22 March 2009

Doubt is not a virtue

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 "Faith's Dawn and Its Clouds," a sermon preached January 28th, 1872, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle.

oo many in the church of God regard unbelief as if it were a calamity commanding sympathy, rather than a fault demanding censure as well. . . . Doubts are among the worst enemies of your souls. Do not entertain them. Do not treat them as though they were poor forlorn travelers to be hospitably entertained, but as rogues and vagabonds to be chased from thy door. Fight them, slay them, and pray God to help thee to kill them, and bury them, and not even to leave a bone or a piece of a bone of a doubt above ground. Doubting and unbelief are to be abhorred, and to be confessed with tears as sins before God. We need pardon for doubting as much as for blasphemy. We ought no more to excuse doubting than lying, for doubting slanders God and makes him a liar."

C. H. Spurgeon


Anonymous said...

Doubt is not a virtue?

What if you wear funny looking glasses?

pcraig said...

I think this paragraph needs qualification. Our minds don't work like this. Do we choose to doubt?

It's this kind of rhetoric that can stifle investigation and stop people from asking questions about things, if it isn't expanded on.

Christiant2.0 said...

This is interesting to me. Far from what I have come to believe. I'd like to look into it more.

Do you know if there is any scripture supporting his statements? Or is it mostly his belief through experience?

Anonymous said...

I believe that the issue that Pastor Spurgeon was addressing was based on a sense of "assurance" that is wrongly focused. When people ask if I have assurance of my salvation, I tell them that I have EVERY assurance in Christ and in God's Word and their faithfulness, not in my ability to stand outside of God's means to keep me.

Doubt comes when we look to ourselves. Doubt SHOULD come when we look to ourselves and question whether we are able to perfect in the flesh what was begun in the Spirit.

True, Biblical assurance is directed toward God and His power, and thus doubts can be smashed with all boldness against the Rock of salvation.

Sorry for the long-ish post, but the "assurance of salvation" gang around me (read: a,b,c, repeat after me preachers) have taught people a false "assurance" that is based on their words and their ability to convince themselves of their own sincerity. How sad that someone would one day approach unto the Throne of God and say, "But I was SO SINCERE!"

Anonymous said...

There is a difference between doubt and the anticipatory questioning of God. Consider the stories of Zechariah and Mary in Luke 1. Both seemed to question the angel when they were told of their role in God's plan. But their responses were completely different. Zechariah doubted. He questioned God's ability to transcend natural order and bring the miracle of birth to him and Elizabeth. Zechariah doubted God, and he was disciplined for it.

Mary, on the other hand, had such faith that God could cause her to become pregnant that she was curious to know how He would do it. God's plan was not only explained, but Mary was given a sign to encourage her. Mary anticipated God's work, and she was blessed for it.

From the last sentence of the paragraph, doubting God, questioning His Word and His promises, is what Spurgeon is condemning, and that is a consistent condemnation throughout Scripture. We should always question our own hearts and measure our intentions against Scripture, but once we have measured ourselves against His standard, we should never doubt what He says about us or about Himself. Spurgeon rightly claims that to do so is to accuse God of being a liar.

Christiant2.0 said...

Thanks for some clarification.

I see what you are drawing from his message. I still think you are infering some meaning from what he said.

Taken strictly word for word, it comes across as doubt, in general, is to be abhorred and destroyed like a rogue (for the record... I don't think you should destroy rogues and vagabonds).

But, becuase nearly everyone reading this is better versed in Spurgeon, I trust your inference and assume you are understanding his intentions.

Jake said...

I don't like this excerpt. I have not read the entire sermon but the section quoted is a very poor representation of the sermon as a whole and the section on doubt in particular.

Earlier in the sermon Spurgeon says "a measure of doubt is consistent with saving faith; that weak faith is true faith, and a trembling faith will save the soul" and he even suggests that a measure of doubt is a gift of grace. Both of these statements seem to be in direct contrast to the snippet you posted.

What Spurgeon seems to be warning against isn't as much doubt as it is despondency or a lack of trust. These two "virtues" grow from a questioning of the character of God. When we start to believe that God doesn't care or that God doesn't love us, our unbelief in God turns into a belief in ourselves that needs to be "abhorred... and confessed with tears as sins before God."

That's my take, at least.

Phil Johnson said...

