04 November 2007

To Those Who Thirst for Dreams and Visions

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from the sermon "A Word with Those Who Wait for Signs and Wonders," preached 31 October 1869


here are some, and these are generally the most uneducated, who expect to experience remarkable dreams or to behold singular visions.



I am sometimes astonished that there should linger amongst our population still a notion that a certain kind of dream, especially if it be repeated a number of times, and if it be so vivid as to remain upon the imagination for a long period, is an index of the divine favor. Nothing can be more grossly untrue, nothing can be more baseless and without the shadow of evidence to back it up; and yet many imagine that if they, I was about to say, suffered so grievously from indigestion that their sleep was spoiled by vivid dreams, then they could put their trust in Jesus Christ.

The notion is so absurd that if it be but mentioned to rational men they must ridicule it, and yet I have known many who have been, and still are, slaves to this delusion.

Not very long ago, after preaching in a remote country village, I was earnestly sought for as a spiritual adviser by an importunate letter from a woman who ascribed to me much greater wisdom than I ever claimed to possess. I wondered what her spiritual difficulty was, and when I went to her house and found her very sick, I was saddened to find her the victim of a superstition, in which I fear her minister had comforted and so confirmed her. She solemnly informed me that she had seen something standing at night at the bottom of her bed; she was in hopes that it was our blessed Lord, but she could not see his head; as I knew so much of spiritual things, could I tell her who it was?

I said I thought she must have hung up her dress on a peg on the wall at the bottom of her bed, and in the dark had mistaken it for an apparition.

Of course, that did not satisfy her; I fell at once in her estimation to the dead level of a very carnal-minded man, if not a scoffer, but I could not help it, I could not dally with such ridiculous superstition; I was obliged to tell her it was all nonsense for her to hope for salvation because she was silly enough to fancy that she saw Jesus with her bodily eyes, for the saving sight was a spiritual one.

As to the question of the supposed apparition having a head or not, I told her if she would but use her own head and heart in meditating upon the word of God, she would be in a far more hopeful condition.

There may have been, I will not deny it—for stranger things have been—there may have been dreams, and even apparitions, which have aroused the conscience, and so led to the commencement of spiritual life, in some rare cases where God has chosen specially to interfere, but that these are to be looked for, and to be expected, is a thing as far from truth as the east is from the west. What if you did see anything, or dream anything, what would that prove? Why, prove nothing whatever except that you were in an ill state of health, and that your imagination was morbidly active.

Put such things away, they are superstitions fit for the uncivilized, but they are not fit for Christians of the nineteenth century: I do but mention them, not because, I think: any of you may have fallen into them, but that you may deal with them always very rigidly wherever you meet with them. They are superstitions not to be tolerated by Christian men; yet there are some who actually will not believe Christ's simple gospel unless some such absurdity as this can be joined into it.

God deliver you from such unbelief.

C. H. Spurgeon


48 comments:

Travis said...

Is Spurgeon plagiarizing Dickens? He sounds an awful lot like Ebenezer Scrooge here... ;)

wordsmith said...

Good word, as always. Unfortunately, those who need to hear it the most will probably heed it the least.

Hadassah said...

I wonder why it is that Christians can become so confused by this whole idea? I know people who I thought were pretty doctrinally sound until they started in on some dream that God used to communicate with them. Do you think it is because we have some great desire to be singled out as special and set apart from our fellow believers?

I have never believed that God used our dreams to communicate with us in some mysterious way. But even I have been sidetracked by the idea that it MIGHT be occurring, when I have met with someone who was so determined about it.

BTW, be nice. I'm no theologian, and I'm not slick and sarcastic like some of the commentators I've read here. I just really wonder why it is that Christians are so easily convinced that God communicates outside of the Word?

one busy mom said...

So perfect!

This is why we love Spurgeon!

Jono said...

>God deliver you from such unbelief.


Amen! What a way to sum up.

Jono from New Zealand

777law said...

