posted by Phil Johnson
The PyroManiacs devote space at the beginning of each week to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive.
The following excerpts are taken from a sermon titled "General and Yet Particular," originally delivered on Sunday morning, April 24th, 1864, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London. Spurgeon's text that morning was John 17:2: "Thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him."
od might have commissioned his servants to go into the world and preach the gospel to the chosen: he might have told us to present Christ only to certain persons upon whom there should be a peculiar mark; it has not so pleased him; he bids us go "into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature," his high decree and divine intent being that those whom he hath ordained unto eternal life shall, through believing, enter into the life which he hath ordained for them.
I do not know whether I have brought before you what I am certain is the full idea of the texta general power given to the Mediator over all flesh, as the result of which a proclamation of mercy is universally published to men, and a general declaration of salvation through faith presented to all creatures, but this always with a special, limited, definite design, that a chosen people, separated from before all worlds from the rest of mankind should obtain eternal life.
I have aimed in my ministry constantly to preach, as far as I can, the whole of the gospel rather than a fragment of it. Hence those brethren who are sounder than the Bible abhor me as much as if I were an Arminian; and on the other side, the enemies of the doctrines of grace often represent me as an Ultra-Calvinist. I am rejoiced to receive the censure of both sides; I am not ambitious to be numbered in the muster-roll of either party.
I have never cultivated the acquaintance nor desired the approbation of those men who shut their eyes to truths which they do not wish to see. I never desired to be reputed so excessively Calvinistic as to neglect one part of Scripture in order to maintain another. If I am thought to be inconsistent with myself, I am very glad to be so, so long as I am not inconsistent with holy Scripture. Sure I am that all truth is really consistent, but equally certain am I that it is not apparently so to our poor, finite minds. In nine cases out of ten, he who is nervously anxious to be manifestly consistent with himself in his theological system, if he gains his end, is merely consistent with a fool; he who is consistent with Scripture is consistent with perfect wisdom; he who is consistent with himself is at best consistent with imperfection, folly, and insignificance.
To keep to Scripture, even though it should involve a charge of personal inconsistency, is to be faithful to God and men's souls. My text seems to me to present that double aspect which so many people either cannot or will not see. Here is the great atonement by which the Mediator has the whole world put under his dominion; but still here is a special object for this atonement, the ingathering, or rather outgathering of a chosen and peculiar people unto eternal life.
Let us observe one self-evident truth. It is a remarkable fact, that where the gospel is not preached in its general aspect, God does not seem to work out his special object to any large extent. I mean to say that if you will go into any chapel in London, and you find a minister there who preaches nothing whatever of the Word of God, except that one part of it which is most blessedly and sweetly trueGod's electing love: if you will listen to that man, and hear him preach from the first of January to the end of December, upon that one topicthe speciality and peculiarity of divine graceyou need not go into the vestry to ask the deacons if they have many conversions. I am certain you will find there are few indeed, and those mostly among persons who were convinced of sin and aroused elsewhere, and who obtain liberty under the gracious doctrine; but the absolute conversion of many is not a thing to be expected, and certainly not a thing found where the preacher is so restrained by his sense of electing love as to be unable boldly to preach the rest of the gospel, and say, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved."
You have only to try it, dear friendsput your feet into binding shoes, and prevent their growing to the proper size, in order to keep them in ecclesiastical comeliness, and you will soon find your walk of usefulness very much restricted. Hold on to the point of being consistent; make that the main thing; banish those texts which speak about anything general; never open your mouth with a universal invitation; make it out that the Bible has not a word in it directed to men as men, but only to the chosen, and I will undertake that unless there be an unprecedented act of God's sovereignty, you shall preach from one end of the year to the other and you shall not be troubled at the number of the elect people. There will be very few who will ever come forward.
But I know also (and he who will look candidly will see it), that the most effective ministry is thiswhich is not ashamed of the doctrine of grace, the ministry which does not stutter or stammer in talking about election; does not trim or cut the divine sovereignty of God, but which is equally clear upon the other point that God hath declared his own solemn oath, "I will not the death of a sinner, but had rather that he should turn unto me and live;" a ministry which holds sovereignty but holds responsibility too, which dares to talk about God's special object with bold voice and yet insists upon it that he has proclaimed to every creature under heaven this gracious proclamation, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."
Well, now, these are facts, and facts which are not to be disputed either. We hear people sometimes sneer and say, "Ah! there are many conversions, but are they genuine?" Sir, they are genuine; for we will boast this much that if there be not genuine conversions found in this Church for instance, there are no conversions genuine under heaven. For when I see harlots made chaste and remaining honorable women year after year; when I know drunkards who forswear the cup and who labor with their might for the reclaiming of others; when I look upon those who were once singing the song of the lascivious on the ale-bench, who now for yearsmark you, not monthsfor years persevere in holiness, I make this my glory.