Asking questions to rectify our own ignorance or amazement is never wrong. Neither is it wrong to look for a clear interpretation of something that confuses or dismays us.

But doubting what God says is always wrong, and the fact that we are all prone to it--even to the point where we sometimes do it reflexively--doesn't make it right.

I know this sounds obnoxious in a culture where doubt has been glorified as a virtue and renamed "humility," but it is nonehteless true.

Search the Scriptures for yourself, and if you can find anyone blessed or rewarded for doubting God, please point it out in your next comment.

Egeiro Katheudo said...

Christiant2.0 said: Do you know if there is any scripture supporting his statements?

James 1:5-6

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.

Julie said...

John 20:27
Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side.

Stop doubting and believe."

pcraig said...

Phil Johnson said: "doubting what God says is always wrong".


Is that knowledge helpful for someone who doubts that God speaks at all? It could be, or it could be harmful.

It depends entirely on what they are doubting, which means that posting such an excerpt should really be accompanied by something explaining it, or at least some context. There are too many "forms" of doubt, or things that people might be doubting, to post something like that without any context at all. For example, if you read James 1, you might be left thinking that doubting anything at all is wrong. You might say that that isn't what James is saying - which is exactly the point. We need a bit of help, or explanation, or context at the very least.

I think the point about the conflation of humility with doubt, or how a lack of willingness to correct people who are wrong is "virtuous", is correct and very helpful. But in isolation, the Spurgeon excerpt does not seem to be about that at all.

Phil Johnson said...

pcraig: "Is that knowledge helpful for someone who doubts that God speaks at all? It could be, or it could be harmful."

"Harmful"? In what way? You seem to be saying that if someone's unbelief is deeply grounded, then he has no duty to believe what God says until someone convinces him that God really said it.

His failure to believe "that God speaks at all" is itself a monstrous sin.

pcraig: "There are too many 'forms' of doubt, or things that people might be doubting, to post something like that without any context at all."

I'm trying to think of a "form" of disbelieving God that might actually be virtuous, but I'm drawing a blank, here. Help me out. What "form" of unbelief are you suggesting is exempt from Spurgeon's comment?

Tom said...

What about discerning when our doubts really are doubts about the Word and when they are doubts about theologians' thinking, i.e. the age old theological debates: Calvinism/Arminianism; dispensationalism/covenant theology; charismaticism/cessationism? In each case both sides often claim that "the Bible clearly teaches X, and you are wrong to believe Y."

Where is the line between doubting the Bible and doubting/critiquing a systematic theology? It seems that the former must be discouraged while the latter perhaps encouraged.

Jake said...

I'm not trying to argue that disbelieving God is, in anyway, virtuous. My objection is semantic, perhaps.

I see doubt a lot like anger or lustful thoughts...a temptation toward sin. In the case of anger, some things just enter our lives that make us angry. Our anger isn't so much a concern as our response to the anger is. Sometimes lustful thoughts just enter my mind as a temptation and how I respond matters more (maybe, maybe not...I'm not sure how previous sin remembered affects the present) than the fact that the thought occurred. Do I repent and flee or do I entertain the thought?

To me, doubt is more of a temptation to sin than a sin, itself (again...probably wrong which is why I'm commenting). As with any temptation, we can submit to sin or we can turn our eyes toward God.

Am I way off? I could be confusing definitions...

I guess I'm harping because some of the greatest growth in my walk has come during times of doubt and I always end up like Thomas in the end...My Lord and my God!

Maybe I'm too PoMo for my own good ;)


pcraig said...

Sorry, I think I could have been clearer.

I am talking about doubt, and you are talking about unbelief. They are different things, though they do overlap.

It's just that some people genuinely struggle with a lack of certainty about things, and telling them they are morally wrong to do so won't always help. I think Jake's thought is interesting--is it that doubt is a temptation to unbelief, rather than unbelief itself?

DJP said...

As an observer, pc, I think Phil and Spurgeon are perfectly clear; I think you are less so.

Is it a doubt about what exactly the Bible teaches about the timing and scope of the Rapture? Neither CHS nor PJ are faulting such a question.

Is it a doubt about the clear Biblical teaching of salvation in Christ alone, through faith alone, by grace alone, to the glory of God alone?

That is unbelief, and there's nothing noble, heroic, nor admirable about it.

Hope this helps end the dribble for you.