurgeon understood that the battle lines had shifted. To be sure, ritualism was still very much alive. But a new adversary had arisen, whose influence was being felt not only in the Church of England but among all denominations.

For the moment, the main battle is with Rationalism. We see comparatively little of overt atheism, deism, or honest infidelity; but we are surrounded by men who subscribe out creeds and hate them, employ our terms and attach false meanings to them, and even use our pulpits as places of vantage from which to assail the vital verities of our faith. (S&T 1885:iii)

Spurgeon’s battle with rationalism would result in the most painful conflict of his life, namely the Downgrade Controversy of 1887-1888. In the years leading up to the controversy, Spurgeon had been sounding the alarm that this new rationalism was “no more Christianity than chalk is cheese.” The controversy would come to a head in the fall of 1887, leading to his resignation from the Baptist Union. In the following spring, the Union would publicly censure Spurgeon and issue a declaration that they believed vindicated their evangelical theology. Many former students and allies turned on Spurgeon and criticized him for his stand. According to Susannah, his wife, the Downgrade Controversy was “the deepest grief of his life,” and it “cost him his life.”

Yet, amid this battle, Spurgeon believed that the gospel was not dependent on associations and para-church ministries, but on the faithful ministries of local churches. The best thing he could do in defending and advancing the gospel was to continue to promote a faithful gospel ministry in his own church.

A ministry which, year by year, builds up a living church, and arms it with a complete array of evangelistic and benevolent institutions, will do more by way of apology for the gospel than the most learned pens, or the most labored orations. (S&T 1890:3)

Here are just a few highlights from these five years. As you read through these issues, send us a note on Twitter (@SpurgeonMBTS) if you find anything interesting!

(To jump straight to the article, click on the link, then click the “View this Resource” button.)

1885

Another Note of Warning – Spurgeon decries the horrific practices of child trafficking in his day and calls Christians to take action, beginning with prayer.

What I beg of my readers is, that they will, in secret, pray day and night that this tremendous evil may be put down. Special hours should be set apart for quiet personal intercession for our guilty cities. Under God we have nothing to look to but the prayers of the saints and the moral sense of the masses of decent people; laws scarcely touch the evil; the police wink at it; the great ones of the earth are tainted with it. Let us pray. Omnipotent grace can do that which we cannot hope to accomplish of ourselves.

Sinful Silence – There are times when silence is prudent. There are also times when silence is sin.

TREATISES in abundance have been produced upon the sins of speech; but are there not also sins of silence? Spurious silver of speech is current, but base gold of silence is not unknown. A man may transgress as truly by holding his tongue as by speaking unadvisedly with his lips. If by being quiet we could escape from all responsibility, life would be an easy matter, and the coward’s millennium would have arrived. If absolute silence would screen us from duty it might be the highest prudence. But it is not so: our position in life involves us in certain obligations of speech, and if we do not act according to them we shall be verily guilty.

1886

Unity and how not to promote it – What happens when Christians protest against the proliferation of denominations and begin to call themselves the church of Christ?

All Christians desire the unity of the church. No one justifies the divisions of Christendom, or wishes to perpetuate them. The evil results of division are seen at home, and felt abroad in the mission-field; and anything practicable which would bring the churches together, and make them truly one, would command the attention and the favour of all good men. Oh that once again we all rallied to the cry of “ One Lord, one faith, one baptism”!

Out of this most laudable desire grows many an idle attempt, and foisted upon it there may come many a device of the enemy which will work serious mischief.

1887

The Down Grade – This article by Robert Shindler was published in March of 1887, tracing the pattern of theological decline throughout church history. Spurgeon writes in the footnote, “Earnest attention is requested for this paper. There is need of such a warning as this history affords. We are going down hill at break-neck speed.”

These facts furnish a lesson for the present times, when, as in some cases, it is all too plainly apparent men are willing to forego the old for the sake of the new. But commonly it is found in theology that that which is true is not new, and that which is new is not true.

Another Word concerning the Down-Grade – In August of 1887, Spurgeon weighs in on the controversy with his attack on this “new religion” which is “no more Christianity than chalk is cheese.”

