January 15, 2012

Charles H. Spurgeon vs. the Gospel, pt. 1

Posted in Charles H. Spurgeon tagged , , , , , , , at 4:00 AM by chriswadams

Charles H. Spurgeon was one of the most popular preachers of his time, indeed of all time. He was at least as popular in his day as Billy Graham is in our day, a fact which should at least be a little troubling to anyone who shares Spurgeon’s belief in the doctrines of Grace. Have you ever wondered how Spurgeon could believe in and preach about doctrines like Unconditional Election, Effectual Calling, and Perseverance, all while drawing crowds consisting of thousands of people at a time? Well, let’s take a closer look at what Spurgeon really believed and preached about, in his own words.

“A man may be evidently of God’s chosen family, and yet though elected, may not believe in the doctrine of election. I hold that there are many savingly called, who do not believe in effectual calling, and that there are a great many who persevere to the end, who do not believe in the doctrine of perseverance. We hope that the hearts of many are a great deal better than their heads. We do not set their fallacies down to any wilful opposition to the truth as it is in Jesus, but simply to an error in their judgments, which we pray God to correct. We hope that if they think us mistaken too, they will reciprocate the same Christian courtesy; and when we meet around the cross, we hope that we shall ever feel that we are one in Christ Jesus.” (Effects of Sound Doctrine, April 22, 1860)

Well, here’s one reason Spurgeon might have been able to draw those huge crowds: he didn’t believe that those doctrines like Unconditional Election, Effectual Calling, and Perseverance, were essential parts of the Gospel. Oh, he still believed those doctrines were true, of course, but not that they were essential to the Gospel itself. This effectively removes the offensiveness of those doctrines from the mind of the audience, an approach which is noticeably different from the approach taken by Christ and the apostles (Mat 23; Gal 6:12-14).

Let’s look a little closer at Spurgeon’s arguments.

First, are there “many savingly called, who do not believe in effectual calling”? The Christian Confession of Faith has this to say about all those who believe the Gospel:

3. Conversion is that grace in which the Holy Spirit causes the sinner to repent and believe the gospel. The regenerate person is given a knowledge and understanding of the true gospel of salvation conditioned on the work of Jesus Christ alone and the realization that he was unregenerate when he believed a false gospel of salvation conditioned on the sinner. He counts all of his former life and deeds, whether religious or irreligious, as dead works, evil deeds, and fruit unto death. Conversion is the immediate and inevitable fruit of regeneration; therefore, a person may not be regenerated without being converted. There has never existed and will never exist a regenerate person who is ignorant of the gospel. Scripture rejects the lie that an unregenerate person can be under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, since the Holy Spirit only leads people to Jesus Christ and His righteousness as the only ground of salvation. [Deu 4:34-35; Isa 45:6,20-25; Mat 13:23; Mar 16:16; Joh 6:40; 8:32; 16:8-11; 17:3; Act 16:14-15; Rom 1:16-17; 3:26; 6:17,21; 7:6; 1Co 2:10-12; 2Co 4:2-6; Eph 1:13; Phi 3:7-8; 2Th 2:13-14; Heb 9:14; 1Jo 5:20]

Here are some of the verses that the Confession refers to:

Isa 45:(22) Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. (23) I have sworn by Myself, the word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, that to Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. (24) He shall say, Only in Jehovah do I have righteousness and strength; to Him he comes; and they are ashamed, all who are angry with Him. (25) In Jehovah all of the seed of Israel shall be justified, and shall glory.

Joh 6:(40) And this is the will of the One sending Me, that everyone seeing the Son and believing into Him should have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.

Joh 8:(32) And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

Rom 6:(17) But thanks be to God that you were slaves of sin, but you obeyed from the heart the form of doctrine to which you were delivered.

1Co 2: (10) But God revealed them to us by His Spirit, for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. (11) For who among men knows the things of a man, except the spirit of a man within him? So also no one has known the things of God except the Spirit of God. (12) But we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit from God, so that we might know the things that are freely given to us by God.

A sinner is caused to believe the Gospel by a work of the Holy Spirit, for the purpose of glorifying Christ, not the sinner. Thus, it is impossible that the Holy Spirit would cause a regenerate person to believe doctrines that glorify the sinner’s role in his own salvation. Conditional Election, and Ineffectual Calling are doctrines that glorify the sinner’s role in his own salvation; therefore, it is impossible that a regenerate person would believe in Conditional Election, Ineffectual Calling, or any other doctrine that denies the Gospel, or glorifies the sinner in any way. So, contrary to Spurgeon, all who are savingly called really do believe in effectual calling.

Second, Spurgeon argues that “the hearts of many are a great deal better than their heads”. Now, this head/heart distinction is simply foreign to Scripture; the heart is what thinks, plans, and meditates (Psa 4:4, Psa 77:6, Pro 16:9, Pro 23:7). But more importantly, what Spurgeon is really putting forth here is the idea that there is more to the Gospel than merely knowledge or doctrine, and that this something more is what really separates the saved from the lost. Notice that Spurgeon makes precisely zero effort to define what that something more actually is, but apparently it cannot possibly be doctrine. This of course, is completely anti-Scriptural:

Joh 7: (16) Jesus answered them and said, My doctrine is not Mine, but of the One who sent Me. (17) If anyone desires to do His will, he will know concerning the doctrine, whether it is of God, or I speak from Myself.