Seeing visions and dreaming dreams is the stuff of people who cannot find enough satisfaction in God's Word alone. I think fundamentally the force that drives this kind of activity is the same one that drives others who are journeying down the road of apostasy, who possess neither the wisdom or undertanding to do things God's way, nor the patience to wait for his reults.

David said...

"Do you think it is because we have some great desire to be singled out as special and set apart from our fellow believers?"

hadassah, this is something that I've struggled with in my past. IMHO this is key. For me, it seems it started with Blackaby's Experiencing God course.

lordodamanor said...

Spurgeon is funny, and may have given her the interpretation of the dream when he said that she should use her own head since the apparition was missing one. Funny!

Spurgeon shows balance though: "There may have been, I will not deny it—for stranger things have been—there may have been dreams, and even apparitions, which have aroused the conscience, and so led to the commencement of spiritual life, in some rare cases where God has chosen specially to interfere, but that these are to be looked for, and to be expected, is a thing as far from truth as the east is from the west. What if you did see anything, or dream anything, what would that prove? Why, prove nothing whatever except that you were in an ill state of health, and that your imagination was morbidly active.

The song went something like this: The lunatic is in your head. And this issue like tongues simply can be self delusion. And more difficult, since no one but the dreamers or visionaries can see what they see. That is why it only proves something within the individual, like an undigested bit of beef- an unresolved conflict, or maybe unforgiveness.

But, he does not say, and rather affirms that yes, as Elihu described and Joel and Peter remark, God may MAY do this to shake a child out of slumber.

They are however not spiritual gifts in the sense that the sign gifts are, are they? And as such they are even less than those, and we are to be seeking the greater gifts than even to prophesy, like love, charity, and mercy....the weightier matters of the law. To seek the lesser is to be look the wrong way. And why seek after them. If desire is in one's heart to a purpose, then pursue it. God will add to it if indeed it is his work, struggle though it may be. And so we can learn another nuance of dreams and vision, in that they do not need to be supernatural apparition but the supernatural leading of the Holy Spirit who like a wind comes and goes without notice.

steve said...

Sorry to go off topic here. But that flying cat graphic on the matchbox cover is incredible.

Rob Willmann said...

If people would pursue the Word of God with the passion that they pursue "a word from God", then we would have a much more mature body of Christ, would we not?

DJP said...

We wonder the same thing, Hadassah. My suggestion would be about the same as 777law:

Discontentment.

The Doulos said...

I had a dream last night that Spurgeon was standing at the foot of my bed, telling me, "Stop staring at me, you fool, and pick up the Book and read!"

SOme very excellent comments here. Hadassah, I think you hit a very solid point, we each seem to want to have some claim to express and personal communication and insight from God. But why? Most of the time not for His glory, but rather for our personal pride. Rather than humbling ourselves to understand and submit to what He has already revealed to us in His Word and His Son and by His Spirit.

JustJan said...

I will not deny that God has the ability to work however He chooses for His own glory.

When I think of all of the resources we have in this generation and this country to study the vastness of what God has said in the bible I doubt that these sorts of extra biblical revelations exist for us. God has graciously provided and protected this revelation and there are few of us who lack for access. Why do we need prophecies, dreams etc when we have the Word?

I do hear from people who work in areas where the bible is not readily available. I tend to believe a man who states sincerely that in the streets of Sarajevo his steering wheel locked up which forced him to turn a corner only to find a man who was told by God that bibles would be provided to him on that spot, at that time, on that day.

What have we done to deserve "additional" revelation from God when we have little desire for the Word He has already given us?

Travis said...

For me, it's not a matter of "deserving," but rather a matter of God's revealed Truth vs. man's wisdom.

So I wrote a whole post about it. :)

777law said...

Jan,

"What have we done to deserve 'additional' revelation from God when we have little desire for the Word He has already given us?"

Excellent point. What sticks in my craw about the people who involved themselves in these things is that, at least in my experience, they are yet spiritually immature, and it is not because they have just started out in the faith. It is because they find God's Word uninteresting.

LeeC said...

He took a dead man who deserved death (me) and gave him life abundant and adopted him.

How miraculous is that?

And yet I might want MORE miraculous signs?

