Confusing Cigars and Sin
If you are familiar with the 19th century London pastor Charles Haddon Spurgeon you may know he was a gifted preacher, a sharp theologian, an earnest evangelist, and even started a Pastors College for those entering ministry. You may also know the man was fond of cigars. He was well known as a cigar smoker and was occasionally challenged over it. His responses were typically simple, humorous, and biblical. On one occasion controversy resulted.
Spurgeon and another well known contemporary of his, G.F. Pentecost, were sharing the pulpit at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. Spurgeon preached against the danger of sin, and Pentecost was invited to make the application. During his time Pentecost preached vehemently against smoking tobacco, and cigars in particular. After he concluded Spurgeon stood before the congregation and said,
Well, dear friends, you know that some men can do to the glory of God what to other men would be sin. And notwithstanding what brother Pentecost has said, I intend to smoke a good cigar to the glory of God before I go to bed to-night.
If anybody can show me in the Bible the command, 'Thou shalt not smoke,' I am ready to keep it; but I haven't found it yet. I find ten commandments, and it's as much as I can do to keep them; and I've no desire to make them into eleven or twelve.
The fact is, I have been speaking to you about real sins, not about listening to mere quibbles and scruples. At the same time, I know that what a man believes to be sin becomes a sin to him, and he must give it up. 'Whatsoever is not of faith is sin' (Rom. 14:23), and that is the real point of what my brother Pentecost has been saying.
Why, a man may think it a sin to have his boots blacked. Well, then, let him give it up, and have them whitewashed. I wish to say that I'm not ashamed of anything whatever that I do, and I don't feel that smoking makes me ashamed, and therefore I mean to smoke to the glory of God.
The newspapers were happy to jump on the apparent conflict of ideas and reported the details of the evening. What troubled some in particular were Spurgeon's remarks that he intended "to smoke a good cigar to the glory of God." This became the talk of London.
Spurgeon was blessed to live before the age of social media, but the controversy led him to write a letter to the Daily Telegraph to explain himself. In that letter Spurgeon wrote,
There is growing up in society a Pharisaic system which adds to the commands of God the precepts of men; to that system I will not yield for an hour. The preservation of my liberty may bring upon me the upbraidings of many good men, and the sneers of the self-righteous; but I shall endure both with serenity so long as I feel clear in my conscience before God.
Identifying Real Sin
In all of this controversy Spurgeon's problem is my problem, and it should be every Christian's problem. We can only call sin what God calls sin.
As Christians we take the word of God very seriously. It is not just a sacred book, but the very word of God, fully inspired, inerrant, and our only infallible rule of faith and practice. As A.A. Hodge says in his classic, Outlines of Theology,
Whatever God teaches or commands is of sovereign authority. Whatever conveys to us an infallible knowledge of his teachings and commands is an infallible rule. The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the only organs through which, during the present dispensation, God conveys to us a knowledge of his will about what we are to believe concerning himself, and what duties he requires of us.
So, when it comes to understanding righteousness and unrighteousness, the way of God and the way of sin, we must let the word of God speak. We confess that the law of God is good and that sin is a terrible evil. What is sin? Confessional standards like the Westminster Shorter Catechism and the Baptist Catechism say that sin "is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God (1 John 3:4)." This means to call something sin we must find a prohibition against it, or the command of its opposite in Scripture.
Nowhere does Scripture indicate the smoking itself is sinful, nor even that unhealthy habits themselves are sinful. Yet, this doesn't completely settle the matter.
Cigar Smoking Can Be Sinful If Not Done in Faith
As Spurgeon said, what one cannot do in faith is sin (Rom 14:23). If one's conscience forbids something he or she should generally refrain from it (see 1 Cor. 10, and check out R.C. Sproul's, Ethics and the Conscience). So for some, smoking could be a sinful practice, but for those who can enjoy a good cigar with a clear conscience it is a good thing.
Cigar Smoking Can Be Sinful If One Is Mastered by It
Addiction is the troublesome loss of self-control, and sin is always involved. We should only have one Master, and everything else in our lives must serve our service to him. If you are ruled by food, work, recreation, or cigars repentance is needed. These are good things that can be turned into idols. Self control is the mark of the Spirit-led disciple. Many have claimed Spurgeon eventually quit smoking. All the historical evidence suggests the opposite. He continued smoking cigars throughout his life. However, he could and did lay cigars aside for extended periods of time.
Cigar Smoking Can Be Sinful If One Smokes To Frustrate Others
I have never met this person, though some seem to think this is what drives many young Christians to smoke. It is believed they light up to blind others with their liberty, and use their freedom to bind others. So let's just say that if one smokes to needlessly provoke others it is sin.
Yet, like Spurgeon, I will smoke a cigar tonight to the glory of God. What does that really mean? It means that in whatever lawful thing we do as God's people we do with a clear conscience, with thankful and joyful hearts to God for his good gifts.
"whatever you do, do all to the glory of God"
1 Cor. 10:31
Tomorrow I'll be answering the questions submitted via social media with the hashtag #cigarQ4joe. If you want to join the conversation today is you last chance to submit your questions via Facebook or Twitter.