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Charles Spurgeon's Double Standard Regarding Animal Abuse and Veganism. By Dr. Chapman Chen, HKBNews




Summary: Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892), the "Prince of Preachers", contributes significantly to legal protection of animals by arguing that each case of animal cruelty got to be investigated thoroughly. He even suggests that certain outrages culprits be punished by way of either a death sentence or lynching. Theologically, he argues that our treatment of animals is a spiritual issue, that if we love God, we should love His creatures, too. But he also has his limitations. He thinks that only humans have a soul and only they were made in God's image so that they have authority to rule over the animals. Worse still, he's guilty of double standard regarding animal rights. On the one hand, he condemns people of dead heart towards God and His creatures for caring for animals so far as they can satisfy their lust for pleasure or wealth. On the other hand, in order to fight against depression, he eats animal flesh gluttonously from time to time, despite his doctor's advice against meat consumption in view of his rheumatism and gout.


 

1. Who's Charles Spurgeon?

 

Charles Haddon Spurgeon (19 June 1834 – 31 January 1892) was an English Particular Baptist preacher.

 

Spurgeon remains highly influential among Christians of various denominations, to some of whom he is known as the "Prince of Preachers". He was a strong figure in the Reformed Baptist tradition, defending the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, and opposing the liberal and pragmatic theological tendencies in the Church of his day.

 

Spurgeon was pastor of the congregation of the New Park Street Chapel (later the Metropolitan Tabernacle) in London for 38 years. He was part of several controversies with the Baptist Union of Great Britain and later he left the denomination over doctrinal convictions.

 

While at the Metropolitan Tabernacle he built an Almshouse and the Stockwell Orphanage. He encouraged his congregation to engage actively with the poor of Victorian London. He also founded Spurgeon's College, which was named after him posthumously.

 

Spurgeon authored sermons, an autobiography, commentaries, books on prayer, devotionals, magazines, poetry, and hymns. Many sermons were transcribed as he spoke and were translated into many languages during his lifetime. He is said to have produced powerful sermons of penetrating thought and precise exposition. His oratory skills are said to have held his listeners spellbound in the Metropolitan Tabernacle, and many Christians hold his writings in exceptionally high regard among devotional literature.

 

The "Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit" is a collection of more than 5000 sermons preached by Charles Spurgeon during his ministry at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. The publication spanned a considerable period, covering the years of Spurgeon's preaching career. Here's a rough timeline: New Park Street Pulpit (NPSP) (1855-1860): The six-volume series began when Spurgeon was still at the New Park Street Chapel. The early sermons were published under this title. The 57-volume Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit (MTP) (1861-1917): As the congregation moved to the larger Metropolitan Tabernacle, the series continued under this title. Spurgeon preached there from 1861 until his death in 1892. After his death, other ministers carried on the publication of sermons under the same series title until 1917.

 

 

2. Spurgeon Wants Animal Abusers Executed?

 

In his article “A Word for Brutes Against Brutes” published in the magazine, The Sword and The Trowel, founded by himself, Spurgeon (1873) opines that culprits of animal cruelty deserve either lynching or a death penalty. This's pioneering in terms of legislation of prevention of cruelty to animals. The article begins by describing two horrific instances of abuse, one involving a coachman who drove a horse for miles on bloody and broken feet, the other involving a businessman who pricked out the eyes of birds with a pin to make them into better songbirds.

 

Of the first case, Spurgeon calls out, “If there be no law which would award the lash to such a fiend incarnate an Act ought to be passed at once, or Mr. Justice Lynch might for once be invoked to give the demon his reward in an irregular Manner.” The second case, the cruelty to birds, even enticed Spurgeon to rethink his considered rejection of the death penalty: “if we were not averse to all capital punishment we should suggest that nothing short of a rope with a noose in it would give him his deserts.”

 

 

3. Love God, Love His Creatures

 

Spurgeon regards animal cruelty as more than merely a moral wrongdoing meriting punishment; he deems it a solemn spiritual issue for the person.

 

Animal cruelty, he asserts "hardens the heart, deadens the conscience, and destroys the finer sensibilities of the soul. The most eminently spiritual men display great delicacy towards all living things…. The man who truly loves his Maker becomes tender towards all the creatures his Lord has made. In gentleness and kindness our great Redeemer is our model." He even stressed "that no person really penitent for sin can be cruel" to animals (Spurgeon 1873).

