Carl Trueman on John Owen

November 30, 2015 2 comments

Following the topic of church history and the Puritans, and having enjoyed Carl Trueman’s Reformation History lectures, I have now listened (available on sermon audio here to a 5-part series (with two additional messages after these five) from Trueman, on John Owen.

Much of the content is actually about the Puritans generally, with some overlap of the Reformation series as to the overall historical setting, along with descriptions of Owen’s theology in particular. Of note, Reformed theology in Owen’s day was more complex, more developed than in the 16th century, in part due to the heresy confronted in the 17th century: Socinianism. Owen’s view of the atonement comes out in a more detailed response to Socinianism. While John Calvin, Samuel Rutherford and Twisse (the chairman of the Westminster Assembly) saw the atonement as not necessary–God COULD have provided redemption in another way, but He chose to do it that way—for Owen the atonement had to be done in that way, the blood sacrifice of the God-man, as necessary due to the character of God.

Among other interesting points: the Puritans, as authors of the Westminster Confession, did not hold to the idea of “proof-text scriptures.” The Westminster Confession document originally did not have scripture verses associated with the confession statements. They added these only at the request of Parliament. Still, their thinking was more the idea of, look at the scripture reference, and then refer to the 100+ commentaries that had ever been written on that text. As J.I. Packer also noted (in this series), here also from Trueman, the Puritan era was one of strong expository preaching, of very strong exposition of biblical texts.

The idea of the Covenant of Redemption (the agreement in eternity past, between the Father and the Son) first showed up, in Puritan writing, in 1638. Yet a criticism of that covenantal structure has been that the idea is “not very Trinitarian.” Here John Owen contributed and expanded the Trinitarian view of the Covenant of Redemption: the Spirit’s role also in this covenant. Trueman recommends reading this work, Owen’s Of Communion with God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, even before reading Owen’s other works such as “the Death of Death in the Death of Christ” or “Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers.”

Also generally recommended, especially for laypeople, are the Banner of Truth reprints, abridgements of John Owen’s works.  For people with more limited time (non-pastors, those busy working other jobs in the world), Trueman notes that the abridgements will at least give you Owen’s conclusions (without reading the many hundreds of pages of reasoning to how he got to those conclusions). As a beginner-level, Trueman suggests J.I. Packer’s “Knowing God,” which includes Packer’s quotes from Owen.

As with previous material from Trueman, this “John Owen conference” series provides good and helpful material, a good introduction to the overall Puritan authors and particularly the key features of John Owen and his writings.

Commentary on 1 Peter, Persecution, and the “Court of Providence”

November 18, 2015 1 comment

From a commentary recommendation I once came across in the comments at Challies’ blog, I have been reading through Robert Leighton’s “A Practical Commentary on 1 Peter,” a classic 17th century work available on Kindle and elsewhere (1st two chapters at Gracegems), now nearing the end of 1 Peter 4. Though the language is 17th century English, the Kindle version occasionally has transcription mistakes, and the section on baptism (in 1 Peter 3) gets into too much paedobaptist Covenant Theology, overall this is a good detailed, devotional commentary on 1 Peter, a book I had wanted to study for its content on our daily life and dealing with persecution. This topic I see as also related to many things I have read from Charles Spurgeon, and a few previous blog posts (see this post regarding a Spurgeon sermon, this Spurgeon account of the wife with an unbelieving husband, also this one).

Throughout, the contrast between true believers and those who have an appearance of religion (but only superficial, outward) is well-defined, pointing out the true inner joy and thoughts of the believer, versus the lack of such understanding amongst the outward professors—and thus what causes them to scorn the real Christian. Continued mention is made of how outsiders think, their lives focused on “fun” and worldly entertainment, versus the believer’s perspective that simply has different tastes, differing ideas of what is fun and enjoyable. Consider this excerpt:

The Christian and the carnal man are most wonderful to each other. The one wonders to see the other walk so strictly, and deny himself to those carnal liberties which the most take, and take for so necessary, that they think they could not live without them. And the Christian thinks it strange that men should be so bewitched, and still remain children in the vanity of their turmoil, wearying and humoring themselves from morning to night, running after stories and fancies, ever busy doing nothing; wonders that the delights of earth and sin can so long entertain and please men… the ungodly wonder far more at him (the Christian), not knowing the inward cause of his different choice and way.


