09 January 2006

A letter from London

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon

PyroManiac devotes Monday space to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive.

Charles SpurgeonHere's a letter Charles Spurgeon wrote to his father within days of the younger Spurgeon's first visit to London. He had gone to preach a trial sermon for the famous congregation he would pastor for the rest of his life.

What interests me most about this letter is the insight it gives into Spurgeon's early concerns about high-Calvinist doctrinal tendencies of his new congregation. John Gill had pastored that congregation a hundred years before Spurgeon, and by Spurgeon's era, the nascent hyperism that was popular in Gill's day (and which Gill himself had a hand in promoting) had gone to seed.

Spurgeon's own opposition to hyperism never waned. For more on the subject, see Iain Murray's excellent book titled Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism.


I concluded rather abruptly before;—but you are often called out from your writing, and therefore can excuse it in me. I hardly know what I left unsaid. I hope to be at home three days. I think of running down from London on Tuesday, January 3rd, and to go home by Bury on Friday, 6th. I hope it will be a sweet visit though a short one.

Should I be settled in London, I will come and see you often. I do not anticipate going there with much pleasure. I am contented where I am; but if God has more for me to do, then let me go and trust in Him. The London people are rather higher in Calvinism than I am; but I have succeeded in bringing one church to my own views, and will trust, with Divine assistance, to do the same with another. I am a Calvinist; I love what someone called "glorious Calvinism," but "Hyper-ism" is too hot-spiced for my palate.

I found a relation in London; a daughter of Thomas Spurgeon, at Bailingdon. On the Monday, she came and brought the unmarried sister, who you will remember was at home when we called last Christmas. I shall have no objection to preach for Mr. Langford on Wednesday, January 4th, if he wishes it.

I spent the Monday in going about London, climbed to the top of St. Paul's, and left some money with the booksellers.

My people are very sad; some wept bitterly at the sight of me, although I made no allusion to the subject in the pulpit, as it is too uncertain to speak of publicly. It is Calvinism they want in London, and any Arminian preaching will not be endured. Several in the church are far before me in theological acumen; they would not admit that it is so, but they all expressed their belief that my originality, or even eccentricity, was the very thing to draw a London audience. The chapel is one of the finest in the denomination; somewhat in the style of our Cambridge Museum. A Merry Christmas to you all; a Happy New Year; and the blessing of the God of Jacob!

Yours affectionately,
C. H. Spurgeon

More on cessationism tomorrow, Lord willing.

Phil's signature


CuriousSaint said...

I absolutely love when Mondays roll around (even this early)...because it means another healthy dose of Spurgeon, or better yet, Spurgeon's love for the Lord and being able to read about his passion for the Holy on High via his writings. Keep up the good work! Great things are happening for the pyros in this place. God bless.

Tony Byrne said...

Hi Phil,

Thanks for bringing up this issue. Too many people (including Nettles' poor treatment of the subject) are of the opinion that Gill was not hyper (he IN FACT was in that he denied the free offers and duty-faith), but Spurgeon's own view is on record in his Commenting and Commentaries, as you well know:

"Gill is the Coryphaeus of hyper-Calvinism, but if his followers never went beyond their master, they would not go very far astray."

Commenting and Commentaries, page 16, Kregel 1998.

Even though Spurgeon better clarifies his opinions on it elsewhere, this way of putting it somewhat bothered me:

"I love what someone called "glorious Calvinism," but "Hyper-ism" is too hot-spiced for my palate."

He makes it sound like it is just a matter of personal taste and opinion rather than clearly stating that the view is unscriptural and downright disgusting. Given the rampant and dangerous free will theology (even deism) in his day, it's understandable why his punches against the hypers were soft. Personally, I wish he would have taken the gloves off and hit their views harder.

I liken the degree of imbalance in hyper-Calvinism to that of Open Theism, not to Arminianism (even thought Arminianism is unscriptural as well).

Via Crusis said...

"Early concern" seems like typical english understatement. According to your "About Spurgeon" tab on the Spurgeon Archive: "In 1854, just four years after his conversion, Spurgeon, then only 20, became pastor of London's famed New Park Street Church."
The letter is also a sweet reminder of his relationship with his father, who must have taught him to teach himself well,and his people he would soon leave. As well as his humility in acknowledging those who were "far before me in theological acumen." I've been redeemed three times as long, but marvel at his preaching.
This is, of course, still a letter to his father and not the place to take your "gloves off" in debate. Steve

Chuck said...

Just a question: In what way is Nettles' treatment of Gill poor? I only ask this because as I read through Gill's commentaries I find them to be good; I've even used them as I go through Romans in the Sunday School material at church. I will in no way argue that Gill was an ardent, missionary sending evangelist, and there is no excuse for that in any way: it's wrong. However, is there any place where Gill explicitly denies free-offers and duty-faith? I'm not being contentious, just curious.

