by C. H. Spurgeon
From the May 1866 Sword and Trowel
T was in our heart to imagine that "Spurgeonism" either in an offensive or inoffensive sense would no more be heard of; but the ghost it seems is not laid, it haunts unquiet minds and frets them sorely. A very few months ago we were somewhat sharply upbraided for want of union with the Baptists, and were charged with the sin of sect-making, or at least, of desiring to head a party. With considerable warmth, and we hope sufficient plainness, we rebutted the charge in words, and have done our best to disprove it by actions; and now we find ourselves in hot water in precisely the opposite direction, having in the eyes of some been guilty of exercising too preponderating an influence upon the Baptist body. The old fable of the Old Man, his Boy, and his Ass, might receive a very practical illustration from our career, if we were at all inclined to listen to the remarks of the many who interest themselves in our doings; but our desire to please our brethren is we trust subordinate to a far higher aim, and therefore we shall give their expressions as candid and patient a hearing as we can afford, and shall then seek direction from a less discordant authority. It was never our wish to appear to be alienated from our esteemed Baptist brethren, for whom in proportion to our personal knowledge of them our affectionate esteem increases; but far less have we it in our mind to compass any grasping of the whole system of the denomination; or to obtain or exercise any predominating influence in it. If we have advanced any forgotten truths which command the consent of our brethren we cannot but be glad; but we are not aware that even in this we have any ground for rejoicing; we have tried to swim side by side with the brethren in the direction of progress, but have always seen certain strong swimmers ahead of us; and have felt right happy to do our best not to be among the last. If our brethren feel that during the few months that we have been seen more manifestly among them we have been at all burdensome, we have been very much misled by their hearty manner towards us; and if we have usurped in any way an influence to which we have no right we very sincerely regret it, and declare that we had no intention to violate any man's liberty, or to force our ideas upon the brotherhood in an intolerant or uncourteous fashion. So long as we can all of us live for Christ, and as a community maintain the purity of the gospel of Jesus, and a hallowed practical zeal for the Master's glory, it can little matter to any man among us whose influence may be most helpful to promote our prosperity, and when the position of any one of our number shall be thought to be too prominent for the good of the whole, it becomes his privilege to hold himself in the background and to let others lead the van. So long as we may but do all we can for the promotion of the Master's kingdom, we are content to work with others or without them, and denominationally, we desire to be influential or retired exactly as shall be most for the benefit of the great cause. Our own conviction is, that never were our Baptist brethren more vigorous in spiritual life; and that our present unity and zeal is no more due to any one man than this delightful springtime is due to the birds whose songs proclaim it; our only fear is lest the personal references which we are about to quote should excite an evil spirit of jealousy which may mar our present hearty oneness and stay the advance which we hope is being made. It were better for us not to exist than to be a stumbling-block to servants of Jesus who are finding their way into a condition of closer fellowship than aforetime has been among them.
The Rev. Edward White, of Camden Town, once a Baptist minister, has expressed his desire to be united with the Congregational Union, and has registered his fervent prayer for "the downfall and abolition of the Baptist denomination, so far as its Baptist character is concerned." The prayer will probably return into the place from which it came, and if it be Of God, will doubtless be answered; but the desire to be united with the Congregational Union is a legitimate subject for consideration, especially as the reasons are appended, one of which intimately concerns ourselves. Mr. White writes:"Besides, there is, I confess, something in the present condition of the Baptist denomination in England which makes it less attractive than ever to persons of a certain constitution of mind. The sect is very small, derives its chief glory from the repute of its foreign missions (which, however, do not derive their efficacy from their baptismal peculiarity), and above all, has latterly proved itself too weak at the centre to resist the predominating influence of a single powerful element. It is no secret that Mr. Spurgeon is at present the presiding genius of the denomination. Now, while ready to admit that 'Spurgeonism' (I use the word in no offensive sense), with all its peculiarities of culture, taste, and doctrine, is entitled to a considerable place as a planet, I deny that its light is of a quality or magnitude which fits it to be either a centre or a sun. It is, nevertheless, notorious that this heavenly body has grasped, by the singular power of its attraction, the whole system of the Baptist denomination, and carried along with it, I do not exactly know whither, even the most considerable luminaries."
This might not seem so very weighty a reason for leaving one denomination for another to persons who are ordinarily constituted, but persons of "a certain constitution of mind," (which we take to mean persons very uncertain in mind upon important doctrines) cannot be supposed to act like common mortals. Why not meet this monster of Spurgeonism, and rescue the victims of its terrible power? Why not support that centre which is unable to resist the single powerful element? If Mr. White had risen in any meeting of our own Union to express his views he would have been heard with respect, and if he believes his own views to be so much better than our own, he might surely have allowed to the brethren whom he professes to esteem, as fair a share of ability to perceive their force as he possesses himself. It may be discreet, but it is only in that sense valorous to leave good company because one's own influence is not supreme in it, and because we have muddled and worried ourselves into the belief that somebody else is too big by half. We do not think so much of Mr. White's courage as we did, though even after this diminution we retain, a thorough admiration of his independence of mind, and wish he had shown it in ways other than those which he has selected.