A new religion has been initiated, which is no more Christianity than chalk is cheese; and this religion, being destitute of moral honesty, palms itself off as the old faith with slight improve­ments, and on this plea usurps pulpits which were erected for gospel preaching. The Atonement is scouted, the inspiration of Scripture is derided, the Holy Spirit is degraded into an influence, the punishment of sin is turned into fiction, and the resurrection into a myth, and yet these enemies of our faith expect us to call them brethren, and maintain a confederacy with them!

1888

The Baptist Union Censure – The Council of the Baptist Union censured Spurgeon for insinuating the heterodoxy of unnamed Union members. But Spurgeon’s unwillingness to name names was due to the fact that there was no creed. Without a proper evangelical creed, the Union had no theological basis for their association.

The censure passed upon me by the Council of the Baptist Union will be weighed by the faithful, and estimated at its true value. “Afterwards they have no more that they can do.’’ I brought no charges before the members of the Council, because they could only judge by their constitution, and that document lays down no doctrinal basis except the belief that “ the immersion of believers is the only Christian baptism.” Even the mention of evangelical sentiments has been cut out from their printed programme. No one can be heterodox under this constitution, unless he should forswear his baptism.

Remarks on Inspiration – Spurgeon believed that at the heart of the battle against rationalism was the doctrine of the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture.

The turning-point of the battle between those who hold “the faith once delivered to the saints” and their opponents, lies in the true and real inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. This is the Thermopylae of Christendom. If we have in the Word of God no infallible standard of truth, we are at sea without a compass. No danger from stormy weather without can be equal to this loss within. “If the foundations be removed, what can the righteous do?” And this is a foundation loss of the worst kind.

1889

The Eighth Wonder of the World – The construction of the Eiffel Tower was a parable of the temptation for churches to compete with one another in all kinds of ways.

Far be it from our churches to vie with each other, and go in to build their Babels. To be largest in number, to have the most intellectual persons in our ranks, to attempt the most ambitious missions— these are little enough as objects of ambition. Just now, the tendency is to seek to wield the most potent political influence in Parliaments, Councils, Boards, and Corporations. There may be reasons for this thirst for power; but we earnestly trust they will never even seem to have weight enough to decoy Christians from their legitimate calling; which is, not to win positions, but to win souls; not to canvass votes, but to convince consciences. The hunt after respectability is another form of this tower-building. So is the longing to have the finest building, the largest organ, the most learned doctor, the most eloquent preacher. What! In the worship of God is there to be competition? At our Maker’s feet are we to try to outshine each other?



The Significance of the Psalms for Spurgeon

By / Nov 2

For many in society, the Psalms are like comfort food—a little taste of Psalm 23 makes them feel better when discouraged. Or, another psalm may bring a degree of solace during bereavement. However, these ancient songs are intended to provide far more than a quick relief from discomfort. But for Spurgeon, the Psalms meant so much more.

Charles Spurgeon loved the Psalms! He preached over 400 sermons on this collection of writings during his pastoral ministry. He also invested twenty years in authoring a seven-volume exposition entitled The Treasury of David. With the first volume published at the age of thirty-one and the last one published seven years before his death at the age of fifty-five, his work on the Psalter covered many of his pastoral years at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. It is an outstanding accomplishment. His “magnum opus” is even more impressive, knowing that he wrote much of it while suffering the debilitating pain of gout and other related physical illnesses. When we consider he employed a team of nearly a dozen people to research and translate books into English, his Treasury is remarkable.

In the Preface to the first volume, Spurgeon exclaimed, “The delightful study of the Psalms has yielded me boundless profit and ever-growing pleasure,” and he wanted to pass on the benefits to others.[1] Why were the Psalms beneficial to Spurgeon, and why should they be important for our daily lives? The prefaces to each of the Treasury’s volumes offer us valuable insights for our walk with God.

The Psalms articulate our emotions before God

Since the authors of the Psalter were inspired by God, we may assume that we cannot identify with their feelings and thoughts. However, Spurgeon assures us this should not be the case. As he read through the Psalms, he experienced times of “mourning” and “exalting with David.”[2] Referring to Psalm 51, he comments, “The Psalm is very human, its cries and sobs are born of a woman.” Such a psalm, among others, can stir up our latent emotions so that they can marinate deep in our hearts.[3] However, we may not even be able to express these feelings to God because they are so overwhelming.  The Psalms, fortunately, enable us to articulate a wide range of emotions before him. Whatever we are feeling, the “Book supplies the babe in grace with penitent cries, and the perfected saint with triumphant songs.”[4] Thus, the Psalter serves as a “spokesman of feelings which else had found no utterance. Does it not say just what we wished to say? Are not its prayers and praises exactly such as our hearts delight in? No man needs better company than the Psalms.”[5] These “sacred hymns express all modes of holy feeling.”[6] As Eugene Peterson puts it, “the Psalms speak for us.”[7] They enable us to express our emotions and thoughts in conversations with God.

