As a young boy growing up in Baptist churches the name “Charles Spurgeon” was frequently cited with respect. Knowing little of him at that age, I simply took pleasure in hearing his theological insights as well as his witty sense of humor. Once I grew up and entered the work of the ministry, Spurgeon became more than a mere distant figure. Reading his books, learning about his life, and gleaning from his wisdom became a regular occurrence for me. Here was a figure who took Scripture seriously. This was a man who labored faithfully for the Lord over the course of his life. Beyond a doubt, he was the most influential preacher of his day. In fact, his fame is almost shocking considering how unapologetic he was for standing on biblical truth. Seemingly, he is just as renowned in our day as many preachers and Christians continue to learn from his life.
Since I admired Spurgeon as a young man and respect him as a pastor, then I would eventually come to be truly amazed by him once I heard of the downgrade controversy. Spurgeon was not simply a docile man who would avoid conflict at all costs. He was willing to step into the fray for the sake of Christ when the biblical truth was at stake. The doctrines of biblical infallibility, salvation being found only in Christ, the eternality of hell, and the necessity of Christ’s work of atonement were at the center of the controversy.1 False doctrine was infiltrating churches across England and the Baptist Union of which Spurgeon and The Metropolitan Tabernacle were a part was no exception. He had labored to get the denomination back on its feet for years. Yet, even after flourishing, his own denomination would abandon the doctrine he loved. After Spurgeon sent his request for withdrawal the Council voted 95-5 to censure the man.2 His own brother even disapproved of his stance and yet Spurgeon still stood strong. Undeterred, he serves as an example of what it looks like to remain steadfast in the middle of grave adversity
Some might conclude that a renowned man like Spurgeon would simply back away from his stances in order to save face and maintain popularity. Such may be the action of some, but Spurgeon was driven by convictions anchored in Christ and His Word. Two weeks after he was censured by the Baptist Union, Spurgeon did what all courageous preachers are called to do. He took to the pulpit thunderously bringing the truth of the Word of God to bear. Throughout the entire controversy, he published articles fighting for the truth. Unrelentingly, in spite of physical illness, he kept on in the battle. He said:
“I am quite willing to be eaten of dogs for the next fifty years, but the more distant future shall vindicate me.” -Charles Spurgeon3
Spurgeon understood the battle he faced in his own day would eventually lead to his vindication. Certainly, in the future individuals would look back and see he was standing for the truth, but ultimately it was the judgment of Christ and His approval that Spurgeon sought. What we see in this instance is an example of unyielding courage. It is easy to take a stand when the situation brings favor upon you. The difficulty increases infinitely whenever you are battling physical health issues and the stand will cost you friends, a denomination, and cause your name to be “eaten by dogs” in your generation. We are attracted to the example of individuals like Spurgeon because their convictions lived through the trial and shined brightly at the end of the day. What lessons can we learn from this instance of his life?
Charles Spurgeon is a unique figure for multiple reasons, but perhaps the chief point we can glean from this instance in his life is a dogged determination. It takes more than mere grit to stand firm, the type of solidarity exhibited by Spurgeon must be driven by theological commitments grounded in Scripture. Christian, when the storm comes in your life it most likely will not be at the ideal time. Likely, there will be multiple elements to this storm railing against you from various angles just like Spurgeon and the downgrade. Yet, you must be anchored firmly in the truth of the Word, building your life on the foundation which stands who is Christ (Matthew 7:24). Spurgeon did not question what he believed before going into this controversy. He did not quiver at his knees unsure of whether or not he was right. This man was gripped by the Gospel and the entire Word of God with clarity to stand firm, that is what we need as well!
Another lesson from Spurgeon in this instance is his willingness to look past the present moment into the future. Even if human history never vindicates us, as it has Spurgeon, we should look forward to judgment day when we know Christ shall make all things right. If we take a stand for which we are never commended in this world, we can know that Christ sees it and shall reward faithfulness. Suppose you were the only person on the globe holding to the true Gospel with all of the world railing against you telling you that you were a madman. You should still hold firm knowing the truth that God has revealed understanding the eternal reward you have in Christ. Spurgeon looked past his present difficulty to the future, and we must as well.
I am grateful for God’s grace in the life of His servant Charles Spurgeon. He is one of many men who have been changed by the work of Christ and who lived to preach the Gospel. Spurgeon held firm in the middle of a great trial, may we do the same throughout the ones that we face in our time. His influence reached well beyond his own era continuing to inspire preachers to labor for the Lord, point the lost to the Gospel, and edify the saints through his resources. Let us leave a legacy of faithfulness for the next generation of saints as well for the glory of our Lord!