"As good stewards, we must maintain the cause of truth against all comers. Never get into religious controversies,' says one; that is to say, being interpreted, 'Be a Christian soldier, but let your sword rust in its scabbard, and sneak into Heaven like a coward.' Such advice I cannot endorse. If God has called you by the truth, maintain the truth which has been the means of your salvation. We are not to be pugnacious, always contending for every crotchet of our own; but wherein we have learned the truth of the Holy Spirit, we are not tamely to see that standard torn down which our fathers upheld at the peril of their lives. This is an age in which truth must be maintained zealously, vehemently, continually. Playing fast and loose, as many do, believing this today and that tomorrow, is the sure mark of children of wrath; but having received the truth, to hold fast the very form of it, as Paul bids Timothy to do, is one of the duties of heirs of Heaven. Stand fast for truth, and may God give the victory to the faithful!"--C. H. S., 1867.
The "Down-grade" Controversy Foreshadowed
WHEN, in 1887, there arose the great "Down-grade" controversy, in which Spurgeon was to prove himself Christ's faithful witness and martyr, many people were foolish enough to suppose that he had adopted a new rôle, and some said that he would have done more good by simply preaching the gospel, and leaving the so-called "heretics" to go their own way! Such critics must have been strangely unfamiliar with his whole history, for, from the very beginning of his ministry, he had earnestly contended for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Long before The Sword and the Trowel appeared, with its monthly "record of combat with sin and of labour for the Lord" its Editor had been busily occupied both in battling and building--vigorously combating error in all its forms, and, at the same time, edifying and establishing in the faith those who had been brought to a knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus.
While the church under Spurgeons pastoral charge was worshipping in New Park Street Chapel, there were two notable controversies--the first was caused by the issue of a book of hymns, written by the Rev. Thomas Toke Lynch, and entitled, The Rivulet; or, Hymns for the Heart and Voice. The other arose from the publication of a volume of sermons by Rev. James Baldwin Brown, B.A., entitled The Divine Life in Man. Mr. J. Ewing Ritchie, whose adverse opinion concerning Spurgeon, at that period, is given at the end of the last chapter, wrote at about the same time in this friendly fashion with regard to Mr. Lynch:
"Some few years back, when Professor Scott, then of University College, London, now of Owens College, Manchester, was in town, it seemed as if an honest attempt was made to meet and win to Christianity the philosophy that was genuine and earnest and religious, though it squared with the creed of no church, and took for its textbook the living heart of man rather than the written Word. In our time, the same thing is attempted. The man who has had the courage to make the attempt--and to whom honour should be given for it--is the Rev. Thomas Lynch."
The Baptist Messenger, May, 1856, in reviewing James Grant's pamphlet upon "The Rivulet Controversy", gave the following résumé of the dispute, which will enable present-day readers to understand the merits of the subject then under discussion:
"A volume of poetry by Rev. T. T. Lynch, has lately been published. These 'hymns' were very highly commended in The Eclectic Review, and subsequently in The Patriot, and The Nonconformist. The Editor of The Morning Advertiser (Mr. James Grant), who has in his day done much service to the cause of Evangelical truth, also reviewed the volume; and while referring most respectfully to Mr. Lynch and his poetry, pronounced these 'hymns' to be seriously defective with regard to the essentials of vital Christianity; that, while in them there was no distinct recognition of the Divinity of Christ, or of the mediatorial work and vicarious sacrifice of the Saviour, or of the personality, office, and work of the Holy Ghost, at the same time there was an implied denial of the doctrine of innate and total depravity. In proof of this latter charge, the following stanzas, from one of the hymns in question, were quoted by Mr. Grant:
'Only imagine,' says the Editor of The Morning Advertiser, 'this and other such kind of hymns being sung in a place of public worship, or being quoted to or by a person in the near prospect of the world to come. There is poetry,' says Mr. Grant, 'in the 63rd hymn, but we look in vain for the least atom of practical religion in it;' and he adds, 'if the materials of the reverend gentleman's sermons be substantially similar to those of his hymns, we should be much surprised were not the instances very rare indeed of persons crying out in intense agony of soul, under his ministrations, "What must we do to be saved?"
In a subsequent notice of the work, the same writer expressed his regret that The Eclectic Review should have endorsed this 'modified Deism' of Mr. Lynch, hoping that the objectionable article had crept into the pages of that Magazine unawares. To these animadversions, the Editor of The Eclectic replied, not ingenuously enough to escape further remonstrances from his sturdy opponent, at which The Eclectic took great umbrage, and accused Mr. Grant of being guilty of 'sordidness and calumny', and of being influenced by 'extreme personal prejudice'. For ourselves, we have no hesitation in saying that, from all we know of the Editor of The Morning Advertiser, we can testify that he is too much of a Christian and a gentleman to be influenced by mean and unworthy motives. So far from this, Mr. Grant has not been in the least degree backward to acknowledge the literary taste which the volume displayed, and spoke of Mr. Lynch as being both amiable and highly intellectual. It was his theology only that was condemned.
In the March number of The Eclectic, the strife was renewed with more than tenfold vigour. On this occasion, some fifteen of the leading metropolitan ministers, headed by the Revs. Allon, Binney, and Newman Hall, came to the help of the Editor of The Eclectic, and their protégé the Rev. T. T. Lynch. The literary and devotional merits of these hymns, as well as the orthodoxy of their author, they endorsed and commended in the form of a protest signed by all the fifteen.
The Editor of The Morning Advertiser, nothing daunted by the status or talents of his reverend assailants, met the combined forces--an imposing phalanx--with a simple interrogatory: 'Can Mr. Newman Hall, Mr. Binney, Mr. Martin, or either of the remainder of the fifteen reverend protesters reconcile it with his views of right, to give out the "hymn" we have just quoted in his chapel? No one of the number will venture to return an affirmative answer to the question.' If this be so, then we ask, wherefore do these reverend gentlemen appear in the field at all? It had been far better for themselves, and for The Eclectic Review, had they heeded the counsel of the wise man, 'Leave off contention, before it be meddled with,' and had left the criticism and remonstrances of Mr. Grant to their own merits, than for them to have interfered at all in the affair. We do most deeply deplore the position these fifteen reverend gentlemen have voluntarily and needlessly taken in this business, inasmuch as we greatly fear it betokens, on their part, an evident leaning towards a transcendental theology, the blighting influences of which have proved most fatal to many once-flourishing churches.