I see Gods hand everywhere. I boggles my mind that charismatics seem to think that we deny the Holy Spirits work in the world. He has CHANGED ME, and he continues to do so.

Every breath I take, every molecule of me that holds together is a miracle of God. ALL healing comes from Him EVERY good thing. And yet some will only se eGod and His Spirit active if they are shown a sign.

He made you a new ctreature, adopted you into His family, he works every good thing int the world for your own good and His glory, and He has promised that you will reign with Him in eternity...and thats not enough?

We have a sign, the sign of Jonah.

Travis said...

"Every breath I take, every molecule of me that holds together is a miracle of God."

...and yet it's "going too far" to expect God-given dreams and visions. Either such dreams are "more" miraculous or they are not. If they are not, then why not expect them to happen (when the Scriptures themselves say such things will take place)?

LeeC said...

*I* never said going too far. Ungrateful on our parts slighting the work the Holy Spirit has done apart form those gifts, but I have never said going too far, nor have I implied that because God is not bestowing certain gifts at the moment that he is not capable of doing so.

Do you expect Christ to be born again also? How about the creation of the world?

Are we to be so wooden in our interpretations that if we see God doing something in one instance we are to assume it normative for all?? Escpecially in light of how clear God has been on what He DOEs consider normative for the Christian and the "miraculous gifts" are no major part of that?

Instead of looking at 1 Corinthians 12 & 13 as a prooftext for or against charismatic gifts or a treatise on love whats the context?

"1 Cor 12:11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills."

These people were sinning in their covetousness of what THEY percieved as greater gifts.

And yes, my belief is that those who actively pursue such gifts today do not understand their purpose, or the sufficiency of Scripture. they are cheating themselves out of fully enjoying the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives in their desire for an experience.

It saddens me.

Travis said...

"These people were sinning in their covetousness of what THEY percieved as greater gifts."

LeeC, that's not true. Paul himself tells them at the end of this chapter (v. 31) to covet the gift of prophecy. (No, for reals, man: check out the KJV!) Their sin was that they sought those gifts for their own benefit, rather than "for the common good" (v. 7).

It's not about whether something's appearance in Scripture makes it normative; it's about whether those things which the Scriptures claim are normative really are or not.

Libbie said...

OK, Travis. Does God guide you through dreams? If He does, how do you know it's God and not dodgy cheese?

Am I missing out on some really important information for my spiritual life because I'm not making too much out of the fact that I once dreamed I was pregnant with a scotch egg?

Libbie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Travis said...

Libbie, that's exactly how atheists talk to Scriptural inerrantists.

For the record, I have had at least a dozen instances in my life where I dreamed of some thing taking place (and not abstract, like being pregnant with a scotch egg), and within 6-12 months that very thing played out, exactly as in my dream. They typically involved people I had not yet met and locations I had no knowledge of (such as holding a conversation in a room I'd never seen before, in a city I wasn't yet planning to visit).

But hey, even if I'm off my rocker with my own experiences... I'm sure glad the men and women in the OT and the NT weren't so advanced as we are; otherwise how much of the Scriptures wouldn't even have been written!

I mean, dreaming about skinny cows eating fat cows? Sheesh, what was the Pharaoh smoking that night?!

Link said...

Spurgeon, while he has a lot to say and is a good source for historical accounts of words of knowledge by a source respected by many cessationists, seems to be victim of the philosophy of the age in a time of rationalism on this point.

The Bible contains many examples of God speaking through dreams. Peter even quotes Joel showing that in the last days, your old men will dream dreams.

This is scripture. I'll go with scripture rather than Spurgeon on this issue and lay off of the excessive skepticism.

Survey's show that 1/4 of Muslim Background Believers have come to Christ through dreams or visions. (http://www.missionfrontiers.org/2001/01/muslim.htm) I recall reading higher percentages elsewhere.

Link said...

hadassah wrote
"I just really wonder why it is that Christians are so easily convinced that God communicates outside of the Word?"

