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Saved from Human Opinion, Decisions and Consequences, and the Christian Life

September 13, 2017 2 comments

From my studies this summer, including various sermons and readings, comes a common theme that relates to recent personal experience.  David Murray’s sermon Saved from Human Opinion really hit home in a convicting way.  Beyond the obvious intellectual understanding about how we are to please God and not man, comes the point that when we actually act in ways that are to please man (and it really doesn’t work; to please one person ends up causing problems with someone else), it reveals our own self-love: wanting to be more comfortable, wanting to avoid criticism or persecution from others, for instance.

Recent blog posts from David Murray have expanded on the remedy to this: the fear of God.  See this post (also this follow-up) which includes links to several resources including a book by Arnold Frank, and the nine-part sermon series behind the book; the sermon series is now on my list for future sermon series listening.

Along with this, I’ve been enjoying back-issues of Tabletalk magazine (thanks to the ‘cleaning house’ collection from a friend), and since 2006 was the same calendar year as 2017, each month I am going through the daily and weekend devotionals from the 2006 issues.  I especially like Tabletalk for its great content that provides both solid, rich Bible study plus great application to our daily lives.  The ones for early September also relate to this overall topic: the decisions we make and their consequences.  (Note: Tabletalk magazine’s new website now provides back issues as far back as 2006; the 2006 issues can now also be read online here.) The first weekend devotional, ‘Decisions, Decisions’,  makes a good point about our life decisions and the negative consequences that last for years afterward – while pointing out the hope we still have:

Whether or not we always consider them, every decision we make has consequences. Perhaps they are relatively incidental …  Maybe they are more consequential, such as that decision to move to a new town that ultimately resulted in finding a spouse. Whatever the case may be, we will have to deal with the outcome of our choices. As Paul writes in Galatians 6:7, “Whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”  … Despite the various hints that Sarai must give birth to the covenant child, her impatience moved her to substitute Hagar for herself and, with Abram’s acquiescence, produce Ishmael.  The consequences of this decision would haunt the covenant community for centuries. Even though the Lord did bring good out of Joseph’s situation, it was the sons of Ishmael who took him away from the promised land (Gen. 37:28). Later, Amasa the Ishmaelite commanded the armies of David’s wicked son Absalom when his coup d’etat temporarily sent the son of Jesse into exile (2 Sam. 17:25). Moreover, Islam, the greatest religious adversary of the church today, holds Ishmael in high esteem.

…But our Lord is eager to forgive, and He worked through their faith to make their pattern of decisions bring about wonderful consequences for His people.

The next devotion (for Monday, September 4) continues the study:  ‘Sarai Took Hagar’ and the lessons learned.  Particularly noted here is a parallel between the Abram-Sarai story, and the account of the fall in Genesis 3:

Even more telling, the exact wording of the Hebrew for “listened to” used of Abram in 16:2b is used elsewhere only in 3:17 where God chastises Adam because he “listened to” his wife. Clearly, Moses wants us to understand that these events are parallel in that both are accounts of transgression. Matthew Henry perceptively says this story shows Satan’s policy “to tempt us by our nearest and dearest relations.” Right after a visible confirmation of the Lord’s promise (chap. 15), Abram yields to his wife’s suggestion to lay with another when his earlier sojourn in Egypt (12:10–20) should have told him that God intended to provide his heir from Sarai’s loins. May we hear the wishes of those closest to us, but may we also take care to give God’s wisdom priority.

The ‘Coram Deo’ follows-up on this important point, one also learned by experience:  Our enemy is cunning and will often try and deceive us through those closest to us.  As John Calvin comments, “We must be on our guard against his wiles; lest by any means he should undermine us.” … Be careful not to let another close to you convince you to do something God forbids.