The Psalms explore our interior life

When we unexpectedly express raw emotions, we may wonder what is going on within us. Like an x-ray or MRI probing one’s body, the Psalms explore what is occurring with our desires, attitudes, thoughts, and the “anatomy of conscience.”[8] Spurgeon aligns with Calvin, who wrote that the Psalter is an “anatomy of all the parts of the soul.”[9] Dallas Willard believes that Psalms are “the great soul book in the Bible, simply because it more than any other deals with life in its depths and with our fundamental relationship to the One who is the keeper of our soul.”[10] This collection of sacred writings perform a thorough examination of every area of our inner life and provide an accurate diagnosis. This is more than a clinical assessment of our inner life because our Physician wants us to be spiritually healthy.

The Psalms provide a map of our life experiences

The Psalter provides a “map of experience”[11] covering the phases of life, including those who are young and elderly. These writings also describe a wide range of possible scenarios ranging from intense conflicts to times of rest. As Spurgeon states, the Psalms’ “breadth of experience stretches from the jaws of hell to the gate of heaven.”[12]As we read the accounts by David and others, we realize their experiences are very similar to ours. We may enjoy intimacy with God and feel abandoned by him. We experience the joys of friendships and the pain of friends who reject us. Fortunately, we do not have to travel this spiritual terrain by ourselves because others who have gone before us serve as our companions in this spiritual journey. When we read the Psalter, we “read and commune with friends human and divine; friends who know the heart of man towards God, and the heart of God towards man; friends who perfectly sympathize with us and our sorrows, friends who never betray or forsake.”[13] In addition to the psalmists, Spurgeon hoped his readers would see him as a “companion” throughout their travel through the “Psalm country.”[14] In today’s parlance, we need spiritual guides who have gone before us and know the terrain so that they may guide us through our journey through life.

The Psalms contribute to our faith community

Spurgeon was concerned that the churches of his time did not place a high value on the Psalter. This should not be so because, in past centuries, the Psalms were read “in all the churches from day to day.” He was affirming the practice of Martin Luther and John Calvin who believed in the Psalter’s important role in shaping worship and prayer in congregational life.[15] This was possible because the ordained ministers knew the entire Psalter “by heart.”[16] Consequently, Spurgeon claims that the “common people” knew the Psalms by memory. The public use of these sacred songs and prayers had a profound influence on the individuals who met with their fellow believers in Jesus Christ.

The Psalms contribute to our spiritual maturity

Whether the Psalms are aiding us in expressing our emotions and words, examining our inner life, describing the terrain of our human experiences, or contributing to our faith community, Spurgeon hoped his exposition would contribute to the “edification of believers”[17] because the Psalms instruct and train us in the Christian life.[18] The study of the Psalter must be approached with the acknowledgment of our need for the Holy Spirit, who makes it possible for us to experience the truths of the psalms.[19] Spurgeon exhorts us: “In these busy days, it would be greatly to the spiritual profit of Christian men and women if they were more familiar with the Book of Psalms, in which they would find a complete armoury for life’s battles, and a perfect supply for life’s needs. Here we have both delight and usefulness, consolation and instruction. For every condition there is a psalm, suitable and elevating.”[20]

Conclusion

The Psalms undoubtedly enriched Spurgeon’s own life. As he neared the completion of the Treasury of David, he wrote, “The Book of Psalms has been a royal banquet to me, and in feasting upon its contents I have seemed to eat angels’ food.” Even though it was a great task to write these many volumes, he confessed that the “writing of this book has been a means of grace to my own heart; I have enjoyed for myself what I have prepared for my readers.”[21] In light of his physical suffering, the overwhelming pressures on his pastoral ministry, and the pain of friends rejecting him, the Psalms strengthened his faith in Jesus Christ.