 

Spurgeon cites from the Bible examples of Jesus caring for down-trodden animals and completely agrees with Hugh Blair and Cowper in their refusal to maltreat even the most despised insect unnecessarily:-

 

Our Lord would not deprive a poor ass of the company of its foal when he rode into Jerusalem, and he talked of the most common and insignificant of birds as the object of the Great Father's care. His best followers are gentle towards all things which live and feel, and, taught by his Spirit, they have learned—"Never to blend their pleasure or their pride/With sorrow of the meanest thing that breathes." A holy mind sympathises with Cowper in his refusal to enter on his list of friends the man "who needlessly sets foot upon a worm," and fully agrees with Dr. Blair that it is "shameful to treat even the meanest insect with wanton cruelty." (Spurgeon 1873)

 

4. There's a Touch of God's Finger in All His Creatures

 

Spurgeon believes that "here is a touch of the divine finger in all that God has made" because "the same thought of God runs through it all" (Spurgeon 1911a: 63), that God instructs all animals in all everything they do (MTP 57:484), that all animals know their place, and that humans should know better than to mess them.

 

4.1. God is the Teacher of All Animals

 

Spurgeon refuses to attribute animal behaviors merely to natural, evolutionary forces. Rather, he envisages a God intimately occupied with his creatures, instructing them in everything they do (MTP 57:484); "God not only teaches beasts, he also teaches fish, and I never heard of any man who could teach a fish as God does. The fishes of the sea know exactly the day of the month when they ought to begin to go round the English coast; and the herrings and the mackerel come exactly to the time, though nobody rings the bell to say to them" (MTP 57:484).

 

4.2. God's Beneficence toward His Creatures

 

To borrow Chang's (2022) words, "the animal world also reveals God’s powerful and gracious beneficence toward his creatures." Commenting on Psalm 104:28, Spurgeon puts down, "the personal God is still at work in the world: leviathan in the ocean, and the sparrow on the bough, may be alike glad of this" (MTP 55:289).

 

4.3. Stop Messing with Nature!

 

Spurgeon asserts that we should thus leave God's creation alone:-

 

So beautiful is the order of nature, that we cannot want only destroy a race of little birds without suffering from their removal. When the small birds were killed in France, by the peasantry, who supposed that they ate the corn, the caterpillars came and devoured the crops. Man made a defect in an otherwise perfect circle; he took away one of the wheels which God had made, and the machine did not work perfectly; but let it alone, and no jars or grindings will occur, for all animals know their time and place, and fulfill the end of their being. (MTP 52:98-99)

  

5. Only Humans Possess a Soul?

 

Nevertheless, Spurgeon anthropocentrically contends that made in the image of God, humanity has a soul denied to animals and therefore authority to rule over Creation.


5.1. A Great Distinction between Animals and Humans?


According to Spurgeon, “there is a great distinction between mere animals and men, because man hath a soul, and the mere animal hath none” (NPSP 4:22), and only humanity has the potential to live forever:- 


5.2. Only Humans are Potentially Immortal


“If man be a creature, if he only be first among animals, though the most highly organized of all the vertebrate creatures; and if, when he dies, there is an end of him, as there might be of a sheep or a dog, then, looking up to the stars and thinking of man as a mere beast, you need not say with David, ‘Lord, what is man?’ You know what he is. You have got your answer, and a gloomy and a melancholy answer it is. But if man is to live forever and ever, what a noble creature he becomes!” (MTP 59:135).

 

To borrow the words of Chang (2023), "while evolution diminished the position of man in relation to animals, Spurgeon affirms the elevated place of humanity over the animal world as revealed in God’s work of creation and redemption"; as those made in the image of God, humanity alone has the promise of immortality, (MTP 59:135) authority to govern Creation (MTP 25:373), and the privilege of knowing God and his magnificent love (MTP 19:94).


