Stephen Nichols (SN): Welcome back to another episode of 5 Minutes in Church History. Last week, we were talking about Charles Spurgeon and we realized that there was far too much here than just five minutes. We’re again in Seattle, we’re out here for the Ligonier Ministries West Coast Conference. We have Dr. Lawson with us. It’s good to see you again, Dr. Lawson.
Steven Lawson (SL): Well, thank you. To reduce Spurgeon to five minutes in church history is—
SN: It’s just not right.
SL: It’s like pouring the Pacific Ocean into a Dixie Cup. It just won’t fit.
SN: I think the only one who has better analogies than Spurgeon is you.
SL: Well, thank you. I resemble that remark.
SN: You know, we were together last time, we were talking about the prolific nature of Spurgeon—his preaching, his printed sermons, his writings. As Spurgeon was nearing the end of his life, he became involved in a controversy. Now, this again cannot be squeezed into four and a half minutes, but can you just give us the highlights here? I am talking about the Downgrade Controversy, and it is very important, even transitioning into early twentieth-century liberalism. As you reflect back on Spurgeon and the Downgrade Controversy, is there anything we can pull out of there that helps us understand it and also realize something important from Spurgeon’s legacy?
SL: Well, Spurgeon pastored the greatest Baptist church on the planet. He was the seminal figure in all of England for evangelicalism. He saw the Baptist Union of Great Britain on the slippery slope, which is where we get the imagery of the downgrade—the train has gone up the mountain and has crested the top of the mountain, and it’s now on the downgrade and picking up speed the longer it goes down into liberalism. Coming across the English Channel was German higher criticism which was really just German agnosticism and unbelief.
Indirectly, it was having some effect in Baptist circles, but in addition, the Baptist churches were going into entertainment—nothing new under the sun—in order to draw people into the church. Spurgeon refused to capitulate to this. He sounded warnings to his Baptist brothers, and they turned a deaf ear. He started a publication called The Sword and Trowel, which was his magazine. It’s drawn from Nehemiah 4. When Nehemiah was on the wall, he had a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other. With the trowel, he was building up the work of God, but with the sword he was fending off the enemies of God. Spurgeon saw himself as a Nehemiah on the wall.
SN: A watchman on the wall.
SL: A watchman on the wall, but a worker on the wall, building up the people of God as he preached the Word of God, but it had to be more than simply teaching the Word. Titus 1:9 says that an elder must be able “both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.” It’s a sharp two-edged sword; it cuts both ways. Spurgeon was a fighter. He was a babbler for the truth. He did everything that he could to sound the warning, but they would not listen.
Spurgeon, in reality, died of a broken heart. He did not even die in England, he died in France. There were five funerals, and the last funeral there were some fifty thousand onlookers as his casket came into West Norwood Cemetery. They lined the streets for a long period of time over the length of, I think, two miles. He was an evangelical Atlas holding up the truth of the Word of God. He said, “It will take twenty years after my death before I’m vindicated.” Today, he’s the most popular preacher of, really, church history.
SN: What an amazing life, and I appreciate your walking us through all of his writings and his legacy. Well, thank you Dr. Lawson for being with us.
SL: Thank you Steve, my joy.
SN: That is the legacy of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. I’m Steve Nichols, and thanks for joining us for 5 Minutes in Church History.