The Bible clearly shows us that God communicates outside of the Bible. The Bible refers to genuine prophecies and revelations not included in the Bible and says that God gives gifts like prophecy, tongues and interpretation, and words of knowledge.

The Bible does NOT teach that God only communicates through the Bible.

If we have a Biblical worldview, we need to allow for the idea of God communicating through means other than through scripture, as the Scriptures teach, including through dreams.

Libbie said...

OK, Travis. So my scotch egg dream was really wierd. How do you know God wasn't speaking to me through it? You've given an example of an odd dream in scripture.

What is your standard for judging whether or not my dream was a prophetic dream or not?

When I talk to atheists about the bible, as I often do, I have a nice big historical catalogue to testify to the authority of scripture.

With my recurring dream of discovering a volcano in my backgarden, I really don't.

Travis said...

Libbie,

Do you (or anyone else here) have any Biblical basis for questioning the concept of God speaking to a person through dreams?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

DJP said...

Can you give a straight answer to Libbie's question? Anyone? Anyone?

Hagin?

Amy said...

When people come to me saying they've had a dream and think God is speaking to them, it all comes down to not *not* believing them because we think the charismatic gifts aren't for this age, but to testing the spirits.
I have yet to have one person tell me of a dream or special revelation that is in line with Scripture or is provable by Scripture. Many dreams seem to have no spiritual meaning beyond these glorious visions people want to see anyway. I've heard several people describe instances like the woman in Spurgeon's story, who saw "Jesus" standing at the foot of their bed. (ALWAYS at the foot of their bed, which means they were sleeping, or having waking dreams. I have waking dreams of SPIDERS- these dreams are so real, and so horrifying, and are based on what I'm afraid I'll see, not on what actually is.)
This Jesus that is seen never says a thing. It seems odd that the Word (John 1:1-) would come to us and not actually say anything. So the vision is really meaningless. Either that or something else is at work that really creeps me out to think about. Satan is described as an angel of light. Some of these visions could be real, and are meant to draw people AWAY from what God is really saying to us in the Scripture.

Travis said...

Dan,

I already gave her a straight answer. She came back with more questions and avoided the answer I had given her.

But in case the two of you missed it, here you go:

Libbie asked: "What is your standard for judging whether or not my dream was a prophetic dream or not?"

My answer (in the comment *preceding* hers): "I have had at least a dozen instances in my life where I dreamed of some thing taking place... and within 6-12 months that very thing played out, exactly as in my dream."

I think y'all are just jealous, like Joseph's brothers. You don't have dreams like that, so the rest of us are arrogant for saying we do.

So now back to my question, Dan: where's the Biblical basis for rejecting the position that God speaks to men with visions and dreams? Because we all know Spurgeon was fallible--his sermons came after the Canon was closed, y'know.

Libbie said...

travis, why on earth would we think you were arrogant?

*raises eyebrow*

So, your standard for judging your dreams is your experience? And my wiccan friend who imbibes some interesting herbs has also had similar experiences.

Are her dreams from God, too?

DJP said...

If He wants to, who's stopping Him?

Find me a verse telling me to seek dreams.

Meanwhile, I'll stick with what I am told to do, which is stay in the Word (John 8:31-32, among countless others).

Others can run after the distractions.

Travis said...

Silly Dan, the Scriptures aren't the Word of God; they testify of the Word of God! (John 5:39-40)

Libbie said...

It's more than a little frustrating as I've had a conversation with an atheist this very week who has been hardened in his skepticism by the repeated folly of Christians basing things on such ephemera.

The only success I have had with him has been the times I've been able to show him that the Christian faith is based firmly on the solid foundation of the Word.

Daryl said...

---"Silly Dan, the Scriptures aren't the Word of God; they testify of the Word of God!"---

Funny how, when you keep the conversation going long enough, the error exposes itself...

wordsmith said...

"I think y'all are just jealous, like Joseph's brothers. You don't have dreams like that, so the rest of us are arrogant for saying we do."

Oh, please. How do you know if we have such dreams, and how do you know our motives? Who/what gives you the inside scoop?

JustJan said...

