Excerpts taken from, Lectures to my students, XVI
Written by, C.H. Spurgeon,
Edited for thought and space
Some things are true and some things are false: I regard that as an axiom…
…but there are many persons who evidently do not believe it. The current principle of the present age seems to be, “Some things are either true or false, according to the point of view from which you look at them. Black is white, and white is black according to circumstances; and it does not particularly matter which you call it. Truth of course is true, but it would be rude to say that the opposite is a lie; we must not be bigoted, but remember the motto, ‘So many men, so many minds,’”
Our forefathers were particular about maintaining landmarks; they had strong notions about fixed points of revealed doctrine, and were very tenacious of what they believed to be scriptural; their fields were protected by hedges and ditches, but their sons have grubbed up the hedges, filled up the ditches, laid all level, and played at leap-frog with the boundary stones. The school of modern thought laughs at the ridiculous positiveness of Reformers and Puritans; it is advancing in glorious liberality, and before long will publish a grand alliance between heaven and hell, or, rather, an amalgamation of the two establishments upon terms of mutual concession, allowing falsehood and truth to lie side by side, like the lion with the lamb. Still, for all that, my firm old-fashioned belief is that some doctrines are true, and that statements which are diametrically opposite to them are not true,–that when “No” is the fact, “Yes” is out of court, and that when “Yes” can be justified, “No” must be abandoned.
We have a fixed faith to preach, my brethren…
…and we are sent forth with a definite message from God. We are not let to fabricate the message as we go along. We are not sent forth by our Master with a general commission arranged on this fashion: “As you shall think in your heart and invent in your head, so preach. Keep abreast of the times. Whatever the people want to hear, tell them that, and they shall be saved.” Verily, we read not so. There is something definite in the Bible. It is not quite a lump of wax to be shaped at our will, or a roll or cloth to be cut according to the prevailing fashion. Your great thinkers evidently look upon the Scriptures as a box of letters for them to play with, and make what they like of, or a wizard’s bottle, out of which they may pour anything they choose, from atheism up to spiritualism. I am too old-fashioned to fall down and worship this theory. There is something told me in the Bible–told me for certain–not put before me with a “but” and a “perhaps,” and an “if,” and a “may be,” and fifty thousand suspicions behind it, so that really the long and the short of it is, that it may not be so at all; but revealed to me as infallible fact, which must be believed, the opposite of which is deadly error, and comes from the father of lies.
Believing, therefore, that there is such a thing as truth, and such a thing as falsehood, that there are truths in the Bible, and that the gospel consists in something definite which is to be believed by men, it becomes us to be decided as to what we teach, and to teach it in a decided manner. We have to deal with men who will be either lost or saved, and they certainly will not be saved by erroneous doctrine.
We have to deal with God, whose servants we are, and He will not be honoured by our delivering falsehoods; neither will He give us a reward, and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant, thou hast mangled the, gospel as judiciously as any man that ever lived before thee.” We stand in a very solemn position, and ours should be the spirit of old Micaiah, who said, “As the Lord my God liveth, before whom I stand, whatsoever the Lord saith unto me that will I speak.” Neither less nor more than God’s word are we called to state, but that word we are bound to declare in a spirit which convinces the sons of men that, whatever they may think of it, we believe God, and are not to be shaken in our confidence in Him.
Brethren, in what ought we to be positive? Well, there are gentlemen alive who imagine that there are no fixed principles to go upon. “Perhaps a few doctrines,” said one to me, “perhaps a few doctrines may be considered as established. It is, perhaps, ascertained that there is a God; but one ought not to dogmatize upon His personality: a great deal may be said for pantheism.” Such men creep into the ministry, but they are generally cunning enough to conceal the breadth of their minds beneath Christian phraseology, thus acting in consistency with their principles, for their fundamental rule is that truth is of no consequence.
As for us–as for me, at any rate–I am certain that there is a God, and I mean to preach it as a man does who is absolutely sure. He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the Master of providence, and the Lord of grace: let His name be blessed for ever and ever! We will have no questions and debates as to Him.
We are equally certain that the book which is called “the Bible” is His word, and is inspired: not inspired in the sense in which Shakespeare, and Milton, and Dryden may be inspired, but in an infinitely higher sense; so that, provided we have the exact text, we regard the words themselves as infallible. We believe that everything stated in the book that comes to us from God is to be accepted by us as His sure testimony, and nothing less than that. God forbid we should be ensnared by those various interpretations of the modus of inspiration, which amount to little more than frittering it away. The book is a divine production; it is perfect, and is the last court of appeal–“the judge which ends the strife.”
