With the return of election season, we are bombarded once again with political rhetoric touting the most important election ever (since the last one, of course). With tough-sells like socialists, liberals, Mormons, philandering serial adulterers, all smiling and advertising away, and Christian leaders arguing away, many evangelical and Reformed Christians are confused as to how to proceed and what to expect, or enduring scorn and bitter accusation when they abstain.
At such a time, we should seek the wise advice and counsel of our greatest preachers and theologians. We have already received election advice from John Calvin. Now it is time to seek the soundings of perhaps the most famous Baptist preacher in modern history, Charles Spurgeon.
Contrary to some modern Baptist and evangelical sentiments, Spurgeon was not afraid to wade waist-deep into the middle of the political sphere and give it all the Gospel straight talk for which his Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit was famous.
Overcoming the Temptation to Compromise
Spurgeon had lots to say about choosing good over allegedly necessary or convenient evils. Is it acceptable for Christians to compromise? What if some good could come out of such a compromise? What if it seemed like there was no other viable choice, but providence had led us to such a position?
Preaching on the verse, “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Heb. 11:24-25), Spurgeon denounces all of these temptations.
First, Spurgeon responds that Christ must never be compromised, and that it takes integrity and a backbone for Christians to assert that fact publicly. Sadly, he preaches, too many Christians “must be respectable, they must vote in the majority”:
A great many would say—What a fool he was to give up what others covet! I fear that many of you professors would not lose a situation for Christ. Some of you could not lose a shilling a week of extra pay for the Lord. Ah me, this is a miserable age! Go with a lancet throughout these Isles, and you could not get enough martyr blood to fill a thimble. Backbones are scarce, and grit is a rare article. Men do not care to suffer for Christ; but they must be respectable, they must vote in the majority, they must go with the committee, and be thought well of for their charity.
As to standing up and standing out for Christ, it is looked upon as an eccentricity, or worse. Today if a young man proposed to sacrifice his position for Christ’s sake, father, and mother, and friends would all say: “Do not think of such a thing. Be prudent. Do not throw away your chance.” Once men could die for conscience sake: but conscience is nowadays viewed as an ugly thing, expensive and hampering. No doubt many advised Moses to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, but he steadily refused. He deliberately divested himself of his rank that he might be numbered with the down-trodden people of God.1
He was just getting started. What about those tough questions? Spurgeon goes on, “For a moment, I will show you some of the arguments which Moses must have had to meet.” It was also an issue of conscience: “In his own mind, when having come to years, he began to think the matter over, many arguments would arise and demand reply.”
What about, for example, accepting the hand of providence in all of this? Spurgeon tells us not to deceive ourselves so easily:
Next, there would come before the mind of Moses the plausible argument, “Providence has led you where you are, and you ought to keep your position.” When Moses looked back he saw a remarkable providence watching over him in the ark of bulrushes, and bringing the Egyptian princess down to that particular part of the Nile to bathe. How singular that she should see the ark, and save the life of the weeping babe! Could he fly in the teeth of providence by relinquishing the high position so specially bestowed?
Thus would flesh and blood reason. How often have I heard people excuse themselves for doing wrong by quoting what they call providence! Arguments from providence against positive commands are ingenious deceptions. Providence is of God, but the lesson which we draw from it may be of the devil. When Jonah wanted to flee to Tarshish he went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish. How providential! Nothing of the sort. When Cain killed his brother Abel was it providence which found the club?
Whenever a man wants to do wrong he will find opportunities at hand; but let him not excuse his wickedness by the apparent opportunity for it. Be afraid of that kind of providence which makes sin easy. When a providence comes across you in doing right, do not give over your gracious purpose, but know that it is sent to try you, whether you can serve the Lord under difficulty. A providence which chimes in with your natural inclination may be a stone of stumbling by which your hypocrisy will be made clear.
Moses felt that providence did bring him into Pharaoh’s court, but he also felt that it brought him there that he might be put to the test to see whether he would come out of it for the Lord’s sake. Do not believe in the reasoning which suggests that providence would have us slide along an easy, though evil, way. Providence, if it be read aright, never tempts to sin, though it may put before us trials for our faith. Our rule of life is the commandment of the Lord, not the doubtful conclusions which may be drawn from providences.2
But the critics would press, “I am confident one guy is less evil than the other, and thus some good may come in making this compromise, even if it is simply stopping the other guy!” Spurgeon will not have it:
Yet another argument may have met Moses, for it is one which I have heard repeated till I am sick of answering it. Moses could do a deal of good by retaining his position. What opportunities for usefulness would be in his way! See how he could help his poor brethren! How often he could interpose at the court to prevent injustice [just think of the Supreme Court justices he could appoint]!