There is, however, we suspect, a deeper cause for Mr. White's secession than may appear at first sight. He compares usto a planet, and with a most complimentary generosity calls us a heavenly body; we shall be happy to retain the compliment, as it might be thought sarcastic on our part if we returned it; and the metaphor of a planet so aptly pictures what we desire to be in relation to the heavenly sun, that we must reserve it for personal edification; but we beg to suggest that there are erratic bodies in the sky far less fitted to become centres than even the planets are, and when they rush off into the outer realms of space with or without their tails we wish them a kindly farewell, and having no desire to follow, hope they will enjoy their wild excursion. We are content to be the steady planet, revolving in the old-fashioned orbit of orthodoxy, and have no ambition to become a centre or a sun; but we confess we are not anxious to enter into the cloud which composes the peculiar glory of the Camden Town luminary, and are not vexed to have a little wider space between our orbit and his own, yet as we never felt any alarm when in his neighborhood, our satisfaction at his departure is not excessive.
We have not so much as a shade of sympathy with Broad Church views, and Mr. White knows this; he knows also that we do not bend the knee to the modern liberalism which is just now so popular, and viewing us as in some measure representatives of the so-called orthodoxy which it is fashionable to depreciate, he feels all his aversions so much aroused, that one of the freest of all denominations has not room enough in it to hold us both. How is it that he can live in the same city? Will he escape from the influence which he dreads by residing among the Independents? We can give him no promise that the terrible shadow may not reach him even there. There is an omnipresence in truth which is not to be avoided, and even influence is not bounded by walls. Will the Independents openly avow latitudinarian principles by opening their doors to receive the furtive from what is called by the ugly name of "Spurgeonism, but is really in the main the faith of their fathers? If so, it is their own concern, and we shall perhaps be believed if we say that we shall regret the additions which they obtain in such a way far more for their sakes than our own. The Adullamites in politics have their representatives in theology, and they are so uncertain in the use of their weapons that their friends have more reason than their foes to be afraid of them. Our Independent brethren have thought it possible, it seems, that the Baptist body will be merged in theirs, and the "Patriot" appears quite angry that we should think of continuing our separate existence; it will subserve the purposes of practical union if our friends will dismiss all notion of our amalgamation from their minds as a mere dream, and regard us as they have done in former days, as brethren who honestly believe that the points in dispute are assuredly not frivolous, though they may be thought to be vexatious: but if the Paedo-Baptist Congregationalists will still anticipate the ultimate absorption of the Baptists into their body and are really anxious for it, let them not treat truth as though it were indifferent in order to smooth their pathway, for so far as we know our Baptist brethren, this is the most effectual method of shutting the door. We have among us some who incline to the broad theology, who may possibly follow Mr. White's example, but none of her stauncher brethren will be likely to leave our camp, and then the bridge will be broken down, and the two bodies will have doctrinal questions to divide them as well as the question of ordinances, for the body welcoming a certain party cannot but be viewed as affording a more congenial sphere for their peculiarities, and as so far sharing in them. In the interests of Catholicity, such a line of demarcation is scarcely desirable, but it may be overruled to answer the divine purpose with regard to truth. When, without either side having dogmatically laid down any creed, it shall come to pass that in the main on the one side there is the old form of evangelism, and on the other side an abundant portion of the vagaries of modern thought, a new character will be given to the differences between the two bodies, and instead of being a friendly discussion concerning ordinances, it will become a life and death struggle for vital godliness. We are suspected of bigotry, but we do not leave a denomination because all do not swear by our Shibboleth, nor are we so unkind as to wish another body of Christians to become a receptacle and refuge for men who leave a free community, which has never tried to fetter them, because, forsooth, another man's influence offends them! The old faith is evidently safe without the safeguard of tests; for the mere presence of one of its preachers renders the place too hot for men of "a certain constitution of mind." We accept the hint given us by Mr. White as to our position, and shall feel less than ever inclined to be silent, while on all hands the vaunted Liberalism is so clamorous. It behoves those whose convictions are conservative of the received faith to stand firm and fast, and it becomes them more and more to rely upon the celestial arm. May God defend the right!
Whether we are officially in the Baptist body or out of it, is small care to us so long as we can advance the gospel of our Lord Jesus; but if those who leave the body on our account are only such as Mr. White, we shall feel wedded to it more and more, not only for its own sake, but in the hope that in its ranks will be found the faithful and true witnesses who "hold fast the form of sound words."