Sometimes the sounds of war rumble in the distance. Sometimes the sounds of gunfire are just down the street. In the Downgrade Controversy that we have been thinking about, Charles Spurgeon's concerns began with controversies in far away times and places. But it was when the war came closer to home that, in his words, he realized "The fight is killing me."

In his church magazine The Sword and the Trowel, he had been describing for some months the issues that needed to be fought over. But it is one thing to lob missiles into impersonal space in a theoretical theological debate; it is quite another to engage in hand-to-hand combat. The daggers that were piercing Spurgeon's thick skin were held by those whom he considered friends.

At the time he was the most prominent preacher in the Baptist Union in Britain, and his church was the flagship of the denomination. The fight against liberalism had been going on a long time in distant places, but now there were larger numbers of men holding and preaching these views in beloved Baptist churches. Some were even his own proteges, the personal disciples sent out to fill this pulpits of the denomination from his precious Pastors' College. Spurgeon had spent his life preaching truth and denouncing error, but now it was with a sword in his hand rather than a match to light the fuse to dispatch another weighty cannon ball from the heavy artillery.

So it was of his own pastoral colleagues that he wrote in the August 1887 edition of The Sword and the Trowel:
These gentlemen desire to be left alone... Of course thieves hate watch dogs and love darkness. It is time that somebody should spring his rattle and call attention to the way in which God is being robbed of his glory, and man of his hope. It now becomes a serious question how far those who abide by the faith once delivered to the saints should fraternize with those who have turned aside to another gospel. Christian love has its claims, and divisions are to be shunned as grievous evils; but how far are we justified in being in confederacy with those who are departing from the truth?

He was well aware of those who "would urge us to subordinate the maintenance of truth to denominational prosperity and unity. Numbers of easy-minded people wink at error so long as it is committed by a clever man and a good-natured brother who has so many fine points about him." And he was not willing to divide over minor issues. Interestingly, his concern with the Baptist Union was that it refused to discuss the big questions while insisting on standing firm on believers' baptism by immersion as the only requirement for membership in a Baptist Church. Adamant as he was about the mode of baptism, it was the other issues that were heavy on his heart. Concerning those matters he wrote in the September magazine:
Compromise there can be none. We cannot hold the inspiration of the Word and yet reject it; we cannot believe in the atonement and yet deny it; we cannot hold the doctrine of the fall and yet talk of the evolution of spiritual life from human nature; we cannot recognize the punishment of the impentitent and yet indulge the 'larger hope'. One way or the other we must go. Decision is the virtue of the hour. Neither when we have chosen our way can we keep company with those who go the other way. There must come with decision for truth a corresponding protest against error.

Shortly afterwards, after much agonizing and with heavy heart, Spurgeon resigned from the Baptist Union. In October he wrote, "With deep regret we abstain from assembling with those whom we dearly love and heartily respect, since it would involve us in a confederacy with those with whom we can have no communion with the Lord." The lines were drawn in the sand. About four years later, he was dead.

For many years we have heard the sound of distant drums rumbling in the background warning that there are issues to face. Now we are seeing theological explosions in the heartland of evangelicalism. As we conclude this series of blogs, we have honoured our forefathers who knew that there are some things worth fighting for. Spurgeon reminds us that one implication of this is that there are some things that are worth falling out for.




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