Yet, John Wesley, Spurgeon's Methodist predecessor, was adamant that not only humans but all other animals have a place in the New Heaven and New Earth:-


III. 1. But will "the creature," will even the brute creation, always remain in this deplorable condition? God forbid that .... While his creatures "travail together in pain," he knoweth all their pain... He seeth "the earnest expectation" wherewith the whole animated creation "waiteth for" that final "manifestation of the sons of God;" in which "they themselves also shall be delivered"...."from the" present "bondage of corruption, into" a measure of "the glorious liberty of the children of God."[Romans 8:21].... the following blessing shall take place (not only on the children of men; there is no such restriction in the text; but) on every creature according to its capacity: "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. And there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying [Revelation 21:4].... (Wesley 1872, Chapt. III)

 

5.3. Humanity was Made to Subjugate Animals?

To Spurgeon, "dominion" in "And God blessed them, and God said unto them.... replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over....every living thing that moveth upon the earth" (Genesis 1:28 KJV) means absolute power on the part of the human species over other animals:-


 “MAN was made to rule. In the divine original he was intended for a king, who should have dominion over the beasts of the field, and the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea. He was designed to be the lord-lieutenant of this part of creation, and the form of his body and the dignity of his countenance betoken it. He walks erect among the animals, while they move upon all-fours; he subjugates and tames them to perform his will, and the fear and dread of him is upon all creatures, for they know their sovereign.” (MTP 25:373)


However, from the point of view of the author (Chen 2021a) of this article, "dominion" in Genesis 1:28 KJV means not domination or despotism but "stewardship" (Linzey 2016), "caretakership" (Ritenbaugh 1999), and "protection" (Halteman 2007), because 1. In Gen. 1:29, humans were given a vegan diet; 2. In Gen. 2:15 NIV, humans were instructed by God to "take care of" the Garden with all the animals in it; 3. God made His covenant with not only humans (Noah and his descendants) but also animals (Gen. 9:8-17); 4. God has compassion for all creatures (Psalm 145: 9). 5. Animals are our folk (Gen. 1:30). 6. Christ always sided with the marginalized (Matthew 25:40 NIV); 7. Jesus died at least partly for animal liberation. (Mark 11:18); 8. Via Jesus's crucifixion and resurrection, God reconciled himself to all groaning creatures and offered them hope of redemption (Colossians 1:19-20).

 

5.4. Animals do not Know God's Love?


Spurgeon anthorpocentrically thinks that the ability to know God's love is limited to humans and denied to animals:-


“I have sometimes looked at the happiest animals, and I have said to myself, ‘Ah, but yonder poor creature does not know the love of God, and how thankful I am to God that he has given me the capacity to know himself’” (MTP 19:94).

Yet, how can Spurgeon be so sure that the animals cannot know God's love? Actually, a lamb and a cicada, upon Saint Francis of Assisi's instructions, worshipped Christ and praised the Lord respectively:-

 

5.4.1. A Christ-revering Lamb

 

At another time, at Saint Mary of the Little Portion, a lamb was brought unto the man of God, the which he thankfully received, by reason of the love of guilelessness and simplicity that the lamb’s nature doth exhibit. The holy man exhorted the lamb that it should be instant in the divine praises, and avoid any occasion of offence unto the Brethren; the lamb, on its part, as though it had observed the piety of the man of God, diligently obeyed his instructions. For when it heard the Brethren chanting in the choir, it too would enter the church, and, unbidden of any, would bend the knee, bleating before the altar of the Virgin Mother of the Lamb, as though it were fain to greet her. Furthermore, at the election of the most holy Body of Christ in the solemn Mass, it would bend its knees and bow, even as though the sheep, in its reverence, would reprove the irreverence of the undevout, and would incite Christ’s devout people to revere the Sacrament. (Bonaventure: 1904:8.7)

 

5.4..2. A Cicada Praised the Lord for Eight Days at the Saint's Call

 

At Saint Mary of the Little Portion, hard by the cell of the man of God, a cicada蟬 sat on a fig-tree and chirped; and right often by her song she stirred up unto the divine praises the servant of the Lord, who had learnt to marvel at the glorious handiwork of the Creator even as seen in little things. One day he called her, and she, as though divinely taught, lighted upon his hand. When he said unto her: “Sing, my sister cicada, and praise the Lord thy Creator with thy glad lay,” she obeyed forthwith, and began to chirp, nor did she cease until, at the Father’s bidding, she flew back unto her own place. There for eight days she abode, on any day coming at his call, singing, and flying back, according as he bade her. At length the man of God said unto his companions: “Let us now give our sister cicada leave to go, for she hath gladdened us enough with her lay, stirring us up these eight days past unto the praises of God.” And at once, his leave given, she flew away, nor was ever seen there again, as though she dared not in any wise transgress his command. (Bonaventure: 1904:8.9)

 

6. A Double Standard

 

Spurgeon has a double standard when it comes to animal abuse and gluttony.

