Which Biblical Doctrines Are 'Non-Essential'?
After my earlier post, which addressed today's tendency to classify unpopular biblical doctrines as "non-essential", I received an anonymous email from a reader in the seeker-sensitive camp. In their protest against all of this attention to doctrine, they said: "What???. . .the basics are what matters! Jesus was born of a virgin, died for our sins, and rose again! Does all this theology and doctrine study make us more like Christ or more like a Pharisee?" With the backdrop of that modern sentiment, I thought I'd allow someone from times-past to express his views on what biblical doctrines, if any, should be considered non-essential. Originally Posted: January of 06
What follows is a compilation from six of Spurgeon's 19th century sermons. In case you missed my last posting on this topic, entitled "Absence of Consensus Does Not Mean Stalemate", it explored the historical lessons learned from Athanasius' uphill battle for a doctrine that was unpopular in his time.
Charles Spurgeon on "Non-Essential" Doctrines:
If you say that any one part of the truth is unimportant, you do as good as say - to that extent the Holy Spirit has come upon an unimportant or valueless mission. You perceive it is declared that he is to teach us "all things"; but if some of these "all things" are really of such minor importance, and so quite non-essential, then surely it is not worth while disturbing our minds with them. And so to that degree, at any rate, we accuse the Holy Spirit of having come to do what is not necessary to be done; and I trust that our minds recoil with holy repulsion from such a half-blasphemy as that..
[If more understood this] they would surely study a great many things that they overlook now, and I think they would not be so apt to excuse their own need of diligence in the school of Christ, by saying:
"Well, there are some all-important doctrines; we have studied them, and that is enough."
Brethren, when a boy goes to school, he may say, "If I learn arithmetic,
I shall be able to be a tradesman, and that is what I shall be; [so I do not want to learn those other subjects]." But the schoolmaster says, "My boy, you are put under my teaching to learn all things, and it is not for you to pick and choose what class you will attend." Now, we are scholars under the teaching of the blessed Spirit, and it is not for us to say, "I will learn the doctrine of justification By faith, and when I know that, I shall not trouble my mind about election, I shall not raise any question about final perseverance,
I shall not enquire into the ordinances, whether believer's baptism or infant baptism is right; I take no interest in these things; I have learned the essential matter, and I will neglect the rest." Thou will not say this if thou art an obedient disciple, for do you not know that the ministers of Christ have received a commission to teach all things that Christ has taught them, and do you think that our commission is frivolous and [annoying]? Do you think that Christ would bid us teach thee what it is no need of thee to learn, or, especially, that the Holy Ghost would himself come to dwell in the midst of his church and to teach them all things, when out of those "all things" there are, according to thy vain supposition, some things that were quite as well,
if not better, left alone? . . .
There is a tendency, among us all, I suppose, to choose some part of the truth, and attach undue importance to that, to the neglect of other truths. It is a grave question if this is not the origin of various divisions which are to be found in the Church of Christ - not so much heresy, as the attaching of disproportionate importance to some truth, to the disparaging or neglecting of others equally necessary.
Some brother speaking to me the other day, declared of a certain truth,
"You cannot have too much of a good thing." Whereupon I remarked, that a nose was a good thing, but it might be possible so to exaggerate it that you would spoil the beauty of the face; a mouth is a good thing, and yet it may be very possible to have such a mouth that there would be no particular beauty about the visage, for the beauty of the man consists in proportion, and the beauty of divine truth consists in the proportion in which every part of it is brought into view. Now, there be some who exaggerate one feature, and some another.
There are some brethren who are fond of what is called "the high side" of doctrine. I am fond of it, too, very fond of it, but there is a temptation to bring that out, and to neglect, perhaps, the practical part of the gospel, and to ease into the background, possibly, the invitations of the gospel, and those truths which concern our usefulness in the world. Then, on the other hand, there are some who are so enamored by "experience" that nothing but experiential truth will suit them; they must be always harping upon that one string, and they look down with contempt upon those who hold fast doctrinal truth, which is very wrong, and shows that they have not yet been led into all truth. ...
It is all truth, and not some truth, that the Holy Spirit comes to teach.
To teach his children truth in all its harmony, truth in all its parts, truth indeed, as a whole. But it may be said, "There must be some truths which are not so essential as others!" That is granted. There are some truths that are so vital to salvation and peace with God, and there are some others that do not vitally concern the regeneration and conversion of the soul, and upon these men may be in error, and yet not risk their souls for all eternity. But still, even these [less vital] truths are part of the whole body of truth, and the body cannot do without its head, its heart, though it might lose a limb. Yet is that a reason why I should chop off a limb, or consent to have it maimed, because I could still exist without it? I could exist without an eye; shall I not, therefore, mind being blinded? . . .