Oh! How much worth is it, and how doth it endear the heart to God, to have found Him sensibly present in the times of trouble, refreshing the soul with dews of spiritual comfort, in the midst of the flames of fiery trial.

Along with this reading, lately I have often considered what Spurgeon called the “court of providence,” as in his sermon #579  about the different ways that God works things out in our lives – in our lives today, with equivalent examples from scripture. The “court of providence” includes times when God raises up people as the means for deliverance (for example, Jeremiah in the cistern, delivered by Ebedmelech); sometimes by silencing enemies, or by raising up friends for them (Joseph in Egypt, so frequently shown favor in the eyes of men; also Ruth with Boaz, the infant Moses, and David’s help from Jonathan).

The Christian may expect that in the course of providence, when he meets with trouble, God will raise up for him at different times, and in unexpected quarters, persons who will take an interest in him, and be the means of working out his deliverance. God sits at the helm of providence, and when the vessel is almost on the rock, He can pilot it into the deep waters again; and when His servants have been obliged by the tempest to reef their sails, He knows how, as the Master of the seas, to change the winds to a gale so favorable that with all sails spread, they can fly before the gale to the desired haven. … Why, it could only have been because God has a way of touching human hearts and making them friendly to His own people! He pleads the cause of His servants. He does not violate the wills of their enemies, but He wisely turns those wills into the channel of friendship.

Reflecting on Spurgeon’s observations here, and other general teachings from Spurgeon, I have become more aware of the little events in my own life, the little kindnesses in which God shows favor. Well did Spurgeon often say it, that some will experience the trial out in the world, in the workplace, while others experience the trial in one’s own house (reference Micah 7:6); yet in God’s mercy, in such cases that one is viewed favorably and experiences relative calm in the workplace.  And in especially trying situations come amazing incidents of God’s providence; the one who resolves that routine auto maintenance can be done on Monday (instead of taking the car to the service shop on Sunday afternoon–following the precept of honoring the Lord’s day), experiences violent reaction at home–but the event works out amazingly well during Monday’s lunch-hour: the shop worker, after saying the wait is two hours, then moves that person’s car to the front of the line; and providentially, a fellow employee is also at the service place, recognizes the other person, and they have a nice conversation while waiting at the auto shop.

Leighton’s commentary on 1 Peter, and this frequent theme in Spurgeon’s preaching, are both helpful to understanding the experience of trials and persecutions in daily life–for relating these points to real-life experiences and the way God shows mercy and kindness to the believer in the midst of such events.



The Regulative Principle, and Spurgeon on “Thus Says the Lord”

November 12, 2015 Leave a comment

From my current reading, Going Beyond the Five Points includes a helpful chapter on the Regulative Principle, explaining what it is (and what it isn’t), including the theological background of it (that public worship is something God gives us more specifics on, and holds a higher standard, than our everyday life) and the scriptural basis. Among the interesting points: the regulative principle – unlike what I always associated the idea with – does not necessitate exclusive psalmody or music without instruments. Such practices are often (but not always) associated with churches that hold to the regulative principle, but not a necessary conclusion — and as I have observed, at least a few current-day Reformed Baptists have stated their disagreement with exclusive psalmody. As noted in this chapter, the doctrine of original sin and infant baptism also have such historical association, but that does not mean that the one (infant baptism) follows from the other.

From my ongoing Spurgeon reading comes a sermon related to this overall topic. Though Spurgeon never mentions the term “regulative principle,” his sermon #591, “Thus Says the Lord,” is an interesting one in which Spurgeon addresses the emphasis found in so many scriptures, “Thus Says the Lord” as a way to address an error in the Anglican church and its “book of common prayer.” This message was one of several such messages from the 1864 volume in which Spurgeon – age 30 at this time, several years before the Downgrade controversy — first publicly addressed errors in the professing Christian church, publicly challenging those of the establishment (the Anglican Church) to prove their practice from scripture. (The issue here was infant baptism, including statements in the Book of Common Prayer, such as having godparents vow saving faith and commitment on behalf of the infant being “baptized.” In a style well familiar to modern-day blog readers – links to all the posts in a blog series – the notes at the end of this sermon list the numbers and titles in this series regarding this issue.)

