Note: Dr. Sam Horn is host of The Word for Life radio program.
by Dr. Sam Horn
The true minister of Christ feels impelled to preach the whole truth, because it and it alone can meet the wants of man. What evils has this world seen through a distorted, mangled, man-moulded gospel. What mischiefs have been done to the souls of men by men who have preached only one part and not all the counsel of God!
—C.H. Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle, 1859
Hyper-Calvinsim is all house and no door; Arminianism is all door and no house.
Editor’s Note: In Part 1, Dr. Horn summarized Charles Spurgeon’s background and surveyed statements Spurgeon had made about both Arminianism and Calvinism. In Part 2, he took a closer look at Spurgeon’s role in a debate between these two views. In Part 3, we look at “Spurgeon’s Appeal to Scripture” and “Lessons to Be Learned” from the controversy.
III. Spurgeon’s Appeal to Scripture
A. Universal Gospel Invitations Appear in the Bible
Peter preached the Christ of the gospel—preached it personally and directly at the crowd who were gathered around him … Grown up among us is a school of men who say that they rightly preach the gospel to sinners when they merely deliver statements of what the gospel is, and the result of dying unsaved, but they grow furious and talk of unsoundness if any venture to say to the sinner, “Believe,” or “Repent.” To this school Peter did not belong–into their secret he had never come, and with their assembly, were he alive now, he would not be joined.
“Repent and be baptized every one of you,” said Peter … . I do feel so grieved at many of our Calvinistic brethren; they know nothing about Calvinism I am sorry to say, for never was any man more caricatured by his professed followers than John Calvin. Many of them are afraid to preach from Peter’s text … When I do it, they say, “He is unsound.” But I do not care for that; I know the Lord has blessed my appeals to all sorts of sinners, and none shall stay me in giving free invitations as long as I find them in this book.
B. The Warrant of Faith Lies in the Objective Commands of Scripture and Not in the Subjective Feelings of the Hearer
Christ’s ambassadors are authorized to call “on all people of every clime and kindred, to believe the gospel with a promise of personal salvation to each and every one that believes.” The message is not, “Wait for feelings,” it is, “believe and live.” I find Jesus Christ says nothing to sinners about waiting, but very much about coming.
If we begin to preach to sinners that they must have a certain sense of sin and a certain measure of conviction, such teaching would turn the sinner away from God in Christ to himself. The man begins at once to say, “Have I a broken heart? Do I feel the burden of sin?” This is only another form of looking at self. Man must not look to himself to find reasons for God’s grace.
The gospel is that you believe in Christ Jesus; that you get right out of yourself, and depend alone in Him. Do you say, “I feel so guilty?” You are certainly guilty, whether you feel it or not; you are far more guilty than you have any idea of. Come to Christ because you are guilty, not because you have been prepared to come by looking at your guilt. Trust nothing of your own, not even your sense of need.
C. The Scriptures Teach Both Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility in the Sense That Man Is Both Free and Responsible for All His Actions
I believe in predestination, yea, even in its very jots and tittles. I believe that the path of a single grain of dust in the March wind is ordained and settled by a decree which cannot be violated; that every word and thought of man, every flittering of a sparrow’s wing, every flight of a fly … that everything, in fact, is foreknown and foreordained. But I do equally believe in the free agency of man, that man acts as he wills, especially in moral operations—choosing the evil with a will that is unbiased by anything that comes from God, biased only by his own depravity of heart and the perverseness of his habits; choosing the right too, with perfect freedom, though sacredly guided and led by the Holy Spirit … I believe that man is accountable as if there were no destiny whatever … Where these two truths meet I do not know, nor do I want to know. They do not puzzle me, since I have given up my mind to believing them both.
Some have supposed that when we believe with David in Psalm 115, that God hath done whatsoever he hath pleased, we deny free agency, and of necessity moral responsibility also. “Nay, but we declare that those who would do so are tinctured with the old captious spirit of him who said, “Why doth he yet find fault, for who hath resisted his will?” and our answer is that of Paul, “Nay, but O man, who are thou that repliest against God?” Can you understand it, for I cannot, how a man is a free agent, a responsible agent, so that his sin is his own willful sin and lies with him and never with God, and yet at the same time God’s purposes are fulfilled, and his will is done even by demons and corrupt men—I cannot comprehend it: without hesitation I believe it, and rejoice so to do, I never hope to comprehend it. I worship a God I can never expect to comprehend . … It is my firm belief that everything in heaven, and earth, and hell, will be seen to be, in the long run, part of the divine plan; yet never is God the author or the accomplice of sin … sin rests with man, wholly with man, and yet by some strange overruling force, Godlike and mysterious, like the existence of God, his supreme will is accomplished … to deny this truth because we cannot understand it, were to shut ourselves out of a great deal of important knowledge.
