12 November 2006

A Pericope on Prophecy

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. This excerpt is from "The Comforter," a sermon delivered on Sunday evening, January 21, 1855. That was exactly a year after Spurgeon was called to be pastor of that congregation. This excerpt is from the fifth of the published sermons in the New Park Street series.

foolish man, who had fancy to preach in a certain pulpit, though in truth he was quite incapable of the duty, called upon the minister, and assured him solemnly that it had been revealed to him by the Holy Ghost, that he was to preach in his pulpit.

"Very well," said the minister, "I suppose I must not doubt your assertion, but as it has not been revealed to me that I am to let you preach, you must go your way until it is."

I have heard many fanatical persons say the Holy Spirit revealed this and that to them. Now that is very generally revealed nonsense.

The Holy Ghost does not reveal anything fresh now. He brings old things to our remembrance. "He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance whatsoever I have told you." The canon of revelation is closed; there is no more to be added. God does not give a fresh revelation, but he rivets the old one. When it has been forgotten, and laid in the dusty chamber of our memory, he fetches it out and cleans the picture, but does not paint a new one.

There are no new doctrines, but the old ones are often revived. It is not, I say, by any new revelation that the Spirit comforts. He does so by telling us old things over again; he brings a fresh lamp to manifest the treasures hidden in Scripture; he unlocks the strong chests in which the truth had long lain, and he points to secret chambers filled with untold riches; but he comes no more, for enough is done.

Believer! there is enough in the Bible for thee to live upon for ever. If thou shouldst outnumber the years of Methusaleh, there would be no need for a fresh revelation; if thou shouldst live till Christ should come upon the earth, there would be no necessity for the addition of a single word; if thou shouldst go down as deep as Jonah, or even descend as David said he did, into the belly of hell, still there would be enough in the Bible to comfort thee without a supplementary sentence.

But Christ says, "He shall take of mine and shall show it unto you."
C. H. Spurgeon


Jim Crigler said...

What? Is this a harbinger of the return of the "personal revelation" thread? Will there be specific references to Gothard and Blackaby? Will the thread be taken over again by the cessationist debate?

And ... What about Naomi?

wordsmith said...

Good and timely quote. Reminds me of the story of the single young woman who approached an available young man in the congregation and informed him that the Lord had revealed to her that he was supposed to marry her.

"Sorry, sister, but He didn't see fit to tell me about that," was his reply.

Thank God He has brought me out of the superstitions of charismaticism and personal "prophecy."

Connie said...

So timely, and greatly appreciated!

Living in one of the "hot beds" or "mecas" of modern Charismatic thinking and practice I deal almost daily with false proclaimations that "God told me...", or "The Holy Sprit revealed to me..."

It grieves me that many times such statements and proclaimations have cast a bad light on the gospel and the nature of God.

We live in a culture that is not content with receiving what God has already provided--much less endeavoring to put into practice what has already been commanded.

Chris said...

I'm sure that this has been talked about before, but is it a logical fallacy to take an argument about the sufficiency of Scripture and apply it to non-doctrinal personal guidance?

I.e. is there a difference between the revelation of new truth or new doctrine, and personal information about whether we should go here or there and do such and such?

The Holy Spirit taught all things to the apostles by bringing all things to their remembrance, whatsoever the Lord had taught them. But in the book of acts He also told Paul to go here and there and not to go here and there and do such as such using a variety of supernatural means.

Look, I'm a cessationist who is really wary of personal "revelation," mainly because of its subjective and non-authoritative quality, but lately I've been asking these sorts of questions. Anybody care to venture an answer?

joey said...


interesting that you would be wary of personal revelation for the very reasons it is nonthreatening. Why would something that is non-authoritative and subjective be scary? Especially when we do already have the authoritative and objective word of God to guide us? The thing to be wary of is people who excerisize "gifts" as if they are authoritative or objective.

Certainly we should be wary of someone saying "the Holy Spirit said..." and then goes on to espouse some new truth or doctrine. But what about someone who comes up to you and says "Did you get some discouraging news at work yesterday? Because I believe I was prompted by the Holy Spirit to pray for your work situation." And they are right, and there was no way they would have known about your situation at work (because, say, your boss had just told you that you were likely to be laid off soon and you hadn't told anyone yet.)

