Peace . . . it’s often hard to find in the world we live in today, but then it’s always been hard to find. I ran across a small paperback book yesterday by Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) titled, “The Power of the Blood,” (for half price!) and as I was looking it over I thought to myself that it’s not very often anymore (unless you’re in seminary or you are a pastor or in some other position in a church or Christian institution) that we read what the “old guys” had to say who paved the way for us today. Charles Spurgeon was not known for having “soft and easy” ways when it came to proclaiming the cross of Jesus Christ; however, at the time of his death at the age of 57, it was said that “in January 1892, London went into mourning. Nearly 60,000 people came to pay homage during the three days his body lay in state at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. Some 100,000 lined the streets as a funeral parade two miles long followed his hearse from the Tabernacle to the cemetery. Flags flew at half-staff and shops and pubs were closed” (quote source here).
Spurgeon’s performance was fiery at times. Here is a brief background on him taken from Christianity Today:
Spurgeon was born in Kelvedon, Essex, to a family of clerics. His father and grandfather were Nonconformist ministers (meaning they weren’t Anglicans), and Spurgeon’s earliest memories were of looking at the pictures in Pilgrim’s Progress and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.
His formal education was limited, even by nineteenth-century standards: he attended local schools for a few years but never earned a university degree. He lived in Cambridge for a time, where he combined the roles of scholar and teaching assistant and was briefly tutored in Greek. Though he eschewed formal education, all his life he valued learning and books—especially those by Puritan divines—and his personal library eventually exceeded 12,000 volumes.
At age 15, Spurgeon broke with family tradition by becoming a Baptist. He attributed this conversion to a sermon heard by “chance”—when a snowstorm blew him away from his destination into a Primitive Methodist chapel. The experience forced Spurgeon to re-evaluate his idea on, among other things, infant baptism. Within four months he was baptized and joined a Baptist church.
His theology, however, remained more or less Calvinist, though he liked to think of himself as a “mere Christian.” “I am never ashamed to avow myself a Calvinist,” he once said. “I do not hesitate to take the name of Baptist, but if I am asked what is my creed, I reply, ‘It is Jesus Christ.'”
Still a teen, Spurgeon began preaching in rural Cambridgeshire. He quickly filled the pews in his first pastorate in the village of Waterbeach. He had a boyish appearance that contrasted sharply with the maturity of his sermons. He had a good memory and always spoke extemporaneously from an outline.
His energy and oratorical skills and harmonious voice earned him such a reputation that within a year and a half, he was invited to preach in London, at the historic New Park Street Chapel. The congregation of 232 was so impressed, it voted for him to preach an additional six months. He moved to the city and never left.
As word spread of his abilities, he was invited to preach throughout London and the nation. No chapel seemed large enough to hold those who wanted to hear the “the preaching sensation of London.” He preached to tens of thousands in London’s greatest halls—Exeter, Surry Gardens, Agricultural. In 1861 his congregation, which kept extending his call, moved to the new Metropolitan Tabernacle, which seated 5,600.
At the Center of Controversy
Spurgeon did not go unnoticed in the secular press. On the one hand, his sermons were published in the Monday edition of the London Times, and even the New York Times. On the other hand, he was severely criticized by more traditional Protestants. His dramatic flair—he would pace the platform, acting out biblical stories, and fill his sermons with sentimental tales of dying children, grieving parents, and repentant harlots—offended many, and he was called “the Exeter Hall demagogue” and “the pulpit buffoon.”
Spurgeon replied, “I am perhaps vulgar, but it is not intentional, save that I must and will make people listen. My firm conviction is that we have had enough polite preachers.”
Not only his style, but his convictions created controversy as well. He never flinched from strong preaching: in a sermon on Acts 26:28, he said, “Almost persuaded to be a Christian is like the man who was almost pardoned, but he was hanged; like the man who was almost rescued, but he was burned in the house. A man that is almost saved is damned.”
On certain subjects, he was incapable of moderation: Rome, ritualism, hypocrisy, and modernism—the last of which became the center of a controversy that would mark his last years in ministry.