In a series of powerfully-written articles, which have appeared in The Banner, headed 'The Theology of Nonconformity', Dr. Campbell has given the results of his searching analysis of Mr. Lynch's volume, which he pronounces to be as destitute of poetic excellence as it is of the elementary principles of Christian doctrine, containing hymns which any infidel might compose or use. We thank Mr. Grant for the outspoken truths contained in his pamphlet. Although but a layman, he has, in its pages, contended nobly and earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints--'an effort,' to adopt his own words, 'which may the Almighty be pleased to crown with eminent sucess!'"
In The Christian Cabinet, May 23, Mr. Banks published the following article written by Spurgeon:
The appearance of a volume entitled The Rivulet has excited a controversy of the most memorable character. I shall not enter into the details of that fierce affray; the champions on either side have been of noble rank, have done their best, and must await the verdict of the Master for whom they profess to strive. Some of the fighting has not appeared quite in keeping with fairness, and there are a few persons who have gained little but disgrace in the battle, while there are others who deserve the eternal thanks of the faithful for their valiant defence of the truth. It is my business, not to review the controversy, but the book of poems. Another time I may possibly give 'mine opinion' upon that subject. Suffice it here to say that my mind on doctrinal points is wholly with the men who have censured the theology of the writer of the hymns.
With the leave of Mr. Editor, I will forget the past for a moment, and give 'mine opinion'. It may be of little worth, but there are not a few who will give it a patient hearing. Concerning this book--The Rivulet--let me say, in the first place, I believe that, except in Kentish Town (Mr. Lynch's residence), there is scarcely to be found an individual who would ever think of using these Hymns for the Heart and Voice in the public assembly. A book may be very excellent, and yet unfit for certain purposes. Who would dream of giving out a verse from quaint old Quarles? Imagine the precentor saying, 'Let us sing to the praise and glory of God the ode on the 150th page of Quarles' School of the Heart--
We should not find fault with Milton's Paradise Lost, Herbert's Temple, or Young's Night Thoughts, because we cannot sing them in our houses of prayer, for such was not their design. But The Rivulet professes to be a book of hymns 'suitable for the chamber or the church'; they may be 'said or sung'; and to facilitate their use in song, the author has appended tunes from The Psalmist. We are, therefore, called upon to judge it as a hymn-book, and it is our firm opinion that, until Butler's Hudibras is sung in Heaven, Mr. Lynch's Rivulet will not be adopted in the assemblies of the saints below.
There is scarcely an old woman in our churches who would not imitate that ancient dame in Scotland who hurled her stool at the minister's head, should any of us venture to mount our pulpits, and exclaim, 'let us commence the present service by singing the 34th hymn in The Rivulet--
I ask, without fear of any but a negative reply--Could any man in Christendom sing the concluding '1'Envoi'? I believe I shall never find an advocate for the singing of these hymns in churches, and will therefore have done with that point, only remarking that, if a book be not what it professes to be, it is a failure, however excellent it may be in other respects. One would fain hope that the intelligent author, should another edition be demanded, will preface it with other words, purporting another object for his book, and then one great objection would be quietly removed, while he could still use his work himself as a hymn-book, if any could be found to sing with him.
It is said that the new hymn-book matter omens badly; well, it is very likely, but that is not my business just now.
In the second place, when reading these hymns, simply as literary compositions, I found them far from despicable. There is true poetry in some of them, of a very delicate and refined order. Every now and then, the voices of the flowers or of the rain-drops are clear and soft, and perpetually the thinkings of the poet wake an echo in the soul. There is much mist, and a large proportion of fog, but, nevertheless, there is enough of poetic light to cheer the darkness. I believe there is a moderate quantity of unintelligible writing in the book. At any rate, there are many sentences of which I cannot see the connection, but, no doubt, these are grand thoughts which broke the backs of the words, or frightened them out of their propriety. There is nothing very wonderful in the book. We hope to see many productions far superior to it before we are very much older, and we hope at least to see many volumes which can endure the criticism of a daily journal, and yet keep up their spirits without the potent cordial of fifteen ministerial recommendations.
I should set this Rivulet on my shelf somewhere near Tennyson for its song, and sundry nondescript labyrinthine divines for its doctrine, but should I place it in the same bookcase with Watts, Cowper, Hart, and Toplady, I should be on the lookout for a tremendous hubbub if the worthy authors should arouse themselves from the covers of their volumes; and should it show itself in the region sacred to Owen, Baxter, Howe, Charnock, Bunyan, Crisp, Gill, &c., I am sure their ancient effigies would scarcely be able to display their indignation in the absence of those fists where of the antique oval frame has bereaved them. Apart from all theological consideration, a man of reading would not regret the purchase of this volume; but the mass of book-skimmers would, with some qualification, apply to the present book the words of the wit concerning Tennyson's Maud--
This, I am aware, is no argument against the book; in fact, many writers think themselves complimented when they are told that only the few can appreciate them. I am midway between the many and the few; I shall not exclaim against a man's poem because I have not culture of mind enough to sympathize with his mode of expression, nor can I hope to claim the privilege which allows to the discerning few the right of decisive criticism. I can only say, I had rather have written Divine and Moral Songs for Children than these fine but comparatively useless verses. No man of even moderate education can despise the talent, the mind, and the research, which have together produced this 'rivulet singing as it flows along'; but he who desires to see talent well applied, and mind put out to the largest interest, will never consider the writing of these verses a profitable employment. A minister of Christ's holy gospel should ever be seeking after the conversion of his fellow-men; and I would be sorry to write so much, and expend so much labour, on a work so little calculated to arouse the careless, guide the wanderer, comfort the desponding, or edify the believer.
