posted by Phil Johnson
The PyroManiacs devote space at the beginning of each week to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive.
This excerpt is from "The Fainting Warrior," a sermon preached January 23rd, 1859, at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens. I chose this excerpt today because Spurgeon's text here was Romans 7:24-25, and I'm preaching on Romans 7 this weekend.
Of course, one of the tough questions people always raise about that passage is whether Paul was describing his experience as a mature apostlebecause if he struggled with sin the way he describes here, there's little hope any of us will attain any kind of perfection in this life. If Paul was calling himself "wretched" as a believer, this text more or less deals a death-blow to perfectionist doctrine of every kind.
Anyway, I like the way Spurgeon basically brushes aside the suggestion that Paul was above struggling with sin and temptation:
IF I chose to occupy your time with controversial matter, I might prove to a demonstration that the apostle Paul is here describing his own experience as a Christian. Some have affirmed that he is merely declaring what he was before conversion, and not what he was when he became the recipient of the grace of God.
But such persons are evidently mistaken, and I believe wilfully mistaken; for any ample-hearted, candid mind, reading through this chapter, could not fall into such an error. It is Paul the apostle, who was not less than the very greatest of the apostlesit is Paul, the mighty servant of God, a very prince in Israel, one of the King's mighty menit is Paul, the saint and the apostle, who here exclaims, "O wretched man that I am!"
Now, humble Christians are often the dupes of a very foolish error. They look up to certain advanced saints and able ministers, and they say, "Surely, such men as these do not suffer as I do; they do not contend with the same evil passions as those which vex and trouble me."
Ah! if they knew the heart of those men, if they could read their inward conflicts, they would soon discover that the nearer a man lives to God, the more intensely has he to mourn over his own evil heart, and the more his Master honors him in his service, the more also doth the evil of the flesh vex and tease him day by day.
Perhaps, this error is more natural, as it is certainly more common, with regard to apostolic saints. We have been in the habit of saying, Saint Paul, and Saint John, as if they were more saints than any other of the children of God. They are all saints whom God has called by his grace, and sanctified by his Spirit; but somehow we very foolishly put the apostles and the early saints into another list, and do not venture to look on them as common mortals. We look upon them as some extraordinary beings, who could not be men of like passions with ourselves.
We are told in Scripture that our Saviour was "tempted in all points like as we are;" and yet we fall into the egregious error of imagining that the apostles, who were far inferior to the Lord Jesus, escaped these temptations, and were ignorant of these conflicts.
The fact is, if you had seen the apostle Paul, you would have thought he was remarkably like the rest of the chosen family: and if you had talked with him, you would have said, "Why, Paul, I find that your experience and mine exactly agree. You are more faithful, more holy, and more deeply taught than I, but you have the self same trials to endure. Nay, in some respects you are more sorely tried than I."
Do not look upon the ancient saints as being exempt either from infirmities or sins, and do not regard them with that mystic reverence which almost makes you an idolater. Their holiness is attainable even by you, and their faults are to be censured as much as your own.
I believe it is a Christian's duty to force his way into the inner circle of saintship; and if these saints were superior to us in their attainments, as they certainly were, let us follow them; let us press forward up to, yea, and beyond them, for I do not see that this is impossible. We have the same light that they had, the same grace is accessible to us, and why should we rest satisfied until we have distanced them in the heavenly race?
Let us bring them down to the sphere of common mortals. If Jesus was the Son of man, and very man, "bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh;" so were the apostles; and it is an egregious error to suppose that they were not the subjects of the same emotions, and the same inward trials, as the very meanest of the people of God. So far, this may tend to our comfort and to our encouragement, when we find that we are engaged in a battle in which apostles themselves have had to fight.
I think Romans 7 is a pivotal passage, and I have never quite understood the difficulty some people have with the idea that Paul was describing his own daily experience. If you think the battle with temptation in Romans 7 is something mature Christians shouldn't have to face, your ideas about sanctification probably need an overhaul.