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All the Fitness He Requires? Spurgeon the Evangelist

July 12, 2012 5 comments

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—
This He GIVES YOU,
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!

The John Bunyan Conference Atonement Series: S. Lewis Johnson’s Last Teaching Series

January 25, 2012 4 comments

Among the full collection at the SLJ Institute, I’m now listening to a series I had often heard about, SLJ’s atonement series from the John Bunyan Conference.  Following are my general observations after listening to the first nine of the 18 messages.

As a set of messages from a conference, it’s quite different from the standard lecture series at Believers Chapel.  These messages were given in 1997, when Dr. Johnson was 81 years old, three years after his last messages taught at Believers Chapel.  The series is a topical one, with what at first seems a rather eclectic selection of passages unrelated to each other.  Yet all have in common words such as “all”, “all men” and “saviour.”  The audio quality, while good overall, isn’t as consistent as the recordings at Believers Chapel — minor things like variation in the speaker’s volume.  For the sixth message (1 Timothy 4:10),  S. Lewis Johnson read a paper he had previously written — a delivery style that takes some getting used to.   More than with any other series, too, this one includes far more biographical details, especially concerning Johnson’s years at Dallas Theological Seminary, including the reason (view of the atonement) that he resigned from DTS in 1977.  It is also fun to hear him tell stories from those days, including his reflections on Lewis Sperry Chafer and Dallas Seminary’s early practice  concerning solicitation of money, a view shared in common with 19th century missionary George Muller.

Among the passages considered are these:

Several of these passages are well-known ones considered “key” to the atonement issue, with words that could be said to support universalism — except of course for the well-known principle of interpretation, that scriptures must not conflict with each other; from the overall teaching of God’s word we know that not everyone will be saved.  Another common view is the Amyraldian view, or the four-point Calvinist (without the “L” of limited atonement):  that the intent of the atonement is for everyone including those who do not come to faith.

Following is a summary listing of ten reasons in support of Particular Redemption, given during the seventh message.

1.  The statements of Scripture are of that character.  The language of conditionality, the language of potentiality, the language of possibility is not found with reference to the atonement.

2.  The argument from definite expressions, so beautifully set out in A. Hodge’s Christian Theology, the expressions of Scripture are definite.  He died for the church.  He redeemed a people.

3.  The argument from the nature of the atonement. The nature of the atonement, the atoning work of Jesus Christ is a penal substitutionary, by a sacrifice, work.  It is penal – Christ died and bore the penalty of those for whom he died.  It is, of course, a satisfaction, that is, he propitiated the Father, satisfied his justice of holiness.  And it is a substitution.  He died for us, for a particular people.  And if he died for a particular people, then my friend, what judgment can heaven bring against those for whom Christ has died?  What judgment?  Heaven can bring no judgment against the one for whom Christ has died.  So if we believe in substitution, then we must be believers in a definite atonement, a particular redemption.  There is no way out of that.

4.  An argument from the priesthood of Christ, after all, the work of the high priest was the work of sacrifice and intercession for a particular people, wasn’t it?  What Aaron and the other high priests did was to offer sacrifices for the Israelites, didn’t they?  Did they offer them for the Moabites or the Amalakites?  They were for Israel.  They were a particular people.  And he made intercession for those for whom he offered sacrifice.

5.   Argument from the less to the greater.  “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”  If he died for us, then he will give us everything.  That’s the greatest gift.  Everything else follows.  If he offered a sacrifice for us then, will he give us conviction of sin?  Will he give us repentance?  Will he give us all of the other things?  Will he give us faith?  Of course.  “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”  So if you believe he has given himself up for you, the greatest work of all, all these other lesser things, like faith, repentance, and so on, they have to come.

6.   Argument from the results the atonement has accomplished:  the harmonization of the design of the atonement and the end.  The limited result necessitates for an unfrustratable deity, a limited intent.  It seems obvious.  Of course, if you have a God who can be frustrated, that argument does not carry weight with you.  But your problem’s not the atonement, your problem is with the kind of God that you have.  The necessary harmony of the inter-trinitarian economy of salvation, I learned that from John Murray, the Westminster Seminary.

7.  The inter-trinitarian economy of salvation.  Think about that.  You know what that means?  That means the Father works toward one end.  The Son works toward the same end.  The Spirit works toward the same end.  The Father elects.  The Spirit gives faith to the elect.  The Son dies for, well, with the intent of saving everybody?  No, of course not.  We don’t have a dissonance in the Trinity.  We do not have the persons of the Trinity working toward different goals.  They have the same design – the elect, the elect, the elect.  The Father doesn’t elect the non-elect.  He elects the elect.  The Spirit brings to faith the elect.  The Son of God dies with the intent of saving the elect.  He offers for the elect.  I know you’re persuaded by now.