In the next place, what have I to say of the hymns theologically? I answer, there is so little of the doctrinal element in them that I am at a loss to judge; and that little is so indefinite that, apart from the author's antecedents, one could scarcely guess his doctrinal views at all. Certainly, some verses are bad--bad in the most unmitigated sense of that word, but others of them, like noses of wax, will fit more than one face.
There are sweet sentences which would become the lips of those rich poets of early times in whom quaintness of style and weight of matter were united, but an unkind observer will notice that even these are not angular enough to provoke the hostility of the Unitarian, and might be uttered alike by the lover and the hater of what we are well known to regard as the gospel.
Frequently, an honest tongue must pronounce unhesitating condemnation; but in many other places, one must pause lest, while cutting up the tares, we destroy the wheat also. The scale one moment descends with good truth, and for many a long hour it hangs aloft with emptiness for its only glory. There is nothing distinct in the book but its indistinctness; and one becomes painfully nervous while wandering through this pretty valley, lest it should turn out to be what some of its waymarks betoken--an enchanted ground full of deceivableness of unrighteousness.' There are in it doctrines which no man who knows the plague of his own heart can tolerate for a moment, and which the believer in free-grace will put aside as being nothing but husks, upon which he cannot feed. 'It is not my book,' the convinced sinner will exclaim; and the matured believer will say, 'Nor is it mine,' and yet it is more covertly unsound than openly so.
These hymns rise up in the Rivulet like mermaids--there is much form and comeliness upon the surface, but their nether parts, I ween, it were hard to describe. Perhaps they are not the fair things they seem: when I look below their glistening eyes and flowing hair, I think I discern some meaner nature joined with the form divine, but the surface of this Rivulet is green with beautifully-flowering weeds, and I can scarcely see into the depths where lurks the essence of the matter.
This much I think I can discover in this volume--viz, that it is not the song of an Isaiah speaking more of Jesus than all the rest, nor a canticle of Solomon concerning 'my Well-beloved'. It is doubtful who is the mother of this babe; and so little claim will orthodoxy ever lay to it, that its true parent may receive it into her loving arms, and there will be no demand for the half thereof. But, then, the writer never asked us to grant him the reputation of our orthodoxy; we need not, therefore, dispute with him concerning that to which he makes no claim.
If I should ever be on amicable terms with the chief of the Ojibewas, I might suggest several verses from Mr. Lynch as a portion of a liturgy to be used on the next occasion when he bows before the Great Spirit of the West wind, for there are some most appropriate sonnets for the worship of the God of nature which the unenlightened savage would understand quite as well as the believer in Revelation, and might perhaps receive rather more readily. Hark! O ye Delawares, Mohawks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Blackfeet, Pawnees, Shawnees, and Cherokees, here is your primitive faith most sweetly rehearsed--not in your own wild notes, but in the white man's language:
It is, I conceive, but a fair judgment to which even the writer would give his assent that these are more the hymns of nature than the songs of Zion, though I am far from believing that even the voice of nature is here at all times faithfully interpreted This rivulet runs through fair meadows, and between glorious hills, but it flows rather too far away from 'the oracle of God' to please me. It has some pure drops of God's own rain within its bosom, but its flood is not drawn from the river, 'the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God.' It has good thoughts, holy thoughts, from God's glorious temple of nature, commingled with a few of the words of the inspired prophets of the Lord; but, in the main, its characteristic is not Revelation, but nature. As such, it can never suit the taste of the spiritually-minded who delight in fellowship with the Divine Jesus. Those who would crown the Head of their Maker with wreaths of thought, may here find some little assistance, but she who would wash the feet of the God-man, Christ Jesus, with her tears, will never find a companion in this book. I can talk with it for an hour, and learn much from it, but I cannot love it as I do my favourite Herbert, and it does not open the door of Heaven to me as does the music of Zion which it is my wont to hear. But why am I to condemn a book because it does not touch a chord in my own soul? Why should I blame a man because he has not written for the old-fashioned piety which some of us inherit from our fathers? Why murmur if he speaks his own much-puzzled mind in language which the repose of an anchored faith cannot interpret? It were unfair to burn this book because it came forth, like some other queer things, on the fifth of November; and it is not very brave to be so desperately afraid of a plot because, on that day, a man was discovered, with a dark lantern, singing in the vaults beneath the house which ancient people call the truth, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail.
Liberty of conscience is every man's right; our writer has spoken his mind, why should he alone provoke attack when many others, who agree quite as little with our views, are allowed to escape? The battle is either a tribute to superior ability, or else a sign of the times; I believe it to be both. The work has its errors, in the estimation of one who does not fear to subscribe himself a Calvinistic Christian, but it has no more evil leaven than other books of far less merit. No one would have read it with a jealous eye unless it had been made the centre of a controversy, for we should either have let it quietly alone, or should have forgotten the deleterious mixture, and retained the little good which it certainly contains. The author did not write for us; he wrote for men of his own faith, he tells his little book--
The only wonder is that men, whom we thought to be of other mind, should endorse all therein; but private friendship operates largely, and perhaps some of them may have sympathized more with the man censured than with the man singing. This deed of men, who in standing are eminent, is not a theme for our present discussion. We must, however, observe that we cannot wonder that they themselves are attacked, and we cannot think that any other course was open to the original censor than to reply with spirit.
We are sure this book could not cheer us on a dying bed, or even nerve us with faith for a living conflict. Its sentiments are not ours; its aims, its teachings, are not enough akin to any which we hold dear to give us any aid in our labours; but if there be any goodness, doth not the bee suck honey from the nettle? We would do the same, believing it to be a nettle still; but one which does not grow in our garden, and is not of very gigantic stature and therefore no great object of abhorrence. Had the author claimed to be one of the old school, we might be up in arms; but we know the men and their communications, therefore we need not read what we do not approve.
The book is out of our line as a theological work, it does not advocate what we believe; having said that, we have been but honest; and those who think with us need not malign the author; but, seeing that the fight is now in another quarter, let them respect the man, however much they may oppose the sentiments which have been for a while brought into fellowship with his volume. This controversy is but one volcano indicative of seas of latent fire in the bosom of our churches. It will, in a few more years, be hard to prove the orthodoxy of our churches if matters be not changed. It has manifested what existed already; it has dragged to light evils which were before unseen.