D. Hyper-Calvinism Has Seriously Misunderstood the True Biblical Teaching of the Love of God
We think that ultra-calvinism, which goes vastly beyond the teaching of Christ, or the enlightened ministry of Calvin could warrant, gets some of its support from a wrong view of God. To the ultra-calvinist his absolute sovereignty is delightfully conspicuous. He is awe-stricken with the great and glorious attributes of the Most High. His omnipotence appalls him, and his sovereignty astonishes him, and he at once submits as by a stern necessity to the will of God. He, however, too much forgets that God is love. He does not make prominent enough the benevolent character of the Divine Being . . . To see the holiness, the love, the justice, the faithfulness, the immutability, the omnipotence, and the sovereignty of God, all shinning like a bright corona of eternal and ineffable light, this has never been given perfectly to any human being, and inasmuch as we have not seen all these, as we hope yet to see them, our faulty vision has been the ground of divers mistakes.
Sinner, in God’s name I command you to repent and believe. Do you turn away and say you will not be commanded? Then again will I change my note … I exhort you to flee to Christ. O my brother, dost thou know what a loving Christ He is? Let me tell thee from my own soul what I know of Him … I thought that Christ was cruel and unkind. O I can never forgive myself that I should have thought so ill of Him. But what a loving reception did I have when I went to Him … Do you know what it is you are rejecting this morning? You are rejecting Christ, your only Saviour … I should be worse than a fiend if I did not now, with all love and kindness, and earnestness, beseech you to “lay hold on eternal life” … Some Hyper-Calvinist would tell me I am wrong in so doing. I cannot help it. I must do it. As I must stand before my Judge at last, I feel that I should not make full proof of my ministry unless I entreat with many tears that ye would be saved, that ye would look to Jesus Christ and receive his glorious salvation.
IV. Lessons to Be Learned from the Conflict
A. Genuine Evangelical Christianity Should Not Divide Over This Conflict
The doctrine of election, like the great act of elections itself, is intended to divide, not between Israel and the Israel, but between Israel and the Egyptians,—not between saint and saint, but between saints and the children of the world. A man may be evidently of God’s chosen family, and yet though elected, may not believe in the doctrine of election. I hold that there are many savingly called, who do not believe in effectual calling, and that there are a great many who persevere to the end, who do not believe the doctrine of final perseverance … We do not set their fallacies down to any willful opposition to the truth as it is in Jesus, but simply to an error in their judgments, which we pray God to correct. We hope that if they think us mistaken, too, they will reciprocate the same Christian courtesy; and when we meet around the cross, we hope that we shall ever feel that we are one in Christ Jesus.
B. Great Care Should Be Exercised in Presenting These Truths (Sovereignty and Responsibility) of the Gospel to the Unconverted—Gospel Preaching Should Concentrate on the Responsibility of the Hearer to Respond
Let a man go to the grammar school of faith and repentance, before he goes to the university of election and predestination. (George Whitefield)
They cannot be saved till they are thorough theologians. But the non-Christian can hear the soul and marrow of the gospel, that is, Christ as the Saviour, and see his responsibility to repent and believe, without understanding the doctrines commonly called Calvinistic. It is with his responsibility that the sinner has the most to do, whereas God’s predestinating grace is the subject with which the saint has most to do. Let him praise the free and sovereign grace of God, and bless his name. (Spurgeon)
It ought not to be the business of the evangelist to teach God’s decrees to the unconverted. It is certainly God’s decree of salvation which is fulfilled in conversion but knowledge of that decree is no part of saving faith. (Iain Murray, p. 116)
C. This Controversy Directs Us to Our Need for Profound Humility
I thank God for a thousand things I cannot understand. When I cannot get to know the reason why, I say to myself, “Why should I know the reason why? Who am I, and what am I, that I should demand explanations of my God?” I am a most unreasonable being when I am most reasonable, and when my judgment is most accurate I dare not trust it. I had rather trust my God. I am a poor silly child at my very best: but my Father must know better than I … “But,” we foolishly cry, “Lord, why is it so?” “It is so, my child,” He says. “But why, Father, is it so?” “It is so, my child, believe me.” Then we go on speculating, to reach the lofty windows of eternal truth. Once up there we do not know where we are, our heads reel, and we are in all kinds of uncertainty and spiritual peril. If we mind things too high for us, we shall run great risks. I do not intend meddling with such lofty matters.