While the Psalms provide relief for momentary discomfort, they also contribute to our spiritual growth by touching on every area of our being. The Psalter serves as a wise guide to prepare us for the journey ahead with life’s setbacks and opportunities. Finally, these sacred songs shape our community life with our fellow pilgrims, so we may worship Jesus Christ until we see him face to face. 


David J. McKinley is Associate Professor of Practical Theology at the International Theological Seminary in West Covina, California. In past years he has served in pastoral ministry and international missions. He is the author of The Psalms for Everyday Living: A Year of Devotions with Charles Spurgeon’s Treasury of David (published by Wipf & Stock in June 2020).


[1] Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vols. 1-6 (London: Marshall Brothers, n.d.), 1:v.

[2] Treasury, 6:v.

[3] Treasury, 2:v.

[4] Treasury, 6:vi.

[5] Treasury, 5:vi

[6] Treasury, 5:vii.

[7] Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 38.

[8] Treasury, 5:vi.

[9] John Calvin. Commentary on the Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1949), 1:xxxvii. Quoted by Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles, 39.

[10] Dallas Willard. The Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002), 207.

[11] Treasury, 5:vi.

[12] Treasury, 6:vi.

[13] Treasury, 5:vi.

[14] Treasury, 6:vi.

[15] Timothy Keller and Kathy Keller. The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms (New York, NY: Viking, an imprint of Penguin Books, 2015), vii.

[16] Treasury, 5:vi.

[17] Treasury, 5:vi.

[18] Treasury, 6:v.

[19] Treasury, 2:vi.

[20] Treasury, 6:vi.

[21] Treasury, 5:vi.



Reflections on Repentance: Reading Psalm 51 with Charles Spurgeon

By / Oct 27

“A broken heart can never long be divided from the broken Savior.” [1]

There are some passages in the Scriptures that demand special solemnity. The confession of David in Psalm 51 is so deeply personal that reading it can feel like eavesdropping.  One must either join in contrition or stop reading.  The weightiness of David’s confession is partly due to the egregiousness of the sin and partly due to the position of the sinner.  Not only was the affair with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah a grotesque abuse of power, but David was God’s anointed king over His people!  He was supposed to be a man “after God’s own heart.”  It is tragic to see one fall from such heights to such depths. This passage provides a unique look behind the curtain into the broken heart of mighty David, king, a man of God, conqueror, psalmist, adulterer, murderer.

Commentators tread lightly around Psalm 51 to maintain reverence.  This was true of Spurgeon, a great pontificator of the Scriptures.  See here his thoughts on the Psalm:

I postponed expounding it week after week, feeling more and more my inability for the work.  Often I sat down to it, and rose up again without having penned a line.  It is a bush burning with fire yet not consumed, and out of it a voice seemed to cry to me, “Draw not nigh hither, put off thy shoes from off thy feet.”  The Psalm is very human, its cries and sobs are of the one born of woman; but it is freighted with an inspiration all divine, as if the Great Father were putting words into his child’s mouth.  Such a Psalm may be wept over, absorbed into the soul, and exhaled again in devotion; but, commented on—ah! Where is he who having attempted it can do other than blush at his defeat? [2]

Spurgeon’s humility is, of course, appropriate.  Nevertheless, this passage is ripe with lessons—particularly about repentance.  This article, guided by Psalm 51 and drawing from Spurgeon’s own thoughts, will briefly consider the nature and necessity of Christian repentance and the kindness of God that makes it possible.

The Nature of Repentance – “Sweet Sorrow”

Few confessions express contrition as candidly as David’s in this Psalm.  For many, the fear of consequences poses as pious regret—a particularly cunning wolf in sheep’s clothing.  The despair may be genuine, but the source is all too human.  Often it is only after being caught that the smirk falls from our faces.  It is easy to underestimate man’s proclivity for self-deception.  David only beheld his wickedness after the prophet Nathan spat in his blind eyes.  The truly repentant heart is broken, there is no room for self-preservation.  Indeed, “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”[3]

Though it is fitting to feel brokenness over our sin, we do not grieve as those who do not have hope.  It is not for the strange pleasure of self-abasement that we reject our sinful tendencies.  We repent toward restoration.  We sorrow in sin so that we may rejoice in righteousness. Because Christ suffered for sinners, our repentance is an act of faith in the power of God to make us whole again.  Praise be to God who will not despise our contrition but lifts those who fall before Him.[4]  With this hope in mind, Spurgeon considers repentance ironically delightful:

I want you to indulge yourselves in this most rare… delight of sorrow at the feet of Jesus,-not sorrow for unpardoned sin, but sorrow for pardoned sin, sorrow for that which is done with, sorrow for that which is forgiven, sorrow for that which will never condemn you, for it was laid on Christ long ago, and is put away for ever. It is this sweet sorrow that I want you to indulge. Up with the sluices, then, brethren and sisters, and let these sacred streams of sorrow flow forth. [5]

The Necessity of Repentance – “A Broken Heart”

Why is repentance necessary?  What is it about a broken heart that God seeks?  Spurgeon notes that only a broken heart is humble before God:

A broken heart cannot keep secrets. Now is all revealed, now its essence goes forth. Far too much of our praying, and of our worship, is like closed up boxes; you cannot tell what is in them. But it is not so with broken hearts; when broken hearts sing, they do sing. When broken hearts groan, they do groan. Broken hearts never play at repenting, nor play at believing…with broken hearts, the hymn is a real hymn, the prayer is a real prayer, the hearing of sermons is earnest work, and the preaching of them is the hardest work of all. Oh, what a mercy it would be if some of you were broken all to pieces! There are many flowers that will never yield their perfume till they are bruised.[6]

Consider again how God undermines the arrogant ignorance of man.  God does not desire His servants at their best with hearts and minds filled with strength and skill.  No, it is the broken heart that God accepts as His fragrant sacrifice.  He exalts the humble and humbles the proud.  Men desire full hearts, but God requires emptiness.  He who inhales his own air will asphyxiate.  God alone can administer the breath of life. 

The Kindness of God – “Shall It Not Lead You to Repentance?”

The call to a broken heart does not come from a vengeful and unforgiving God. No, it reveals God’s kindness and compassion for those who truly repent over their sin.

While I regarded God as a tyrant, I thought sin a trifle; but when I knew him to be my Father, then I mourned that I could ever have kicked against him. When I thought that God was hard, I found it easy to sin; but when I found God so kind, so good, so overflowing with compassion, I smote upon my breast to think that I could have rebelled against one who loved me so, and sought my good. Will you not now think of the goodness of God, brothers and sisters, and shall it not lead you to repentance? Shall we not feel within our hearts a burning indignation against sin, because it is committed against so holy, so good, so glorious a being as the infinitely blessed God?[7]

How magnificently this illustrates God’s total transcendence to the trifles of man!  How remarkable is His tender lovingkindness, that the Ruler of the Cosmos might kneel to the least of these—even to the point of solidarity.  Jesus Himself said, “I am gentle and lowly in heart.”[8]

Conclusion

Regrettably, David is not alone in his sin. We have all, in some way, succumbed to violence and lust. Despite being crowned with glory and honor, we have all rebelled against the One of whom our beauty is but an image. And yet, in the gospel, God draws His broken creation to healing reconciliation. What option is there but contrition when we meditate upon the immeasurable goodness of the God we have rejected? What can we do but repent when we consider all that our King has done for us?

What! Were we, whom God has made to be conformed to the image of his firstborn Son, ever seen to be drunken, and staggering through the streets, defiled with unchastity, or polluted with gluttony, or guilty of covetousness, or cursed with pride? What! We whom the Lord has loved with an everlasting love, and without whom Christ himself will not be content to reign in heaven, groveling in iniquity? Oh, I think these questions must have helped to make sin seem contemptible and loathsome! I point at it the finger of scorn.

O dear children of God, scorn your sins, lament your sins, weep over your sins! Indulge that feeling, and God will accept it when it is mixed with faith in his dear Son; for “the sacrifices of God”-that is, all sorts of sacrifices put together, sin-offerings, burnt offerings, peace-offerings, scape-goats, and all together-” the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit.” One broken spirit is worth them all. “A broken and a contrite heart,”-though there be but one such,-“O God, thou wilt not despise.”[9]


[1] MTP, V. 41, 305.

[2] Treasury of David, Vol. 2, p. v (from the preface)

[3] Psalm 51:17 ESV

[4] 1 James 1:9

[5] MTP, V. 41, 302-303.

[6] MTP, V. 41, 304.

[7] MTP, V. 41, 304.

[8] Matthew 11:29

[9] Ibid., 309.