Would to God that the day were over when our churches tamely endure false doctrine; and would, moreover, that all champions of truth would keep the one point in view, and cease from all personalities! May God, of His infinite mercy, preserve the right, and may those who err from the faith be brought to the fold of Jesus, and be saved! The old doctrines of free-grace are gracious doctrines still; there are none of these in this book, what then? They are in our hearts, I trust, and the outspoken enunciation of them will do ten times more for these truths than the high-flying language of the pseudo-intellectual few can ever do against them. This book is important only as the hinge of a controversy, as such alone ought it to excite our minds, but the less we observe the hinge, and the more we look to the matter itself, the more easy will be our victory.
As long as the fight is thought to be concerning a man, or a book, the issue is doubtful, but let it be for God and for His truth, and the battle is the Lord's. The time is come for sterner men than the willows of the stream can afford; we shall soon have to handle truth, not with kid gloves, but with gauntlets--the gauntlets of holy courage and integrity. Go on, ye warriors of the cross, for the King is at the head of you. The Evening Star exhorts the ministers to stand fast in the liberty wherewith Cromwell and Milton made them free; but the apostle of the Son of God bids you stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made you free. The old Faith must be Triumphant.
C. H. Spurgeon."
Lynch thus commented on this article: "This review of Mr. Spurgeon's enjoys the credit with me of being the only thing on his side--that is, against me--that was impertinent, without being malevolent. It evinced far more ability and appreciation than Grant or Campbell had done, and indicated a man whose eyes, if they do not get blinded with the fumes of that strong, but unwholesome, incense, popularity, may glow with a heavenlier brightness than it seems to me they have yet done. Mr. Spurgeon concluded by remarking that 'the old faith must be triumphant', in which I entirely agree with him, doubting only whether he is yet old enough in experience of the world's sorrows and strifes to know what the old faith really is. He says, 'We shall soon have to handle truth, not with kid gloves, but with gauntlets--the gauntlets of holy courage and integrity.' Aye, that we shall, and some of us now do! And, perhaps, the man who has a soul that 'fights to music'--
is the likeliest to have a hand with a grip for battle, and a grasp for friendship alike strong and warm."
The controversy continued for a long time; The Freeman and The Wesleyan Times joined the other papers that had supported Mr. Lynch, but so powerful was the protest of Grant and Campbell, that the Congregational Union actually had to postpone its autumnal session. The ultimate result of this long-past "fight for the faith" appears to have been very much the same as followed the "Down-grade" controversy more than thirty years later: many ministers, and their people, too, were led back to the fundamental doctrines from which they had begun to wander; Evangelical truth was, at least for a time, more widely proclaimed; and, although some strayed yet further away from the great central verities of the inspired Word, yet, on the whole, the discussion was declared by contemporary and reliable witnesses to have been productive of "an untold amount of good to the Church of God."
Nearly four years elapsed before the next historic controversy, which was produced by Baldwin Brown's volume of sermons. The veteran Baptist minister, Rev. J. Howard Hinton, M.A., wrote two articles, which were published in The Baptist Magazine, March and April, 1860, under the title, "Strictures on some passages in the Rev. J. B. Brown's Divine Life in Man". The conclusion of his protest is such a pattern and justification of Spurgeon's similar action, twenty-seven years afterwards, that it must be inserted here. Mr. Hinton wrote:
"I offer no apology for these 'Strictures', since the matter on which they are made is before the public. I have written them with a feeling of perfect respect towards Mr. Brown, and I trust nothing inconsistent with that feeling has escaped from me. I submit them respectfully to my brethren in the ministry, and in 'the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ', deeply feeling the importance of the subjects to which they relate, and not without hope that they may be deemed worthy of serious consideration.
To my own conviction, I am pleading for vital Evangelical truth--for the truth of God, and for the souls of men. I speak because I would fain contribute somewhat, however little, to withstand what I take to be the first open inroad, into English Evangelical Nonconformist churches, of a theology fatally deficient in the truth and power of the gospel. Whether this, or any similar system may have privately diffused itself to any considerable extent, I neither know, insinuate, nor conjecture; but, assuredly, I should regard the prevalence of it as a mischief of the gravest character, and whether I am heard or not, I cannot but lift up my voice against it.
It is true, I am now an old minister, and perhaps I ought, as is said to have been pleasantly suggested by some fast spirit of the rising generation of divines concerning old ministers in general, to be 'hung up in God's armoury', as the armour of ancient heroes is in the Tower, but words of truth and soberness may find a response, if breathed low from the verge of the grave. The aspect of the times emboldens me. It is not now, dear brethren--above all times, it is not now--when 'the end' must be so near, and when so many cheering tokens of revival enkindle our hopes, that a perversion, or even a dilution, of the truth as it is in Jesus should find welcome or entrance among us; and I trust in God it will be given to us to 'contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.'"
The articles were afterwards reprinted, and issued as a pamphlet. The review of the "Strictures", published in The Freeman, was considered by several prominent Baptist ministers to be of so unsatisfactory a character that seven of them signed the following joint-protest, which duly appeared in the denominational paper on April 11--
"The Rev. J. B. Brown, and the Rev. J. H. Hinton.
We are constrained to address you by considerations which, if we may not say they are imperative, appear to us too urgent and weighty to be resisted. We entertain, however, so high a sense of the value of free and unbiased criticism, and are so jealous of infringing on the proper liberty of a public journal, that we address you with great reluctance, and only under the influence of what we deem our duty, at once to ourselves and to what we regard as important theological truth.
Our duty to ourselves seems to us to require that we should, with your permission, explicitly state in your columns that the review, in your last number, of Mr. Hinton's 'Strictures' on the recent work of the Rev. J. B. Brown, is so far from expressing our sentiments that we altogether disagree with the writer's estimate, both of the theological principles Mr. Brown avows, and of the services which Mr. Hinton has rendered to Evangelical truth by his strictures upon them. The Freeman is so generally assumed to be connected with the Baptist denomination that, but for such a disclaimer as we now send you, that review might be supposed to speak the sense of the body. A more erroneous opinion could not, so far as we know, be entertained. At all events, our position as Baptist ministers is well known, and we speak for ourselves.
