by Charles Haddon Spurgeon
[This article was written in 1888. It is Spurgeon’s statement as to why he separated from the compromising London Baptist Association.]
Separation Not Alone Our Privilege But Our Duty
Friends will have noticed with interest the repeated debates in the London Baptist Association. As to whether there should be “A credal basis” and what that basis should be, if it were decided to have one. There seems to be a current opinion that I have been at the bottom of all this controversy, and if I have not appeared in it, I have, at least, pulled the wires. But this is not true. I have taken a deep interest in the struggles of the orthodox brethren: but I have never advised those struggles, nor entertained the slightest hope of their success. My course has been of another kind. As soon as I saw, or thought I saw, that error had become firmly established. I did not deliberate, but quitted the body at once. Since then my one counsel has been, “Come ye out from among them.” If I have rejoiced in the loyalty to Christ’s truth which has been shown in other courses of action, yet I have felt that no protest could be equal to that of distinct separation from known evil.I never offered to the Union, or to the Association the arrogant bribe of personal return if a creed should be adopted; but on the contrary. I told the deputation from the Union that I should not return until I had seen how matters went, and I declined to mix up my own personal action with the consideration of a question of vital importance to the community. I never sought from the Association the consideration of ”A credal basis,” but on the contrary, when offered that my resignation might stand over till such a consideration had taken place, I assured the brethren that what I had done was final, and did not depend upon their action in the matter of a creed. The attempt, therefore, to obtain a basis of union in the Association, whatever may be thought of it, should be viewed as a matter altogether apart from me, for so indeed it has been.
Should The Association Be Exclusive Or Inclusive?
I may, however, venture to express the opinion that the evangelical brethren in the Association have acted with much kindness, and have shown a strong desire to abide in union with others, if such union could be compassed without the sacrifice of truth. They as good as said-We think there are some few great truths which are essential to the reception of the Christian religion, and we do not think we should be right to associate with those who repudiate those truths. Will you not agree that these truths should be stated, and that it should be known that persons who fail to accept these vital truths cannot join the Association? The points mentioned were certainly elementary enough, and we did not wonder that one of the brethren exclaimed, “May God help those who do not believe these things. Where must they be?” Indeed, little objection was taken to the statements which were tabulated, but the objection was to a belief in these being made indispensable to membership. It was as though it had been said, “Yes, we believe in the Godhead of Jesus; but we would not keep a man out of our fellowship because he thought our Lord to be a mere man. We believe in the atonement: but if another man rejects it, he must not, therefore, be excluded from our number.”
Here was the point at issue: one party would gladly fellowship with every person who had been baptized, and the other party desired that at least the elements of the faith should be believed, and the first principles of the Gospel should be professed by those who were admitted into the fellowship of the Association. Since neither party could yield the point in dispute, what remained for them but to separate with as little friction as possible?
Why Should The New Religionists And Believers Wish To Be Together?
To this hour, I must confess that I do not understand the action of either side in this dispute, if viewed in the white light of logic. Why should they wish to be together? Those who wish for the illimitable fellowship of men of every shade of belief or doubt would be all the freer for the absence of those stubborn evangelicals who have cost them so many battles. The brethren, on the other hand, who have a doctrinal faith, and prize it, must have learned by this time that whatever terms may be patched up, there is no spiritual oneness between themselves and the new religionists. They must also have felt that the very endeavor to make a contact which will tacitly be understood in two senses is far from being an ennobling and purifying exercise to either party.
The Brethren In The Middle
The brethren in the middle are the source of this clinging together of discordant elements. These who are for peace at any price, who persuade themselves that there is very little wrong, who care chiefly to maintain existing institutions, these are the good people who induce the weary combatants to repeat the futile attempt at a coalition, which, in the nature of things, must break down. If both sides could be unfaithful to conscience, or if the glorious Gospel could be thrust altogether out of the question, there might be a league of amity established; but as neither of these things can be. There would seem to be no reason for persevering in the attempt to maintain a confederacy for which there is no justification in fact, and from which there can be no worthy result, seeing it does not embody a living truth. A desire for unity is commendable. Blessed are they who can promote it and preserve it! But there are other matters to be considered as well as unity, and sometimes these may even demand the first place. When union becomes a moral impossibility, it may almost drop out of calculation in arranging plans and methods of working. If it is clear as the sun at noonday that no real union can exist it is idle to strive after the impossible, and it is wise to go about other and more practicable business.
Separation A Duty
Numbers of good brethren in different ways remain in fellowship with those who are undermining the Gospel; and they talk of their conduct as though it were a loving course which the Lord will approve of in the day of His appearing. We cannot understand them. The bounden duty of a true believer towards men who profess to be Christians, and yet deny the Word of the Lord, and reject the fundamentals of the Gospel, is to come out from among them. To stay in a community which fellowships all beliefs in the hope of setting matters right is as though Abraham had stayed at Ur. Or at Haran, in the hope of converting the household out of which he was called.
Complicity with error will take from the best of men the power to enter any successful protest against it. If any body of believers had errorists among them, but were resolute to deal with them in the name of the Lord, all might come right; but con- federacies founded upon the principle that all may enter, whatever views they hold, are based upon disloyalty to the truth of God. If truth is optional, error is justifiable.
The Army Of The Intermediates Should Cease Being Politic
There are now two parties in the religious world, and a great mixed multitude who from various causes decline to be ranked with either of them. In this army of intermediates are many who have no right to be there; but we spare them. The day will, however, come when they will have to reckon with their consciences. When the light is taken out of its place, they may have to mourn that they were not willing to trim the lamp, nor even to notice that the flame grew dim.