8.  Argument from the representative nature of Jesus Christ’s death.  It’d be interesting to talk about a number of the passages, of course, where our Lord is set forth as the covenantal head of his people, and when he offers himself, he offers for them.

Thomas Goodwin:  “There are but two men standing before God, Adam and Christ, and these two have all other men hanging at their girdles.”

9.  Argument from special divine love or the fact that the Scripture represents God’s love as distinguishing.  The Son doesn’t pray for all.  The Son doesn’t give the Spirit to all.  That’s important, too.  John 14:16 and 17.  He has withheld the gospel from countless myriads throughout the world, both in Old and New Testament times.  Difficult to understand, but nevertheless, true.  And true for a sovereign God.

10.  Revelation 5:10-11  The text says, “You have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.”  Now if the atonement or redemption was universal, he would have simply said, You have redeemed every tribe, tongue, people and nation.  But it’s “out of”.  The construction in the original text is a partitive construction.  It’s some out of them.  Some translations translate it that way – some from have been redeemed.

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Additional resource information: Jim McClarty’s Q&A regarding “All Men.”

Prevenient Grace: Its Different Meanings

January 5, 2012 Comments off

Some doctrinal terms can be confusing at first, since it turns out they can have very different meanings, depending on who is using the term.  “Prevenient grace” is one such term.  For several years I heard the term “prevenient grace” from a Reformed Baptist church, as describing what the Puritans believed:  the grace that comes to the person before they believe to bring them to the point of salvation.

Then recently online I’d heard it used disparagingly, as an Arminian free-will term. Someone I know, from an Arminian background, was then surprised to hear a Calvinist preacher, S. Lewis Johnson, use the term “prevenient grace,” since to him the term was associated with Arminian free-will ideas about our choosing God, the “wooing” which is resistible by the human will.

Throughout history the term “prevenient grace” has been used in different ways. Originally the term was used by Reformed theologians as a synonym for irresistible grace: the grace which comes before  salvation and brings us to salvation. Arminians came along later and changed its usage to suit their own ideas.  That does not preclude Calvinists from using the term with a different sense, and I found from googling S. Lewis Johnson’s transcripts, his statement that semi-Pelagians (which is what many Arminians really are) do not believe in prevenient grace:

Semi-Pelagians say, ‘I wanted to come and God helped me.’ They deny prevenient grace. That is they deny the grace that comes first that enables a man to respond to the word of God. They conceive of themselves as first responding, first choosing to come, and then being helped by God to receive Christ as Savior.

Here is an article that examines “Prevenient Grace in the Wesleyan System” (scroll down almost a page, to that section heading).

A Follow-Up on Theological Triage

July 7, 2011 2 comments

This is a follow-up from a recent post concerning Theological Triage.  Following are a few points I made in the follow-up comments, for clarification on my overall broad definition of eschatology and how it really is an issue of importance (not on the level of food and drink), very similar to the overall issue of Arminianism versus Calvinism and related to the believer’s level of overall maturity and doctrinal understanding.  Since comments are often lost and buried, I decided to repost it here as a separate post, with a few revisions and additions.

(Regarding the relative importance of eschatology, historically)… Just because it wasn’t an issue historically, is not valid reason to say that differences in understanding of eschatology are no obstacle or limitation on fellowship. Arminianism as I understand is also a relatively recent development, and yet differences in understanding DO limit the level of fellowship there, and thus Arminians fellowship separately, and Calvinists tend to feel uncomfortable in Arminian churches.  This is especially true when the Arminian preacher speaks against Calvinism, but even in the general handling of ideas concerning election and God’s sovereignty.  Calvinist preachers I know have said the same thing I’m saying here: we should not be too harsh and say that Arminians are not saved, but rather we acknowledge that Arminians are saved yet have an incomplete understanding of these issues, and so our fellowship is limited.