What is scary about that situation? There is no new doctrine being taught, no authoritatve command being givin...just an individual allowing the Holy Spirit lead them to sense something they would have no way of knowing to encourage them to pray for you. Wouldn't it be an encouraging reminder of the care of the Lord? Sure you can read the Bible and understand that the Lord is in control of your work situation and that there is no need to worry. And you should know that. But does that mean that the Lord can't use other means to get our attention and remind us of his care in a particular situation? Based on my understanding of Scripture and my experience, I would say no.

joey said...

the previous example, by the way, isn't what one would typically think of as prophecy, more like the gift of discernment, or the gift of knowledge...but anyway, the point remains...

Carla Rolfe said...

"God does not give a fresh revelation, but he rivets the old one. When it has been forgotten, and laid in the dusty chamber of our memory, he fetches it out and cleans the picture, but does not paint a new one."

He does this all the time with me. I'm so glad He does too.

Excellent post, thank you.

James Scott Bell said...


"I.e. is there a difference between the revelation of new truth or new doctrine, and personal information about whether we should go here or there and do such and such?"

Yes, a major difference. Even John MacArthur says on occasion, "The Lord laid it on my heart." But I believe he would qualify that by saying his is soaked in the Word first and foremost.

Highland Host said...

By the way. As a seceder from Anglicanism I can tell you that liberals often use the argument 'the Holy Spirit is doing a new thing' to support their arguments.
Since most of them are unitarians, I often wonder what in the world they mean by it.

Adrian Warnock said...

Well, well! A post on prophecy on pyro and no inflamed comments? What is the world coming to? I suppose you are all expecting someone like me to throw my toys out of the pram and start causing a ruccus. Well, sorry to disappoint you but I am not going to!

Once again, though I will say, that I - like every charismatic I know - do not believe in new doctrinal revelation today, and am only too well aware of the folly that can go on. So, I fully understand and appreciate Spurgeon's sentiment and comments and especially welcome the way he speaks of the Spirit brining things that are biblical to mind.

Of course, there are plenty of examples of the man himself having what the modern charismatics would call a "word of knowledge' - the person who stole the gloves, the one who had his shop open on a sunday, etc. Like many believers in the days before the charismatic schism, Mr Spurgeon had a form of cessationism that still allowed him an active God.

donsands said...

"If thou shouldst outnumber the years of Methusaleh, there would be no need for a fresh revelation; ... there still would be enough in the Bible"

It is astounding of the depth of the Holy Scriptures. It's such a blessing that God closed the canon.

Thanks for the great post.

Jerry Wragg said...

Adrian –
Good to hear from you…

Just a brief comment:
I’ve read all of your posts on the cessationist/non- debate, and you’ve continued to use the phrase “active God”. Why is it difficult for you to concede that cessationists do have an “active” God whose written revelation itself is called “living and active”, “living and abiding”, and “spirit and life”?
Moreover, during the inter-testamental period of revelatory “silence”, was God not “active”. It seems that you regularly equate the absence of personal and private revelations with an inactive deity.

Just wanted your thoughts…


Mike Messerli said...

great quote for our times...the issues never change, do they?

having taught in a charismatic college in another life this is an ongoing problem, in fact I find that many charismatics are more dependent on personal revelation than they are on the living, active word of God.

that's the reason so much error and heresy has flooded into the church in these last 30 years!

great quote, thanks for the reminder.

Adrian Warnock said...

I fully agree that God is active through his word. It is my concern that some but not all cessationists do not even allow the illumination of the Spirit and his work in affirming to our hearts that we are saved. If it turns out that I am as wrong about that as cessationists are who assume that we charismatics want to add to the bible then I will be very glad to retract those concerns.

DJP said...

chh -- yes, I've written about it here a number of times and at some length; and yes, it is a problem. It is a denial of the sufficiency of Scriptures, though leaky-canon devotees deny the denial.

geekforgreek said...

In light of C.H.H comments, I know I have been thrown for a loop by the segment of Spurgeon's autobiography in which he recounts times at which he was given knowledge of people in the midst of the congregation while he was speaking in order to speak directly to them. I will try to find the quote and post it, I know it is cited in "Are miraculous gifts for today?".

Brad Williams said...

Well, I'm a flag waving Spurgeon fan for sure. I'm just wondering how the Lord was going to "reveal" it to him to let him know whether or not this young man was supposed to preach at his church.

ricki said...

chh - not wanting to add or take away from Scripture, I can only encourage you to pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.

ricki said...

oh - I forgot, is Spurgeon contradicting himself? Please help with geekforgreek and sojourner's comments. I wondered the same.