"He took a dead man who deserved death (me) and gave him life abundant and adopted him.

How miraculous is that?"

Amen and Amen! What a wonder!

What a wonder that God chose to reveal Himself in written form and chose to protect that revelation for all of these years.

DJP said...

Edwards spoke of certain...

"...persons, especially such as are of a weak and vapoury habit of body, and the brain weak and easily susceptive of impressions, may have strange apprehensions and imaginations, and strong affections attending them, unaccountably arising, which are not voluntarily produced by themselves. We see that such persons are liable to such impressions about temporal things; and there is equal reason, why they should about spiritual things. As a person who is asleep has dreams that he is not the voluntary author of; so may such persons, in like manner, be the subjects of involuntary impressions, when they are awake."

"Weak and vapoury," I believe, rates a place in the Pyro lexicon along with "Biblely."

Asleep or awake, it all brings me back to the section that features our Pyro theme verse:

"I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, 'I have dreamed, I have dreamed!' 26 How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart, 27 who think to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, even as their fathers forgot my name for Baal? 28 Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the LORD. 29 Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? (Jeremiah 23:25-29)

Hadassah said...

Hey travis-have you read through Ezekiel lately? I'd be pretty nervous if I thought God was singling me out as a prophet. I can't think of one of them who had a fun time of it.

In case you haven't read Ezekiel lately, Ezekiel had to beg God not to make him use human excrement as the fuel to cook his own food. And that was one of the concessions God did make! Sounds like a bag of gags to me!

777law said...

The OT is replete with examples of miraculous happenings that were not holy, many apparently innocent. Now we have similar instances.

I have heard old friends tell me of some pretty crazy sounding thing that have gone on in their churches when the "spirit" was moving (i've even seen some myself) - very convincing and seemingly innocent things. But I just do not understand how barking like a dog and being "drunk in the spirit" glorifies God. I also do not understand how this differs from dreams and visions. Other than convincing us that something supernatural might be going on, what is the point? I am amazed, absoultely amazed that many with whom I used to fellowship accept these things cart blanche as miracles from God and a validation of their relationship with Christ.

Hadassah said...

Oh yes, and pay special attention to Ezekiel chapter 13.

ezekiel said...

hadassah,

My take, not that it is any more valid than yours, on EZ 13 is that it applies today to the willow creeks, warrenites, olsteens of the world that are putting all the focus of worship on man and sublty or not so subtly telling folks that all they have to do is pray the prayer....believe...no further need to repent, no need to become holy or be cleansed with the WORD. Social issues and mans needs prevale while preachers (prophets) of this stripe are telling folks that everything will be ok.....Peace, Peace......after all we are all God's people and he is a loving God full of mercy and grace, right? All we have to do is believe.....

All the while we perish in the desert like Israel did.

Heb 3:18And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not?19So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.

How in the world did the people in the wilderness not believe? They had seen all the signs and wonders....surely they believed....

So the next time you run across a preacher that is telling folks that all they have to do is believe, come down and get baptised, pray the prayer and the are "saved"....think EZ 13.

The real ones are saying stuff like repent, stop sinning, be holy, crucify flesh, die to self, serve the master.......finish the race, stand on the WORD, abide in the WORD and obey the Gospel.

Travis said...

"Funny how, when you keep the conversation going long enough, the error exposes itself..."

Jesus is the Word of God (John 1). The Scriptures testify to him (John 5). The two are different. All things were not created by the Bible; the Bible says all things were created by the Word of God. It's actually pretty obvious that the Bible isn't "the Word of God" in the way the Bible uses that phrase.

DJP said...

I suspected as much. So far, it's remarkably consistent: the folks who are most "het up" about extracurricular amusements are weak on the Word, and/or have a deficient doctrine of the Word. So much funner (and easier) to dream.

Step away from the distractions and get back into the Book. We learned to call the Bible the Word of God from the Bible (Matthew 15:6; John 10:35; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; Hebrews 4:12; 1 Peter 1:23; among many, many others). It's the sort of thing you start out with and build on, in the school of Christ (Matthew 28:18-29; John 8:31-32).