From recent reading of Charles Spurgeon sermons (1867 volume), sermon #764 also provides the needed reminder, that we are to view the Christian life with much patience, and as a warfare that will never let up in this life:

Life is indeed a “warfare,” and just as a man enlists in our army for a term of years, and then his service runs out, and he is free, so every believer is enlisted in the service of life, to serve God till his enlistment is over, and we sleep in death. Our charge and our armor we shall put off together. Brothers and sisters, you are enlisted soldiers, when you believe in Jesus. Let me remind you that you are a soldier, you will be always at war, you will never have a furlough or conclude a treaty. Like the old knights who slept in their armor, you will be attacked even in your rest. There is no part of the journey to heaven which is secure from the enemy, and no moment, not even the sweet rest of the Lord’s Day, when the clarion may not sound. Therefore, prepare yourselves always for the battle. “Put on the whole armor of God,” and look upon life as a continued battle. Be surprised when you do not have to fight; be wonderstruck when the world is peaceful towards you; be astonished when your old corruptions do not rise and assault you. You must travel with your swords always drawn, and you may as well throw away the scabbard, for you will never need it. You are a soldier who must always fight, and by the light of battle you must survey the whole of your life.

and

waiting means enduring with patience. We are put into this world for one appointed time of suffering, and in sacred patience we must abide steadfast the heat of the furnace. The life of many Christians is a long martyrdom—they are to bear it patiently. “Here is the patience of the saints.” … herein they fulfill their life’s design, if through abundant grace they learn to bear their woes without a murmur, and to wait their appointed time without repining.

 

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The Forgotten Spurgeon: The Controversy of 1864

June 27, 2017 4 comments

From the recent donation of free Christian books, I have been reading Iain Murray’s classic The Forgotten Spurgeon, a second-edition paperback (reprint from 1994).  As I have learned from reading it, it is not so much a biography of Spurgeon as a look at Spurgeon’s preaching ministry, centered around three major controversies he was involved in: his early years, then “the controversy of 1864,” followed by the later down-grade controversy.  At the time of Murray’s book (second edition 1973), Spurgeon certainly was more “forgotten,” especially the Spurgeon revealed in his sermons, and the 40+ years since then have benefited from the republication of Spurgeon’s writings – plus now especially our Internet age access to the complete collection of his sermons, all available free in PDF format at Spurgeon Gems.

From my continued sequential reading through Spurgeon’s sermons over the last 8 years (now reading the 1867 volume), much of what Murray brings up is already familiar territory, and much of the work consists of direct quotations from Spurgeon’s many sermons.  What I especially appreciate is Murray’s own commentary, providing more of the historical context of what was going on in England, and London specifically, during these years—beyond what Spurgeon directly mentioned in his sermons;  I have now reached the part dealing with the second controversy.  Less than two years ago, I read the actual sermons noted here:  #573, “Baptismal Regeneration” from June of 1864, #577, “Let Us Go Forth” later that month; and #591, “Thus Says the Lord—Or, the Book of Common Prayer Weighed in the Balance of the Sanctuary” from September of that year.  Much of the controversy is explained in the sermons themselves – the inward creeping of Roman Catholicism and formalism, and the teaching of baptismal regeneration of infants, in the Anglican “Book of Common Prayer;” sections of it directly quoted by Spurgeon.  The notes at the end of these sermons, listing the sermon numbers and dates as being a part of a series, brought to my attention that these sermons were considered of special importance at the time.  The references to the Book of Common Prayer, I connected in my own understanding, to my previous reading from Puritan writers, recalling especially the story of John Bunyan and some of his objections to the “Book of Common Prayer.”  In reading again about it now, it also relates to my recent reading about the Scottish Covenanters of the 17th century (Sketches of the Covenanters, by J.C. McFeeters).

Iain Murray here contributes more of the historical background, which is quite interesting as a follow-up to the story of the Puritans and the Reformation in England.  The strife of the 17th century, between the Anglicans and the non-conformists, had been eradicated by the close of the 18th century.  A new controversy arose, beginning in 1833 (the year before Spurgeon was born) with the publication of tracts, ‘Tracts for the Times’, from Oxford; the initial excitement over the tracts died down by 1841.  The Tractarian view advocated apostolic succession from the times of the apostles, and appealed to the content in the Anglican Book of Prayer for its Anglo-Catholicism.  The weakness in the 19th century came from Evangelical Protestants who used the Book of Common Prayer understood in a non-Romanist way, and who even tried to argue for consistency between the two 16th century documents: The Anglican 39 Articles and the Book of Common Prayer.  As Murray notes:

Significantly, the debate over Tractarianism demonstrated that the wheel had come almost full circle since Puritan times.  In the 17th century the prelates and authorities in the Church had complained that the Puritan scruples over full conformity to the Book of Common Prayer were groundless, seeing there was nothing in the Book which supported the errors of Rome.  To this the Puritans replied by pointing out the very things which – for an altogether different purpose — the Tractarians pointed out in the mid-nineteenth century.  The Puritans claimed that the Prayer Book revealed the insufficiently Reformed character of the Church of England; it allowed nests of Popery to remain, and to these, they prophesied, ‘the rooks’ would one day return.  But the strange thing was that it was now evangelicals who asserted that there were no ‘nests’ in the Prayer Book, whereas dignitaries and bishops began to talk about the ‘Catholic’ character of the Book.  Either the Puritans or the 19th century evangelical churchmen were wrong.

Murray also here contributes quotes from Spurgeon’s contemporaries, including J.C. Ryle, and indicates his own disagreement with Spurgeon here (regarding the position of infant baptism) while noting the distinction between his own (covenantal) view of infant baptism and certain ideas of baptismal regeneration that are indeed found in the Prayer Book:  evidence indicates that “a number of those associated with the formulation of the 1552 Prayer Book did believe  that an efficacy accompanied infant baptism at the time of its administration and it is very hard to deny that this belief is taught in the Catechism.”  Murray further adds that the “warrant for the administration of baptism to children is not qualified in the Prayer Book in terms of the covenant promises of God to believing parents.”

The reading here is interesting, both in terms of Spurgeon’s part and the overall situation, this part of church history that he was a part of. After this section in “The Forgotten Spurgeon” comes the “Down-Grade Controversy,” which I have only read a little about.  I look forward to reading this as well, in reference to Spurgeon’s later years (sermons I will eventually get to in the Spurgeon sermon volumes).

Biographies of Common Christians: The Young Cottager and the Dairyman’s Daughter

August 8, 2016 1 comment

From my recent Spurgeon sermon reading comes an interesting reference to then-popular Christian literature.  From this sermon in the 1865 volume  (text Psalm 113:7-8):

 Some of the sweetest biographies of Christians have been the lives of the lowly culled from the annals of the poor. Who has not read, The Young Cottager, and, The Dairyman’s Daughter?

Though generally unknown today, these books are available online now, the writings of Legh Richmond: his accounts of conversions among the young, rural poor in England – the Isle of Wight specifically – in the late 18th and early 19th century.  A brief biography on Legh Richmond, from Amazon:

LEGH RICHMOND (1772–1827) was born in Liverpool, England. He attended Trinity College in Cambridge and received his B. A. and M. A. degrees. The young clergyman entered the ministry at the Isle of Wight. When he read Wilberforce’s “Practical View of Christianity,” he had a spiritual awakening, and respectfully named his son Wilberforce. On the Isle of Wight he met ‘The Dairyman’s Daughter,’ ‘The African Servant’ and ‘Little Jane.’ After seven years he moved to London and then to Turvey, where he wrote, “The Fathers of the English Church.”

“The Young Cottager” and “The Dairyman’s Daughter” are each slightly over 100 pages; both are available free from Gracegems.org:  Young Cottager and the Dairyman’s Daughter (also available for free in Kindle version from Amazon, here).  Both of these are accounts of young women who came to saving faith in Christ, and then experienced the decline and slow death of consumption (now known as tuberculosis).   Both were very serious about their faith, and instrumental in the salvation of family members — parents as well as younger siblings.  The Young Cottager, “little Jane,” was twelve years old, one of a group of junior-high age students that the minister had been teaching on Sunday afternoons.  A point that some of us at least can certainly relate to: Jane was in the background, not one of the students that particularly stood out to the teacher.  Her absence, at the beginning of her sickness, was not even noticed by him; an adult neighbor came to the minister, and  and told him of Jane’s desire to see him.  The Dairyman’s Daughter (Elizabeth Waldridge) came to saving faith in her twenties, while working as a servant girl for another household.  She later came back to her parent’s home to assist her elderly parents.  (As an aside, the description of her very aged father at first glance would seem to us as that of a man in his 80s – he was not yet 70; the hard life of poor people, doing physical work in the sun, takes its toll at an earlier age, compared to modern-day city dwellers.)  The content of this book includes many actual letters from Waldridge, who lived some distance from the minister and often sent letters to him by personal messenger.