Rom 6:(17) But thanks be to God that you were slaves of sin, but you obeyed from the heart the form of doctrine to which you were delivered.

Rom 10:(1) Brothers, truly my heart’s pleasure and supplication to God on behalf of Israel is for it to be saved. (2) For I testify to them that they have zeal to God, but not according to knowledge. (3) For being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to the righteousness of God. (4) For Christ is the end of law for righteousness to everyone that believes.

2Jo (9) Everyone transgressing and not abiding in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. The one abiding in the doctrine of Christ, this one has the Father and the Son.

The Gospel is pure doctrine, and nothing else but doctrine. Thus if a person believes doctrines that are contrary to the Gospel, then we do not simply assume the best about them. A Christian must judge them to be lost, and absolutely must “set their fallacies down to … wilful opposition to the truth as it is in Jesus”.

Thus we see that Spurgeon was able to gather huge numbers of people to hear him, not in spite of the doctrine he preached, but because of his speaking peace to them, precisely when he should have been telling them that they were lost, and their deeds were evil.

“The controversy which has been carried on between the Calvinist and the Arminian is extremely important, but it does not involve the vital point of personal godliness as to make eternal life depend on our holding either system of theology. … But, I think we are all free to admit, that while John Wesley, for instance, in modern times zealously defended Arminianism, and on the other hand, George Whitefield with equal fervor fought for Calvinism, we should not be prepared either of us, on either side of the question, to deny the vital godliness of either the one or the other. … We are willing to admit, in fact, we dare not do otherwise, that opinion upon this controversy does not determine the future or even the present state of any man; but still, we think it to be so important, that in maintaining our views, we advance with all courage and fervency of spirit, believing that we are doing God’s work and upholding most important truth.” (Exposition of the Doctrines of Grace, April 11, 1861)

Here, Spurgeon makes it explicit that the element he sees as most important in judging the state of a soul is “the vital point of personal godliness”, ie. good works. Notice that at this point, Spurgeon could not even resort to the evasion that Christians are not to judge the spiritual state of others, because he has already judged the spiritual state of Wesley and his fellow Arminians: he has judged them to be saved.

“Most atrocious things have been spoken about the character and spiritual condition of John Wesley, the modern prince of Arminians. I can only say concerning him that, while I detest many of the doctrines which he preached, yet for the man himself I have a reverence second to no Wesleyan; and if there were wanted two apostles to be added to the number of the twelve, I do not believe that there could be found two men more fit to be so added than George Whitefield and John Wesley. The character of John Wesley stands beyond all imputation for self-sacrifice, zeal, holiness, and communion with God; he lived far above the ordinary level of common Christians, and was one ‘of whom the world was not worthy.’ I believe there are multitudes of men who cannot see the truths, or at least, cannot see them in the way in which we see them, who nevertheless have received Christ as their Saviour, and are as dear to the heart of God of grace as the soundest Calvinist in or out of Heaven.” (The Man With the Measuring Line, December 11, 1864)

I have already had much to say about the “personal godliness” of John Wesley, but even if his “personal godliness” were as sterling as Spurgeon makes it out to be, he would still be judging Wesley by the wrong standard. The correct standard is doctrine, specifically the doctrine of the Gospel. Without that standard, there is really no limit to the kinds of people Spurgeon could speak peace to:

“In Brussels, I heard a good sermon in a Romish church. The place was crowded with people, many of them standing, though they might have had a seat for a halfpenny or a farthing; and I stood, too; and the good priest — for I believe he is a good man, — preached the Lord Jesus with all his might. He spoke of the love of Christ, so that I, a very poor hand at the French language, could fully understand him, and my heart kept beating within me as he told of the beauties of Christ, and the preciousness of His blood, and of His power to save the chief of sinners. He did not say, ‘justification by faith,’ but he did say, ‘efficacy of the blood,’ which comes to very much the same thing. He did not tell us we were saved by grace, and not by our works; but he did say that all the works of men were less than nothing when brought into competition with the blood of Christ, and that the blood of Jesus alone could save. True, there were objectionable sentences, as naturally there must be in a discourse delivered under such circumstances; but I could have gone to the preacher, and have said to him, ‘Brother, you have spoken the truth;’ and if I had been handling the text, I must have treated it in the same way that he did, if I could have done it as well. I was pleased to find my own opinion verified, in his case, that there are, even in the apostate church, some who cleave unto the Lord, — some sparks of Heavenly fire that flicker amidst the rubbish of old superstition, some lights that are not blown out, even by the strong wind of Popery, but still cast a feeble gleam across the waters sufficient to guide the soul to the rock Christ Jesus. I saw, in that church, a box for contributions for the Pope; he will never grow rich with what I put into it.” (The Proceedings of the Great Meeting in the Metropolitan Tabernacle, August 21, 1860)

Here is the logical conclusion of Spurgeon’s wicked practice of speaking peace to anyone with a form of “personal godliness”. Yes, Spurgeon denounces certain “objectionable sentences” coming from “the strong wind of Popery”, but no actual papists. This is as uncertain a sound as it is possible to make (1Co 14:8), and it all comes down to Spurgeon’s unwillingness to judge according to doctrine.

-Christopher Adams.