Tony Byrne said...

Hi Moonlighting,

If you have Nettles' book By His Grace and For His Glory, then you can check those places where he cites Gill's The Cause of God and Truth. You may have difficulties because Nettles' even gets the page numbers wrong on occassion (that's one small criticism of his "scholarly" work). When reading that book by Gill, you will see that he makes a distinction between natural repentance (which fallen men can do in order to escape immanent physical judgement), and evangelical repentace (which is given by God to the elect). In those passages where you think (if you are sound in the faith) God reveals men's responsibility to believe/repent in the evangelical sense, Gill will argue that they refer to natural or civil faith/repentance. Nettles' totally misses that significant way in which Gill argues against duty-faith. Also, if you check The Cause of God and Truth, you will see that he CLEARLY denies free offers. The denial of duty-faith and free offers is classic hyper-Calvinism, and Nettles doesn't see it. To that extent, I argue, he's blind to Gill's position and doesn't properly critique him. That's what I meant when I said it's a "poor" treatment.

Also, I didn't say Gill's commentaries are bad or unuseful. I am only speaking about his manifest hyper-Calvinistic theology as being horrible, not that I dismiss all that he says in his commentaries or elsewhere.

Hope that helps...

Forgiven Sinner said...

Not to get off the subject but I feel this is important and all should stop and pray..... for those who dont know, Please keep one of our great spiritual leaders in your prayers. This is a note from John Piper to his congregation.

John Piper and Cancer
January 6, 2006

Dear Friends,

I hope this letter will encourage your prayer, strengthen your hope, and minister peace. I am writing with the blessing of the Council of Elders of Bethlehem Baptist Church to help you receive the news about my prostate cancer.

At my annual urological exam on Wednesday, December 21, the doctor felt an abnormality in the prostate and suggested a biopsy. He called the next day with the following facts: 1) cancer cells were found in two of the ten samples and the estimate is that perhaps 5% of the gland is affected; 2) my PSA count was 1.6, which is good (below 4 is normal); 3) the Gleason score is 6 (signaling that the cancer is not aggressive). These three facts incline the doctor to think that it is unlikely that the cancer has spread beyond the prostate, and that it is possible with successful treatment to be cancer-free.

Before going with my wife, Noël, to consult in person with the doctor on December 29 about treatment options, I shared this news with the Bethlehem staff on Tuesday morning, December 27, and with the elders that evening. Both groups prayed over me for healing and for wisdom in the treatment choices that lie before us. These were sweet times before the throne of grace with much-loved colleagues.

All things considered, Noël and I believe that I should pursue the treatment called radical prostatectomy, which means the surgical removal of the prostate. We would ask you to pray that the surgery be completely successful in the removal of all cancer and freedom from possible side effects.

With the approval of Bethlehem’s executive staff and elder leadership, we are planning surgery in February. The recovery time is about three weeks before returning to a slow work pace, and six weeks to be back to all normal activities.

This news has, of course, been good for me. The most dangerous thing in the world is the sin of self-reliance and the stupor of worldliness. The news of cancer has a wonderfully blasting effect on both. I thank God for that. The times with Christ in these days have been unusually sweet.

For example, is there anything greater to hear and believe in the bottom of your heart than this: “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him” (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10)?

God has designed this trial for my good and for your good. You can see this in 2 Corinthians 1:9, “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” And in 2 Corinthians 1:4-6, “He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God . . . If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation.”

So I am praying: “Lord, for your great glory, 1) don’t let me miss any of the sanctifying blessings that you have for me in this experience; 2) don’t let the people of Bethlehem miss any of the sanctifying blessings that you have for us in this; 3) grant that the surgery be successful in removing cancer and sparing important nerves; 4) grant that this light and momentary trial would work to spread a passion for you supremacy for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ; 5) may Noël and all close to me be given great peace—and all of this through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever, Amen.” I hope God will lead you to pray in a similar way.

With deep confidence that

“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting.
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Corinthians 15:54-57

Pastor John

Stephen Morse said...

The thing that impresses me about Spurgeon's letter is his confidence in the power of his (the) preaching ministry to bring about change. When he tells his father that he will bring this new congregation around to his view of Calvinism, like he did his prior congregation, I gain some hope for our own ministries! Let's be faithful to the doctrines of Christ and watch Him change hearts!

A R N O L D said...

I'm just looking forward to the cessationism thread. I'm curious because I haven't been able to find any scriptual evidence to support it. (unless you count the commentary notes in my MacArthur Study Bible)

rev-ed said...

...they all expressed their belief that my originality, or even eccentricity, was the very thing to draw a London audience.

Things haven't changed much since Spurgeon's time. People will still seek out a pastor who is different. Unfortunately, some are different in important doctrinal positions.

Ben Myers said...

Thanks for posting this fascinating letter. The connection to Gill is especially interesting.