23 January 2011

The Folly of Doctoring the Gospel

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," a lecture delivered at the Conference of Ministers and Students educated at the Pastors’ College, Tuesday 16 April 1872.

ear brethren, you and I believe in the doctrines of the gospel. We have received the certainties of revealed truth. These are things which are verily believed among us. We do not bow down before men's theories of truth, nor do we admit that theology consists in "views" and "opinions." We declare that there are certain verities, essential, abiding, eternal, from which it is ruinous to swerve.

I am deeply grieved to hear so many ministers talk as if the faith were a variable quantity, a matter of daily formation, a nose of wax to be constantly reshaped, a cloud driven by the wind. So do not I believe! I have been charged with being a mere echo of the Puritans, but I had rather be the echo of truth, than the voice of falsehood.

It may be want of intellect which prevents our departing from the good old way, but even this is better than want of grace, which lies at the bottom of men's perpetual chopping and changing of their beliefs.

Rest assured that there is nothing new in theology except that which is false; and that the facts of theology are to-day what they were eighteen hundred years ago. But in these days, the self-styled "men of progress" who commenced with preaching the gospel degenerate as they advance, and their divinity, like the snail, melts as it proceeds; I hope it will never be so with any of us.

I have likened the career of certain divines to the journey of a Roman wine cask from the vineyard to the city. It starts from the wine-press as the pure juice of the grape, but at the first halting-place the drivers of the cart must needs quench their thirst, and when they come to a fountain they substitute water for what they have drank. In the next village there are numbers of lovers of wine who beg or buy a little, and the discreet carrier dilutes again. The watering is repeated, till, on its entrance into Rome, the fluid is remarkably different from that which originally started from the vineyard.

There is a way of doctoring the gospel in much the same manner. A little truth is given up, and then a little more, and men fill up the vacuum with opinions, inferences, speculations, and dreams, till their wine is mixed with water, and the water none of the best. Many preachers—and I speak it with sorrow—have built a tower of theological speculations, upon which they sit like Nero, fiddling the tune of their own philosophy while the world is burning with sin and misery. They are playing with the toys of speculation while men's souls are being lost.

Much of human wisdom is a mere coverlet for the absence of vital godliness. I went into railway carriages of the first class in Italy which were lined with very pretty crochet-work, and I thought the voyagers highly honoured, since no doubt some delicate fingers had sumptuously furnished the cars for them. The crochet work was simply put on to cover the grease and dirt of the cloth. A great deal that is now preached of very pretty sentimentalism and religiousness is a mere crochet-work covering for detestable heresies long since disproved, which dared not appear again without a disguise for their hideousness.

With words of human wisdom and speculations of their own invention men disguise falsehood and deceive many. Be it ours to give to the people what God gives to us. Be ye each of you as Micaiah, who declared: "As the Lord liveth, whatsoever the Lord saith unto me that will I speak." If it be folly to keep to what we find in Scripture, and if it be madness to believe in verbal inspiration, we purpose to remain fools to the end of the chapter, and hope to be among the foolish things which God has chosen.

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17 comments:

donsands said...

"a nose of wax to be constantly reshaped"

I really like that.

The "prince of preachers" truly knew how to address the false doctrines of his day.

may we continue to address the heresies of our day, for the sake of the Gospel of grace and truth. Amen.

Wendy said...

...but I had rather be the echo of truth, than the voice of falsehood.

This is a good reminder when I feel like I'm simply a "regurgitator".

Randy Talley said...

Profound and amazing. I printed this just now and went upstairs to read it to my wife. All she could say every so often was "whoa" and "wow".

"Rest assured that there is nothing new in theology except that which is false" just became my facebook status for the day.


Thank you, Phil.

Professor Howdy said...

Love Charles Haddon Spurgeon!

religionannarbor said...

I have a question for everyone. NT Wright defines the gospel as "the good news that the crucified and risen Jesus is the Messiah of Israel and therefore the Lord of the world."

But most Protestants today define the gospel as an explanation as to how one is saved. For example, "the gospel is that Christ saved us from our sins by grace through faith alone."

NT Wright defends his definition biblically and historically. He points to the use of the word in Isaiah 52. "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, "Your God reigns!" This would appear to say that Isaiah's definition of the gospel is that "God reigns".

He also explores the usage of the word in the first century and makes a convincing case that it would have meant something similar there too.

Knowing that the Scriptures are the best interpretor of the Scriptures, is there a biblical defense of the more common protestant definition of gospel?

I was looking online for a biblical defense and came up empty. Thanks.

donsands said...

"I have a question for everyone."