Alongside specific comments that tell us about the controversy itself, and some of the specific criticism Spurgeon had experienced (and in this sermon he names names), Spurgeon continually emphasizes the issue of authority, the only authority as “Thus says the Lord.” His explanations relate to the 1689 Confession (which Spurgeon agreed with) understanding of the regulative principle, as he notes God’s concern for proper worship, as God wants it.  Here, strong words from Spurgeon about God’s authority in His Church:

“Thus says the Lord” is the only authority in God’s Church. When the tabernacle was pitched in the wilderness, what was the authority for its length and breadth? Why was the altar of incense to be placed here, and the brazen laver there? Why so many lambs or bullocks to be offered on a certain day? Why must the Passover be roasted whole and not boiled? Simply and only because God had shown all these things to Moses on the holy mount; and thus had Jehovah spoken, “Look that you make them after their pattern, which was shown you on the mount.”

It is even so in the Church at the present day; true servants of God demand to see for all church ordinances and doctrines, the express authority of the Church’s only Teacher and Lord. They remember that the Lord Jesus bade the apostles to teach believers to observe all things whatever He had commanded them—and He neither gave to them nor to any man power to alter His commands. The Holy Spirit revealed much of precious truth and holy precept by the apostles, and to His teaching we would give earnest heed; but when men cite the authority of fathers, and councils, and bishops, do we give place for subjection? No! Not for an hour! They may quote Irenaeus or Cyprian, Augustine or Chrysostom; they may remind us of the dogmas of Luther or Calvin; they may find authority in Simeon, or Wesley, or Gill—we will listen to the opinions of these great men with the respect which they deserve as men, but having done so, we deny that we have anything to do with these men as authorities in the Church of God, for in the Church of God nothing has any authority but, “Thus says the Lord of Hosts.”

If you bring us the concurrent consent of all tradition—if you shall quote precedents venerable with 15, 16, or 17 centuries of antiquity, we burn the whole lot as so much worthless lumber, unless you put your finger upon the passage of Holy Writ which warrants the matter to be of God! You may further plead, in addition to all this venerable authority, the beauty of the ceremony and its usefulness to those who partake, but this is all foreign to the point, for, to the true Church of God, the only question is this—is there a, “Thus says the Lord,” for it? And if divine authority is not forthcoming, faithful men must thrust forth the intruder as the cunning craftiness of men.

Puritan Preaching: the Application (Counseling)

October 28, 2015 1 comment

From J.I. Packer’s concluding lectures on the English Puritans come the following insights on Puritan preaching. The Puritan preacher, a physician of the soul, had three areas of focus: preaching, catechizing the children (education), and counseling. The Puritans did not use the word ‘counseling’ or think of it as we do, yet that is what they did, and effectively so, through the “applicatory” part of their sermons, which was often a large part of the overall sermon. Packer observes the importance of this, something that has been largely forgotten and lost; much of what is now done in “Christian counseling” in the pastor’s office, could and should instead be done through the pulpit.

What Packer describes is exactly what I have observed in Spurgeon’s sermons, that very helpful, “practical” aspect which I first observed 5-6 years ago, when I began reading through Spurgeon sermons (along with J.C. Ryle), noting in agreement with another blog commenter (note this blog comment and later references to it, at this Pyromaniacs post from 2010) this feature of Spurgeon’s sermons; though Spurgeon is often known for his strong doctrinal stance quotes, in actual sermon reading this is what comes through. Not surprisingly, later on in this section of lectures, Packer himself noted Spurgeon as one who understood and exemplified this Puritan approach – that Spurgeon was experiential and applicatory from the word go.