I would as soon dream of blaspheming my Maker as of questioning the infallibility of His word.
We are also sure concerning the doctrine of the blessed Trinity. We cannot explain how the Father, Son, and Spirit can be each one distinct and perfect in himself, and yet that these three are one, so that there is but one God; yet we do verily believe it, and mean to preach it, notwithstanding Unitarian, Socinian, Sabellian, or any other error. We shall hold fast evermore the doctrine of the Trinity in Unity.
And, brethren, there will be no uncertain sound from us as to the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot leave the blood out of our ministry, or the life of it will be gone; for we may say of the gospel, “The blood is the life thereof.” The proper substitution of Christ, the vicarious sacrifice of Christ, on the behalf of His people, that they might live through Him,–this we must publish till we die.
Neither can we waver in our mind for a moment concerning the great and glorious Spirit of God–the fact of His existence, His personality, the power of His working, the necessity of His influences, the certainty that no man is regenerated except by Him; that we are born again by the Spirit of God, and that the Spirit dwells in believers, and is the author of all good in them, their sanctifier and preserver, without whom they can do no good thing whatsoever: we shall not at all hesitate as to preaching these truths.
The absolute necessity of the new birth is also a certainty. We come down with demonstration when we touch that point. We shall never poison our people with the notion that a moral reformation will suffice, but we will over and over again say to them, “Ye must be born again.” We have not got into the condition of the Scotch minister who, when old John Macdonald preached to his congregation a sermon to sinners, remarked, “Well, Mr. Macdonald, that was a very good sermon which you have preached, but it is very much out of place, for I do not know one single unregenerate person in my congregation.” Poor soul, he was in all probability unregenerate himself. No, we dare not flatter our hearers, but we must continue to tell them that they are born sinners, and must be born saints, or they will never see the face of God with acceptance.
The tremendous evil of sin–we shall not hesitate about that. We shall speak on that matter both sorrowfully and positively; and, though some very wise men raise difficult questions about hell, we shall not fail to declare the terrors of the Lord, and the fact that the Lord has said, “These shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.”
Neither will we ever give an uncertain sound as to the glorious truth that salvation is all of grace. If ever we ourselves are saved, we know that sovereign grace alone has done it, and we feel it must be the same with others. We will publish, “Grace! grace! grace!” with all our might, living and dying.
We shall be very decided, also, as to justification by faith; for salvation is “Not of works, lest any man should boast.” “Life in a look at the Crucified One” will be Our message. Trust in the Redeemer will be that saving grace which we will pray the Lord to implant in all our hearers’ hearts.
And everything else which we believe to be true in the Scriptures we shall preach with decision.
If there be questions which may be regarded as moot, or comparatively unimportant, we shall speak with such a measure of decision about them as may be comely. But points which cannot be moot, which are essential and fundamental, will be declared by us without any stammering, without any enquiring of the people, “What would you wish us to say?” Yes, and without the apology, “Those are my views, but other people’s views may be correct.” We ought to preach the gospel, not as our views at all, but as the mind of God–the testimony of Jehovah concerning His own Son, and in reference to salvation for lost men. If we had been entrusted with the making of the gospel, we might have altered it to suit the taste of this modest century, but never having been employed to originate the good news, but merely to repeat it, we dare not stir beyond the record. What we have been taught of God we teach. If we do not do this, we are not fit for our position. He that hath God’s Word, let him speak it faithfully, and he will have no need to answer gainsayers, except with a “Thus saith the Lord.” This, then, is the matter concerning which we are decided.
How are we to show this decision?
We need not be careful to answer this question; our decision will show itself in its own way. If we really believe a truth, we shall be decided about it. Certainly we are not to show our decision by that obstinate, furious, wolfish bigotry which cuts off every other body from the chance and hope of salvation and the possibility of being regenerate or even decently honest if they happen to differ from us about the colour of a scale of the great leviathan. Some individuals appear to be naturally cut on the cross; they are manufactured to be rasps, and rasp they will. Sooner than not quarrel with you they would raise a question upon the colour of invisibility, or the weight of a non-existent substance. They are up in arms with you, not because of the importance of the question under discussion, but because of the far greater importance of their being always the Pope of the party. Don’t go about the world with your fist doubled up for fighting, carrying a theological revolver in the leg of your trousers. There is no sense in being a sort of doctrinal game-cock, to be carried about to show your spirit, or a terrier of orthodoxy, ready to tackle heterodox rats by the score. Practise the suaviter in modo as well as the fortiter in re. Be prepared to fight, and always have your sword buckled on your thigh, but wear a scabbard; there can be no sense in waving your weapon about before everybody’s eyes to provoke conflict, after the manner of our beloved friends of the Emerald Isle, who are said to take their coats off at Donnybrook Fair, and drag them along the ground, crying out, while they flourish their shillelaghs, “Will any gentleman be so good as to tread on the tail of my coat?” These are theologians of such warm, generous blood, that they are never at peace till they are fully engaged in war.
