Last Tuesday, the vote was clear: America is a divided nation.
We are racially divided. We are spatially divided.
We are divided between population centers and rural counties. Between coastal cities and fly-over states. We are divided between progressive and traditional, left and right, Baby Boomers and Millennials.
Evangelicals are divided too. Some saw Trump as the lesser of two evils. Others believed voting for Trump was unconscionable – evidence of moral compromise. Some voted for third party candidates while others quoted Charles Spurgeon, “Of two evils, choose neither” and refused to vote altogether (Spurgeon’s quote actually has nothing to do with politics).
This week, however, the battle between blue and red is over. But for many evangelicals the battle between red and red has left many of God’s people black and blue.
The time has come to reflect on a better color, a biblical color:
Purple – a mixture of red and blue – was Spurgeon’s favorite color according to his son, Charles. Many of Spurgeon’s sermons, letters, and marginal notations were written intentionally in purple ink.
In Victorian England, purple ink was often cheaper than black because it faded more quickly. But Spurgeon loved the color purple not for its frugality but for its theology. The color purple reminded Spurgeon of
Christ’s humiliation: The Roman soldiers “put on him a purple robe” (MTP 28:139) before drawing “from him purple streams” (MTP 33:203).
Christ’s crucifixion: “Look to Christ upon the cross; count the purple drops as they distil from his dear wounds” (MTP 62:623).
Christ’s redemption: “[Christ] opened his veins that he might pour forth the purple drops of his precious blood as the price for your inestimable ransom” (MTP 61:166).
Christ’s exaltation: “Jesus wears the imperial purple of a kingdom in which God loves men” (MTP 24:622).
Christ’s adoption: “Then your sins are gone, his righteousness covers you with imperial purple, and you stand an heir of heaven, an adopted child of God” (MTP 61:359).
Purple was the color of Spurgeon’s Christianity. It transformed even mundane tasks like writing letters or redacting manuscripts into acts of worship. Purple pointed Spurgeon onward because it pointed him upward. It reminded him that Christ was on the throne, controversy was temporary, and nothing in this world catches God off guard.
So how can evangelicals move forward in the aftermath of this election?
Here are a few thoughts to foster unity for division, kindness for contempt, and healing for hatred.
1. Nothing can trump God’s plan.
Spurgeon believed in providence, not accidents. He believed God chooses to use all kinds of situations and sinners to accomplish his good and perfect plan . . . politicians notwithstanding.
“The King’s heart is in the hand of the Lord” (NPSP 2:23).
“We see things as they come one after the other in a procession, but God is in a position from which he sees all at once. A man travelling through England sees a portion at a time; but he that looks at a map sees the whole country present before him there and then. God sees everything as now. Nothing is past, nothing is future to him” (MTP 33:350, italics in the original).
In Spurgeon’s theology, the Creator is also the Converter. God is in the business of transforming evil situations into excellent ones. Joseph explained it to his brothers this way:
“You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20).
Spurgeon saw no disharmony between our actions and God’s action. He believed God uses our desires to accomplish his desires. Somehow, in a strange synergy we cannot entirely understand, God uses our vote to accomplish his results.
“The kings of the earth wear their crowns and sway their scepters by license from [Christ’s] throne” (MTP 33:341).
“Every Christian student of history knows that the circumstances of the outward world have ever been arranged by God so as to prepare the way for the advance of his great cause” (MTP 10:627-28).
“Some have said, ‘Man does as he likes;’ and others have said, ‘God does as he pleases.’ In one sense they are both true; but there is no man who has brains or understanding enough to show where they meet. . . . I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes,—that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit as well as the sun in the heavens, —that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as surely as the stars in their courses” (MTP 54:501-502).
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1).
2. Love the broken. Encouraged the depressed. Heal the wounded.
Spurgeon was no stranger to losing. He lost his health in his 30s, some of his friendships in his 40s (like John Ruskin), his reputation in the 50s, and even the respect and closeness of his brother James.
But Spurgeon learned from his losses. He funneled his frustrations into his ever-expanding capacity for empathy. His suffering helped him identify with those in pain. That’s why Spurgeon was the pastor of the working-class – the “people’s preacher.”
“I believe I never could have been able to comfort seekers in their anguish if I had not been kept wailing in the cold myself” (MTP 29:305).
What’s the lesson for us?
The aftermath of the presidential election has created opportunities to display radical love to those who fear the future of our country. During this season of riots and resentment, evangelicals have the opportunity to embody the hidden word within our word ev angel ical.
“We shall never save more till we love more” (An All-Round Ministry, 305).
“Jesus founded his empire upon love” (MTP 33:343).
3. The truth will set you free. But truth spoken in love will set other people free.
As evangelicals regroup, re-friend, and reflect on how we handled this election season, let’s remember a few things for next time.
Yes, evangelicals must take strong, unpopular and counter-cultural stands. After all, we answer to a government, and a God, far for powerful than our three-hundred-year-old nation.
But the way we stand – our poise and posture, our tone and tenor – is what wins the world to Christ. The fruit of the spirit isn’t optional. It’s evidential. Our visible love is the meter by which the world measures the legitimacy of our Lord.
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
The truth will set you free. But truth spoken in love will set other people free.
“If the Lord Jesus Christ can put up with you, you ought to be able to put up with anybody” (MTP 49:234).
“Endeavour to enlighten the world. Put candles in your windows. Illuminate all your streets. Let no sinner die in the dark. Publish the love of God” (MTP 33:347-48).
“How much of the staple of our conversation consists in complaint!” (MTP 15:313)
“Every time we complain, we miss a blessing” (John Ploughman’s Talk and Pictures, 41).
“I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
A Final Word
Evangelicals will go further burning calories for what we stand for rather than what we stand against.
Spurgeon is partly remembered for opposing the downgrading of orthodox theology. He is partly remembered for standing against higher critical German scholarship – a movement that swept across the English Channel and created a crisis of faith in English pews.
But Spurgeon’s more lasting legacy – his more permanent contribution – is found instead in the children he proactively rescued with his orphanages, in the lives that were changed through an untiring uplifting of Christ, in the aggressive marketing and distribution of his sermons, in the funneling of his own funds to support sixty-six social ministries to balm London’s wounded and marginalized population. Spurgeon threw more of his weight into preaching the gospel rather than defending it.
He believed the gospel could defend itself.
With Spurgeon, may the full force of our lives be found in the amplification of the gospel, in the edification of the church, and in the glorification of the God who is in the business of new beginnings.
With our new president elect, America faces a new beginning. May we embody a visible love that cherishes our differences while keeping them beneath the purple cloth of the communion table.
After all, Jesus wasn’t crossing his fingers when he prayed “that all of them may be one” (John 17:21).