 

6.1. People of Dead Heart

 

On the one hand, Spurgeon accuses others of having no empathy for innocent creatures of God and simply using them to serve their own lust or greed:- "man of dead heart towards God has a heart of stone towards the Lord’s creatures, and cares for them only so far as he can make them minister to his own wealth or pleasure" (Spurgeon 1873).

 

6.2. A Gluttonous Meal to Comfort a Depressed Spirit

 

On the other hand, in order to seek selfish relief from his lasting melancholy and seek the fleeting pleasure of sin, Spurgeon himself often gluttonously and ravenously eats animal flesh, despite his medical doctor's advice against meat-eating on the ground of his gout and rheumatism.

 

It comes as a surprise to some that Spurgeon had a lifelong battle with depression. In one sermon, he said,

 

You may be surrounded with all the comforts of life and yet be in wretchedness more gloomy than death if the spirits are depressed. You may have no outward cause whatever for sorrow and yet if the mind is dejected, the brightest sunshine will not relieve your gloom. … There are times when all our evidences get clouded and all our joys are fled. Though we may still cling to the Cross, yet it is with a desperate grasp. (MTP, Vol. 57, Sermon 3269, A Frail Leaf)

 

Spurgeon actually thinks that depression can be mitigated by gluttony. In his crossway commentary on Psalm 104:15 (KJV) -- "And bread which strengthened man's heart" --   he writes:-

 

“Men have more courage after they are fed: many a depressed spirit has been comforted by a good substantial meal. We ought to bless God for strength of heart as well as force of limb, since if we possess them they are both the bounties of his kindness.” (1911b: 2, 82)

 

However, Spurgeon's doctor Sir William Gull bluntly told him that the source of his health problems was over-eating rather than exhausting work. When Spurgeon refused to listen to his sound advice, he could only "let him die" (Kress 1904).

 

6.3. Blame me not for Devouring a Roast Pheasant!

 

A reliable testimony to Spurgeon's carnist gluttony was given by William Hatcher (1834–1912), an American pastor, who visited Spurgeon in the summer of 1888. He recounted a dinner with Spurgeon, which spoke of some of the London pastor’s weird dietary habits at the time. Hatcher and Spurgeon dined at the Gould mansion and obviously everybody was aware, including Hatcher, that Spurgeon was a vegetarian. The meat that evening was roast pheasant which Spurgeon “devoured the breast heartily.” Hatcher made fun of Spurgeon saying that when he returned to America, he would tell his countrymen that a “pheasant was a vegetable.” After the laughter slackened off, Spurgeon retorted, “Blame me not, the woman, she gave it to me”(Hatcher n.d.:50).


The rejoinder is an allusion to Adam shifting the blame of eating the forbidden fruit to Eve when confronted by God:- "The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”" (Genesis 3:12 NIV). This is a cheap, low, shameless, frivolous joke revealing Spurgeon's utter disrespect for God's creatures and maybe even for God. Nonetheless, in comparing the roast pheasant eaten by him to the forbidden fruit of Eden, Spurgeon inadvertently touches upon the interpretation of the forbidden fruit as animal flesh.


In Genesis, after eating the forbidden "fruit" from "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil", Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden and they went from immortal to mortal. By examining the Hebrew original of the words concerned and their context, Chen (2021b), inspired by Jeff Popick (2007) and Jane Erwin (2010), argues that the forbidden fruit of Eden is meat; that the original sin is animal-flesh consumption. Because humans are born with less instinct than animals, they need dietary guidance from God in terms of veganism. Diet is the prime issue instead of a triviality in Christianity. "You are what you eat (Der Mensch ist, was er iβt)", German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach (1863) stated.