The good news for me is that I'm forgiven, and have eternal life, which is in Christ Jesus, Lord and Savior, and King of kings.

"...I [Jesus] am sending you [Paul] to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’" Acts 26:18

religionannarbor said...

Hi Donsands,

Thank you. I praise God that he saved me as well. But my question is more about the specific biblical use of the word "gospel" (greek euaggelion and variations) in the Scriptures. In other words, when Paul says he is, "called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God", what does he mean by the word?

donsands said...

He means Christ died for our sins, and rose from the dead. This same Jesus Christ, who is the Passover Lamb.

So, the good news is Jesus. He is the Savior of sinners.

John Newton said, after he lived a full life of great sin and great ministry for his Lord, and for the Church, even in our day:

"My memory is nearly gone;
but I remember two things;
That I am a great sinner, and
that Christ is a great Saviour."

John Newton (1725-1807)

He didn't even remember he wrote Amazing Grace, the greatest of all hymns.

religionannarbor said...

Hi Donsands,

//He means Christ died for our sins, and rose from the dead. This same Jesus Christ, who is the Passover Lamb.//

Where do you get this from? I am certainly not disagreeing that Christ rose from the dead and died for our sins etc but I am genuinely interested in the counter argument to Wright's Biblical/Historical argument that the word Gospel was a declaration that Jesus was King. "Our God (Jesus) reigns" as Isaiah would say.

Is there a Biblical argument to suggest that the word points to the work of Christ rather than the fact that Christ reigns?

I realize that someone could say 'who cares' but I think that it has some broader implications.

donsands said...

"Is there a Biblical argument to suggest that the word points to the work of Christ rather than the fact that Christ reigns?"


"Now I would remind you, brothers [Don and Annarbor], of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, IF you hold fast to the word I preached to you—UNLESS you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures," 1 Cor. 15:1-4

Because of this good news, Christ surely reigns.

God bless.

religionannarbor said...

Hi Donsands,

I am not sure that passage answers the question. It sort of depends on what "the gospel" is. If Wright is right and the gospel is "Christ is King" or "Christ reigns", Paul could be saying that we are saved by believing in Christ as Lord (something that matches Romans 10:9). There is nothing in the context that suggests a definition of 'how one is saved'.

Try reading it this way, "Now I would remind you, brothers [Don and Annarbor], of the gospel I preached to you [that Jesus is King and Lord of the World], which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, IF you hold fast to the word I preached to you—UNLESS you believed in vain."

Not saying the passage proves Wright's position, just that it is not definitive either way without previous assumptions on the definition.

God bless.

donsands said...

"I am not sure that passage answers the question."

Yes it does.

Mike Riccardi said...

Annarbor,

Don's right. The only way to get your reading of 1Cor 15 is to import your proposed understanding of "gospel" into the text.

Paul is saying, "I make known to you the gospel which I preached." Then he makes some modifying statements. Then he uses the relative pronoun hoti which acts like a colon in the sentence. So if you remove the modifiers, you have:

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.

Doesn't get any clearer.

religionannarbor said...

Hi Mike,

I am just asking questions here. Your explanation made Don's argument a little clearer to me and I think it is not a bad argument. But I am not sure I would agree with the statement "it doesn't get any clearer" . In that the definition of gospel found in Isaiah 52 would fit there and then the text after the colon would simply be the evidence that Christ is Lord.

Keep in mind that the alternative definition is directly from Isaiah 52 so it is not "my definition" or Wright's definition.

Does anyone know where there might be a scholarly argument online that I could read? If not, I would take a book recommendation. Thanks.

Phil Johnson said...

religionannarbor: "I am just asking questions here. Your explanation made Don's argument a little clearer to me and I think it is not a bad argument. But I am not sure I would agree . . . "

The problem is that you are off topic for this post. It's bad form to hijack our blog for a debate on some topic of your choosing. We have occasionally critiqued NT Wright on this blog, but this is not one of those posts. Plus, I think you're a few years too late to re-spark the debate you want to have.

A simple Google search should get you all the material you want. I dunno how "scholarly" some of it is, but then steering a weekend blog-discussion at PyroManiacs into an off-topic debate isn't a very scholarly way to pursue ANY point.

You do have a nice-looking blog. The pictures of decaying Detroit churches are stunning.

Now, back to the topic at hand, please.

religionannarbor said...

Sorry Phil. I din't meant to hijack the blog post. I will drop it now and spend some more time on google.

And thanks for the compliment on the blog that means a lot.

Phil Johnson said...

religionannarbor:

PS: Justin Taylor is featuring a book that looks like it might answer your questions: http://bit.ly/ggTV8L