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

I walked away from the church I grew up in when the pastor and some of his close associates started regularly having direct encounters with deity and were becoming infallible as a result. I had no problems with direct encounters but I had a big problem with infallibility as a result of a direct encounter. This was during the high noon of the charismatic renewal but ironically the church wasn't in any sense charismatic. Basically it was an authority issue. Was the pastor's vision for the church open to discussion with the elders or was he going to get his way no matter what? The end result was that the elders left and the pastor stayed. The founders of the church were not strong enough or willing to take the sacrifices involved in standing firm against a pastor who claimed to have a direct commission from God for what he was doing.

AerodynamicPenguin said...

It needs to be noted that Spurgeon, despite his sermon quoted here, received revelations by the Holy Spirit. There were various times when he spoke words -- while preaching -- that could only have been known by God, such as: "Young man, the gloves you have in your pocket are not yours." There are other examples, and they are documented in Wayne Grudem's THE GIFT OF PROPHECY. I write this to make the point that what Spurgeon is quoted as having preached is not where he ended up, nor does it accurately describe his ministerial practice as a whole.

Machine Gun Kelley said...

I'm not Cessationist by any means (open, but cautious perhaps?, but during my days in the Pentecostal movement, I heard a plenty of "the Holy Spirit revealed.......to me" Much of it was hoopla... Just turn on TBN during a fund raiser and you'll see what I mean!

ricki said...

As a card carrying Charismatic, I thought I should note that I agree with many of the watch-outs regarding the dangers and pitfalls around personal prophecy. I'm not sure if all of the ugly stories are true, i.e., I suspect some percent are parroting what they heard from others and some percent are based on incomplete knowledge of the details, but I generally agree that there has been a lot of abuse.

On the other hand, I have also seen a lot of misuse of Scripture, both in the Charismatic and in Evangelical camps (I've allowed that these two camps are separate to avoid yet another comment thread). This misuse has turned into some pretty ugly stuff.

Every time I read something about the high value of Scripture I don't feel a need to let people know some horror story about how I've seen or heard of Scripture being misused. So I'm curious why people feel a need to share some Charismatic horror story. It causes me to discount the person.

I like it when someone offers Scripture that counters my Charismatic position. I don't have everything perfect and I am happy to be challenged and helped. Even when I do not end up not being convinced, if Scripture was the basis of the discussion, I grow.

But please, please, drop the rhetoric about what went wrong somewhere. We could all do that and for the most part it adds no value.

PS - this is not directed at team-pyro nor everyone that leaves a comment ... those of you that are guilty know who you are.

donsands said...

"Share some Charismatic horror story ... for the most part it adds no value"

Agreed: For the most part. However, there are times it can be beneficial to share how one was deceived, and then was granted repentance and grace to be delivered form Satans deception.

I just began to read James White's Pulpit Crimes, and he talked about the good and bad of dropping names. Excellent book. I guess it's Okay to plug it.

Robin Edgar said...

"The Holy Ghost does not reveal anything fresh now. He brings old things to our remembrance."

OK Well I won't argue with that even though I am not convinced that God is fresh out of any brand-spanking new revelations just yet. . .

Here is something very old that God brought to my remembrance a while back. . .

Phil Johnson said...

Adrian: "Of course, there are plenty of examples of the man himself having what the modern charismatics would call a "word of knowledge' - the person who stole the gloves, the one who had his shop open on a sunday, etc."

I don't know what constitutes "plenty" in your thinking, but there were indeed a few incidents of that sort in Spurgeon's life, which Spurgeon occasionally recounted.

I posted at length on the subject last year.

The point of this post is to illustrate how Spurgeon nonetheless 1) regarded these incidents as extraordinary and rare, and not a manifestation of the charismata; and 2) frequently cautioned against the tendencies of those who put too much stock in supposed private revelations. He regarded it as an expression of fanaticism (his word), and he was suspicious—no, it's probably fair and more accurate to say he was dismissive—of people who seemed to think God spoke fresh words to them all the time.

He would have been appalled to think a movement advocating the idea that new prophecies are supposed to be commonplace would have sought support for that idea in a handful of incidents from Spurgeon's life—which incidents he expressly said he regarded as remarkable providences.