Wegh Richmond’s style includes many details of the scenery — an appreciation for the details of the natural creation as the setting for his meditations.  Occasionally he commented on the act of meditation and his style and approach to his writings, as with these excerpts from The Dairyman’s Daughter:

How much do they lose who are strangers to serious meditation on the wonders and beauties of nature! How gloriously the God of creation shines in His works! Not a tree, or leaf, or flower, not a bird or insect, but it proclaims in glowing language, “God made me.”

And

Do any of my readers inquire why I describe so minutely the circumstances of prospect and scenery which may be connected with the incidents I relate?  My reply is, that the God of redemption is the God of creation likewise; and that we are taught in every part of the Word of God to unite the admiration of the beauties and wonders of nature to every other motive for devotion.

The stories from both Jane and Elizabeth, regarding their conversion experience, their apprehension of divine truth, and their insights and maturity, are fascinating to read, and even humbling, in comparison to our modern-day life.  No superficial understanding, but very deep comprehension of God’s grace, is seen in these spiritual babes, recent converts, along with spiritual growth of a much quicker pace than is usual in our modern day Christian experience.  It is well here to remember, that not every person’s salvation experience is going to be exactly the same, or to the same level of growth within so short a time.  Indeed, Wegh Richmond himself observed this, that not everyone (even in his day) showed such spiritual maturity in the same way:

It has not unfrequently been observed, that when it is the Lord’s pleasure to remove any of his faithful followers out of this life at an early period of their course, they make rapid progress in the experience of Divine truth.  The fruits of the Spirit ripen fast, as they advance to the close of mortal existence.  In particular, they grow in humility, through a deeper sense of inward corruption, and a clearer view of the perfect character of the Saviour.

Richmond’s works include a third title, also free on Kindle:  Annals of the Poor, which includes the account of the African servant.  As Spurgeon said, these are sweet biographies, the stories about common Christians.  We are so familiar with the lives of the spiritual giants, the Luthers, Calvins, and Spurgeons, but these accounts remind us of the many other people we will meet one day.  So many Christians have passed through this world, unknown by all but a few.  It is nice to read about some of these poor saints, who were so rich in faith and serve as examples to us, of those who have gone before us.

Conflating Preparationism With the Second Use of the Law

July 18, 2016 4 comments

I recently came across an online discussion that revealed some people’s misunderstandings about the law and another term, preparationism.  For consideration was the following quote from Spurgeon.  (The full quote is available in this sermon, from January of 1886.  The conversation included only the bolded parts of the full quote — but the excerpt still makes Spurgeon’s point well enough):

I do not believe that any man can preach the gospel who does not preach the law. The book of Leviticus and all the other typical books are valuable as gospel-teaching to us, because there is always in them most clearly the law of God. The law is the needle, and you cannot draw the silken thread of the gospel through a man’s heart, unless you first send the needle of the law through the center thereof, to make way for it. If men do not understand the law, they will not feel that they are sinners; and if they are not consciously sinners, they will never value the sin offering. If the Ten Commandments are never read in their hearing, they will not know wherein they are guilty, and how shall they make confession? If they are not assured that the law is holy, and just, and good, and that God has never demanded of any man more than He has a right to demand, how shall they feel the filthiness of sin, or see the need of flying to Christ for cleansing? There is no healing a man till the law has wounded him, no making him alive till the law has slain him.

Clearly, Spurgeon is here referencing the “second use” of the law (the pedagogical use): to point out to sinners what God’s holy standard is, to show that they are sinners and that they cannot keep God’s law on their own and they need a savior.  Yet the people in this conversation instead concluded (incorrectly) that this is an example of preparationism — which they defined as, that a certain “work” of preparation needs to be done in a person’s heart, or else the Holy Spirit is not able to bring conviction of sin to that person.

