Home > C. H. Spurgeon, Calvinism, church history, evangelism, hymns > All the Fitness He Requires? Spurgeon the Evangelist

All the Fitness He Requires? Spurgeon the Evangelist

July 12, 2012

Steve Lawson well described Spurgeon the Evangelist, as in this message from the 2012 Shepherd’s Conference.  Through the last few years of reading Spurgeon sermons that has been the biggest impression of Spurgeon: sermons that show true Calvinism with its great evangelistic zeal, as in the well-known sermon, Compel Them to Come In.

Spurgeon Sermon #336, “Struggles of Conscience” from September, 1860, is another interesting one that shows Spurgeon’s great zeal in tearing down any obstacle in the way of a person coming to Christ, including the thought that a person doesn’t “feel” the greatness of their sins, doesn’t feel a particular type of repentance as was characteristically defined in the Puritan age.

In our day the evil has taken another, and that a most extraordinary shape. Men have aimed at being self-righteous after quite an amazing fashion; they think they must feel worse, and have a deeper conviction of sin before they may trust in Christ. Many hundreds do I meet with who say they dare not come to Christ, and trust Him with their souls, because they do not feel their need of Him enough; they have not sufficient contrition for their sins; they have not repented as fully as they have rebelled! Brothers and Sisters, it is the same evil, from the same old germ of self-righteousness, but it has taken another and I think a more crafty shape. Satan has wormed himself into many hearts under the garb of an angel of light, and he has whispered to the sinner, “Repentance is a necessary virtue. Stop until you have repented, and when you have sufficiently mortified yourself on account of sin, then you will be fit to come to Christ, and qualified to trust and rely on Him.”

While reading along I thought of the well-known hymn “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy”, sung often at the local church.  One verse ends with the line “all the fitness He requires, is to feel your need of Him.” The teaching at the local church, in the standard Reformed Baptist tradition, occasionally points out that part of that hymn, and how this is the only fitness necessary to come to Christ.  Spurgeon at this point was clearly going further, arguing against any “standard” of what we must feel when we come to Christ.

In the very next paragraph Spurgeon answered my question about that hymn, with the full story even there:  that particular hymn only includes the first part of the line.

Let me counsel you, then, to never quote part of a hymn, or part of a text—quote it all!—
“All the fitness He requires
Is to feel your need of him—
It is His Spirit’s rising beam!”

So that particular misunderstanding has been with the church for some time (that particular version of the hymn dates to 1759). The modern-day gospel-lite evangelical view is probably in the opposite direction from Spurgeon’s day, but (at least some) Reformed churches today continue the Puritan tradition of reacting in the opposite extreme.

Spurgeon’s point here is well-taken, a clear distinction in understanding the “feeling” someone has upon coming to Christ:

And I think I know the reason of its great commonness. In the Puritan age, which was noted certainly for its purity of Doctrine, there was also a great deal of experimental preaching, and much of it was sound and healthy. But some of it was unscriptural, because it took for its standard what the Christian felt, and not what the Savior said—the inference from a Believer’s experience, rather than the message which goes before any belief. Those excellent men, Mr. Rogers, of Dedham, who has written some useful works, and Mr. Sheppard, who wrote The Sound Believer, and Mr. Flavel and many others give descriptions of what a sinner must be before he may come to Christ, which actually represent what a saint is, after he has come to Christ! These good Brothers have taken their own experience—what they felt before they came into the Light of God—as the standard of what every other person ought to feel before he may put his trust in Christ and hope for mercy.

There were some in Puritan times who protested against that theology, and insisted that sinners were to be bid to come to Christ just as they were—with no preparation either of feeling or of doing. At the present time there are large numbers of Calvinistic ministers who are afraid to give a free invitation to sinners. They always garble Christ’s invitation thus—“If you are a sensible sinner you may come.” Just as if stupid sinners might not come! They say, “If you feel your need of Christ, you may come.” And then they describe what that feeling or need is, and give such a high description of it that their hearers say, “Well, I never felt like that,” and they are afraid to venture for lack of the qualification.

Mark you, the Brothers speak truly in some respect; they describe what a sinner does feel before he comes, but they make a mistake in putting what a sinner feels, as if that were what a sinner ought to feel! What the sinner feels, and what the sinner does, until he is renewed by Grace, are just the very opposite of what he ought to feel or do! We are always wrong when we say one Christian’s experience is to be estimated by what another Christian has felt.  No, Sir, my experience is to be measured by the Word of God! And what the sinner should feel is to be measured by what Christ commands him to feel, and not by what another sinner has felt!

  1. July 12, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    Thank you Lynda, very good analysis. I’m reminded of a related issue, namely, “lordship” salvation, where the idea is that unless you have made Christ, at your regeneration, lord over ALL of your life, it is doubtful whether you have been justified/ born again. Wrong, of course.

    How, then, does one know where to draw the line? Well, for starters (and maybe for enders as well, on this specific issue), here’s capital Spurgeon:

    Let me counsel you, then, to never quote part of a hymn, or part of a text—quote it all!— “All the fitness He requires Is to feel your need of him—
    This He GIVES YOU,
    It is His Spirit’s rising beam!”

    Christ draws by GIVING you the feeling of your need for Him. No, this does not mean that you, dear reader, are a robot. Perhaps Lynda will explain, if you need to know more.

    • July 13, 2012 at 7:45 am

      Yes, I saw in Spurgeon’s sermon the issue of what is now called “Lordship Salvation,” though of course Spurgeon did not have that term in his day. As brought out in this sermon, it’s nothing new but goes back to Puritan times. It truly is a never-ending question, of where to draw the line in what we see in other professed believers, as to whether they are truly saved or not, or how much the person actually understood when they came to faith in Christ. Spurgeon well addressed it in his day.

      • July 13, 2012 at 8:39 am

        True. your Ladyship.

  2. July 14, 2012 at 1:49 am

    Thanks for this dose of Spurgeon. Towards the end of last year, I started reading some more Spurgeon and I’ve found him very encouraging and your observation to be quite true of his “sermons that show true Calvinism with its great evangelistic zeal.” Thanks

    • July 14, 2012 at 3:14 pm

      Agree, Spurgeon is very encouraging. As with every preacher, I find a few areas of doctrinal differences with Spurgeon, but much more to appreciate from him, including his overall encouragement to believers and his evangelistic zeal; and regular reading of his sermons is helpful to me at least.

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