Spurgeon and the Church’s Fight for the Truth

The Christmas season of 1887 was a dark one for Charles Spurgeon. Earlier that year, Spurgeon had published two articles on what he called “The Down Grade,” the infiltration of liberal theology into the Baptist Union. Later that summer, he wrote and published three more articles lamenting the decline of orthodox theology among Baptist and other Dissenting churches. He hoped that these articles would spark a conversation at the October meeting of the Baptist Union, but to his disappointment, the leadership refused to address the issue. This culminated in Spurgeon’s withdrawal from the Union on October 28, 1887, setting off a massive public debate. During this period, Spurgeon saw many of his former allies turn on him, including some of the pastors he had trained. And things would only get worse in the New Year.In January 1888, the Baptist Union Council passed “a vote of censure” against Spurgeon, publicly rebuking him for his charges. Later that spring, the Baptist Union would compose a declaration seeking to vindicate its evangelical convictions, but this would be merely a historical statement, rather than anything legislative or creedal. Spurgeon immediately recognized that this declaration solved nothing and opposed it. But the declaration was approved resoundingly (2000 to 7), with the motion being seconded by Spurgeon’s own associate pastor and brother. In a personal letter to a friend, Spurgeon wrote, “My brother thinks he has gained a great victory, but I believe we are hopelessly sold. I feel heartbroken. Certainly he has done the very opposite of what I should have done. Yet he is not to be blamed, for he followed his best judgment. Pray for me, that my faith will fail not.”  According to his closest friends and his wife, Susannah, it was this conflict and the resulting heartbreak that ended Spurgeon’s life four years later.

One of the few bright spots during this controversy was Spurgeon’s church, The Metropolitan Tabernacle. As his own members read about the controversy in the press, they stood by his side and publicly supported him in his actions and writings throughout. Throughout the Downgrade Controversy (August 1887 to April 1888), Spurgeon continued to preach regularly to his people. Though he recognized the unique role he played in this controversy, he also called his congregation to join him in the battle, applying the imagery of the church as an army. In his final address to the Pastors’ College Conference in 1891, he urged fellow pastors to mobilize the church in the fight for the truth:

What can individual men do in a great crusade? We are associated with all the people of the Lord. We need for comrades the members of our churches; these must go out and win souls for Christ. We need the co-operation of the entire brotherhood and sisterhood. What is to be accomplished unless the saved ones go forth, all of them, for the salvation of others? (Spurgeon, The Greatest Fight in the World, 89)

Here are five ways Spurgeon called the army of the church to engage in her mission:

The Army’s Mission: Gospel Proclamation

Let us come down from those high matters to common-place affairs. Let us quit clouds and skies, and condescend to men of low estate. Let us come down from communing with the philosophers of culture, and the apostles of a new theology, to the ordinary people who live around us, and cannot comprehend these fine fictions. Let us come down to the streets and lanes, and do what we can for the poor, the fallen, the ignorant. (MTP 33:708)

God grant us faithfulness, for the sake of the souls around us! How is the world to be saved if the church is false to her Lord? How are we to lift the masses if our fulcrum is removed? If our Gospel is uncertain, what remains but increasing misery and despair? Stand fast, my beloved, in the name of God! I, your brother in Christ, entreat you to abide in the truth. Quit yourselves like men, be strong. (MTP 34:84)

The Army’s Conflict: Suffering for the Gospel

The Christian is not of the world, even as Christ is not of the world…He is an alien. He is a pilgrim. Can he expect the comforts of home while he tarries here? … This world is a foe to grace, and not a friend to it; and hence the gracious man must have tribulation. If he is to be like his Lord he certainly will have it; and if he is to be like the Lord’s people, he will have it, for they are a line of crossbearers. (MTP 33:657)

Probably the church of God has never had better times, certainly she has never had happier times, than during periods of persecution. These were the days of her purity, and consequently her glory. When she has been in the dark, God has been her light; and when she has been driven to and fro by the cruelties of men, then has she most effectually rested under the shadow of the Almighty. (MTP 33:687-688)

The Army’s Soldiers: Regenerate Church Membership

A church is an assembly called out. An ecclesia is not any and every “assembly”: a mixed crowd of unauthorized persons, having no special right to come together would not be an ecclesia, or church. In a real ecclesia the herald summoned the citizens and burgesses by trumpet or by name, and it consisted of certain persons called out from among the common multitude. The true church consists of men who are called, and faithful, and chosen. They are redeemed from among men, and called out from among their fellows by effectual grace. God the Holy Spirit continues to call out, and bring to the Lord Jesus, those who are chosen of God according to the good pleasure of his will. Practically, conversion is the result of the call. (MTP 34:112)

It is always necessary for a disciple to do what his Lord bids him. It is essential for a soldier of the cross to follow his Captain’s orders. Jesus bids us let our light shine; dare we hide it away?… If it is right for one Christian not to confess Christ, and join a church, it must be allowable for other Christians to do the same. Where would be churches, where would be the continuance of Gospel ordinances; and for the matter of that, who would be bound to be a preacher if no one is even bound to make an open profession? … It will not do, brethren, if we consider what the Lord Jesus Christ deserves of us, and how an open confession tends to certify his mission. The change wrought in the spiritual and moral condition of the saved is God’s attestation of the Gospel; and if this is not to be spoken of, how is the world to know that God has sent the Gospel at all? (MTP 34:220-221)

The Army’s Power: The Church in Prayer

All his wisdom, all his foresight, all his power, all his immutability—all himself is yours. All for the church of God, when she is in her lowest estate she is still established and endowed in the best possible sense—established by the divine decree, and endowed by the possession of God all-sufficient. The gates of hell shall not prevail against her… Therefore in the name of Jehovah we will set up our banners, and march onward to the battle… Let us pray, then, that he will save; that he will save his own church from lukewarmness and from deadly error; that he will save her from her worldliness and formalism; save her from unconverted ministers and ungodly members. Let us lift up our eyes and behold the power which is ready to save; and let us go on to pray that the Lord may save the unconverted by thousands and millions. (MTP 33:606-607)

What a church we should be, if you were all mighty in prayer! Dear children of God, do you want to be half starved? Beloved brethren, do you desire to be poor, little, puny, drivelling children, who will never grow into men? I pray you, aspire to be strong in the Lord, and to enjoy this exceedingly high privilege. What an army would you be if you all had this power with God in prayer! (MTP 34:23)

The Army’s Victory: Confidence in Christ’s Promises

Come, my brethren, let us cast aside all doubts about what the future is to be. The battle rages, the foe is as furious as he is subtle, while we are weak as water and can do nothing by ourselves; but let us not despond; for, if the Gospel be God’s Gospel, he will take care of it; if the church be Christ’s Church, the gates of hell cannot prevail against her.

The battle is not ours, but the Lord’s: in his name let us set up our banners and cry with full confidence of victory, “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.” (MTP 34:168)

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