Travis said...

Dan, I'll give you those first two, but neither 1 Thessalonians 2:13, Hebrews 4:12 or 1 Peter 1:23 are clearly talking about the Scriptures vs. Christ hisself. That's an assumption you're reading into the text.

Here's the thing: I'm not advocating "chasing after" dreams. The problem I have is with Spurgeon's descent into "superior rational 19th-century man" talk.

If Jeremiah 23 were meant to dissuade us from taking any dreams as special revelation, then was Joseph (as in "Mary and") being immature to marry his pregnant fiancee--and then flee to a foreign land--solely on account of dreams and visions?

Or what about Peter? Should he have tossed out all Scriptural dietary laws solely on the say-so of some strange apparition his stomach worked up with pigs in blankets? Talk about foolish...

That's why I hesitate to let Jeremiah 23 be the final word of dreams: your interpretation of it doesn't bear out with the witness of the NT.

DJP said...

You're flat-out incorrect in holding those passages at arm's length. Context raises the matter beyond honest dispute.

If you didn't have a problem with the Bible, you'd have no problem with Spurgeon pointing folks towards it instead of towards dreams.

You've dodged both Libbie's question, and my challenge. Folks of your ilk are unable to cry up their distractions without crying down Scripture, as you've done. Formal affirmation is undone by practical denial.

No point getting to the if's and what-if's until the is's have been honestly done with. I don't in any way get that you've done that.

Which leads to another remarkably consistent fact I've found over the decades. Not one of the folks who are consumed with an itch after the extra-Biblical has even come close to dealing adequately with the intra-Biblical.

Travis said...

"If you didn't have a problem with the Bible, you'd have no problem with Spurgeon pointing folks towards it instead of towards dreams."

Dan.

Did you read my last comment?

Let me repeat the important bit for you:

I'm not advocating "chasing after" dreams. The problem I have is with Spurgeon's descent into "superior rational 19th-century man" talk.

Let me put it another way, and tie it back into my very first comment on this post: Spurgeon did not base these remarks on Scripture, but instead said, "The notion is so absurd that if it be but mentioned to rational men they must ridicule it." He is preaching "the wisdom of the age," not the Holy Writ.

If this sermon were based on Jeremiah 23 (and for all I know it may be; I couldn't access the full sermons at spurgeon.org) then I wouldn't have been so vociferous. Near as I can tell, though, Spurgeon isn't coming to a Biblical conclusion so much as a secular humanistic conclusion.

That is where I take issue with what he's written. By all means, if a person insists on either following one or the other, they most certainly ought to choose to seek the Lord in the Scriptures rather than in dreams!

I'm not advocating ditching the Scriptures and chasing dreams instead. Such would be an ignorant, foolish thing to do. Frankly, I'm surprised that you leaped to that conclusion, when this whole time I've been harping on Spurgeon's appeal to worldly wisdom to back up his assertions, rather than appealing to the Bible.

Have I made that point clear yet? The Bible is far superior to dreams and visions!

It's also far superior to the minds of the "civilized nineteenth century man." That is my beef with Spurgeon.

If you're gonna put me on the rack, Dan, at least punish me for something I actually did. ;)

Travis said...

Old habits die hard... when I said:

Spurgeon isn't coming to a Biblical conclusion so much as a secular humanistic conclusion.

What I intended to say was:

Spurgeon isn't coming to a Biblical conclusion so much as a materialistic conclusion.

DJP said...

I just went back and re-read the original article, Travis. I started thinking to copy this and then part, and then decided I'd end up copying the whole thing.

I ask you to go back and re-read it, and see if you're not loading something into Spurgeon's words that was not in them originally.

Being rational is not rationalism, appealing to the head is not materialism. Spurgeon is lancing the notion of resting spiritual confidence, or even making it contingent upon, a superstitious pattern of dreams. He's not contrasting it with Biblical dreams, but with pagan notions of dreams and portents.

What he does is direct the woman (and all) towards the sure and certain Word of God.

And you take off after him.

Please reconsider whether you've loaded something extraneous into what he says.