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Spurgeon V. Hyper-Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching Paperback – September 23, 2010
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In this book, Murray gives us the historical account of the legendary prince of preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon against extreme Calvinist who saw no need to preach the gospel to all men since only the elect would be saved and that by God's sovereign choice. While Spurgeon agreed that God predestined men to salvation he also believed that the gospel was to be preached to all men, allowing the Holy Spirit to draw men to Christ, and that it was through the medium of preaching that men are saved (1 Cor. 1:18-25). Spurgeon himself was saved through the preaching of the Word through a Primitive Methodist laymen's preaching at the age of 15.
In our day we see the need for true, expository, biblical preaching to return. We need men hungry for Jesus as Spurgeon, Wesley, Fox, Bounds, Ravenhill, Tozer. We don't need new methods or new programs but we need the gospel to be preached with authority and power.
There are three provisos to keep in mind before getting into the tenets of Hyper-Calvinism. First, it is more proper to say that Hyper-Calvinism is a false version of Calvinism rather than a hyper form of it, for the word ‘hyper’ leads us to believe that the errant version only differs in degree from the correct version. Hyper-Calvinism is simply false. Second, this is not about espousing what one man believed, but a system of truth that may be drawn directly from the Bible by any teachable saint. This is why both Spurgeon and Edwards disavowed any reliance upon Calvin for what they believed. What has come to be called Calvinism predates Calvin. When the Calvinistic label is used by Spurgeon, it designates “that glorious system which teaches that salvation is of grace from first to last” (p. 40.) Third, Arminians, Calvinists, and Hyper-Calvinists should absorb the following rebuke by Spurgeon, which seems to have been a self-reminder as much as anything: “You may look down with contempt on some who do not know so much as you, and yet they may have twice your holiness and be doing more service to God” (p. iv.)
Calvinism says that sinners are not able of themselves to believe in Jesus Christ. Hyper-Calvinism says that since this is true, sinners are not required to do what they cannot do (p. 80.) Calvinism says that Jesus is the Saviour of the elect alone. Hyper-Calvinism says that since this is the case, the non-elect have no duty to believe in him for salvation (p. 48.) And so Hyper-Calvinists take the doctrines of inability and election, and infer from these, rash conclusions that come squarely against the biblical command that all should repent and believe the gospel. The practical application that is common among those who hold these opinions is that gospel invitations to believe should be directed only to the elect (p. 69.) How the preacher could know for sure who the unsaved elect are, though, presents no small difficulty. Bernard Honeysett grew up among hyper-Calvinists. In The Sound of his Name, he informs us that the hyper-Calvinist would preach only to those ‘under conviction of sin.’ There are other more extreme ideas that are sometimes connected with Hyper-Calvinism, like the irreverent opinion “that God does hate some of you and that He always will!…whether you believe or not…whether you repent or not” (p. 63.) But stuff this repulsive, happily, is more rare. God loves each person at least in a benevolent way, causing the blessings of creation to abound for the just and the unjust. Here is what needs to be noted: doctrines like particular redemption, total depravity, and unconditional election, by themselves, do not constitute Hyper-Calvinism. Impetuous inferences from such doctrines do. Ordinarily, because of ignorance, or because of fear of that which they hope is not true, people who warn against Calvinism ascribe too much to the system. Misrepresentation is an old trick that only the devil should be found guilty of. How many Christians paint Calvinism in hyper colors just to make it appear evil, and glaringly so? Do these persons who malign the truth think to do any good by misleading? Will those disciples that they hope to prevent from believing Calvinism not figure out that it must be the misleaders, not the Calvinists, who are wrong? I was a misled Arminian once. But I was not prevented from the truth. God helped me out; by his grace and providence, I figured it out.
Spurgeon’s position in the face of this mutant form of truth was to reemphasize duty and blameworthiness regardless of God’s sovereignty and man’s inability. All men are duty-bound to believe in Jesus for salvation, even if they can’t, even if they’ve not been elected; they will have only themselves to blame if they don’t (p. 81.) Spurgeon was equal to the Puritans in believing this way, who in turn were closer to Scripture than any class of preachers ever since the apostles’ time. In spite of paradoxes, authentic Calvinist preachers, like Spurgeon, call all men to repentance (p. 59.)