 

In the Hebrew original, "the fruit פְּרִי " of "the tree עֵץ of the knowledge דַּעַת of good טוֹב and evil רָע " can mean the offspring of a family group of living creatures who are so self-aware that they covet life (good) and fear death (evil), i.e., the progeny of a den of animals (sentient beings), like piglets or cubs or eggs. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, i.e. meat, and violated God's Sixth Commandment, "Thou shalt not kill", Eden or Paradise, supposed to be all love, all harmony and all peace, was disrupted by fear, violence and evil; death entered the world; and humans lost Paradise. This is corroborated by other Bible verses as well as scientific studies. A Christ-like, vegan lifestyle is the key to return to Eden. Jesus Christ actually died on the cross to wake us up to the evilness, atrocity and sinfulness of our meat diet. The horrifying image of His Crucifixion reminds us of the murder of many an innocent animal in the slaughterhouse.


7. Conclusion


Thus, Spurgeon not only fails to love and respect the animals which he says Christians should love out of love for God and which he thinks should be protected by law, but also fails to love his own body enough to follow his doctor's professional advice and abstain from animal flesh. He's a theologian whose conduct fails to match his words. On the one hand, he condemns people for (ab)using God's non-human creatures for pleasure and wealth. On the other hand, he seeks the fleeting pleasure of sin by heartily and ravenously eating the flesh of innocent creatures of God. In general, any animal rights activists and/or Christians who are non-vegan are by definition hypocritically self-contradictory. How can you possibly love God's creatures and abuse/kill them or pay someone to do so for you at the same time? Nonetheless, maybe we should refrain from censuring Spurgeon too harshly, considering the fact that he did suffer from severe depression and probably bulimia as its complication.

 

References

 

Bonaventure, Saint. The Life of Saint Francis of Assisi. Translated by E. Gurney Salter. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1904.

 

Chang, Geoff. “A Symbol of the Invisible”: Spurgeon’s Teaching on Animals.” The Spurgeon Centre, November 15, 2022.

 

Chen, Chapman. “Does Dominion in Genesis Mean Stewardship or Despotism?” HKBNews, July 12, 2021a.

 

Chen, Chapman. “The Forbidden Fruit of Eden is Meat. Go Vegan!” HKBNews, August 18, 2021b.

 

Erwin, Jane. “The Real Forbidden Fruit is Meat.” Ogden: Sunstone 2011 Utah Symposium and Workshops, August 6, 2010.

 

Feuerbach, Ludwig. “Concerning Spiritualism and Materialism.” In The Sword and the Trowel, edited by L. Feuerbach, 2:1–16, 1863.

 

Kress, D. H., ed. “Mr. Spurgeon and His Physician: An Anecdote on Over-eating.” The Good Australasian Health 7, no. 6 (June 1, 1904): 419.

 

Linzey, Andrew. “Christian Theology and Animal Rights.” FRA, 2016.

 

Halteman, M. C. “Varieties of Harm to Animals in Industrial Farming.” Journal of Animal Ethics 1, no. 2 (2011): 122–131.

 

Hatcher, William. Along the Trail of the Friendly Years. New York: Fleming H. Revell Co., n.d.

 

Popick, Jeff. The Real Forbidden Fruit -- How Meat Destroys Paradise and How Veganism Can Get it Back. Marco Island: VeganWorld Building, 2007.

 

Ritenbaugh, Richard T. “The Bible and the Environment.” Forerunner, “Prophecy Watch,” February 1999.

 

Spurgeon, Charles Haddon. New Park Street Pulpit. 6 vols. London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1855-1860. ;

 

Spurgeon, Charles Haddon. Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit. 57 vols. London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1860-1911. ;

 

Spurgeon, Charles Haddon. “A Word for Brutes against Brutes.” In The Sword and the Trowel, edited by C. H. Spurgeon, 6:289–296, 1873.

 

Spurgeon, Charles Haddon. The Art of Illustration. New York: Wilbur B. Ketcham, 1911a.

 

Spurgeon, Charles Haddon. Psalms. Vol. 2. Crossway Classic Commentaries. Edited by Alister McGrath and J.J. Packer. Wheaton: Crossway, 1911b.

 

Wesley, John. “The General Deliverance.” In The Works of John Wesley, edited by T. Jackson, 6:257-276. Wesleyan Methodist Book Room, 1872. Originally published 1781.


 

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