We shall not indulge in any indefinite censures on the character and tendency of Mr. Brown's volume, but we feel constrained to say that the passages on which Mr. Hinton founds his 'Strictures' contain, in our judgment, pernicious error. We would not hold an author responsible for the inferences which may seem to another fairly deducible from his statements, and we entertain the hope that Mr. Brown does not see the consequences which we think inevitably follow from some of his principles. But we do not hesitate to avow our conviction, that both the principles and their consequences, whether categorically stated, or involved in a metaphor, go to subvert the whole scheme of God's moral government as revealed in the sacred Scriptures, and with it those precious truths which cluster round the cross, and centre in it, and which, for that reason, are most distinctive of the gospel, and most fundamental to it.
In our judgment, therefore, Mr. Hinton has rendered a timely and valuable service to Evangelical Christianity by his animadversions on those portions of Mr. Brown's book, and, for our part, we thank God that our brother's pen has been so well and so ably employed. We are no more lovers of controversy in the Church than is your reviewer, but if errors subversive of the gospel are advocated by some of her ministers, it is the duty of others to withstand them; and we honour Mr. Hinton that, at a period of life when he might be naturally desirous of repose, he has stepped forward in the vindication and defence of some of the vital doctrines of the faith.
Nor, in conclusion, can we refrain from expressing our earnest hope that our pulpits may be preserved from the sentiments which Mr. Brown has published, and which we cannot but fear your reviewer approves. Without conjuring up any 'phantasmal hydra' of heterodoxy, as your reviewer speaks, and imagining that it is beginning to be rampant in our churches, which we do not for a moment suppose or believe; we take the liberty of saying that we trust our ministers will continue to be students of Howe, and Charnock, and Hall, and Fuller, rather than draw their theology from Maurice, Professor Scott, and others of the same school, whom Mr. Brown so strongly recommends.
Above all, we desire affectionately to caution those in the ministry, who are younger than ourselves, against that style of preaching which, under the pretentious affectation of being intellectual, grows ashamed of the old and vulgar doctrines of man's guilt, as well as of his total depravity, of Christ's atonement and satisfaction for sin, of justification by the imputation of His righteousness through faith, of the new birth by the agency of the Holy Spirit, and, in a word, of that scheme of dogmatic Christian truth which is popularly known under the designation of 'the doctrines of grace'. Those doctrines are dear to us as epitomising and concentrating the theology of the Bible, and as constituting, through the presence and power of the Christian Comforter, the spiritual life of our churches.
Pardon us in one final word to yourselves. By whomsoever the evil work of lowering the estimate entertained of the value of these doctrines, and so diminishing their influence, may be perpetrated, let it be far from you as the conductors of one of our public denominational journals, to further it with your countenance, or to lend even the semblance of your aid.
To this communication the Editors of The Freeman added the following note:
"We have no hesitation in giving insertion to the above letter. Notwithstanding that it is somewhat unusual, and generally inconvenient, to admit of discussion respecting reviews, the spirit of our brethren who have favoured us with the above letter is at the same time so excellent, and so kindly respectful to ourselves, that we should be doing both ourselves and them an injustice if we hesitated about admitting this expression of their views. At the same time, we cannot but be somewhat surprised that they should have considered such an expression necessary. In whatever sense The Freeman may be regarded as 'the organ of the Baptist denomination', we had never been so vain as to suppose that the editorial 'we' in our columns meant Messrs. Steane, Katterns, Spurgeon, Stanford, Lewis, Junr., Brock, and Angus; still less had we imagined that any judgment respecting a work, which was formed and expressed by our reviewer, would be regarded by anybody as the judgment of the Baptist denomination. The modesty of our reviewer, at least, is so shocked at the very idea of being supposed to review in this representative character, that he begs us to state, once for all, that his judgment of the works which come before him is simply his own, and that, neither the brethren who have favoured us with the above letter, nor any other brethren, are at all responsible for opinions of books which probably they have not seen, and about which, assuredly, he has not consulted them.
As to our friend's review of Mr. Brown's book, we do not think it is needful to say anything. Our reviewer has already given his opinion of that work at considerable length, and his objections to the volume were by no means 'indefinite'. Indeed, he pointed out its deficiencies, in relation to the person and work of the Redeemer, with a precision that ought, we venture to say, to have secured him from the censures of our brethren. If he felt it his duty, as an impartial critic, to object to some things, also, in Mr. Hinton's 'Strictures', everyone who read the review would see at once that it was not the doctrine of the 'Strictures' that he had any doubt about--for the 'doctrine' he declared emphatically to be 'important to be upheld'--but the style and character of the 'Strictures', upon which he still retains his own opinion.
We hope it is not necessary for us to say that we also 'trust'--without thinking we are 'taking a liberty' in saying so--that 'our ministers will continue to be students of Howe, and Charnock, and Hall, and Fuller? We trust--and, what is more, we thoroughly believe--that our ministers will not grow ashamed of 'the old' (we will not venture to say, 'vulgar') doctrine of man's guilt as well as of his total depravity, of Christ's atonement and satisfaction for sin, of justification by the imputation of His righteousness through faith, of the new birth by the agency of the Holy Spirit, and, in a word, of that scheme of dogmatic Christian truth which is popularly known under the designation of 'the doctrines of grace'. At the same time, we must be permitted still to doubt whether 'our younger ministers' have given any cause to their 'elder' brethren--amongst whom, it seems, are Mr. Spurgeon, Mr. Stanford, and Mr. Lewis, Junr.--to 'caution' them publicly against becoming 'ashamed' of these doctrines. To our 'younger' ministers as well as to their 'elders', these doctrines are 'dear'. In the pulpits of our 'younger ministers, as much, if not as ably, as in those of their elders, these doctrines are preached. We so far sympathize with our reviewer as to hope that 'the last days of our elder brethren may not be embittered by suspicions of their younger brethren's orthodoxy, from which souls such as theirs must naturally recoil.'--Eds."