Such reasoning shows two problems: first, an incorrect definition of what preparationism is; and second, attributing that error (preparationism) to Charles Spurgeon.  As explained in this lesson in the 1689 Baptist Confession exposition series, as well as in this previous post about one of Spurgeon’s sermons, preparationism is the idea that a sinner must show a certain amount of repentance, a certain level of sorrow for his sin such as some of the “great saints” experienced, before he can come to Christ — an error that amounts to “justification by repentance” rather than “justification by faith.”

Quoting Spurgeon again on the error of preparationism:

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

The post about Spurgeon, linked above, includes additional quotes from Spurgeon in which he “named names” of specific Puritan authors who taught preparationism.  So it is established that Spurgeon did not teach preparationism; the original Spurgeon quote above is instead in reference to the second use of the moral law, that which is clearly taught in the New Testament – the law as our teacher, to teach us the knowledge of sin.

For some reason, many evangelicals today, especially of the New Calvinist group, dislike any mention of “law,” as though the gospel is all and only about grace; to suggest anything about “the law” gets a response of “legalism!” and rhetoric about how we’re saved by grace and “not under law.”  Much of this attitude, directed at those in the Reformed Covenant Theology camp, comes from failing to distinguish and to understand the difference between the second and third use of the law; an article from a couple years back well notes this problem as seen in actual posts from the Gospel Coalition blog (Tullian Tchividjian’s misunderstanding).

As seen with the above example conversation, some within New Calvinism are taking their anti-law idea even further, going to the extreme of rejecting not merely the third use of the law, but even the second use of the law – and equating it with the unrelated error of preparationism. To reject both the second use and the third use is to take a position outside of the Christian Protestant tradition.  For all evangelical groups – Reformed/Calvinist, Reformed/Lutheran, and even classic, revised and progressive dispensational Calvinists – have affirmed at least the second use of the law.  To reject the second use, and misunderstand what Spurgeon was saying as legalistic error, is to join company with the early Protestant-era antinomians and their leader John Agricola, a position described in this article about the 16th century antinomian controversy:

This Lutheran confessional consensus concerning mandata dei as guides for sanctified living nearly crumbled in the mid sixteenth century amid the Antinomian Controversy. Antinomianism, or a rejection of any use of the Law for Christians, found a prominent spokesperson in John Agricola. While serving as an instructor in Eisleben during the 1520s, Agricola taught that the mercy of God revealed in the Gospel alone suffices to cause a person to repent of his sins. In addition to rejecting the second use of the Law, he also discarded the third. Agricola, who had trouble accepting that Melancthon, rather than he, received an appointment to the new theology post at Wittenberg in 1526, criticized the distinction that Melanththon made on these points between Law and Gospel. “Agricola took an extremely antinomian position, virtually rejecting out of hand the whole Old Testament, as well as injunctions of the Law in the lives of the regenerate.” Confusion compounded the controversy when Melancthon’s followers noted that their teacher had, at times, ascribed a Law function to the “Gospel,” using that term in its broader sense to include both the Law and the narrow definition of the Gospel. “But Melancthon’s followers did not make this distinction. They insisted that the Gospel in its narrow, proper sense worked contrition and rebuked sin.” Luther and Agricola argued back and forth in print during the late 1530s. After Luther’s death, Agricola took major part in drafting the Augsburg Interim (1548), which forged a compromise between Rome and the Lutheran theologians by equivocating on the distinction between Law and Gospel.

 

The Book of Nature and Its Proper Use

April 22, 2016 1 comment

In my reading of Spurgeon recently, I was reminded of something I briefly blogged on a few years ago: the idea of “two books” from God, one of which is the “book of nature.”

