Charles Haddon Spurgeon was quite a character. A bearded, boisterous Brit who loved a good cigar and preached his lunges out to the glory of God. Preaching in the mid to late 1800s, Spurge become known as a staunch Particular Baptist (read Calvinist), and a bold figure in general. Today, he is known by many as the Prince of Preachers, a title he himself designated to George Whitfield. Something especially admirable to me is that Spurge spoke his mind. He cared what the Lord thought of him and that’s about it. I’m reading through His sermons and from time to time I’ll post some of my favorite quotes. Today’s quote comes from “Sermon I, Sovereignty and Salvation”, in the Baker collection. In this quote Spurge has “man’s wisdom” in his sights, that is, autonomous human philosophy that’s contrary to Christ.
“..our God has had much to do to teach this lesson to the wise men of this world: for as rank, pomp, and power, have set themselves up in the place of God, so has wisdom; and one of the greatest enemies of Deity has always been the wisdom of man. The wisdom of man will not see God. Professing themselves to be wise, wise men have become fools. But have ye not noticed, in reading history, how God has abased the pride of wisdom? In ages long gone by, he sent mighty minds into the world, who devised systems of philosophy. ‘These systems.’ They said, ‘will last forever.’ Their pupils thought them infallible, and therefore wrote their sayings on enduring parchment, saying, ‘this book will last forever; succeeding generations of men will read it, and to the last man that book shall be handed down, as the epitome of wisdom’. ‘Ah!, but,” said God, ‘that book of yours shall be seen to be folly, ere another hundred years have rolled away.’ And so the mighty thoughts of Socrates, and the wisdom of Solon, are utterly forgotten now; and could we hear them speak, the veriest child in our schools would laugh to think that he understandeth more philosophy than they. But when man has found the vanity of one system, his eyes have sparkled at another; if Aristotle will not suffice, here is Bacon; now i shall know everything; and he sets to work and says that this new philosophy is to last forever… But, alas! Another century comes and it is found to be ‘wood, hay, and stubble.’A new set of philosophies rise up, who refute their predecessor. So too, we have wise men in this day – wise secularists, and so on, who fancy they have obtained the truth; but with another fifty years – and mark that word- this hair shall not be silvered over with gray, until the last of that race shall have perished, that man shall be thought a fool that was ever connected with such a race. Systems of infidelity pass ways like a new dew-drop before the sun, for God says ‘I am God, and beside me there is none else.’ The bible is the stone that shall break in powder philosophy, this is the mighty battering ram that shall dash all systems of philosophy in pieces; this is the stone that a woman may yet hurl upon the head of every Abimelech, and he shall utterly be destroyed. O Church of God! Fear not; thou shalt do wonders; wise men shall be confounded, and thou shall know, and they too, that He is God, and that besides him there is none else.”
This quote is a pretty succinct summary of the history of western philosophy. A philosopher seeks to separate wisdom from the knowledge of God and fails. Someone else comes along and tries to build the house of human knowledge on autonomous foundations and again it crumbles. Over and over all the way up through today.
This is to be expected, right? If God is who the Bible says He is, then we’d expect any view of men and things to fall flat on it’s face if it doesn’t have God as it’s ultimate reference point. Any effort to develop a systematic of philosophy of life apart from the Creator and Sustainer of the universe is going to be found wanting.
The Bible reminds us that the beginning of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding is the fear of the LORD. Wisdom isn’t merely a theoretical pursuit, it’s intensely practical as well. Wisdom isn’t gained in an autonomous bubble; the house of human knowledge will always collapse unless it’s foundations are reverence for God. We’re wise to heed Spurgeon’s warning.