14 January 2007

General, Yet Particular

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
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 text—a 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 true—God'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 topic—the speciality and peculiarity of divine grace—you 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 friends—put 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 this—which 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 years—mark you, not months—for 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 object—but 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 conversion—I 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 meanwhile—as this is the only one—let 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-goad—an 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.
C. H. Spurgeon


Amen.




31 comments:

Chip said...

I never fail to marvel at the Word of God as proclaimed by Spurgeon — the Prince of Preachers indeed!

DJP said...

...those brethren who are sounder than the Bible abhor me as much as if I were an Arminian

Whoa.

Even So... said...

This post needs to go in the sidebar, prominently displayed...

Burnt said...

"...those brethren who are sounder than the Bible abhor me as much as if I were an Arminian"

Whoa??! As in, "Wow! Look how confrontational he is!"

Or as in, "I'm one of those guys."?

goodnightsafehome said...

What a great way to start a Monday morning in an evangelistic ministry! Thanks!

YnottonY said...

Spurgeon said:

"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."

Me:
These words are crucial. As Spurgeon emphasizes the need for universal and free proclamations in this post, he's saying the gospel concerns the revealed will of God. People are called or "invited" (as Spurgeon says) to believe in/obey the revealed will, not God's secret decrees. In other words, the lost are to hear and believe in the fact that God stands mercifully ready and prepared to forgive all mankind, and not how he has secretly purposed to ultimately save his elect alone. The later doctrine of election is certainly true and biblical, just as Spurgeon says, but it's distinct from God's revealed will and it's focus.

Again, the gospel is calling men to obey or believe in God's revealed will, not the secret will. I am glad Spurgeon's words bring that out, for some in his day (and just prior to it) erred in thinking that lost people are called through the gospel to believe in God's decretal will.

I wish Spurgeon would have also called the gospel an "offer" here and followed Keach's Catechism on Question 94, which was worded after the Westminster Shorter Catechism. See Robert W. Oliver's History of the English Calvinistic Baptists (Banner of Truth, 2006), p. 190.

Spurgeon clearly underlines God's universal love in this post as well. Give that man a cigar! lol

JSB said...

"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."

What a great quote and passage from Spurgeon. If there were more of this, and less infighting, the spread of the Gospel would be great indeed. Thanks, Phil. You seem to be able to find a Spurgeon passage for every situation! Anything on global warming?

Carla said...

Phil,

what a great post! In countless discussions I've had over the years with those of the non-reformed flavor, this very topic comes up ALL the time, and I've always made an effort to say what Spurgeon said! Now, I will just save this link to THIS post, and point them back to it, when it comes up again. And it will. :-)

Jonathan G. said...

Awesome!

sparrowhawk said...

Leave it once again to an ancient from the 18th or 19th century to say it better than anyone today. Far better. A verbal symphony.

The King's red wine flowing from the fountains of Cheapside, just so his subjects can enjoy wine, and just so he could receive the glory as king. Simply Fantastic.

David said...

I was going to pull out a few selected qoutes as being particularly appropriate, but everytime I did, more and more would jump out and demand my attention.

A strong message, one that everyone should meditate on (perhaps even contemplate)

Connie said...

Hmmm, the word "balance" once again leaps to my mind.

I greatly appreciated this post--so much in it that I will be chewing on for some time.

Well chosen!

Steve said...

I daresay this has to be among the best Spurgeon quotes ever placed on this site. They've all been excellent, but this even more so. He makes his point so perfectly in an economy of words.

A very timely post, too.

Phil Perkins said...

Thanks, Phil. This is a much needed balance. I am a lover of the doctrines of grace, but also a lover of evangelism.

Good balance. Very biblical. I am going to give this to one of my more rabid Calvin-only friends.

In Christ,
Phil Perkins

MTR said...

"So then, I say to you individually, talk about Christ everywhere: preach Jesus Christ to every creature."

For someone who believes in election, why bother? I guess this is my big stumbling block with the entire idea, and where Calvinism breaks down, at least a little, in my mind.

MTR said...

As a followup, I would like to ask:
Can prayer change things? If you believe in election, then how can you say that prayer is of use?

I know, it's been asked a zillion times, but I have yet to hear an answer.

(For the record, I attend a PCA church where the pastor is ga ga over this Spurgeon guy...)

Steven, said...

This is truly a beautiful sermon. Thanks.

LeeC said...

"For someone who believes in election, why bother? I guess this is my big stumbling block with the entire idea, and where Calvinism breaks down, at least a little, in my mind."

To put it simply, because we are commanded to. We are the means by which he excercises His will in that regard.

Do we need any other reason than His command?

Learning Grace said...

Well I certainly can't believe this guy managed to post all that, what with the moratorium on the subject and all... and who is this "Spurgeon" guy anyways... I can't find his blog anywhere! And such a long comment as well!! I would have thought the security around here would have been better.

Seriously though, I feel a bit bruised around the posterior region. I'm sure that it has absolutly nothing to do with the sound scolding from the prince of preachers... I'll let all those concerned know the details when I find the culprit.

The Clinging Vine said...

Stunningly apt and inspiring post, Phil. Thanks so much!

David B. Hewitt said...