What provokes Hyper-Calvinism are failed efforts to reconcile a truth like limited atonement with a command to offer Jesus to all (p. 74), or a truth like predestination by God with human accountability (pp. 82, 83.) These things may not be reconcilable on earth by fallen man. Attempts to solve such mysteries ‘have been signally unsuccessful’ (Crawford, p. 117.) Spurgeon believed that while God determined from eternity so much as ‘the flittering of a sparrow’s wing’—yet “man is as accountable as if there were no destiny whatever” (p. 83.) Knowing that predestination and human responsibility are irreconcilable and yet biblical and true, he humbly accepted them both and preached them both.
I was reading a book a while back on points of view regarding predestination. I stopped when I realized that each author was attempting to resolve what Spurgeon, the Puritans, and even the apostle Paul were content to leave unsolved. “Here is a proud exercise in futility,” I thought. Spurgeon’s impression of such an effort was similar: “Men who are morbidly anxious to possess a self-consistent creed [on points the Bible does not reconcile], a creed which will put together and form a square like a Chinese puzzle,--are very apt to narrow their souls” (p. 124.)
I enjoyed reading about this Battle for Gospel Preaching. This commentary on a still relevant controversy is excellently prosecuted, and includes material from sources intimately familiar with “the dreary wilderness of Hyper-Calvinism” (p. 138.)
But I do believe that the current Reformed Resurgence taking place among young evangelicals will probably spawn off some cases of Hyper-Calvinism over the next decade or so. This prediction is not made as a slight against my Calvinist brethren. Just as a resurgence of Arminianism may lead to the heresy of Open Theism, a resurgence of Calvinism can lead to its counter-heresy of Hyper-Calvinism as well.
Iain Murray's Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching(Banner of Truth, 2002) is a short book that describes the great Charles Spurgeon's battles with the Hyper-Calvinists of his day. While many Calvinists point to Spurgeon as a hero against Arminian theology, it is rare to see him held up as an example of avoiding the Hyper-Calvinist tendencies occasionally manifested among adherents to Calvinist theology. Murray's book is a good pointer in the right direction. Read this from his introduction:
"While I know of no evidence that Hyper-Calvinism is recovering strength, it would appear that the priority which soul-winning had in Spurgeon's ministry is not commonly seen to be our priority. The revival of doctrine has scarcely been matched by a revival of evangelism... Doctrine without usefulness is no prize." (xiv)
Murray wants us to see the other side of Spurgeon. Not only his Calvinist convictions over against Arminianism, but his Calvinist convictions against the heresy of the Hyper-Calvinists of his day. I agree with Murray when he states the reasons why viewing Spurgeon in this light is necessary:
"Hyper-Calvinism only arises whenever and wherever the truth of the sovereignty of God in salvation is firmly believed. The reason why Spurgeon's first controversy has been so little thought of in these last hundred years is not that the subject is insignificant. It is rather that doctrinal Christianity as a whole has been too largely ignored. At the present time, when evangelical Calvinism is again being recovered in many parts of the earth, the danger of Hyper-Calvinism is once more a possibility and the lessons to be drawn from this old controversy have again become relevant." (40)
The central thrust of the attack against Spurgeon is his view of "duty-faith." Spurgeon believed in calling sinners to repentance. The Hyper-Calvinists believed that "saving faith in Christ cannot be the duty of sinners, for if we exhort the dead in trespasses and sins to trust in Christ we are attributing a power to them which they do not have." (58).
The main source of conflict for Spurgeon's opponents is doctrinal. However, Murray's account shows that a fair amount of politics and intrigue were involved as well. Spurgeon's rising popularity did not endear him to many of the traditionalist churches in town.
Murray does not shy away from the harsh aspects of Hyper-Calvinism. He quotes one preacher as saying:
"I believe that God does hate some of you and that he always will! Do what you will he will hate you, whether you believe or not - whether you pray or not - whether you repent or not - God hates you and will hate you!" (63)
Spurgeon responds to this heretical twisting of Calvinism by turning to the Scriptures. He argues that gospel invitations are universal in their scope, that faith is demanded of all, that man is wholly responsible for his own sin, and that the character of God is love.
I strongly recommend that Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike read Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism. Perhaps it will help us keep the neo-Reformed movement from careening off track. It might even help Calvinists and non-Calvinists find some common ground, as they join hands in rejecting this heresy. Those who are now embracing Spurgeon's Calvinist theology would do well to embrace his antipathy toward the Hyper-Calvinist error.
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