Preaching at New Park Street Chapel, on Lord's-day evening, April 15, 1860, from the text, "For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him," the Pastor, in commencing his discourse, thus referred to the burning question of the hour--
"Some time ago, an excellent lady sought an interview with me, with the object, as she said, of enlisting my sympathy upon the question of 'Anti-Capital Punishment'. I heard the reasons she urged against hanging men who had committed murder, and, though they did not convince me, I did not seek to answer them. She proposed that, when a man committed murder, he should be confined for life. My remark was, that a great many men, who had been confined half their lives, were not a bit the better for it, and as for her belief that they would necessarily be brought to repentance, I was afraid it was but a dream. 'Ah!' she said, good soul as she was, 'that is because we have been all wrong about punishments. We punish people because we think they deserve to be punished. Now, we ought to show them that we love them; that we only punish them to make them better. 'Indeed, madam,' I replied, 'I have heard that theory a great many times, and I have seen much fine writing upon the matter, but I am no believer in it. The design of punishment should be amendment, but the ground of punishment lies in the positive guilt of the offender. I believe that, when a man does wrong, he ought to be punished for it, and that there is a guilt in sin which justly merits punishment.' She could not see that. Sin was a very wrong thing, but punishment was not a proper idea. She thought that people were treated too cruelly in prison, and that they ought to be taught that we love them. If they were treated kindly in prison, and tenderly dealt with, they would grow up much better, she was sure. With a view of interpreting her own theory, I said, 'I suppose, then, you would give criminals all sorts of indulgences in prison. Some great vagabond, who has committed burglary dozens of times--I suppose you would let him sit in an easy chair in the evening, before a nice fire, and mix him a glass of spirits and water, and give him his pipe, and make him happy, to show how much we love him.' Well, no, she would not give him the spirits; but, still, all the rest would do him good. I thought that was a delightful picture, certainly. It seemed to me to be the most prolific method of cultivating rogues which ingenuity could invent. I imagine that you could grow any number of thieves in that way, for it would be a special means of propagating all manner of wickedness. These very beautiful theories, to such a simple mind as mine, were the source of much amusement; the idea of fondling villains, and treating their crimes as if they were the tumbles and falls of children, made me laugh heartily. I fancied I saw the Government resigning its functions to these excellent persons, and the grand results of their marvellously kind experiments--the sword of the magistrate being transformed into a gruel-spoon, and the jail becoming a sweet retreat for people with bad reputations.
Little, however, did I think I should live to see this kind of stuff taught in the pulpit; I had no idea that there would arise teaching which would bring down God's moral government from the solemn aspect in which Scripture reveals it, to a namby-pamby sentimentalism, which adores a deity destitute of every masculine virtue. But we never know to-day what may occur to-morrow. We have lived to see a certain sort of men--thank God, they are not Baptists!--though I am sorry to say there are a great many Baptists who are beginning to follow in their trail--who seek to teach, nowadays, that God is a universal Father, and that our ideas of His dealing with the impenitent as a Judge, and not as a Father, are remnants of antiquated error. Sin, according to these men, is a disorder rather than an offence, an error rather than a crime. Love is the only attribute they can discern, and the full-orbed Deity they have not known. Some of these men push their way very far into the bogs and mire of falsehood, until they inform us that eternal punishment is ridiculed as a dream. In fact, books now appear which teach us that there is no such thing as the vicarious sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. They use the word atonement, it is true; but, in regard to its meaning they have removed the ancient landmark. They acknowledge that the Father has shown His great love to poor sinful man by sending His Son, but not that God was inflexibly just in the exhibition of His mercy, nor that He punished Christ on the behalf of His people, nor that, indeed, God ever will punish anybody in His wrath, or that there is such a thing as justice apart from discipline. Even sin and hell are but old words employed henceforth in a new and altered sense. Those are old-fashioned notions, and we poor souls, who go on talking about election and imputed righteousness, are behind our time. Aye, and the gentlemen who bring out books on this subject applaud Mr. Maurice, and Professor Scott, and the like, but are too cowardly to follow them, and boldly propound these sentiments. These are the new men whom God has sent down from Heaven, to tell us that the apostle Paul was all wrong, that our faith is vain, that we have been quite mistaken, that there was no need for propitiating blood to wash away our sins; that the fact was, our sins needed discipline, but penal vengeance and righteous wrath are quite out of the question! When I thus speak, I am free to confess that such ideas are not boldly taught by a certain individual whose volume excites these remarks, but as he puffs the books of gross perverters of the truth, I am compelled to believe that he endorses such theology.
Well, brethren, I am happy to say that sort of stuff has not gained entrance into this pulpit. I dare say the worms will eat the wood before there will be anything of that sort sounded in this place; and may these bones be picked by vultures, and this flesh be rent in sunder by lions, and may every nerve in this body suffer pangs and tortures, ere these lips shall give utterance to any such doctrines or sentiments! We are content to remain among the vulgar souls who believe the old doctrines of grace. We are willing still to be behind in the great march of intellect, and stand by that unmoving cross, which, like the pole star, never advances, because it never stirs, but always abides in its place, the guide of the soul to Heaven, the one foundation other than which no man can lay, and without building upon which no man shall ever see the face of God and live.
Thus much have I said upon a matter which just now is exciting controversy. It has been my high privilege to be associated with six of our ablest brethren in the ministry, in a letter of protest against the countenance which a certain newspaper seemed willing to lend to this modern heresy. We trust it may be the means, in the hands of God, of helping to check that downward march--that wandering from truth which seems, by a singular infatuation, to have unsettled the minds of some brethren in our denomination."
So far as that particular publication (The Freeman) was concerned, the protest was unavailing; and a few weeks later, Spurgeon forwarded to at least two other papers the following letter, which appears to have been his final contribution to the controversy:
The fulfilment of irksome duties is the test of sincere obedience. When pleasure and service are identical, it is easy to be diligent in Heavenly business; but when flesh and blood rebel against a known duty, it is time to invoke the aid of Divine grace. Every personal feeling and private affection must give way before the imperative demands of our Lord and Master. Contention for the faith is far less pleasant than communion with Christ; but the neglect of the precept may involve the withdrawal of the privilege.