If you really believe the gospel, you will be decided for it in more sensible ways. Your very tone will betray your sincerity; you will speak like a man who has something to say, which he knows to be true. Have you ever watched a rogue when he is about to tell a falsehood? Have you noticed the way in which he has to mouth it? It takes a long time to be able to tell a lie well, for the facial organs were not originally constituted and adapted for the complacent delivery of falsehood. When a man knows he is telling you the truth, everything about him corroborates his sincerity. Any accomplished cross-examining lawyer knows within a little whether a witness is genuine or a deceiver. Truth has her own air and manner, her own tone and emphasis. Yonder is a blundering, ignorant country fellow in the witness-box; the counsel tries to bamboozle and confuse him, if possible, but all the while he feels that he is an honest witness, and he says to himself, “I should like to shake this fellow’s evidence, for it will greatly damage my side of the question.” There ought to be always that same air of truth about the Christian minister; only as he is not only bearing witness to the truth, but wants other people to feel that truth and own the power of it, he ought to have more decision in his tone than a mere witness who is stating facts which may be believed or not without any serious consequences following either way. Luther was the man for decision. Nobody doubted that he believed what he spoke. He spoke with thunder, for there was lightning in his faith. The man preached all over, for his entire nature believed. You felt, “Well, he may be mad, or he may be altogether mistaken, but he assuredly believes what he says. He is the incarnation of faith; his heart is running over at his lips.”
If we would show decision for the truth, we must not only do so by our tone and manner, but by our daily actions. A man’s life is always more forcible than his speech; when men take stock of him they reckon his deeds as pounds and his words as pence. If his life and his doctrines disagree, the mass of lookers-on accept his practice and reject his preaching. I can conceive no surer method of prejudicing men against the truth than by sounding her praises through the lips of men of suspicious character. When the devil turned preacher in our Lord’s day, the Master bade him hold his peace; He did not care for Satanic praises. It is very ridiculous to hear good truth from a bad man; it is like flour in a coal-sack. How strange it would be to hear a man say, “I am a servant of the Most High God, and I will go wherever I can get the most salary. I am called to labour for the glory of Jesus only, and I will go nowhere unless the church is of most respectable standing. For me to live is Christ, but I cannot do it under five hundred pounds per annum.”
Brother, if the truth be in thee it will flow out of thine entire being as the perfume streams from every bough of the sandal-wood tree; it will drive thee onward as the trade-wind speeds the ships, filling all their sails; it will consume thy whole nature with its energy as the forest fire burns up all the trees of the wood. Truth has not fully given thee her friendship till all thy doings are marked with her seal.
We must show our decision for the truth by the sacrifices we are ready to make.
This is, indeed, the most efficient as well as the most trying method. We must be ready to give up anything and everything for the sake of the principles which we have espoused, and must be ready to offend our best supporters, to alienate our warmest friends, sooner than belie our consciences. We must be ready to be beggars in purse, and offscourings in reputation, rather than act treacherously. We can die, but we cannot deny the truth. The cost is already counted, and we are determined to buy the truth at any price, and sell it at no price. Too little of this spirit is abroad nowadays. Men have a saving faith, and save their own persons from trouble; they have great discernment, and know on which side their bread is buttered; they are large-hearted, and are all things to all men, if by any means they may save a sum. There are plenty of curs about, who would follow at the heel of any man who would keep them in meat. They are among the first to bark at decision, and call it obstinate dogmatism, and ignorant bigotry. Their condemnatory verdict causes us no distress; it is what we expected.
Above all we must show our zeal for the truth by continually, in season and out of season endeavouring to maintain it in the tenderest and most loving manner, but still very earnestly and firmly. We must not talk to our congregations as if we were half asleep. Our preaching must not be articulate snoring. There must be power, life, energy, vigour. We must throw our whole selves into it, and show that the zeal of God’s house has eaten us up.
