Charles Spurgeon awoke one morning during a general election to find his estate painted blue (the color of the Conservative Party, or the Tory Party).
In his sermon that evening, Spurgeon said, “It is notorious that I am no Tory, so I shall not trouble to remove the paint; perhaps those who put it on will take it off when it has been there long enough to please them.”
In our own country, the battle between the red and blue states is decided today. Yet we must be careful not to once again vandalize Spurgeon by painting him blue or red.
Spurgeon the Democrat?
In a post entitled “Spurgeon: How the Politically Liberal Preacher Became a Conservative Christian Paragon,” Jonathan Merritt cites Tom Nettles and says “Spurgeon was basically a left winger politically” and concludes, “It’s not difficult to imagine that Spurgeon would have opposed the political positi [spurgeon-flag] ons of many conservative Christians today.”
There is merit to Merritt’s claim. Spurgeon said, “I am as good a Liberal as any man living.” He usually sided with the progressive politics of Prime Minister William Gladstone over those of Benjamin Disraeli.
Spurgeon opposed Disraeli’s Machiavellian maneuvers in Afghanistan and equated military expansion with national sin. Spurgeon believed in civil rights for minorities and even funded the safe passage, education and life-long missionary work of Thomas L. Johnson—a former slave from Virginia.
Spurgeon opposed the elite aristocracy of the Conservative Party and in the election of 1880 distributed so many political leaflets in South London that he single-handedly swung the election in favor of the Liberals.
Spurgeon the Republican?
But on some issues, the famous pastor at Elephant & Castle takes a Republican shape. Spurgeon was pro-life at every stage of human development. He spoke harshly against the evils of abortion (which he called “infanticide”). He believed that God blesses a nation committed to Christian principles. He supported Bible reading in public schools and upheld the separation, not of church and state, but of Anglican Church and state, where England was God’s “chosen nation” and as such, public employees should be required to pass a “theistic” test. Spurgeon was also pro-gun, hunting fox and pheasants with his friend James Toller in Waterbeach.
Keith Miller even argues Spurgeon was a “proto-Tea Partier” who modeled a foreign policy similar to the “non-interventionism of Rand Paul.”
The Victorians faced many of the challenges that we do, such as the threat of terrorism in the Middle East, issues of racial tension, and the ethics of a super-power policing the world; however, a straight line cannot be drawn across a century and an ocean from the “liberals” and “conservatives” of Victorian Britain to the Democrats and Republicans of today.
It is impossible—not to mention historically irresponsible—to deracinate Spurgeon from his nineteenth-century context and easily implant him into our own.
Yet, if there are any political principles from Spurgeon’s life that will help us today at the polls, they may be these.
1. Spurgeon’s quote “Of two evils, choose neither” has nothing to do with politics.
You’ve seen it tweeted and memed a million times: “Of two evils, choose neither.”
This quote has nothing to do with politics. In its context, the “two evils” are not opposing political camps but instead heresy and a lack of charity:
“And, dear friends, we need keeping from an evil spirit. I do not know which I should prefer, – to see one of my dear Christian brethren fall into doctrinal error, or into an un-Christian spirit. I would prefer neither, for I think this is a safe rule, – of two evils, choose neither” (MTP 52:315).
2. Spurgeon believed voting was a God-given privilege and duty.
“We are now called upon to exercise one of the privileges and duties which go with liberty, let no man be neglectful in it. Every God fearing man should give his vote with as much devotion as he prays.”
“Were it not for the religious questions involved we should not concern ourselves to any great extent with the doings of the polling booths” (ST March 1874:142).
3. Vote on moral and biblical principles, not on partisan allegiances.
Spurgeon often sided with liberal politician William Gladstone to such a degree that many dubbed them “the two prime ministers.”
But Spurgeon followed no man. When his conscience required him to, Spurgeon voted against Gladstone (for example in the Home Rule Bill of 1886).
“Do not give yourselves up to party spirit. . . . To live for a political party is unworthy of a man who professes to be a Christian.”
“What is the science of diplomacy but the art of deceit?” (MTP 28:92).
4. Vote your conscience “as unto the Lord.”
In 1880, Spurgeon was criticized for “descend[ing] from his high and lofty position as a servant of God, and preacher of the everlasting gospel into the defiled arena of party politics.”
In Spurgeon’s letter to his critic, he concluded with a message that is as relevant today as when he wrote it:
“In things Divine we are probably at one. You shall abstain from voting as unto the Lord, and I will vote as unto the Lord, and we will both give Him thanks” (Autobiography 4:125-26, italics in the original).
A Final Challenge for Today’s Election
Like the hoodlums who returned to Spurgeon’s estate to scrape the blue paint from his property, so must we. Spurgeon was not consistently conservative or liberal, Tory or Whig, Republican or Democrat.
So how would Spurgeon vote? I honestly have no idea.
Yet as we go to the polls today, here’s a better question every Christian should ask:
How can our actions and interactions scatter light and life among those we meet today?