In the matter of The Freeman newspaper, I most sorrowfully enter upon a work as distasteful to my feelings as it is inconvenient to my circumstances. Excuses for silence have utterly failed me. Although my respect for the gentlemen who conduct that journal has given me great readiness in suggesting arguments for peace, my conscience permits me no longer to purchase peace at the expense of the truths in which my soul finds its solace and delight. Private resentment I have none; but, on the contrary, I cherish feelings of personal regard, which restrain me in this controversy from the use of a more vigorous style, and seriously encumber me in the conflict which lies before us. Can we not honour the gentlemen in their private capacity, and yet regret the fact that they have officially occupied a position which exposes them to severe critcism? I can honestly Say that I can meet, with cordial charity, many men from whom I differ widely; and I never consider a blow dealt against my opinions in the light of a personal attack--nay, I respect an honest antagonist, and only despise the man who mingles resentment with public debate. We have solemn matters to discuss--in some degree, connected with one of the most serious heresies which ever afflicted the Christian Church--and it behoves us to use language which shall become the lips of men who know the value of the doctrines upon which they debate; and it will be our wisdom to cherish the spirit which shall be in consonance with the sentiments which we maintain. Solemnly, as in the sight of God, I believe The Freeman to have been very guilty; but to our own Master we must stand or fall. It is ours to reprove, but not to condemn; it will be the duty of the offender to defend, and not to recriminate.
The fact that seven brethren among the London Baptist ministers, led by one of the most venerable fathers of the denomination, had unitedly dissented from their opinion upon an important question, should have had some weight with the Editors. They are not so conspicuous for learning, ability, or success, as to be beyond the reach of friendly admonition; and surely they are not so immodest as to hold in contempt a solemn protest signed by brethren whom they are compelled to regard as honoured servants of Christ. Was the document in which that protest was contained insulting, contemptuous, or unfriendly? Far from it. Was it not written by one whose amiable spirit might rather tempt him to laxity than lead him to severity? What but the most weighty reasons and powerful motives could compel the most loving spirit in the universe, at a time of life when age and painful infirmity have brought him very low, to spend a great part of a weary night in penning a deliberate protest against a dangerous evil? This may be a joke to some men; to us, it was as devout an act as our baptism into the name of our Lord Jesus. Freely would I have signed that letter with my blood had it been needed; and I think I speak the sentiments of all. We saw in the matter before us one of the ramifications of a deadly evil, which has commenced by polluting our literature, and may conclude by debauching our pulpits. We wrote under a strong sense of duty as in the sight of God, and there has not been a moment since in which I would not have signed it again with all my heart. We did not attack The Freeman; we only deprecated its patronizing the new school of theology. It is true, we expressed our fear that the reviewer was a personal believer in the sentiments we denounced; that fear has since ripened into conviction, but it did not involve a suspicion of the Editors, as we had reason to believe the reviewer to be a person totally distinct from the managers of the journal. At the risk of being considered egotistical, I do not hesitate to say that a more judicious, generous, gentlemanly, and Christian letter was never written. It was worthy of its author, and honourable to the cause it vindicated.
But now the evil begins. How, think you, was the admirable document received! Why, Sir, it was supplemented by an editorial postscript, the marrow of which consisted in a joke upon the juvenility of three of the brethren, who are yet old enough to know some who are their juniors in years, and a few who are far more their juniors in decency. A ghastly smile, like that which flickers upon the face of a man who is confused and confounded, but who longs to conceal his fears with the mask of levity, was the only answer we received. We were dealing with Divine realities, and with verities which concern the very basis of our holy religion; the reply was a play upon a harmless sentence, highly appropriate in the mouth of most of the seven, and not indecorous upon the lip of any one of them. This absurd trifling was esteemed to be so terrible a piece of artillery that it must needs be fired off again at Exeter Hall on the missionary occasion, to the disgust of many of the audience, by a gentleman who was so alarmed at the stupendous engine with which he was entrusted, that the echo of his own voice seemed to startle him, and one word from an indignant hearer extorted a trembling apology.
A silence ensued. Discretion mounted guard, and hushed alike review and article, save one faint growl, which showed the animus within more surely than the most laboured writing. We will not hint that conscience was at work, and yet this is a better supposition than some have hinted at. However, the quietude was at last broken, and The Freeman came forth in a new and unexpected character. It refused to be styled an organ, or even to be suspected of such a relation to the body. Who in his senses could have thought it possible that a paper could represent even seven men, much less a denomination! The question was a singularly refreshing one. We had certainly been unreasonable enough to assist in the first circulation of the paper, and some of us in its continued maintenance, under the hallucination that it was, in some sense, the representative of the denomination.
In this belief, we wrote our letter. We now find that we were all the victims of a mistaken, if not ridiculous, idea. It is true that the irrational conception of a representative newspaper is embodied in scores of journals which are the advocates and organs of bodies political and religious; but facts, however stubborn, must give way before the powerful satire of The Freeman. It is equally true that the circulation of that paper is mainly owing to the absurd notion which our Editors so merrily repudiate; but, when a protest presents no other assailable point, common sense and interest are alike invaluable, and must be slaughtered if they stand in the way of revenge. Oh, sad result of this most rebellious protest! It has achieved its purpose in a manner the most unexpected. We thought to screen ourselves from complicity with error, and it is done more effectually than we could desire when The Freeman rejects the representative standing which was its greatest honour and the very breath of its nostrils. This is committing suicide in order to be avenged. The worst enemies of the paper could not have uttered a sentiment more damaging to it than that which it reiterates ad nauseam. The Member has taken his seat in the Parliament of the Press, but he is not now the representative of the men whose suffrages he sought. He laughs in your face if you have the impertinence to show him kindness in that capacity. Be it so, Mr. Freeman; follow your own sweet will, and utter your own opinions without restraint. From this day forth, we will never slander you by the supposition that there is any connection between you and our churches; you are your own spokesman, and not ours. We would not have touched the subject if we had not believed ourselves compromised; and, as we find we were labouring under a delusion, now happily dispelled, there is no need for protesting in a friendly manner. The field of battle now divides us; and, if the old Lutheran spirit be not buried for ever, we will be clear of the blood of all men by clearing ourselves each day from the errors of the times.