All truth must be necessary for you and for me, or else the Spirit of God would not have come to teach it to us, and that while we may give more prominent importance to the greater and more vital truths, yet there is not one truth in Scripture to which we are allowed to say,
"Be still, be quiet, we do not want you."
Brethren, how many of you would be happy if you did but study doctrinal truth! You go lean and starved through the world, because your minister does not preach the doctrines of grace, and does not give you the full weight of the truths of the sovereign grace of God. Still, if you but studied them for yourselves, you might yet have a bright eye, and an elastic, bounding footstep, and rejoice in the everlasting love of God, which never leaves his people, but preserves and glorifies them in the end.
--Charles Spurgeon, The Great Teacher and Rememberancer
That idea about "non-essentials" is wicked and rebellious. Cast it from you; go without the camp. Be particular in every point. To the tiniest jot and tittle seek to obey your Master's will, and seek his grace that you may walk in the way of his commandments with a perfect heart. But then, if you do walk according to this rule, others will say, "You are so bigoted".
Thus reply to them: "I am very bigoted over myself, but I never claim any authority over you. To your own Master you stand or fall, and I do the same".
If it be bigotry to hold decisive views about God's truth, and to be obedient in every particular, as far as God the Spirit has taught me,
if that be bigotry - all hail bigotry! - a most hallowed thing.
--Charles Spurgeon, The Tabernacle - Without The Camp
Anything that is in the Word of God and has the stamp of His approval,
I tremble at. Someone once said to an old Puritan, "Some have made such [allowances] in their conscience, can't you make a little [exception] in yours? There is no reason why you should be so precise"; but the other replied
"I serve a precise God."
--Charles Spurgeon, Living Temples For The Living God
Do not follow a part of his orders, and neglect the rest. The Lord Jesus must be received as a whole, or not at all. Do not say "This is non-essential", for such a speech is flat rebellion. I do not believe in any words of our Lord being non-essential. They may not be essential to our salvation, but every word of Christ is essential to our spiritual health; neither can we disregard the least of his precepts without suffering loss through our disobedience.
Be very careful that you follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth; no other kind of walking is safe in such a world as this. Do what he bids you, as he bids you, and it shall he well with you.
--Charles Spurgeon, Blessed Promises For Dying Outcasts
There is a man in the world, whose views are not quite in consistency with Scripture. He says, "Well, it does not matter it is a little thing, a very little thing." Yes but that little wrong thing leads to a great wrong thing. The sinner's path is down hill, and when you take one step in violation of Scripture precept, your next step is not only easy, but seems even to be forced upon you. Doubt election, you will soon doubt perseverance, and you may soon come to deny redemption.
Where did the errors of the church of Rome come from? Were they all born in a day? No, they came by slow degrees. ... If you tamper with one truth of Scripture, he that tempts you to meddle with one, will tempt you to tamper with another, and there will be no end to it, till, at last, you will want a new Bible, a new Testament, and a new God. There is no telling where you will end when you have begun.
--Charles Spurgeon, Importance of Small Things In Religion
Let us hold God's truth, but not with a slippery hand. If a doctrine be true, let us grip it [tightly], though the earth shake or the heavens fall. Christian men, where there is a love for God's truth, God will bless his Church; but because this is a time-serving age, because we have not come out plainly with those things which distinguish us from each other, because we have paid too much deference to each other's views, and have not boldly declared the great truths of his Word. - these are the reasons why God has to some extent deserted us. You say, "I do not see so much [value] in doctrines, after all." Then you will not see much blessing. I love so much what I believe to be true, that I would fight for every grain of it; not for the "stones" only, but for the very "dust thereof."
I believe that we ought not to say that any truth is non-essential; it may be non-essential to salvation, but it is essential for something else. Why! you might as well take one of the jewels out of the Queen's crown, and say it is non-essential, but she will be Queen all the same! Will anyone dare to tell God that any doctrine is non-essential?
Oh gracious Spirit, hast thou written what is non-essential?
Hast thou given me a Book respecting which I say, "My father and mother believed it all, but it is not necessary for me to believe it"? God has given me a judgment; am I to follow in the wake of other people, thinking I shall be sure to be right and that God will never ask me what I was? An easy kind of religion is this! It was not so in the days of good old John Bunyan and Berridge; they sang a far different song. But now people are saying,
"I can listen to So-and-so and So and-so" - men who contradict one another. We cannot think [highly] of people, who can hear opposite opinions, and yet believe both to be correct. We cannot expect much growth unless you hold the truth, and take pleasure in the stones of Zion, and, "favor the dust thereof," - every atom of [the truth].
--Charles Spurgeon, Zion's Prosperity
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