While not perfect, Spurgeon was a “good gift,” to the Christianity of his day, and especially at the New Park Street Chapel where they were in such desperate need of spiritual resuscitation. After losing over 1,000,000 Southern Baptists in less than 10 years, we are in need of such resuscitation today.
The Baptist ministers and congregations of Park Street Chapel sort were for the most part hyper-Calvinists, and did not have anyone to lead them in a better direction. The killing effects of “mere doctrine” and too great an emphasis upon the Calvinist philosophy had virtually blocked any aggressive evangelistic efforts such as the “going into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in” method.
Spurgeon’s success in preaching the plain Gospel made him the object of jealousy, criticism, and even demeaning ridicule by some Baptists, especially some of the “scribes and Pharisees” among the hyper Calvinists. One of the prominent leaders of the time even doubted Spurgeon’s salvation!
Spurgeon said, “I do not hesitate to say, that Phariseeism is mixed with Hyper-Calvinism more than with any other sect in the world.”
Spurgeon’s theology could not be fit into a box. Though he called himself a Calvinist, he did not hold with all points of Calvinism. Nor was he regularly Arminian in his preaching.
Spurgeon said “I am as firm a believer in the doctrines of grace as any man living, and a true Calvinist after the order of John Calvin himself; but if it be thought an evil thing to bid the sinner lay hold of eternal life, I will yet be more evil in this respect, and herein imitate my Lord and his apostles, who, though they taught that salvation is of grace, and grace alone, feared not to speak to men as rational beings and responsible agents… Beloved, cling to the great truth of electing love and divine sovereignty, but let not these bind you in fetters when, in the power of the Holy Ghost, you become fishers of men.” Many ministers and churches today have been thwarted from freely obeying the Great Commission for this very reason.
Spurgeon said, “I love the name Calvin, but always regard him as sitting on one side of the room; and I love the name of Wesley, but I regard him as occupying another side place in the assembly…I am myself persuaded that the points of the Calvinist alone is right upon some points, and the Arminian alone is right upon others.
Spurgeon went on to say, “There is a great deal of truth in the positive side of both systems, and a great deal of error in the negative side of both systems. If I were asked, ‘Why is a man damned?’ I should answer as an Arminian answers, ‘He destroys himself’. I should not dare to lay man’s ruin at the door of Divine sovereignty. On the other hand, if I were asked, ‘Why is a man saved?’ I could only give the Calvinist answer, ‘He is saved through the sovereign grace of God, and not at all of himself.”
The theology of Spurgeon had an intrinsic tension because of his method. He did not need a resolution to the conflicts between divine sovereignty and human responsibility he simply embraced them as being equally true: “The system of truth is not one straight line but two. No man will ever get a right view of the gospel until he knows how to look at the two lines at once… Now, if I were to declare that man was so free to act, that there is no precedence of God over his actions, I should be driven very near to atheism; and if, on the other hand, I declare that God so overrules all things, as that man is not free to be responsible, I am driven at once to Antinomianism or fatalism. That God predestinates, and that man is responsible, are two things that few can see.”-Spurgeon
The problem we face in the SBC today is summed up in Spurgeon’s statement “That God predestinates, and that man is responsible, are two things that few can see” simultaneously. Spurgeon held the two lines, by giving a public invitations for the lost to talk to counselors (in the basement lecture hall), by calling on men to lay hold of Christ for salvation and even asking them to pray a sinner’s prayer.
Recently I met with a group of pastors in North Carolina. I told them that they are (as a pastor), each one of them, a resurrection a gift of the Lord Jesus Christ to his church. I then pointed out that I am an evangelist (also one of the resurrection gifts of Christ to His church). I told them when I am around I see people saved and have for over 50 years.
Then I shocked them when I said, “When I preach and people are saved at your church, it is not my fault.” They were stunned. I believe in the sovereignty of God and His grace to save sinners. I then pointed out that we are all fishers of men. I told them, the Lord Jesus allows me to see what He has been doing through their preaching, the Sunday School teacher’s teaching, the choir’s singing, the laymen’s witnessing and God’s people’s praying.
The Lord is so wonderful that He allows us to have a hand in seeing Him save and keep sinners. It is fun to be a fisher of men, and a joy to have a part in the ingathering of souls.
I am calling on Southern Baptists to unite to win America and the world to Christ. I challenge you to use every resurrection gift the Lord Jesus has given His church. Some might ask, “Brother Keith, there are not enough evangelists, for every Church to use one.” The our response should be pray the Lord of the harvest for more evangelists and more laborers to bring in the sheaves (souls). Jesus said the fields are ripe unto harvest and the Sovereign Lord does not lie.