As Packer further explained, in answer to a question: this approach was lost by the end of the 17th century, especially after the ejection of Puritan preachers in 1662, a time when the mood in England turned against serious preaching. The Anglicans were the only ones left as preachers, and the people generally went along with their method of stringing together three points, a light-weight approach to preaching. The Great Awakening preachers returned to the Puritan style – George Whitfield, John Wesley, and John Newton, as did Spurgeon in the 19th century and Martyn Lloyd-Jones in the 20th. But as Packer notes: most have not thought it through; they haven’t seen how vital it is, and they think that “other forms (of sermon preaching) can make up for the fact that the preaching is weak.”

This application includes addressing the different types of people in the audience, with a word for each group. Each particular sermon may not address all the different people, but over a period of several weeks the various sermons will have something to say to each of the following groups:

  1. The “spiritually complacent” or hypocrites, who come to church as part of going through the motions; those who “need a bomb put under their seat,” to be awakened, to seek the Lord
  2. Those who are seeking in a general way, coming to find out general Christian teaching
  3. Those who “are not far from the kingdom,” who need specific guidance to come to Christ, to be taught the way of faith.
  4. Young Christians – often young in age, overall recent converts, the “little children” of John’s first epistle, who may be quite zealous for the faith though lacking maturity and greater understanding of doctrine.
  5. Mature believers. Often these are middle-aged or elderly, who need encouragement to continue, to keep on, to not flag spiritually as their bodies decline.
  6. Those in trouble, who have slipped badly in some moral issue, or are struggling with some temptation; though they may have kept it from others, yet they know of their failures. Perhaps they have almost yielded to a temptation, just generally struggling, or have experienced some personal trauma or disaster.

Puritan writing often expresses the application in terms of “use,” often with the words “use 1… use 2” etc., a feature I have seen in reading Puritan authors such as John Bunyan and Thomas Watson. Each of these areas of “use” follows from the text; given what this text says, what we are to consider, to apply in our lives positively, or to (negatively) depart from certain ideas we have that are contrary to scripture. Six of these “uses” are:

  1. Use of instruction or information
  2. Use of confutation
  3. Use of exhortation
  4. Use of admonition
  5. Use of comfort
  6. Use of trial   (self-examination)

The 5th one, use of comfort, again relates to the “counseling from the pulpit,” in which the preacher deals with actual questions from church members, including depressed people – who are very skilled at reasoning that excludes themselves from what the word of God says to everyone. And again I see this so descriptive of Spurgeon’s preaching, his constant emphasis on promises from God’s word, and reasons to reject such notions of why I am not fit to come to Christ.

Packer well summed up this overall issue:

We devote our pulpit ministry to teaching evangelical doctrine against liberalism or secularism, and when we’ve done that we think we’ve finished. We don’t do any serious applying, and we certainly don’t do this sort of applying. We don’t get within half a mile of doing any of our counseling from the pulpit. I think the Puritans have got something to say to us about this. I speak as to wise men and women, you judge what I say.

The Moral Law, “My Sabbaths” and Ezekiel

October 15, 2015 5 comments

For today, I first note the theme of a recent book and a few blog posts — in response to the ‘New Calvinism’ emphasis today — concerning so many other Reformed teachings beyond the basic 5 points of Calvinism. David Murray at the HeadHeartHand blog has begun a series, with There’s More to Calvinism Than the Five Points of Calvinism and There’s more to the doctrines of grace than THE doctrines of grace, in which he notes the doctrine of creation, doctrine of providence, doctrine of revelation; I could go on and on: the grace of justification, the grace of adoption, the grace of sanctification, the grace of assurance, the grace of the sacraments, the grace of repentance, and so on. See how many doctrines of grace there are? And we haven’t yet touched the THE doctrines of grace. There are way more doctrines of grace than THE doctrines of grace.

Reformed Baptists (Richard Barcellos, Sam Waldron and a few others) have recently published “Going Beyond the Five Points: Pursuing a More Comprehensive Reformation” (kindle version available for $9.99), a collection of several essays about the 1689 Confession / Reformed Baptist theology (more than just the 5 points of Calvinism); I have started reading it and may post more specifically on it later.