I first heard the term “two books” a few years ago in an online discussion with an old-earth creationist (in a dispensationalist group) – and later posted an excerpt from Dr. Jason Lisle (in Institute for Creation Research’s Acts & Facts magazine) that responds to this error, of trying to claim the “book of nature” for proof of an old earth:

It is not something that is comprised of statements in human language. It is not something that a person can literally read or interpret in the same way that we interpret a sentence. … The advantage of a book is that it is comprised of clear statements in human language that are designed to be understood by the reader. The meaning of a book is the intention of the author. But that’s not the case with nature. What does a rock mean? What does a fossil mean? They don’t literally mean anything because they are not statements made by an author who is intending to convey an idea. …. a record is an account in writing that preserves the knowledge of facts or events. Rocks and fossils are not in the written form and are, therefore, not a record. … the primary purpose of nature is not to teach, but to function. Consequently, the world is not comprised of statements that are easy to understand. Moreover, nature is cursed due to sin. Therefore, God gave us a clear, inerrant account of the major events of history in writing so that we can begin to properly understand nature.

Charles Spurgeon’s sermon #633 (from the 1865 volume, no specific date) comes a much earlier reference to “two books” of which one is the book of nature.  Characteristic of Spurgeon, this usage of the term is quite different from the modern thinking regarding creation science and evidences for age in what we see around us.  Here is a great summary of how the book of nature should be thought of – looking at God’s attributes as seen in the world around us, what man knows but suppresses (Romans 1), the general revelation about the God who specially reveals Himself in His word:

if you ask me how I know it is God’s Word, I can take you in vision to Nineveh. See the excavated cities and palaces, the winged bulls and lions buried in the rubbish—all which tell us that that Book which spoke of them, before they were discovered, must have a high antiquity. And the volume which, written in the times of their glory, yet told of their tremendous fall, must have had an inspiration in it not belonging to common books.

The best proof of this inspiration is, perhaps, to be found in this—that we know that God wrote another book, the book of nature, and as the two works of one author are quite sure to exhibit some common points in which you may find out the author’s idioms, so every student of nature and revelation has been able to say that the two volumes bear marks of the same writer. And the more they have studied both books, the more they have said, “We find the same God in the one as in the other.” The God of nature is kind and good, and so is the God of revelation. The God of nature is the terrible God of the avalanche and thunderbolt, the tempest and the whirlwind; and the God of this Book is terrible out of His holy place when He comes to judge the sons of men. We find that the very same official approval which is set upon the book of nature is also stamped upon the Book of God. We would be glad, therefore, if you could believe this, and believing this you would soon, “Come and see,” for mark you, the best way of knowing about Christ is to try Him, to experience Him, and since you want to know if He can forgive sins, trust Him to forgive yours.

Current Views About Charles Spurgeon

March 25, 2016 Leave a comment

Spurgeon is of course well known as one of the great Reformed/Puritan-style preachers that still has influence today, and his name frequently comes up in theological discussions.  Seemingly every position wants to claim him as one of theirs—even Arminians like him; the Seventh Day Adventists cite Spurgeon for “support” from his use of types regarding Jesus and the archangel Michael; and amillennialists/postmillennialists to this day want to have Spurgeon on their side (he was historic premillennial, of the classic type with future restoration of Israel, as well documented in Dennis Swanson’s essay here) or at least claim that Spurgeon was inconsistent and “optimistic like a postmill.”

Those well-studied in Spurgeon – his preaching, writing, and overall life – recognize that even Spurgeon was not perfect; he had his weaknesses.  Arden Hodgins, in one of the 1689 Confession series lectures, observed that Spurgeon so over-worked himself and neglected his own physical health—(from the human perspective) had he not neglected his own health, he would have lived longer, for more years or service.  I can certainly see some validity in that observation, having read for myself places where Spurgeon – still in his late 20s – was so focused on doing God’s work that he disdained the idea of even any time on the Sabbath being put to simple physical rest; he must be busy doing the Lord’s work on that day as well, to not allow any time to go to waste.