D. Calvinism Has Gone to Seed When It Ceases to Be Evangelistic
He was convinced that the truths called Calvinistic would never be more widely received among the churches if the impression was allowed to prevail that these truths inhibited earnest evangelism, as they commonly did where Hyper-Calvinism became the accepted tradition. “I have seen,” he says, “ to my inexpressible grief, the doctrines of grace made a huge stone to be rolled at the mouth of the sepulcher of a dead Christ.”
(Iain Murray, p. 122)
Murray contends that Spurgeon anticipated our present situation. Here is Murray’s own statement:
He believed that a change of such a fundamental character was taking place in the church of the last century that its results would be felt generations later. The popular view among church leaders of the Victorian era was that Protestant Christianity would go “full steam ahead” in the twentieth century. Spurgeon said the opposite. He found himself like Jeremiah, warning that the promises being made by his religious contemporaries were false. He knew there were sad days ahead: “We are only at the beginning of an era of mingled unbelief and fanaticism. The hurricane is coming. Men have ceased to be guided by the word, and claim to be themselves prophets.”
Having begun with Spurgeon, let us let him end the discourse as well by speaking across the years to the controversy in which the contemporary fundamental church is now engaged. These words were part of a message titled, “The Injury Done by Hyper-Calvinism and Antinomianism” and preached by Spurgeon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in December of 1859.
The true minister of Christ feels impelled to preach the whole truth, because it and it alone can meet the wants of man. What evils has this world seen through a distorted, mangled, man-moulded gospel.
What mischiefs have been done to the souls of men by men who have preached only one part and not all the counsel of God! My heart bleeds for many a family where Antinomian doctrine has gained the sway. I could tell many a sad story of families dead in sin, whose consciences are seared as with a hot iron, by the fatal preaching to which they listen. I have known convictions stifled and desires quenched by the soul-destroying system which takes manhood from man and makes him no more responsible than an ox. I cannot imagine a more ready instrument in the hands of Satan for the ruin of souls than a minister who tells sinners that it is not their duty to repent of their sins or to believe in Christ, and who has the arrogance to call himself a gospel minister, while he teaches that God hates some men infinitely and unchangeably for no reason whatever but simply because he chooses to do so. O, my brethren! May the Lord save you from the voice of the charmer, and keep you ever deaf to the voice of error.
Even in Christian families, what evil will a distorted gospel produce! I have seen the young believer, just saved from sin, happy in his early Christian career, and walking humbly with his God. But evil has crept in, disguised in the mantle of truth. The finger of partial blindness was laid upon their eyes, and but one doctrine could be seen. Sovereignty was seen, but not responsibility. The minister once beloved was hated; he who had been honest to preach God’s Word, was accounted as the off-scouring of all things. And what became the effect? The very reverse of good and gracious. Bigotry usurped the place of love; bitterness lived where once there had been a loveliness of character. I could point you to innumerable instances where harping upon one peculiar doctrine has driven men to excess of bigotry and bitterness. And when a man has once come there, he is ready enough for sin of any kind to which the devil may please to tempt him. There is a necessity that the whole gospel should be preached, or else the spirits, even of Christians, will become marred and maimed. I have known men diligent for Christ, labouring to win souls with both hands; and on a sudden they have espoused one particular doctrine and not the whole truth, and they have subsided into lethargy. On the other hand, where men have only taken the practical side of the truth, and left out the doctrinal, too many professors have run over into legality, have talked as if they were to be saved by works, and have almost forgotten that grace by which they were called. They are like the Galatians; they have been bewitched by what they have heard. The believer in Christ, if he is to be kept pure, simple, holy, charitable, Christ-like, is only to be kept so by a preaching of the whole truth as it is in Jesus. And as for the salvation of sinners, ah, my hearers, we can never expect God to bless our ministry for the conversion of sinners unless we preach the gospel as a whole. Let me get but one part of the truth, and always dwell upon it, to the exclusion of every other, and I cannot expect my Master’s blessing. If I preach as he would have me preach, he will certainly own the word; he will never leave it without his own living witness. But let me imagine that I can improve the gospel, that I can make it consistent, that I can dress it up and make it look finer, I shall find that my Master is departed, and that Ichabod is written on the walls of the sanctuary. How many there are kept in bondage through neglect of gospel invitations. (Iain Murray, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism, pp.155-157)
Dr. Sam Horn serves as president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He served formerly as pastor/teacher at Brookside Baptist Church and on the administrative staff of Northland Baptist Bible College.