If any can find better conversions under heaven let them find them, but I am satisfied that they are such converts as apostolic times added to the Church, such as honor God in their lives and glorify Christ daily by their walk and conversation. I believe you shall find most conversions where neither truth is held back, but where as in the text, the two are taught. "Thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him."
We too often measure God after a human standard, and hence make mistakes. Remember that God has such an abundance of mercy, and grace and power, that he never has to calculate how much will be necessary for the accomplishment of his purpose, but he doeth largely and literally like one who cannot but act in an infinitely gracious manner. If you have some chickens, and you wish to feed them, you will only throw down as much barley as the fowls will want, but you do not think of feeding all the sparrows of the neighborhood; it would be a very good thing if you could for they all need food; but you throw down as much as will accomplish your purpose.
Now our God never has to stint himself in this way, but with large handsful he feedeth the special objects of his care, and the ravens and kites besides. God, again, exhibits a kingly character in his great methods of general love.
At the coronation of the old kings, the fountains in Cheapside ran with red wine. Now you will say, "What a waste." The gutters ran down on both sides with wine. It was not necessary, was it? The king's object was that his subjects might have wine. Well if that were his only object that might have been accomplished by opening the bottles one by one, and stopping when there was just enough to satisfy their thirst. Why did it run down the streets? Was it a waste? Not at all, it exhibited the royal glory. The king was glad to give the people wine to drink, but he wanted also to show himself a king, and as nobody but a king could make gutters run with wine, therefore he did it to illustrate his own magnificence; and our God, when he is about to exhibit mercy, does not say, "So much will just accomplish my purpose and save mine elect"that is his main objectbut behold he makes the rivers run with wine and the floods with milk, so there is enough and to spare and yet no waste, because his grander object is his own glory, and he is glorified even by that love which does not effectually save.
I was talking the other day with a brother. He said he did not think the conversion of the world was the legitimate object of missionary enterprise, because all that Christ intended by the gospel was the gathering out of a people. Well now, it seems to me that my dear friend was quite right and quite wrong. As to God's purpose in the sending of the gospel to the world he was quite right, it is the gathering out of a people; but as to my work he was quite wrong, for the work of God's minister is not the gathering out of a people.
Christ surely knows what his own disciple is to do. Just hear: "Go ye and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." That is our work. He did not say, "Go ye and sever out of all nations a people to be taught and to be baptized." No; Christ's marching orders to his people are in these words, "Preach the gospel to every creature."
What will be the result of this universal proclamation? The chosen will be saved. Then, Lord, why not send me to thy chosen? Why send me to all nations?
"What business hast thou to question thy Master's will? Is not this the very way in which I have chosen that my elect shall be brought, by the preaching of the gospel to all nations?"
I look as the result of missionary enterprise, not for the world's conversionI do not expect it. I believe that God will gather out of all people his chosen, and, that Christ will come, and when he cometh, then shall he reign from the river even to the ends of the earth. But all the missionary societies put together will never convert the world, nor do I believe they will do very much towards it unless they very soon alter their tactics. We shall have to try something very different from all the societies which have ever been in operation ere we see any great results. I am waiting for a good time to come; till then we must use old vessels till we get better ones, but better ones will be found. My own impression is that the world will never be converted by missionary agency, but that is not your business.
I am not to make God's decrees the rule of my walk. I am to make God's revealed will my rule of action. Christ tells me to "Preach the gospel to every creature;" and if I were absolutely certain there was not one elect man upon earth, I would obey and preach the gospel for all that; because if there were not a single soul saved by it, we are unto God a sweet-smelling savor.
So then, I say to you individually, talk about Christ everywhere: preach Jesus Christ to every creature. Say to every man and woman you meet, "There is life in a look at the crucified One." Tell men that "Whosoever cometh unto him, he will in no wise cast out;" and let this be always your comfort, that all that the Father giveth to him shall come to him, that Jesus shall see his seed; that of all that the Father hath given him he will lose none, but will present them all at his right hand at last.
Fly back to God's electing love, and the decrees of God as the pillow of your rest; but take the general command and the universal power of Christ over all flesh as the sword with which you fight and the staff upon which you lean. It is for this end that I ask you, dear friends, to contribute as you shall see fit, to the spreading of the gospel in foreign lands by the Missionary Society. I do not believe it is a perfect organization: I believe it is full of faults. I believe, however, it is the only way in which we can send the gospel to the heathen just yet.
We will have a better plan by-and-by, I hope, but meanwhileas this is the only onelet us use it with vigor; for, after all, it is not the instrumentality, but God; and if I have to look upon this as an ox-goadan unfit tool to smite the Philistines, yet as I have not a better I will use it till a better shall be found. Meanwhile let us pray the Lord to speed his own cause and gather out his chosen by his grace. Amen.