Similarly, Tom Chantry, in a blog series dealing with one of the points in the 1689 London Baptist Confession, addressed Spurgeon’s weaknesses and limitations—in response to others who brought Spurgeon into the discussion of Divine Impassibility.  Examining Spurgeon’s contradictory statements at two different points of his life, Chantry well observed the following regarding Spurgeon:

Yet knowing that no man is perfect, we know on some level he must be worthy of criticism. He rejected consecutive exposition, choosing instead to preach on random verses each Sunday. His sermon preparation was no model for young preachers, relying on his copious memory and prodigious talents rather than on careful, disciplined labor. As a result, probably, of both of the above, he occasionally dabbled in fanciful exegesis; read through Morning and Evening and see if you don’t repeatedly come to entries of which you say, “That cannot be what that text means!”…
… Spurgeon had certain disadvantages in his use of the Confession. He did not live in the London of the 17th century, when men from many congregations gathered to discuss the doctrines found in the confession. He did not even live in our day, when a resurgence of confessionalism has led to similar discussions. Instead, he labored more or less alone. It is hard to imagine who could have been Spurgeon’s peer, given his unique influence. He had many disciples, but few teachers. On the other hand, he observed the collapse of Baptist doctrine during his own lifetime. By the time he was called home, the Baptist movement was a ruin of its former self.

While reading one of Spurgeon’s sermons this last Lord’s Day (sermon #626, The Waterer Watered, from April 1865), I was reminded of another type of Spurgeon-criticism I observed a few months ago in a pastor’s sermon remarks.  I say “another type of criticism” because the comments simply do not ring true–comments which instead indicate very superficial and incorrect understanding regarding this subject (Spurgeon and his ministry).  This false criticism was the idea that “Spurgeon was such a genius,” and everyone just loved to hear him, and because he was so gifted, so extraordinary, thus Spurgeon was the cause for the idea that “everything centers on the preacher” instead of recognizing that all of the people in the church need to do their part.

That people by nature do tend to focus on the church leader, of course did not begin with Spurgeon.  Yet Spurgeon’s own view was quite the contrary, and he frequently exhorted his people to action and praised them for the work they were already doing: the Sunday School teachers and other laborers at the church, as well as their outreach in the community.  He fully recognized that the success of his church was due not only to himself, but to the work of many others there with him, including the many young men raised up to plant other churches.  The people in attendance at Spurgeon’s church likewise would not have believed such–as evidenced from Spurgeon’s own words to his congregation, about the great outreach done by people at his church.  Sermon #626 is not the first one in which Spurgeon spoke of this, but here are excerpts from this sermon, words specifically directed to the people at his church:

Now, dear friends, up to this time the policy which we have pursued has been this—if members of other churches want to know, we tell them, we have endeavored to water others. Your minister has journeyed all over the three kingdoms preaching the word, and you have not grumbled at his absence. We have undertaken many enterprises for Christ; we hope to undertake a great many more. We have never hindered our strength; we have undertaken enterprises that were enough to exhaust us, to which, by God’s grace, we became accustomed in due season, and then we have gone on to something more. We have never sought to hinder the planting of other churches from our midst or in our neighborhood. It is with cheerfulness that we dismiss our twelves, our twenties, our fifties, to form other churches. We encourage our members to leave us to found other churches—no—we seek to persuade them to do it! We ask them to scatter throughout the land to become the goodly seed which God shall bless. I believe that as long as we do this, we shall prosper. I have marked other churches that have adopted the other way, and they have not succeeded.  This is what I have heard from some ministers—“I do not encourage village stations or, if I do, I do not encourage their becoming distinct churches and breaking bread together. I do not encourage too many young men going out to preach, for to have a knot of people who can preach a little, may, very soon cause dissatisfaction with my own preaching.” . . .

While I speak thus much in your praise, my brethren, let me say, we must keep this up. We must not say, “We have the college to support, and we do as much as other churches for various societies, and we can be content to sit still.” This church will begin to go rotten at the core the moment we are not working for God with might and main. Sometimes I get a pull at my coattail by very kind, judicious friends, who think I shall ask you to do too much. My brethren are welcome to pull my coattail, but it will come off before I shall stand back for a moment!

So let us continue to appreciate Spurgeon and his remarkable insights–while recognizing that he did have faults.  Yet we should understand his actual weaknesses–instead of superficial, incorrect ideas which miss the real story regarding Spurgeon.

 

 

 

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.

And

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.