I would agree that among those believers who have not fully studied eschatology and don’t think it’s important, fellowship is unhindered. They are at the same level in their walk and maturity. Yet when some believers have studied the matter and have greater understanding, that DOES LIMIT the level of fellowship with those who either a) haven’t given it much thought or b) have contrary ideas. To those who do fully understand premillennialism, though, differences in preaching do come out when listening to non-premillennarians. I can notice the differences in the preaching of many different parts of scripture, since understanding of the church and Israel and the coming literal kingdom come out in so many scriptures, not just in the “classic” eschatology passages that everyone thinks of like Daniel or Revelation etc. So I contend that these differences in how we interpret various scriptures, have far greater impact on church fellowship (including what is being taught at that church), at least as much as differing views concerning baptism and communion. Again, since so few passages actually touch on those doctrines, those doctrines really don’t come up all that often in a particular church’s sermons or other teaching; yes, they come up in a particular church’s practices of actual baptism and communion, but not as much in the sermons.

Finally, consider this matter logically:
Correlation idea put forth:
1.  Christians really didn’t make much of an issue over such-and-such doctrine (doctrine A) for the majority of church history.
2.  Christians have studied and come to differing conclusions concerning doctrine doctrine A.
Therefore:
1. Therefore, doctrine A must be somehow unclear and speculative in nature, and
2.  Therefore, doctrine A must be unimportant.

Now, substitute “Doctrines of Grace” (i.e., the 5 points of Calvinism) for “doctrine A” above.

Christians historically did not question this matter, generally, until more recent times (Reformation and later, not really until the 18th century), and it wasn’t an issue.  Yet when Christians have studied the Doctrines of Grace they have come to very differing conclusions: Calvinism, Arminianism, even mid-range points such as Calminianism and Amyraldianism.

Therefore, the “Doctrines of Grace” must be somehow unclear and speculative in nature, and the “Doctrines of Grace” must therefore be of third-tier level, unimportant, and something we should not divide fellowship over.

Does this really make sense?

Covenant, Reformed, and Dispensational Theology

September 6, 2010 Comments off

Tony Garland has recently posted a good overview article concerning the differences between Reformed, Covenant and Dispensational theology — a good starting place for anyone wanting to know more about the basic differences.

A few of the highlights:

Concerning Reformed Theology:

Although sound in concept (believers are to be salt and light and oppose and expose works of darkness – Pr. 28:4; Mat. 5:13-16; Eph. 5:11), where this cultural mandate is taken to an extreme it can lead to an over-emphasis on social work and even the denial of Scriptural truth concerning the predicted apostasy of this age and the reality of the coming tribulation (Mat. 24:10-12; 2Th. 2:3; 1Ti. 4:1-3; 2Ti. 3:1) – in effect concluding that Christianity will reform the world rather than the Scriptural truth that the world will ultimately reject Christ ushering in a time of fearful judgment (Isa. 13:12; Jer. 30:7; Dan. 12:1; Mat. 24:21; Mark 13:19; Rev. 6; 7:14; 9:15; etc.).

Concerning Covenant Theology:

Another aspect of Covenant Theology is its insistence upon glossing over distinctions among the true Biblical covenants1 (e.g., Noahic, Abrahamic, Davidic, etc.) and artificially merging them into a unifying concept of “The Covenant.” This interpretive lens (a single unifying covenant) winds up being force-fit upon the various Biblical covenants which Scripture itself defines

. . .

Covenant Theology begins with a reasonable premise: God is a God of covenant and as such His covenant promises are a very important aspect within which theology must be developed. But it goes astray where it emphasizes inferred theological concepts over the plain revelation of God’s Word which contains numerous covenants made with differing parties not all of which can be neatly packaged within the framework of a single promise with the abstract “people of God” – at least not without doing violence to the Biblical covenants.

. . .

The future time of cataclysm and judgment revealed in Scripture must be reinterpreted or otherwise denied since it flies in the face of the cultural mandate that Christianity reform the societies of the world ushering in the return of Christ. Thus, partial Preterism2 (orthodox) and its cousin, full Preterism (heterodox) generally find their basis in Covenant Theology.

And regarding Dispensational Theology:

An insistence upon consistently taking the Scriptures at face value.  Interpreting passages normally and plainly, while recognizing figures of speech, but without spiritualizing them and while paying attention to the details which are recorded therein. This includes the belief that prophetic passages of Scripture follow the same interpretive rules as non-prophetic passages and that genre is not license for jettisoning normative interpretation.

An emphasis upon the Biblical covenants (as opposed to the inferred covenants of Covenant Theology) as an important key to the proper interpretation of Scripture. The systematization of doctrine across both Old and New Testaments is only viable to the degree these Scriptural covenants are properly understood and held inviolate. Where these covenants apply to different recipients at different times and include varied rules and provisions, dispensationalism allows that God has chosen to interact with different people in ways which vary with time and context. Ignoring these distinctions leads to great confusion and confounds the proper understanding of Scripture. In other words, let the covenants and the historical context speak for themselves. This necessarily leads to recognizing distinctions which are “papered over” by Covenant Theology.

