Home > Bible Study, C. H. Spurgeon, Joshua > Charles Spurgeon: Achan, The Doubtful Penitent

Charles Spurgeon: Achan, The Doubtful Penitent


This weekend’s readings through Spurgeon, volume 3 (1857), included an interesting one in which Spurgeon took a text of three words that occur in many places:  the words, “I have sinned.”  Spurgeon looked at seven such individuals from the Bible, as a sampling of the seven types of such a confession:

  • Pharaoh:  The Hardened Sinner
  • Baalam:  The Double-Minded Man
  • King Saul:  The Insincere Man
  • Achan:  Doubtful Penitent
  • Judas:  Repentance of Despair

and finally two positive types:

  • Job: Repentance of the Saint
  • The Prodigal Son:  The Blessed Confession

The one I found most interesting is the case of Achan, from Joshua 7.  As Spurgeon says, the confession really is one to which we truly hope that Achan at last was saved, but we cannot know for sure.  In my own readings of this story, I had wondered if Achan, in the end, truly repented and was saved — though punished justly for his wicked act.  Certainly Achan gives a full confession when he is confronted, giving full glory to God in that; and Joshua treats him kindly.  In Spurgeon’s sermon I found that at least some of the learned Bible scholars have also concluded the same, a confirmation that my reading and comprehension are at least as solid as some other believers.  John Gill and Spurgeon supported this understanding from Joshua’s words to Achan, that “the Lord brings trouble on you today” (meaning today, but not afterwards).  From Spurgeon:

But I find in the Mishna, an old Jewish exposition of the Bible, these words, “Joshua said to Achan, the Lord shall trouble thee this day.” And the note upon it is—He said this day, implying that he was only to be troubled in this life, by being stoned to death, but that God would have mercy on his soul, seeing that he had made a full confession of his sin.” And I, too, am inclined, from reading the chapter, to concur in the idea of my venerable and now glorified predecessor, Dr. Gill, in believing that Achan really was saved, although he was put to death for the crime, as an example. For you will observe how kindly Joshua spoke to him. He said, “My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me now what thou hast done; hide it not from me.” And you find Achan making a very full confession. .. It seems so full a confession, that if I might be allowed to judge, I should say, “I hope to meet Achan the sinner, before the throne of God.”

Yet as Spurgeon observed, Matthew Henry did not see it the same way.  Today I looked up a few other online commentaries, to learn that John Calvin sided with Matthew Henry, while John Darby’s synopsis points out the recovery of the soul as the result of Christian discipline:

But it is well to remember here that christian discipline has always the recovery of the soul for its object. Even if the offender should be delivered unto Satan, it is for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord — a most forcible reason for exercising this discipline, according to the measure of our spiritual power; for we cannot go beyond that. At the least we might always humble ourselves before God, in order that the evil may be removed.

Given the differing opinions, Spurgeon appropriately cites Achan as an example of the death-bed conversion, the case where we hope for the best but cannot know for sure, and tells of other doubtful cases, death-bed conversions he had witnessed.

I like the use of Achan for this category, as a more accurate illustration than, say, King Solomon — one named as a case of uncertain salvation by the non-trustworthy local preacher.  (I’ve even heard another local pastor, at a sister-church, state uncertainty concerning King Saul’s salvation, because — after all — 1 Samuel says that God put His spirit upon King Saul.  I consider the many scriptures contrary to that idea, plus remarks from S. Lewis Johnson, and Spurgeon’s sermon, above — Saul the insincere man.)  Again the saying is so true, “consider the source.”  Certainly Solomon had many failings that make his life a worse example than his father David, but I have yet to hear such an idea from the teachers whose views align with scripture.  True, Hebrews 11 does not name Solomon — but that writer did not name many other saved sinners such as wicked King Manasseh, either.  Ecclesiastes, written later in Solomon’s life, could be seen as Solomon’s repentance.  Furthermore, I hardly think that the Holy Spirit would have used an unsaved man to author three of the Old Testament books.

To end with Spurgeon’s final words on the matter:

Oh! to die with a full assurance; oh! to die with an abundant entrance, leaving a testimony behind that we have departed this life in peace! That is a far happier way than to die in a doubtful manner, lying sick, hovering between two worlds, and neither ourselves nor yet our friends knowing to which of the two worlds we are going. May God grant us grace to give in our lives evidences of true conversion, that our case may not be doubtful!

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