In the year 1887, a preacher picked up a fountain pen and wrote the following statement:
“No lover of the gospel can conceal from himself the fact that the days are evil…[O]ur solemn conviction is that things are much worse in many churches than they seem to be, and are rapidly tending downward…How much farther could they go? What doctrine remains to be abandoned? What other truth to be the object of contempt? A new religion has been initiated, which is no more Christianity than chalk is cheese; and this religion, being destitute of moral honestly, palms itself off the old faith with slight improvements, and on this plea usurps pulpits which were erected for gospel preaching. The Atonement is scouted, the inspiration of Scripture is derided, the Holy Spirit is degraded into an influence, the punishment of sin is turned into a fiction, and the resurrection into a myth, and yet these enemies of our faith expect us to call them brethren, and maintain a confederacy with them!...The case is mournful. Certain ministers are making infidels. Avowed atheists are not a tenth as dangerous as those preachers who scatter doubt and stab at faith…Germany was made unbelieving by her preachers, and England is following in her tracks.”
The pastor-author of the above words is the venerable Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers. His words were published in the August 1887 edition of his famous magazine The Sword and Trowel: A Record of Combat with Sin and Labor for the Lord. He was writing against the increasing liberalism of the Baptist Union–the organization his own church, the Metropolitan Tabernacle, was affiliated with. He would compose many more articles denouncing the pernicious slide from biblical teaching within the Baptist Union.
In what became known as the “Downgrade Controversy”, Spurgeon essentially stood alone. On October 28, 1887, he wrote the Governor Secretary of the Baptist Union to announce his withdrawal. Perhaps shocking to us, the Baptist Union council of 100 members did not hate to see him go. Rather than trying to persuade Spurgeon otherwise, the council voted not only to accept the withdrawal of the Prince of Preachers, but also to censure him. Then in another vote, with Spurgeon now gone, the council adopted a compromised doctrinal statement to solidify their downgrade slide into the muck of liberalism. It passed overwhelmingly, 2,000-7. Perhaps most saddening, Spurgeon’s own brother, James Spurgeon, seconded the motion to pass the compromised doctrinal statement.
Spurgeon took a stand in the Downgrade Controversy, losing the support of friends and family along the way. He did so five years before his death when bad health was wreaking destructive havoc on his body. Suffering from kidney failure, his severe gout, and ongoing depression, Spurgeon did not need this battle. He had fought many battles for truth during his long ministry. No doubt he was tired. But he fought on. He said:
“I am quite willing to be eaten of dogs for the next 50 years. But the more distant future shall vindicate me.”
Indeed, Spurgeon’s legacy is that of a man’s man; a preacher’s preacher. He looked for bold men to enter the ministry. He told his students that if they couldn’t project their voice loud enough for others to hear them apart from amplification, then they were too weak to be a preacher. A preacher needed a strong and sturdy voice. Spurgeon certainly possessed a strong and sturdy voice for truth. His voice can still be heard in our own day. His legacy is that of a worker and warrior.
I own an original copy of Spurgeon’s first edition of Lectures to My Students where therein he makes comments about the manly nature of true preachers of the Word. For Spurgeon, boldness was a non-negotiable for God’s man standing behind the sacred desk. I have this copy displayed across from my desk on a book shelf inside a shadow box. Beside it is a stack of Bibles. Each Lord’s Day when I go to retrieve a Bible to preach from, I see that copy of Lectures to My Students and remember Spurgeon’s words.
It is fitting that Spurgeon’s magazine, wherein he chronicled the Downgrade Controversy, would be named the Sword and Trowel. This title was taken from Nehemiah 4:17-18, which describes those who rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem under Nehemiah’s leadership. They had a tool in one hand to work, and a sword in the other to defend against the enemies of God that surrounded them attempting to prevent their work. But the sword and trowel are not just the preacher’s weapons. All men are to be armed with sword and trowel. Men are to be both workers and warriors. Men are to be builders and protectors. Men are to work hard at building walls of truth around those they love. They are to fight for the truth by wielding the Sword of the Word. All men are to fight for truth. How much stronger would families and churches be if men followed Spurgeon’s example in their own spheres of influence? Nehemiah gave his men a trowel and sword. But God has given all men the same.
Spurgeon stood tall and strong against the error of his day, guarding God’s word as he worked hard to build the kingdom. He had a trowel in one hand and a sword in the other. He was both a worker and a warrior.