Spurgeon and the Battle for Gospel Preaching, Part 1

First appeared at SharperIron Oct. 15, 2007 with the permission of Brookside Baptist Church.Spurgeon

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.
—John Duncan 


On April 28, 1854, a 19-year-old boy-preacher assumed the pastorate of New Park Street Chapel in London, England. He remained in this ministry for more than four decades. Throughout the course of his ministry, God did mighty works, and unusual advances were made for the gospel of Jesus Christ. During his ministry, Charles Spurgeon saw more than 14,000 new members added to New Park Street Chapel. He enjoyed the blessing and provision of the Lord through several expansions and building programs. He founded an orphanage and a college for training ministers. He preached to thousands each week. On one occasion, he preached to more than 30,000 people at one time. His was a household name, and even hansom (cab) drivers instinctively knew to take people over the river to “Charlie’s.” Two thousand two hundred and forty-one of his sermons were in print at the time of his death. Today, more than 300 million copies of his sermons and books are in print, making him one of the most prolific authors in the English-speaking world.

The preceding details of Spurgeon’s ministry are well known to most preachers who have had any measure of exposure to Church history. His rich spiritual heritage has been chronicled in scores of biographies and other literature related to his life. One aspect of his ministry, however, has received little or no attention until recently—the prolonged doctrinal controversy surrounding his practice of openly inviting all men to respond to the invitation of the gospel. The details and ramifications of this controversy can be found in a fairly recent book by Iain Murray entitled Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching. Published in 1995 by Banner of Truth, this work provides an understanding of the nature, extent, and doctrinal issues surrounding the controversy.

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Wanted: More Arminians

quote boxIt has become a bit routine:

  • Email arrives from someone assuming I am (or everybody at SharperIron is) a Calvinist.
  • Email poses question believed to be incriminating of Calvinists or unanswerable by them.
  • Response from me offers biblical answer that is not especially calvinistic.
  • Questioner ignores most of the particulars, broadly condemns “Calvinism.”
  • Discussion becomes repetitive, overly heated or both, ends.

A recent example appears below, with details removed to avoid identifying the sender. I’m including the exchange because, this time around, a reality hit home to me that hadn’t before: apparently, many fundamentalists think that anti-Calvinism is a complete doctrine of salvation.

But anti-Calvinism is, at best, a thoughtful rejection of one particular doctrine of salvation. More commonly, it’s nothing more than a feeling of hostility toward doctrines only partially understood. As a result, many anti-Calvinists have no coherent doctrine of salvation at all. They have rejected lasagna from the menu but have walked away without ordering any alternative.

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The Electrum


Those who are beginning to study the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism tend to entertain two related but mistaken assumptions. The first is that the debate involves only two primary positions. The second is that the more extremely one implements either position, the more distant one must be from the other position. The first of these assumptions is simply untrue. The second is true, but only to a point.

Like visible light, positions in the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism form a continuous spectrum. Every Christian who has an opinion on the issues can be located somewhere along that spectrum. The issues that define the positions, however, are not necessarily those that one might expect.

Participants in this debate will be found arguing about divine sovereignty versus human freedom, about the ordo salutis, about the extent of human depravity, about the role of prevenient grace, and about whether election is unconditional, conditional, or corporate. To be sure, all of these questions are important, but they eventually lead to one critical problem. That problem is the definition of divine foreknowledge.

Divine foreknowledge is the hinge upon which all the other debates turn. One’s definition of foreknowledge will determine whether one ends on the Arminian or Calvinistic side of the debate—and everyone who expresses an opinion is on one side or the other.

Arminians see God’s foreknowledge as His foresight. God looks ahead through the corridors of time and sees what free people will choose. For Arminians, divine foreknowledge is essentially reactive.

For their part, Calvinists see God’s foreknowledge as causative. God’s foreknowledge does not passively observe the future, but rather shapes it. God’s foreknowledge makes things happen. According to Calvinists, foreknowledge is not so much God’s foresight as it is His forethought.

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"When I look at the rest of the paper and the kind of clowns that they are promoting, it's no wonder they don't have a clue. It is a theologically bankrupt publication."