The “Down-Grade Controversy,” as it came to be known, was started in 1887 when Spurgeon began publicly claiming that some of his fellow Baptist ministers were “down grading” the faith. This was the late-nineteenth century, when Darwinism and critical biblical scholarship were compelling many Christians to re-evaluate their understanding of the Bible. Spurgeon believed the issue was not one of interpretation but of the essentials of the faith. He proclaimed in his monthly, “The Sword and the Trowel,” “Our warfare is with men who are giving up the atoning sacrifice, denying the inspiration of Holy Scripture, and casting slurs upon justification by faith.”
The controversy took its toll on the denomination (which censured Spurgeon) and upon Spurgeon, whose already delicate health deteriorated even more during the year-long affair (he suffered from, among other things, recurring depressions and gout).
Spurgeon’s contributions were larger than his pulpit, however. He established alms houses and an orphanage, and his Pastor’s College, opened in 1855, continues to this day. He preached his last sermon in June 1891 and died six months later. (Quote source here.)
With that brief background on Spurgeon, there are two brief sections from the book by Spurgeon mentioned at the beginning of this post from Chapter 5 titled, “True Unity Promoted” (pp. 135-160), titled “Keeping the Unity” and “The Bond of Peace” (pp. 147-151): Remember as you are reading that it was written in the 19th Century:
Keeping the Unity
Now we know that there is a unity of the Spirit [the Holy Spirit] worthy to be kept. I want to point out that it needs to be kept. It is a very difficult thing to maintain for several reasons. First of all, our sins would, very naturally, break it. If we were all angels, we would keep the unity of the Spirit and not even need the exhortation to do so. But alas, we are proud, and pride is the mother of division. Diotrephes, who loves to have preeminence (see 3 John 1:9), is very sure to head a faction. How envy, too, has separated good friends! When I cannot be satisfied with anything that is not hammered on my workbench, when another man’s candle grieves me because it gives more light than mine, and when another man troubles me because he has more grace that I have–oh, there is no unity in this case. Anger–what a deadly foe that is to unity! When we cannot overlook the smallest disrespect, when the slightest thing turns our faces red, when we speak unadvisedly with our lips–surely then there is no unity. But, I do not need to read the long list of sins that spoil the unity of the Spirit, for it is lengthy. Oh, may God cast them out of us, for only then can we keep the unity of the Spirit.
But, beloved, our very virtues may make it difficult for us to keep this unity. Luther [Martin Luther, 1483-1546] was brave and bold, hot and impetuous; he was just the man to clear the way for the Reformation. Calvin [John Calvin, 1509-1564] was logical, clear, cool, precise; he seldom spoke rashly. It was not natural for Luther and Calvin to agree. Their very virtues caused them to argue. Consequently, Luther, in bad temper, called Calvin a pig and a devil. And although Calvin once replied, “Luther may call me what he will, but I will always call him a dear servant of Christ.” Yet John Calvin knew how to pierce Luther under the fifth rib when he was angry.
In those days the courtesies of Christians to one another were generally of the iron glove kind, rather than the naked hand. They were called to war for the sake of the truth, and they were so intent on their task that they were even suspicious of their fellow soldiers. It may be the same way with us: the very watchfulness of truth, which is so valuable, may make us suspicious where there is no need for suspicion. And, our courage may take us where one should not go, like a fiery horse that carries a young warrior beyond where he is intended to go, where he may be taken prisoner. We must watch–the best of us must watch–lest we fight the Lord’s battles with Satan’s weapons and thereby, even from love to God and His truth, violate the unity of the Spirit.
The unity of the Spirit ought to be kept, dear friends, because Satan is so busy trying to mar it. He knows that the greatest glory of Christ will spring from the unity of His church.
That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. ~John 17:21
There is no church happiness where there is no church unity. If a church is divided, the schism is death to all sacred fellowship. We cannot enjoy communion with each other unless our hearts are one. How feeble is our work for God when we are not in agreement!
The enemy cannot desire a better ally than strife in the midst of our camp. “Can you not agree,” said a warrior of old, “when your enemy is in sight!” Christians, can you not agree to keep the unity of the Spirit when a destroying Satan is ever on the watch, seeking to drag immortal souls down to perdition? (See 1 Peter 5:8). We must be more diligent in this matter. We must purge ourselves of everything that would divide us, and we must equip our hearts with every holy thought that would unite us. When I join a Christian church, I should not say, “I am sure I will never break this church’s unity.” I am to suspect myself of tending toward that evil, and I am to watch with all diligence that I keep the unity of the Spirit.
