28 February 2010

How Firm Was Spurgeon's View of the Atonement?

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

No punishment required?
Spurgeon and penal substitution revisited

(First posted 26 October 2005)

PyroManiac
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. This week, I'm rerunning an old post I encountered while researching my seminar for next week's Shepherds' Conference. (I'll be doing a seminar on the life and controversies of Spurgeon during the conference.) This post explored the question of whether Spurgeon would truly fight for penal substitution against the likes of Steve Chalke, Brian McLaren, and Rob Bell, or was he just a quaint old fogey whose understanding of atonement was naive, and hung somewhere between Anselm and Calvin? Read the sermon referred to and linked below if you want Spurgeon's own answer to that question.


   couple of Brit-bloggers, Steve and Sven, both noticed Monday's Spurgeon quote and voiced doubts about whether Spurgeon really believed in the penal-substitution view of the atonement.

Steve writes,

"Pyromaniac digs up this quote by spurgeon, which he belives [sic] is talking about Penal Substitution. Aside from some amusement at the Victor Meldrewness of it, it's an excellent, and typical spurgeon quote, talking about Jesus atoning (at-one-ment—reconciliation) death on the cross."


(For Yank readers who wonder what Steve means, Victor Meldrew was an elderly character in the Britcom One Foot in the Grave, known for his ill-tempered grousing.)

Steve then opines:

"Interestingly while he talks about a recompence [sic] and substititution [sic], he makes no mention of punishment or anything penal. In fact he seems to be fairly clearly talking about the satisfaction model of Atonement (Substitutionary Atonement) which Anselm devloped [sic], before it was developed further by Luther and Calvin into the currently popular penal model."


Actually, in such a context, the recompense Spurgeon spoke of (the payment of which he "fairly clearly" says was "render[ed] to God's justice") is nothing if not punitive. I suppose if you don't understand Spurgeon and aren't familiar with Victorianisms, you might not catch that idea on your initial reading of this particular quote, but for the record, Steve has badly misread what Spurgeon is saying.

Anyway, in a note added after posting, Steve refers his readers to The World of Sven, promising, "Sven says this better."

Sven actually says it much worse: "Spurgeon himself seems to have gotten stuck halfway between Anselm and the classic Reformed position." Sven quotes a sentence from Spurgeon, ("My conscience tells me that I must render to God's justice a recompense for the dishonor that I have done to His law, and I cannot find anything which bears the semblance of such a recompense till I look to Christ Jesus.") and asks:

Doesn't this sound rather more like satisfaction theory rather than the popular version of penal substitution? This is of course slightly problematic, because Anselm (satisfaction theory) and the magisterial Reformers view Christ's death in two very different ways, because of course if Christ makes recompense to God's honour, no punishment is required.(Emphasis added.)

I admit to some amusement at the Arnold Rimmeresque hubris contained in such pronouncements; but Steve and Sven really ought to investigate what Spurgeon actually believed about the atonement before lecturing their readers on the nuances of his view. Spurgeon's view on the atonement was no secret. His outspoken defense of penal substitution was a consistent theme—and not a subtle one—from the beginning of his ministry to his dying gasps at the height of the Downgrade Controversy (in which this very issue of penal substitution was one of the main doctrines in dispute).

Nor would Spurgeon ever have approved of paring back the definition of "at-one-ment" to reconciliation only.

It's extremely irritating that after more than two years of controversy, Steve Chalke and his aficionados still seem blithely ignorant about the historical debate among British Baptists over the doctrine of penal substitution. It's always annoyed me that Chalke, who ministered at Haddon Hall—a chapel founded by Spurgeon's own congregation and named for him—decided to champion this issue, and then has handled the ensuing controversy in such a clumsy and perfunctory way.

Here's a message where Spurgeon explains himself with absolute clarity and without the Victorian euphemisms. Whenever Spurgeon spoke of "substitutionary atonement," here, in his own words, is what he had in mind:

"The doctrine of Holy Scripture is this, that inasmuch as man could not keep God's law, having fallen in Adam, Christ came and fulfilled the law on the behalf of his people; and that inasmuch as man had already broken the divine law and incurred the penalty of the wrath of God, Christ came and suffered in the room, place, and stead of his elect ones, that so by his enduring the full vials of wrath, they might be emptied out and not a drop might ever fall upon the heads of his blood-bought people."

"Christ—Our Substitute" is one of my all-time favorite Spurgeon sermons, because Spurgeon's passion is conveyed in the words. You don't have to know what he actually sounded like to sense the fervor with which he defended the atonement against the Steve Chalkes of his day:

SpurgeonThese are the new men whom God has sent down from heaven, to tell us that the apostle Paul was all wrong, that our faith is vain, that we have been quite mistaken, that there was no need for propitiating blood to wash away our sins; that the fact was, our sins needed discipline, but penal vengeance and righteous wrath are quite out of the question. When I thus speak, I am free to confess that such ideas are not boldly taught by a certain individual whose volume excites these remarks, but as he puffs the books of gross perverters of the truth, I am compelled to believe that he endorses such theology.

Well, brethren, I am happy to say that sort of stuff has not gained entrance into this pulpit. I dare say the worms will eat the wood before there will be anything of that sort sounded in his place; and may these bones be picked by vultures, and this flesh be rent in sunder by lions, and may every nerve in this body suffer pangs and tortures, ere these lips shall give utterance to any such doctrines or sentiments.

There's lots of picturesque and painfully blunt language in this sermon, but if I get started quoting it, I won't know where to stop. It reads like it was aimed at Steve Chalke himself. Read the sermon for yourself. It's a good one.

And, by the way, there are many more where this one came from. Fans of Steve Chalke need to face up to the reality that Spurgeon is no friend of anything Chalke stands for.

Phil's signature

15 comments:

donsands said...

"Well, brethren, I am happy to say that sort of stuff has not gained entrance into this pulpit. I dare say the worms will eat the wood before there will be anything of that sort.."

Boldness. I like it. The Church has become too timid.

My pastor preched on Romans 8:31-39 today. Very powerful truth, and sermon.

This verse really hit my soul more than all the others this morn (though every verse; every word, is phenomenal):

"He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all,.."

Abraham took Issac and was going to kill him as a brunt offering, but God spared Isaac, and Abraham.

And yet, the Father did spare His Holy Beloved. He took Him up Calavary, and laid him upon the wood, and it pleased the Lord to crush Him. This cup was willing taken and consumed by Christ the Lamb of God.
This love out shines Chalke's shallow insipid teachings of love.

May we never allow the teaching that calls the Cross "cosmic child abuse" into our pulpits, as CH Spurgeon says so passionately here:

"..may these bones be picked by vultures, and this flesh be rent in sunder by lions, and may every nerve in this body suffer pangs and tortures, ere these lips shall give utterance to any such doctrines or sentiments."

Thanks for the post. Keep on.

SLW said...

The cross as an honor killing just doesn't compute.

Buck Eschaton said...

Sounds more Nietzschean/neo-pagan than anything Christian. Seriously any philosophy that locates violence anywhere but with humans and human relations is neo-pagan. Seriously Nietzsche would have loved Spurgeon.

donsands said...

"..any philosophy that locates violence anywhere but with humans and human relations is neo-pagan."

Not sure what you mean?

Spurgeon preached the truth from the Holy Writ. So, Nietzsche loved the Bible?

Aaron Snell said...

I think the wrath of God is far older than either Nietzsche or neo-paganism. Might I introduce you to the Judeo-Christian scriptures?

Mike Riccardi said...

Seriously?

;o)

Doesn't Isaiah 53 just close the matter? Especially verses 6 and 10? Yahweh has laid our iniquities on Him, and Yahweh was pleased to crush Him. Crush. He should have crushed me. That's what my sins deserve. He imputed my sin to Him, so He crushed Him instead.

Dave .... said...

It's just sad to be that friendly to sinful man and so dismissive of a holy God who bore our sin in His Son. Some prefer darkness.

stratagem said...

Reading Chalke's lecture inspired by his own shallow understanding of Spurgeon reminds me of a line from an old Steve Martin song: "Criticize things you don't know about..."

Quite annoying indeed, like fingernails on a Chalke-board.

Ken Pulliam, Ph.D. said...

The internal theological contradictions and the obvious injustice of the penal substitutionary theory of the atonement is one of the main reasons that I de-converted from evangelical Christianity. I have written over a dozen posts on my blogabout the problems with the PST of the atonement. In my opinion, it contradicts the innate sense of justice that all men have, which justice according to the Bible, comes as a result of being made in the image of God. It also presents insuperable problems for the doctrine of the Trinity. Calvinist's attempts to justify PST based on the doctrine of imputation also fail in my opinion.

donsands said...

"Calvinist's attempts to justify PST based on the doctrine of imputation also fail in my opinion."

How about Isaiah 53?

Jesus was made sin. Jesus was made a curse.

There is NOW, NO condemnation for those of us who have been crucified with Jesus, because He was condemned.

"My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me!", are the most painful words ever spoken from all eternity, from the heart of the Holy Lamb of God, so that we would never be forsaken.

The Scriptures teach that Christ was "was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace".

Lord bless.

Ken Pulliam, Ph.D. said...

Donsands,

I am not denying that the Scriptures teach penal sub. theory (PST). What I am saying is that PST contradicts (1) the doctrine of the Trinity by saying that the Son and the Father were separated ("my God, my God, why have you forsaken me") and (2) the concept of justice by punishing an innocent in place of a guilty.

donsands said...

"What I am saying is that PST contradicts"

I don't believe it contradicts. It is simply a mystery. Just as the mystery of when God began; when did he come into existence? Or How he is omnipresent, or omniscient?

The Scriptures are clear that Christ was the Holy Lamb of God sacrificed for sinners, and so was made sin, and a curse. He drank the cup of God's wrath, that was to be poured out on you and me. He was punished, and willing bore this for rotten sinners like us. And even greater than that, the Father, gave His Beloved Son, whom He loved with a perfect love, a genuine holy love for ungodly blasphemers like me.

This is the Gospel of the Holy Writ. Clear and astonishing at the same time!

have a blessed evening.

Ken Pulliam, Ph.D. said...

donsands,

You say: "I don't believe it contradicts. It is simply a mystery. Just as the mystery of when God began; when did he come into existence?"

I thought that the evangelical view was that God never began; he is eternal. Don't you believe that?

You also say: "The Scriptures are clear that Christ was the Holy Lamb of God sacrificed for sinners, and so was made sin, and a curse."

1) Was he literally "made sin" or did the Father "regard" him as sin?

2)Was he still holy after he was "made sin"?

You continue: "He drank the cup of God's wrath, that was to be poured out on you and me."

1) Was Jesus God? Did he pour out wrath on himself?

2)If it was only the Father who poured out the wrath, why is it that the Son and the Holy Spirit were not wrathful against sin? Is the Father somehow more holy and more angry with sin than the Son or the Spirit?

3) If the Trinity is true, how could the Father be angry at the Son?

Do you see where I am going? The Penal Sub theory is full of theological problems for the evangelical.

donsands said...

The Three are all God. And yet the Son is not the Father, and the Father is not the Spirit, and so on.
These are very distinct Persons.

The Son prayed, "Father, is there any other way but to drink this cup. Nevertheless, Your will, not Mine."

They are both God. They are distinct persons, who love one another.

It is a mystery.

And yes God always was. The point I was making, can you explain this Ken.

How would you explain that God always was, so that it's not a mystery?

donsands said...

Oh, and as far as Christ being made sin. This is a difficult passage 2 Cor. 5:21.

I'll get back to you.