Our present sorrowful protest is not a matter of this man or that, this error or that; but of principle. There either is something essential to a true faith – some truth which is to be believed; or else everything is left to each man’s taste. We believe in the first of these opinions, and hence we cannot dream of religious association with those who might on the second theory be acceptable. Those who are of our mind should. at all cost, act upon it. The Lord give them decision, and wean them from all policy and trimming!
The Sixteenth Century Gospel Now Derided
The party everywhere apparent has a faith fashioned for the present century-perhaps we ought rather to say, for the present month. The sixteenth century Gospel it derides, and that, indeed, of every period except the present most enlightened era. It will have no creed because it can have none: it is continually on the move; it is not what it was yesterday, and it will not be tomorrow what it is today. Its shout is for “Liberty,” its delight is invention. its element is change. On the other hand, there still survive. amid the blaze of nineteenth century light, a few whom these superior persons call “Fossils”; that is to say, there are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ who consider that the true Gospel is no new gospel, but is the same yesterday, today, and forever. These do not believe in ‘ Advanced views,” but judge that the view of truth which saved a soul in the second century will save a soul now, and that a form of teaching which was unknown till the last few years is of very dubious value, and is, in all probability, ‘-Another gospel. which is not another.”
It is extremely difficult for these two parties to abide in union. The old fable of the collier who went home to dwell with the fuller is nothing to it. The fuller would by degrees know the habits of his coaly companion. and might thus save the white linen from his touch; but in this case there are no fixed quantities on the collier’s side, and nothing like permanency even in the black of his coal. How can his friend deal with him. since he changes with the moon? If, after long balancing of words, the two parties could construct a basis of agreement, it would, in the nature of things, last only for a season, ;since the position of the advancing party would put the whole settlement out of order in a few weeks, the adjustment of difficulties would be a task forever beginning, and never coming to an end. If we agree, after a sort, today. a new settlement will be needed tomorrow. If I am to stay where I am. and you are to go traveling on, it is certain that we cannot long lodge in the same room. Why should we attempt it?
Difference Of Spirit Between New Religionists And Old Believers
Nor is it merely doctrinal belief – there is an essential difference in spirit between the old believer and the man of new and advancing views. This is painfully perceived by the Christian man before very long. Even if he be fortunate enough to escape the sneers of the cultured, and the jests of the philosophical, he will find his deepest convictions questioned, and his brightest beliefs misrepresented by those who dub themselves “Thoughtful men.” When a text from the Word has been peculiarly precious to his heart, he will hear its authenticity impugned, the translation disputed, or its Gospel reference denied. He will not travel far on the dark continent of modern thought before he will find the efficacy of prayer debated, the operation of divine Providence questioned, and the special love of God denied. He will find himself to be a stranger in a strange land when he begins to speak of his experience, and of the ways of God to men. In all probability, if he be faithful to his old faith, he will be an alien to his mother’s children, and find that his soul is among lions. To what end. therefore. are these strainings after a hollow unity, when the spirit of fellowship is altogether gone?
The world is large enough, why not let us go our separate ways? Loud is the cry of our opponents for liberty; let them have it by all means. But let us have our liberty also. There is a right of association which we do not forego, and this involves a right of disassociation, which we retain with equal tenacity. Those who are so exceedingly liberal, large-hearted. and broad-minded might be so good as to allow us to forego the charms of their society without coming under the full violence of their wrath.
Separation The Only Complete Protest
At any rate, cost what it may, to separate ourselves from those who separate themselves from the truth of God is not alone our liberty, but our duty. I have raised my protest in the only complete way by coming forth, and I shall be content to abide alone until the day when the Lord shall judge the secrets of all hearts; but it will not seem to me a strange thing if others are found faithful, and if others judge that for them also there is no path but that which is painfully apart from the beaten rack.
“Now I beseech you. brethren. mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ. but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil. And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.” ( Romans 1 6:1 7 -20).
A Faithful Message From The Past And A Timely Word For The Present
“For there is some danger of falling into a soft and effeminate Christianity, under the plea of a lofty and ethereal theology. Christianity was born for endurance; not an exotic, but a hardy plant, braced by the keen wind; not languid, nor childish, nor cowardly. It walks with strong step and erect frame; it is kindly, but firm; it is gentle, but honest; it is calm, but not facile; obliging, but not imbecile; decided, but not churlish. It does not fear to speak the stern word of condemnation against error, nor to raise its voice against surrounding evils, under the pretext it is not of this world; it does not shrink from giving honest reproof, lest it come under the charge of displaying an unchristian spirit. It calls sin sin, on whomsoever it is found, and would rather risk the accusation of being actuated by a bad spirit than not discharge an explicit duty. Let us not misjudge strong words used in honest controversy.
Out of the heat a viper may come forth; but we shake it off and feel no harm. The religion of both Old and New Testaments is marked by fervent outspoken testimonies against evil. To speak smooth things in such a case may be sentimentalism, but it is not Christianity. It is a betrayal of the cause of truth and righteousness. If anyone should be frank, manly, honest, cheerful (I do not say blunt or rude, for a Christian must be courteous and polite); it is he who has tasted that the Lord is gracious, and is looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God. I know that charity covereth a multitude of sins; but it does not call evil good, because a good man has done it; it does not excuse inconsistencies, because the inconsistent brother has a high name and a fervent spirit; crookedness and worldliness are still crookedness and worldliness, though exhibited in one who seems to have reached no common height of attainment.” – Horatius Bonar