But, Sir, it seems that, in the performance of The Freeman, tragedy must always be followed by a farce. This marvellously-free actor has mounted the judgment-seat, put on the wig and gown, and tried the brethren who gently rebuked him, as if they had been guilty of misdemeanour. In mimic justice, he condemns; but, in comic mercy, he offers pardon. Forgive me, Sir, if I leave my place as a minister for a moment, and answer these brethren according to their folly. What brilliant wits these men are! They seem to expect the whole seven of us to perform a penitential pilgrimage to The Freeman office, and, with ropes about our necks, plead for pardon at the hands of the offended Editors. In truth, the offence is very grievous, and demands punishment the most exemplary. It is all in vain to plead that witnessing was of old an honoured service, and that protesting is sanctioned by the very name of our Protestant theology. It is equally in vain to hint that the opinions of seven ministers may be, in some cases, equal in value to the dicta of two or even three Editors. This is not to the point; the criminals are guilty, and let them plead so, that mercy may step in. It is memorable proof of the longsuffering of a paper which, not long ago, pretended to exercise a sort of archiepiscopal oversight and authority, that the seven culprits were not executed upon the spot, and that space for repentance is still allowed. We are assured (and I do not doubt it) that our retraction, when tendered, will be received with all the loving kindness with which the yearning bowels of our tender parent are so abundantly surcharged. Oh, hasten to be wise, my erring brethren, sorrowful comrades in crime! We have but to confess our great iniquity, and the forgiveness, which we so ill deserve, shall be poured in unctuous abundance upon our heads, low as they must be in the very dust. The Freeman, glorious in magnanimity, stretches out to you the hand of mercy; run into its gracious arms, and be smothered by its suffocating compliments. By dint of steady obedience, you may recover your lost position, and once more receive the paternal approbation. Yes, gentle Freeman; when we retract, when we ask your pardon, when we confess that our protest was anything but a needed tribute to the soundness of the Baptist denomination, and a most proper warning to yourself, then, and not till then, put us all in your portrait gallery, from which some of our ablest ministers have prayed to be excluded, and dandle us upon your knee in blissful companionship with Kingsley and J. B. Brown.
However agreeable this comedy may be to The Freeman, I am completely weary with it, and once more return to the sobriety which our subject demands. I must now refer to the injurious insinuations with which we have been personally assailed. The Freeman affirms that some of us had never read the book to which we referred. I am sure I had both read and marked it; but, as to inwardly digesting it, I am not nearly enough allied to an ostrich to be able to accomplish that feat. Next, it unfairly takes it for granted that the letter of Dr. Angus was a joint affair, although it is his writing, and his alone. Admirable as it is, that letter is no more the composition of the whole seven than is this epistle, which the Editor will take care to observe is mine, and mine alone.
A worse act than this imperiously demands enquiry. The Freeman must make good a statement to which I am now about to refer, or tacitly admit that its courage and truthfulness have vanished. It dares to say, that one of us had previously approved of Mr. Browns book. Name the man. Why stab the whole seven in the dark? In the name of common honesty, not to say religion, point out the individual. None of us would take the pains to deny an accusation so indefinitely worded. The charge is so serious that, to whomsoever it may be falsely applied, it will be his duty, for the protection of society, to visit the author of the libel with the fullest punishment the laws of his country can enforce, unless an ample apology be forthcoming. The imputation is tantamount to calling a man dishonest, if not a liar, and what remains to any of us when such charges are allowed to pass unchallenged?
This last item is weighty enough to allow me to pause for a reply. I have written to you rather than to The Freeman, because this last matter is a barrier to communication too serious to be overleaped
Mr. Brown wrote the following letter to the Editors of The Freeman;
I hold no controversy with the six Baptist ministers who have joined Mr. Spurgeon in a deliberate effort to prejudice my ministry, and the book which I have recently published on The Divine Live of Man.
So many Christian brethren have testified to me that they find the book full of the light of those truths which I am said to weaken or deny, that I am able to bear with great composure the judgment of my critics.
I content myself with declaring, in the belief that there are men in the Baptist ministry candid enough to find my words credible, that the doctrines of grace, in the broad, full, Evangelic sense of the term, have for nearly twenty years been the great theme of my ministry, and, if I know my own heart, will be till I die.
I pray these seven to bear more faithful witness to their Master's words in their ministry, than they have borne to mine, and am,
P.S. Is it too much to expect that those papers which have copied the protest, will do me the justice to insert this brief reply?"
One of the papers which published Browns letter added this significant comment:
While we feel it to be a matter of simple justice to give insertion to Mr. Baldwin Brown's letter, it is to say the least of the matter, not a little remarkable that Mr. Brown should hold to 'the doctrines of grace, in the broad, full, Evangelic sense of the term,' as he here professes to do; and that he should, at the same time, declare his full appreciation of Professors Maurice and Scott, as model teachers of truth, whose published works are most decidedly antagonistic to, and subversive of, the fundamental truths of the gospel."
The Inquirer, a Unitarian paper, in an article on the controversy, fully justified the protests of Mr. Hinton, and his seven brother ministers, when it said: "It is not a little encouraging to us, who have maintained a faithful confession through long years of ill-report, to find the most thoughtful and earnest of the younger school of orthodox ministers gradually and painfully struggling, amid much opposition, towards the recognition of the same conclusions which we have long advocated as the highest truth of the Scriptures. With deep sympathy do we watch their struggles, praying that they may have strength from above to quit themselves like true men in the contest, and to follow the whole truth faithfully wheresoever it may lead them."
The Dial, in quoting this extract, very pertinently adds: "Mr. Brown will probably say, 'Save me from my friends!'" The writers in the Unitarian paper could see clearly enough whither his teaching was tending, just as, a whole generation afterwards, their successors plainly perceived the drift of the "Down-gradeism" which broke the heart of the brave champion of the faith--C. H. Spurgeon--who counted not even his life dear unto him if he might, in any degree, stem the torrent that was bearing away so much that he regarded as the priceless truth of the living God.