Now to the topic of moral law and the Sabbath: in my ongoing genre-reading through the Bible, lately I have been reading through the first half of Ezekiel (end of the ‘OT history’ list) and the last chapters of Isaiah (beginning of the Prophets list), and certain impressions come through very strongly. The theme of judgment on apostate Israel is especially prominent in this section of Ezekiel (chapters 20 through 23), as generally elsewhere throughout the prophets, with contrasts between the wicked and their wicked acts, and the righteous and their righteous acts. At this point Israel had become worse than the Canaanite nations that the Lord had driven out before them; thus Israel was also removed from the land. As I’ve read previously from Phil Johnson, even the Canaanite nations were held accountable by God for a basic moral law (reference Romans 2:14-15), a law they were judged by even though they did not have the special revelation given to Moses, the written form of the Mosaic law.

Throughout the judgment passages in the Old Testament is the point that God detests and actually hates the ceremonial observance of apostate Israel – because they were not doing so from the heart, but merely with their lips, going through the motions only. Again and again this point is made, of the wicked ceremonial observance along with moral injustice, and the call to repentance, to return to the Lord and to do righteousness. Reference here Isaiah chapter 1, which describes apostate Israel’s Sabbath observance–within the context of their ceremonial law (verses 13-14): “Bring no more vain offerings; ​​​​​​​incense is an abomination to me. ​​​​​​​New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations- ​​​​​​​I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates.”

But then turn especially to Ezekiel 20 through 22, passages of strong judgment against Israel; interestingly enough, in these pronouncements of judgment, the Sabbath (a moral Sabbath, always referred to as “My Sabbaths”) is stated eight times (six in Ezekiel 20, and two more in Ezekiel 22), as something that apostate Israel was NOT doing and that they SHOULD do. Consider several of these references:

20:13 They did not walk in my statutes but rejected my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; and my Sabbaths they greatly profaned.

20:16 because they rejected my rules and did not walk in my statutes, and profaned my Sabbaths; for their heart went after their idols.

20: 19-20: I am the LORD your God; walk in my statutes, and be careful to obey my rules, 20 and keep my Sabbaths holy that they may be a sign between me and you, that you may know that I am the LORD your God.

20:21 They did not walk in my statutes and were not careful to obey my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; they profaned my Sabbaths.​​​​​​​​

20: 23-24: I swore to them in the wilderness that I would scatter them among the nations and disperse them through the countries, 24 because they had not obeyed my rules, but had rejected my statutes and profaned my Sabbaths, and their eyes were set on their fathers’ idols.

22:8 You have despised my holy things and profaned my Sabbaths.

Clearly (and logically), if on the one hand God hated their wrong-hearted observance of ceremonial law and rebuked them for their “new moon and Sabbath” – and yet so many times in Ezekiel alone He charged them with wrongdoing, forsaking God’s law and profaning His Sabbath – our God is referring to two different concepts of “Sabbath,” and He is especially concerned with a higher, moral concept of a Sabbath (the 4th commandment), not merely the ceremonial observance of their Sabbaths done in connection with the Mosaic law.  Further — and contrary to the teaching of NCT (New Covenant Theology) — this understanding of God’s moral law, of greater importance than Israel’s ceremonial law, was revealed and understood in the Old Testament, and known by Old Testament saints; God’s moral law was not something missing or incomplete or some “lower standard of morality” that had to be “raised” to a higher level of “the law of Christ” that was unknown before His First Coming.


Calvin, Beza, Supralapsarianism and the Puritans (J.I. Packer on the Puritans)

September 18, 2015 Leave a comment

Continuing through RTS’ (Reformed Theological Seminary) iTunes University collection, my current study is an interesting and informative series done by J.I. Packer, on the English Puritans and their theology, a set of 16 lectures done in 1988.