A belief that promises made by God within various unconditional Biblical covenants will all be fulfilled with the original parties with which they were made. Some of these unconditional promises (e.g., possession of the Promise Land) may be delayed due to disobedience, but the promises themselves will not fail. Nor can they ultimately be transferred away from the original recipients. This is no small thing as it has direct bearing upon the nature of communication and the very character of God.

Nashville, New Orleans, and a Right Understanding of Total Depravity

May 7, 2010 Comments off

In the wake of the recent flooding in Nashville, devastation on par with the flooding seen in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Pastor Jim McClarty observes the great contrast between the two cities and the aftermath, in a positive look at how people are dealing with the terrible flood mess.  As he said, Nashville probably will not get the attention of Hollywood or Katrina-like aid — but that’s actually a good thing.  As he observes,

I’ve seen pictures and video of abandoned grocery stores.  But, the windows are still intact.  I’ve seen businesses and electronic centers closed up.  But, I have not seen any looting.  I have not seen angry mobs busting windows and stealing stuff.  There have been no riots.  There have been no marauding gangs.  There have been no murders.

I’ve heard firsthand reports (from my own brother, no less) of people with boats who worked tirelessly for upwards of 36 straight hours, rescuing their neighbors, their friends, and total strangers, from the rising waters.

This reminds me of comments made by the local pastor soon after Hurricane Katrina, words that bothered me at the time as not quite right, as somehow missing the mark.  Basically, he saw the devastation — and the rampant looting and crime — as evidence of our human fallen nature, our total depravity.  He went on to say that all of us in that situation (New Orleans flooding), and certainly unsaved people, would have done the exact same thing and behaved the same way, because that’s how people behave in catastrophic situations, when the restraints of law and order are removed.  He even mentioned the specifics, that we would all be getting out our guns and shooting at others, as part of acting in our own interest, because we’re all such wicked sinners.

Certainly it is true that sometimes such natural disasters bring out the worst in humankind, as witness New Orleans.  But our history also tells of situations where people come together and help each other out.  I think of the heroic people of Denmark during WWII — not particularly pious Christians, but ordinary citizens who had nothing against their Jewish neighbors and helped them escape Hitler by sending them out in boats to nearby Sweden; now we can add the Nashville flooding incident to the list of many such positive responses to a bad situation.

At the time of the above remarks, I lacked the precise understanding to explain the error. It was more of a recognition that, by God’s grace, not everyone, not even every lost person, thinks like a criminal.  For one thing, not everyone keeps plenty of guns around to act out as the mobs in New Orleans did.  Just because man is sinful does not mean that every person will behave at their very worst in such situations.

Most likely, the local pastor was connecting the post-Katrina events with a common misunderstanding concerning the doctrine of total depravity.  Many people have thought that total depravity refers to outward behavior, that we are as bad as we can be; and on that basis C.S. Lewis even said some clever words in his rejection of the doctrine.  Yet as I’ve learned through good Bible teaching from S. Lewis Johnson, total depravity instead means that all of our faculties are touched by sin — our minds, wills, and emotions — so that we are unable to please God.  To quote S. Lewis Johnson from one of several times that he explained this:

Now it is not total depravity in the sense that we are as bad as we can be.  We are proving that we are not as bad as we can be because tomorrow our society is worse than it is today, as a general rule.  And the chances are that individuals are worse tomorrow than they are today.  So we’re not as bad as we can be.  When we say that man is totally depraved, we mean that all of their faculties are touched by sin: their mind, their wills, their emotions.  Those features that make up their faculties, they’re all twisted and warped by sin.  They’re even capable of certain thoughts that even the world approves of as benevolent thoughts, very good thoughts.  But all parts of them are touched by sin; that’s what total depravity means.

Thank God that we really are not as bad as we can be, as we enjoy God’s common grace to us in this world.  Let us also praise God for the good things coming out of the events in Nashville, that even in the midst of the flooding mess, they’re surviving and helping each other out.  We can recognize that we are sinners saved by God’s grace, without constantly beating ourselves down with pious-sounding words about how we would all act like criminals if our community was flooded — instead holding to a proper and sober view (not too highly or too negatively) of ourselves (Romans 12:3) and what God has given us.