My brethren, you will strengthen your decision by the recollection of the importance of these truths to your own souls. Are your sins forgiven? Have you a hope of heaven? How do the solemnities of eternity affect you? Certainly you are not saved apart from these things, and therefore you must hold them, for you feel you are a lost man if they be not true. You have to die, and, being conscious that these things alone can sustain you in the last article, you hold them with all your might. You cannot give them up. How can a man resign a truth which he feels to be vitally important to his own soul? He daily feels-“I have to live on it, I have to die on it, I am wretched now, and lost for ever apart from it, and therefore by the help of God I cannot relinquish it.”
Your own experience from day-to-day will sustain you, beloved brethren. I hope you have realised already and will experience much more the power of the truth which you preach.
I believe the doctrine of election, because I am quite sure that if God had not chosen me I should never have chosen Him; and I am sure He chose me before I was born, or else He never would have chosen me afterwards; and He must have elected me for reasons unknown to me, for I never could find any reason in myself why He should have looked upon me with special love. So I am forced to accept that doctrine.
I am bound to the doctrine of the depravity of the human heart, because I find myself depraved in heart, and have daily proofs that there dwelleth in my flesh no good thing. I cannot help holding that there must be an atonement before there can be pardon, because my conscience demands it, and my peace depends upon it. The little court within my own heart is not satisfied unless some retribution be exacted for dishonour done to God.
They tell us sometimes that such and such statements are not true; but when we are able to reply that we have tried them and proved them, what answer is there to such reasoning? A man propounds the wonderful discovery that honey is not sweet. “But I had some for breakfast, and I found it very sweet,” say you, and your reply is conclusive. He tells you that salt is poisonous, but you point to your own health, and declare that you have eaten salt these twenty years. He says that to eat bread is a mistake–a vulgar error, an antiquated absurdity; but at each meal you make his protest the subject for a merry laugh. If you are daily and habitually experienced in the truth of God’s Word, I am not afraid of your being shaken in mind in reference to it. Those young fellows who never felt conviction of sin, but obtained their religion as they get their bath in the morning, by jumping into it–these will as readily leap out of it as they leaped in. Those who feel neither the joys nor yet the depressions of spirit which indicate spiritual life, are torpid, and their palsied hand has no firm grip of truth. Mere skimmers of the Word, who, like swallows, touch the water with their wings, are the first to fly from one land to another as personal considerations guide them. They believe this, and then believe that, for, in truth, they believe nothing intensely. If you have ever been dragged through the mire and clay of soul-despair, if you have been turned upside down, and wiped out like a dish as to all your own strength and pride, and have then been filled with the joy and peace of God, through Jesus Christ, I will trust you among fifty thousand infidels. Whenever I hear the sceptic’s stale attacks upon the Word of God, I smile within myself and think, “Why, you simpleton! how can you urge such trifling objections? I have felt, in the contentions of my own unbelief, ten times greater difficulties.” We who have contended with horses are not to be wearied by footmen. Gordon Cumming and other lion-killers are not to be scared by wild cats, nor will those who have stood foot tofoot with Satan resign the field to pretentious sceptics, or any other of the evil one’s inferior servants.
If, my brethren, we have fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ, we cannot be made to doubt the fundamentals of the gospel; neither can we be undecided.
A glimpse at the thorn-crowned head and pierced hands and feet is the sure cure for “modern doubt” and all its vagaries. Get into the “Rock of Ages, cleft for you,” and you will abhor the quicksand. That eminent American preacher, the seraphic Summerfield, when he lay a-dying, turned round to a friend in the room and said, “I have taken a look into eternity. Oh, if I could come back and preach again, how differently would I preach from what I have done before!” Take a look into eternity, brethren, if you want to be decided. Remember how Atheist met Christian and Hopeful on the road to the New Jerusalem, and said, “There is no celestial country. I have gone a long way, and could not find it.” Then Christian said to Hopeful, “Did we not see it from the top of Mount Clear, when we were with the shepherds?” There was an answer! So when men have said, “There is no Christ–there is no truth in religion,” we have replied to them, “Have we not sat under His shadow with great delight? Was not His fruit sweet to our taste? Go with your scepticisms to those who do not know whom they have believed. We have tasted and handled the good word of life. What we have seen and heard, that we do testify; and whether men receive our testimony or not, we cannot but speak it, for we, speak what we do know, and testify what we have seen.” That, my brethren, is the sure way to be decided.