Having already studied this subject at a basic, overview level, including volume 1 of the Puritan Papers (see this previous post), it is nice to see that this series presents much additional information. Among the interesting features of the Puritans: they were Reformed Medieval, in several ways different from Reformed Moderns. Their view of church and state was still like that of Medieval times, understanding the difference in theory though not in practice. The Puritan era did not consider “plagiarism” as any offense; it was common, accepted practice to borrow from the writings of others without giving them credit – such a contrast from our day, that Packer observed that modern-day scholars are perhaps too “provincial” about their own contributions. The Puritans also were far more homogeneous in their thinking as a group – more interested in learning from and respecting the views of others within their “tradition,” not so individualistic as today’s evangelical scholars accustomed to “critical thinking” in terms of studying out issues for themselves and sometimes coming to different conclusions on particular doctrinal matters.

The earliest Puritans were greatly influenced by the early work of William Perkins, who popularized Calvinist teaching in the late 16th century. Perkins borrowed heavily from John Calvin’s successor, Beza (again, the Puritans were not concerned about plagiarism) and popularized Beza’s presentation of God’s sovereignty in election, complete with diagrams with bubbles, publications intended for the common man who in many cases was illiterate.

An interesting consideration here, a point developed by Packer through a few lectures: the order of presentation of theology matters. Calvin’s final version of the Institutes for the Christian Religion (1559) presents doctrines in the same order as Paul in Romans, starting with man’s depravity, later the topics of justification by faith and sanctification, coming to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty in election (Romans 9-11) only after these other other points have been presented. However, Calvin’s successor, Beza, preferred the idea of classical Greek thinking, that what is first in intent is last in execution.  Therefore, since God’s glory, and His election of His people is the first intent, this teaching should be presented first. In this way Beza introduced the concept known as supralapsarianism: that the decree of God to save some and damn others, came before the creation and the fall.  Perkins followed this, as the first to present the idea in English and popularize it, and thus supralapsarianism took hold of the Puritans for the next 50 years. Later Puritans, including John Owen, were infralapsarian, but the first generation held without questioning (again, Reformed Medievalism) to Perkins’ idea.  Packer also notes that John Calvin himself really cannot be classified as either infra- or supra-lapsarian, since neither idea itself was yet defined as a particular category and this just wasn’t an issue.  Calvin taught both God’s sovereignty in election, and God’s love and the promises of God to sinners who come to Him in repentance, and thus the argument can be made (and has by some) for Calvin being infralapsarian — but the issue wasn’t defined in such terms (infra versus supra) in his day.

From Packer’s explanation of this history along with his own pastoral ideas, I now better understand the differences between the two ideas (supra- and infra- lapsarian), in how it affects the presentation of gospel truth.  Perkins’ approach to assurance focused on the evidences a person could look to, the fruit in their own lives, as to whether a person is truly saved. Yet his approach neglected the scriptural truths of God’s love in providence (reference Acts 17:25-27, He himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything), and ignored the “whosoever will” promises of scripture: the promise that those who come to Him, who look to Him for mercy, will never be turned away; the one who trusts in Him shall never be ashamed. Packer well summarized the infralapsarian approach (his view): to the unsaved we present the truths of the first part of Romans – man’s depravity, justification, atonement, God’s mercy to the sinner; we don’t begin with the teaching of election, telling unsaved people about God’s saving some while giving some over to reprobation. We teach election and what it means, to the family of God, those already saved. People understand assurance based on the scriptural promises, rather than wondering “if I am one of the elect or not.”

Packer’s lectures include more details about this issue and much more, the above is a brief summary of a few lectures up through number 7 in the set.  I look forward to the remaining lessons in this RTS iTunes series.

Charles Spurgeon: Salvation Experiences

September 10, 2015 2 comments

Charles Spurgeon often preached about the experience of salvation — as in answering possible objections of unbelievers, urging them to move past those objections or obstacles to come to Christ; or overall consideration of how people come to Christ.  From my recent reading come two sermons (#559 and #570) from 1864 (volume 10) on this topic. The first one (sermon #559) describes various unbelievers and their different responses – how they are kept lame, as with this excerpt:

Some are still lame, though they have faith, through ignorance. They do not know what being saved is. They entertain wrong expectations. They are trusting in Christ, but they do not feel any surprising emotions; they have not had any remarkable dreams, or visions, or striking emotions of excited joy, and therefore, though they have “faith to be saved,” they have not the faith of a present salvation. They are waiting for something, they hardly know what, to embellish their faith, or to fortify it with signs and wonders; now, poor soul, why do you wait? These things are not necessary for salvation. In fact, the fewer you have of them, I think, the better—especially of things which are visionary. I rather tremble for those who talk much about sensible evidences; they are too often the frivolities of unstable hearts. Beloved, though you may have never had any ecstatic joys, or suffered any deep depression of your spirits, if you are resting on Christ, it does not matter one whit what your feelings have been or have not been! Do you expect to have an electric shock, or to go through some mysterious operation? The operation is mysterious, too mysterious for you to discern it; but all that you have to do with is this—“Do I believe in Jesus? Am I simply depending upon Him for everything?” If you do, you are saved, and I pray you to believe this!

One observation from this sermon: all the people he describes at least have a basic worldview of belief in God – and then various “religious” reasons for fearing to come to God. Very likely this reflected the actual worldview backgrounds of the people of Spurgeon’s day, Victorian England. In all his sermons to this point, indeed, he never considered the case of people who professed atheism, those who had so suppressed the knowledge of God as to really think in naturalist, anti-supernatural and anti-theist terms. Even today the majority of unbelievers are not of the atheist type (and even less likely to be reading such a sermon in the first place), but after so many years of modernism and even post-modernism I suspect it is more common than in Spurgeon’s day.

Also from reading this sermon, the thought: how amazing it is that God saves each of us in different ways, dealing with us and our own personality and background. We don’t all have the same experiences in the process of conversion (from the time leading up to it through the time of regeneration / saving faith), and thus we observe great variety of people and their conversion/salvation experiences. Some cannot point to a specific moment when they came to saving faith, but instead a gradual process and general period of time (as for instance, those in Christian homes with childhood conversions), while others (as with my own case, and also the testimony of Spurgeon himself) recall a specific point in time. While, as in the Spurgeon quote above, people should not be “looking” to “feel any surprising emotions; they have not had any remarkable dreams, or visions, or striking emotions of excited joy,” yet in my own case God graciously did provide the sudden understanding and sudden, excited joy.

Where sermon #559 prompted these thoughts, Spurgeon comes through – as though in answer – a few sermons later, with #570 to specifically consider the variety of means used in conversion. A very helpful sermon, with a longer text than is usual for Spurgeon’s textual style preaching  – John 1:37-51 – Spurgeon here provides many insights into the experiences of “The First Five Disciples,” and their four different types/methods of conversion. Were you, however, to examine any five persons, I suppose you would find similar disparity. Pick out five Christians indiscriminately and begin to question them how they were brought to know the Lord, you will find methods other than those you have here; and probably quite as many as four out of the five would be distinct from the rest.

  1. Andrew and John – the fruits of preaching
  2. Simon Peter – Private instrumentality, not by the preaching of the Word
  3. Phillip – without either the public Word or private instruction, but directly by Jesus, and
  4. Nathanael – partly through private instrument, but also the preparation and Christ’s divine word to convince him.

An excerpt, describing the third case:

in some cases no apparent instrumentality is used. We have known some who on a sudden have felt impressions, from where they came or where they tended they did not know. In the midst of business we have known the workman suddenly check his plane—a great thought has entered into his brain—where it came from he could not tell. We have known a man wake up at midnight—he could not tell why, but a holy calm was upon him, and as the moon was shining through the window, there seemed to be a holy light shining into his soul, and he began to think. … We cannot tell, brethren, when God may regenerate His elect, for though we are to use means, and cry to God to send forth laborers into the vineyard, yet the sovereign Lord of all will frequently work without them. The Word which has been heard in years gone by, the Scripture which was known in childhood, may by the direct power of the Holy Spirit, without any immediate apparent means, turn the man from darkness to light. …What preparation of heart there had been before, I cannot tell. What still small voice had been speaking before this in Philip’s ear, we do not know. Certainly the only outward means was this voice of Christ, “Follow Me.” And there may be in this House some who will be converted this morning. You do not know why you are here, you cannot tell why you strayed in; but yet it may be—God knows—Christ would have you come here because He would come here Himself.


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