Wednesday, November 18, 2009

From the Pastor's Desk: part 5: Misquoting Spurgeon by Richard Smith

For the last several years, many non-Calvinists have been attempting to cite Charles Spurgeon as a true Calvinist, who affirmed freewill, while denying "modern Calvinism". Due to time constraints, I asked Richard Smith, Associational Minister of the Spurgeon Baptist Association of Churches, if he would write a response to the quote of Spurgeon. Let's face it. Who would be better than the guy who actually reads Spurgeon? Richard Smith was gracious enough to do so.
Here is the article.

The purpose of this post is to show that Spurgeon did not believe in free will and correct a statement by David Butler who interpreted a passage of Spurgeon in a recent sermon as saying man has free will. This is not a personal attack and is not questioning the truthfullness of pastor Butler, but is an attempt to deal with the issue of what Spurgeon really said and, therefore, of the true nature of Calvinism.
In 1884 he said of John 6:37, "These are two great truths; let us carry them both with us, and they will balance each other." He went on to say, "I was once asked to reconcile these two statements, and I answered, "No, I could never reconcile these two friends. These two statements never fell out: they are perfectly agreed... The grand declaration of the purpose of God that He will save His own is quite consistent with the widest declaration that whosoever will come to Christ shall be saved.I think the least profitable of all spiritual activities is to try to remove imagined difficulties in God's Word. The most profitable thing to do when you don't fully understand something in the Bible is to accept and believe it." --(Pastor Butler quoting Spurgeon)
Pastor Butler then goes on to make the following statements and ask the following questions:
"Doesn't sound like a Calvinist to me?

At least not a Calvinist by today's standards.

One of the greatest trials of a thinking person is, "How can God be sovereign and man still have a free will?"

"How can it be true that God elects some to be saved and that whoever chooses may come to Christ and be received?"

A simple reply is that God said these thing are both true, and He understands what we cannot."

The first response is simply that the above quote of Spurgeon was taken out of context. Here is the context of the statements quoted above:

"Him that cometh to me I will an no wise cast out.” This is a statement without limitation of any kind: it has been thought to leave the free grace of God open to the free will of man, so that whosoever pleases may come and may be sure that he still not be refused. We have no permission to pare down either sentence, nor is there the slightest need to do so. The first sentence appears to me to say that God has chosen a people, and has given these people to Christ, and these people must and shall come to Christ, and so shall be saved. The second truth declares that every man who comes to Christ shall be saved, since he shall not be cast out, and that implies that he shall be received and accepted. These are two great truths; let us carry them both with us, and they will balance each other.”

“I was once asked to reconcile these two statements, and I answered, “No, I never reconcile friends.” These two passages never fell out: they are perfectly agreed…Take, then, these two truths, and know that they are equally precious portions of one harmonious whole…As surely as this Book is true, God has a people whom he has chosen, and whom Christ has redeemed from among men; and these must and shall by sovereign grace be brought in due time to repentance and faith, for not one of them shall ever perish. But yet is it equally true, that whosoever among the sons of men shall come and put his trust in Christ shall receive eternal life. “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”…The two truths of my text are by no means inconsistent the one with the other: they are perfectly agreed. Happy is the man who can believe them both, whether he sees their agreement or does not see it…First notice, carefully, that if all that the Father giveth to Christ shall come to him, then some people shall most surely come to Christ; and why should not you be among them?...

“In the next place I find that those that come to Christ, according to this text, come because of the Father and the Son. Read it. “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me.” That is, they come to Jesus. Why is it that they are made to come? Because the Father has given them to Christ…The reason that is given why they shall come to Jesus is because something was done for them by the Father and by the Son.”

The context of the quoted sermon from Spurgeon shows that Spurgeon was not talking about free will at all, but instead two statements: 1) God drawing and 2) people coming to God. This is meant to encourage sinners. This is meant to encourage true evangelism. Instead of going to sinners as if it is in their own power to come to Christ, we go to them and tell them that the almighty power of God can draw them. We can tell them with Spurgeon in this sermon that they need a new heart, but that God alone can give them that rather than themselves. People must come but they only have the power and ability to come if God gives that to them by grace. But what did Spurgeon really think of free will? I will give three quotes below to show this. The text given after the quote refers to the sermon on that passage of Scripture that the quote was taken from.

One teaches we are saved by free grace, another says that we are not, but are saved by free will; and yet you believe they are both right. I do not understand that. One says that God loves his people, and never leaves off loving them; another says that he did not love his people before they loved him: that he often loves them, and then ceases to love them and turns them away. They may be both right in the main; but can they be both right when one says “Yes,” and the other says “No.” I must have a pair of spectacles to enable me to look backwards and forwards at the same time, before I can see that. It cannot be, sirs, that they are both right (Rev 8:12).

O may the Holy Spirit enable us to keep the beacon fire blazing, to warn you of the rocks, shoals, and quicksands, which surround you and may we ever guide you to Jesus, and not to free-will or creature merit (Acts 9:11).

It has already been proved beyond all controversy that free-will is nonsense. Freedom cannot belong to will any more than ponderability can belong to electricity. They are altogether different things. Free agency we may believe in, but free-will is simply ridiculous…I will go as far as Martin Luther, in that strong assertion of his, where he says, “If any man doth ascribe aught of salvation, even the very least, to the free-will of man, he knoweth nothing of grace, and he hath not learnt Jesus Christ aright” (John 5:40).

The definition of a Calvinist is not easy to come by, but B. B. Warfield gave two definitions that are at the very least accurate and helpful. 1) A Calvinist is a person that has seen God. 2) The system of Calvinism hinges primarily on efficacious grace and not the doctrine of election. What we must see from this, then, is that true Calvinism is really all about God and His grace. If we can distinguish between the name of John Calvin and the theology of Calvinism, it will be very helpful. If we can see Calvinism as a theology taken from Scripture and as all about God rather than the man of John Calvin, we will be on the right track. As the quotes show above, what Spurgeon wanted to do by denying free will was to magnify the grace and glory of God.

The real issue with free will is not just about how free man is, but how free God is in saving sinners by grace alone rather than anything found in them or that they have done. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is that God saves sinners based on who He is in Himself and because of His grace in Christ Jesus and not because of anything in them or of any choice they have made. The issue over free will does not have to do with human souls being robots, but over the issue of whether man has power in his soul to love God in himself and his own power or not. The issue has to do with how spiritual a natural man is before the new birth and before the life of God is in his soul. Charles Spurgeon, who was used to bring thousands and thousands to Christ, did not preach that man had free will but that God saved by free grace. This is the same message that God used in the great revivals of the past. This is what the mighty preachers of old thundered in our nation. Why is that? It is because God saves sinners to the praise of the glory of His grace (Eph 1:4-6) and not because of anything a human being is or can do. It is by grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-10).


MED said...

Thank you for that. It was very helpful. We are struggling with this exact issue in my own church. I appreciate you tackling this and being a resource and encouragement to me. Thanks.

Howard Fisher said...

Thanks for the comment Med.

I went with Richard on this particular post because, even though I could have done this, he is soooo much smarter and more knowledgeable than I am, especially when it comes to Spurgeon. I consider it a privilege that he took the time to write this post.

Lord willing I will write 3 or 4 more dealing with the specific verses he cites at the end.