Dr. Johnson: an excellent post; certainly timely. :)

Another answer to mtr I suspect would be this: Yes, indeed we are commanded, and that is definitely enough. At the same time, it can be useful to point out that our God is the God of the means as well as the ends. That is to say, He has ordained all who will be saved (election), but also the means to get them saved (the preaching of the Gospel, see Romans 1:16, 10:14-17, not to mention prayer).

Hope that helps our friend mtr. May God be honored!

SDG,
dbh

donsands said...

"Can prayer change things?"

Amen it can change things.

"If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this is My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples." John 15:7-8

We need to be nourished by the Word, and have it fill our hearts and minds.

We then pray according to His will, because we are abiding in His word.

We then bear fruit, which glorifies the Lord, and reveals that we are genuine disciples.

centuri0n said...

Let me say clearly that what breaks my heart here is mtr who attends a PCA church withj a pastor who love Spurgeon and cannot answer these basic questions of the faith.

mtr:

While the answer that we evangelize because we car commanded to is adequate, and the supplement that we are commanded to because God ordains the ends and the means is a very clear clarification, there is another reason we evangelize: we love our fellow men.

The two great commandments in Scripture -- Christ tells us this -- is that we are to love God with everything we are, and our neighbor as ourselves. And when asked "Who is my neighbor?" Christ did not expound on the secret decrees of God or the community of faith: Christ made the point that out neighbor is the one we find in need.

"Love your neighbor as yourself" has an evangelical aspect which we cannot overlook. Let's be clear that it is possible to blow this matter out of its context and say (for example), "God loves everyone and would never send anyone to hell," but that is not what I am saying.

What I am saying is that God's love is manifest in the offer to repent. mtr's question -- "why pray? Why evangeliize? If God's got it all mapped out, why bother to participate?" -- is indicative of taking the assurance that God's work cannot fail out of the fact that time happens in a specific order. Normal temporal causality hasn't been pitched out of our thinking just because God is operates in time in order to accomplish an eternal end.

But that said, God's work in time is not just a function of rugged stoicism and stick-to-it-iveness on the part of the church: it is a function of God's love as we demonstrate it to others.

And God's love is not just stern! Gosh! It is 100% true that he whom He loves He chastises -- it is also true that God is patient, and seeks out the sinner, and shows the sinner intermediate mercy and long suffering, and shows love to His enemies -- and these are reasons to love Him, and for Him to be glorified!

Is it possible to tell your neighbor, "I love, but I'm not so sure about God"? I wouldn't even try it. The greatest reason to evangelize is -not- duty: it is love of men as a result of the love of God.

centuri0n said...

That last paragraph should read:

Is it possible to tell your neighbor, "I love you, but I'm not so sure about God"? I wouldn't even try it. The greatest reason to evangelize is -not- duty: it is love of men as a result of the love of God.

donsands said...

This was an excellent sermon. Full to the brim, and over-running with truth and grace.

Amen to Frank's comment. I agree, we love God the most, by loving our neighbor, even the least lovable.

We love them by caring about them, and praying for them-- that God would have mercy on them, and that His mighty hand would open their heart and draw them to the Cross of our Savior for the forgiveness of sin.

JSB said...

"We love them by caring about them, and praying for them-- that God would have mercy on them, and that His mighty hand would open their heart and draw them to the Cross of our Savior for the forgiveness of sin."

Awesome, donsands. Christians of all stripes ought to be able to line up behind that sentiment.

isaiah543 said...

Amen and Amen. Great choice of a sermon du jour. I also recommend the John Piper sermon on this subject from the Reformission 2004 conference. It's the evening message on 11/10/04.

www.reformission.com

LeeC said...

Thanks guys for the expounding on the love aspect.

I have trouble seperating the two.

I love God because He first loved me.
God tells me to evangelize because He loves the lost.
I evangelize and love the lost because my God tells me I should.

Now I know this seems a cold unemotional love to many, but it is not.

I love God, and His commands. If it were not for them I would be incapable of love at all in any real way beyond a selfish gratification.

I love that last paragraph Frank:

"Is it possible to tell your neighbor, "I love you, but I'm not so sure about God"? I wouldn't even try it. The greatest reason to evangelize is -not- duty: it is love of men as a result of the love of God."

I would equally not try to tell God that I love Him and yet do not love my neighbor.

A duty of love is no duty at all.

MTR said...

Thanks for the comments. I guess I'm ready to leave the PCA because of all this Calvinism idolatry. Sorry.

Oh geez.

Sorry. Now you're all mad at me.

:-)

donsands said...

mtr,

How do you interpret Romans chapter nine, and Ephesians chapter two?

Here's a quick interpretation of how I read these holy words of the Lord:

I see that God shows mercy to Jacob, and not Esau. I see God shows mercy and compassion to whom He will.
He owes not one of us anything but to judge us for our blasphemies, and rebllion.
Christ was, and is, the only Man whoever deserved to eneter into the presence of God.

God with His great love, came and sought out rebels, and quickened the dead hearts of these people who hated Him, and He opened our hard hearts, those who would have nothing to do with Him.
By His amazing grace we are saved through faith, and it's got absolutely nothing to do with us, otherwise we could all boast.

But instead we simply bow before a loving gracious Lord, and we praise and thank Him for His incomprehensile mercy!

Let me know how you see these portions of Scriptures.

It's not John Calvin, who BTW was a fine teacher, and a humble servant, but it has everything to do with the Holy Writ.

Dan Morehead said...

Stopping by for the first time. Like the design work. Cheers!