Moreover, what a bright light he would be in his high position: his example would commend the faith of the true God to the courtiers and great ones; nobody could tell what an influence would thus be exercised upon Egypt. Pharaoh himself might be converted, and then all Egypt would bow before Jehovah [Let’s make Egypt great again!].
Thus have we met with brethren who say, “Yes, I am in a church with which I do not agree; but then, I can be so useful.” Another cries, “I know that a certain religious Union is fostering evil; but then, I can serve the cause by staying in it.” Another is carrying on an evil trade, but he says, “It is my livelihood; and besides, it affords me opportunities of doing good!”3
Spurgeon makes clear he thinks the argument stinks:
This is one of the most specious of those arguments by which good men are held in the bonds of evil. As an argument, it is rotten to the core. We have no right to do wrong, from any motive whatever. To do evil that good may come is no doctrine of Christ, but of the devil. Fallen nature may maunder in that way, but the grace of God delivers us from such wicked sophistry. Whatever good Moses might have thought that he could do in a false position, he had faith enough to see that he was not to look to usefulness, but to righteousness. Whatever the results may be, we must leave them with God, and do the right at all cost.4
Oh I see. You’re just being “holier than thou,” right? You’re one of those puritanical types holding out for perfect candidates, right? You don’t realize the near-term gains that could be made by a well-conceived compromise. Spurgeon:
But, dear friends, do you not think that Moses might have made a compromise? That idea is very popular. “Now then, Moses, do not be too strict. Some people are a deal too particular. Those old-fashioned puritanical people are narrow and strait-laced: be liberal and take broader views. Cannot you make a compromise? Tell Pharaoh’s daughter you are an Israelite, but that, in consequence of her great kindness, you will also be an Egyptian. Thus you can become an Egypto-Israelite-what a fine blend! Or say an Israelito-Egyptian- with the better part in the front. You see, dear friends, it seems a simple way out of a difficulty, to hold with the hare and run with the hounds. It saves you from unpleasant decisions and separations. Besides, Jack-of-both-sides has great praise from both parties for his large-heartedness.
I admire this in Moses, that he knew nothing of compromise; but first he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, and secondly, he made a deliberate choice rather “to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.” My hearers, come out, I pray you, one way or the other. If God be God, serve him; if Baal be God, serve him. If it is right to be an Israelite, be an Israelite; if it is right to be an Egyptian, be an Egyptian. None of your trimming. It will go hard with trimmers at the last great day. When Christ comes to divide the sheep from the goats, there will be no middle sort. There is no place for trimmers. Modern thought is trying to make a purgatory, but as yet the place is not constructed, and meanwhile you border people will be driven down to hell. May God grant us grace to be decided!5
Long ago, it seems, were days when this issue merited threats of eternal punishment. To those who would pressure others out of political fears, Spurgeon responded with a higher fear—the fear of God:
Notice the lot which Moses chose. He refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, but he chose to take his portion with the oppressed, reproached, and ridiculed Israelites. I want you to see the terms in which his judgment is expressed; for no doubt the Holy Spirit tells us exactly how Moses put it in his own mind. He chose rather to suffer “affliction with the people of God.” Does not that alter it wonderfully? “Affliction” nobody would choose; but “affliction with the people of God,” ah! that is another business altogether. “These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” I choose the “great tribulation,” not because I like it, but because these came out of it, and have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” “Affliction with the people of God” is affliction in glorious company.6
To those who demand compromise as a matter of civic duty, Spurgeon responds with a higher duty:
If you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, it becomes your duty decidedly to come out and stand on his side; and if you do not do so, the pleasures derived from your sin of omission will be the pleasures of sin. You are living a life of disloyalty to Christ, and that is a life of sin. “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin”; that is to say, if you have not faith that you are doing right, you are doing wrong; and as Moses could not feel that he was doing right by being an Egyptian, whatever pleasure he might have gained from his remaining at court would have been “the pleasure of sin.”7
To those who would stoke us with fears and demands for near-term gains, Spurgeon returns to the higher fear once again, with a warning that what is to be done must not be measured in the short term, for these apparent gains are fleeting, while God’s standards are not:
Then note the word, “For a season.” Did you hear the tolling of a bell? It was a knell. It spoke of a new-made grave. This is the knell of earthly joy—“For a season!” Honoured for doing wrong—“For a season!” Merry in evil company—“For a season!” Prosperous through a compromise—“For a season!” What after that season? Death and judgment.8
Spurgeon adds that compromises made in the name of short-term gains are nothing more than “new-made graves.”
In short, with such near-sighted and fear-driven goals, we are deceiving ourselves into waxing merry with evil company, and by this digging our own political (and perhaps spiritual as well) grave.
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