The Bond of Peace
In order to keep the unity of the Spirit, there is a bond provided–the bond of peace. Beloved, there should be much peace, perfect peace, and unbounded peace among the people of God. We are not strangers; we are “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). Realize your fellow citizenship, and do not treat Christian people as foreigners; then this common bond of citizenship will be a bond of peace.
Men may be fellow citizens and still be enemies, but you are friends. You are all friends to Christ, and in Him you are all friends to one another. Let that be another bond. But, your relationship goes even deeper. You are not just friends, you are brothers [and sisters], born of the same Parent, filled with the same life. Will this not bind you together? “See that you do not become troubled along the way” (Genesis 45:24). Do not contend with one another, for you are brothers [and sisters]. (See Acts 7:26.)
But, this is not all. You are even closer then brothers [and sisters], for you are members of the same body! Will this mysterious union fail to be a bond of peace to you? Will you, being the foot, contend with the eye? Or will you, being the eye, content with the hand and say, “I have no need of you” (1 Corinthians 12:21)? The joints and bones in a person’s body do not disagree. If it is really true that we are members of Christ’s body, let it never be said that the various parts of Christ’s body would not work together but instead battled one another. What a monstrous thing to be said!
I believe I have brought out the meaning of the text. There is a unity of the Spirit that is worthy to be kept. We ought to keep it. We must try to keep it in the bond of peace. (Quote source, “Power in the Blood,” pp. 147-151.)
I had to smile when I read about the confrontations between Luther and Calvin as it is so like what we do today. We seem to always be able to find a way to “get even” with someone with whom we disagree whether by overt or covert means. It is at the very core of human nature, but is it totally disruptive to genuine unity and peace.
In a sermon preached in the same time period (it was preached on February 9, 1851), by the famed English preacher , titled “Unity and Peace,” he opened his sermon with the following words:
“And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.” —Colossians 3:15.
There is something in these words that might surprise us. It might surprise us to find that peace is urged on us as a duty. There can be no duty except where there is a matter of obedience; and it might seem to us that peace is a something over which we have no power. It is a privilege to have peace, but it would appear as if there were no power of control within the mind of a man able to ensure that peace for itself. “Yet,” says the apostle, “let the peace of God rule in your hearts.”
It would seem to us as if peace were as far beyond our own control as happiness. Unquestionably, we are not masters on our own responsibility of our own happiness. Happiness is the gratification of every innocent desire; but it is not given to us to ensure the gratification of every desire; therefore, happiness is not a duty, and it is nowhere written in the Scripture, “You must be happy.” But we find it written by the apostle Paul, “Be ye thankful,” implying therefore, that peace is a duty. The apostle says, “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts;” from which we infer that peace is attainable, and within the reach of our own wills; that if there be not repose there is blame; if there be not peace but discord in the heart, there is something wrong.
This is the more surprising when we remember the circumstances under which these words were written. They were written from Rome, where the apostle lay in prison, daily and hourly expecting a violent death. They were written in days of persecution, when false doctrines were rife, and religious animosities fierce; they were written in an epistle abounding with the most earnest and eager controversy, whereby it is therefore implied, that according to the conception of the Apostle Paul, it is possible for a Christian to live at the very point of death, and in the very midst of danger — that it is possible for him to be breathing the atmosphere of religious controversy — it is possible for him to be surrounded by bitterness, and even take up the pen of controversy himself — and yet his soul shall not lose its own deep peace, nor the power of the infinite repose and rest of God. Joined with the apostle’s command to be at peace, we find another doctrine, the doctrine of the unity of the Church of Christ. “To that which ye are called in one body,” in order that ye may be at peace; in other words, the unity of the Church of Christ is the basis on which, and on which alone, can be built the possibility of the inward peace of individuals. (Quote source and the entire sermon is available at this link.)
Unity and peace . . . and it starts with us! I’ll end this post with the words from Romans 12:18 . . .
If it is possible . . .
As far as it depends on you . . .
Live at peace with everyone . . . .
YouTube Video: “If We Are the Body” by Casting Crowns: