01 July 2007

Two Truths That Should Not Be Set Against One Another

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 "God's Will and Man's Will," a sermon delivered on Sunday morning, March 30th, 1862, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London.

"So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy."—Romans 9:16.

"Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely."—Revelation 22:17.
HE great controversy which for many ages has divided the Christian Church has hinged upon the difficult question of "the will."

I need not say of that conflict that it has done much mischief to the Christian Church, undoubtedly it has; but I will rather say, that it has been fraught with incalculable usefulness; for it has thrust forward before the minds of Christians precious truths, which, but for it, might have been kept in the shade.

I believe that the two great doctrines of human responsibility and divine sovereignty have both been brought out the more prominently in the Christian Church by the fact that there is a class of strong-minded, hard-headed men who magnify sovereignty at the expense of responsibility; and another earnest and useful class who uphold and maintain human responsibility oftentimes at the expense of divine sovereignty.

I believe there is a needs-be for this in the finite character of the human mind, while the natural lethargy of the Church requires a kind of healthy irritation to arouse her powers and stimulate her exertions. The pebbles in the living stream of truth are worn smooth and round by friction. Who among us would wish to suspend a lava of nature whose effects on the whole are good?

I glory in that which at the present day is so much spoken against sectarianism, for "sectarianism" is the cant phrase which our enemies use for all firm religious belief. I find it applied to all sorts of Christians. No matter what views he may hold, if a man be but in earnest, he is a sectarian at once. Success to sectarianism; let it live and flourish. When that is done with, farewell to the power of godliness. When we cease, each of us, to maintain our own views of truth, and to maintain those views firmly and strenuously, then truth shall fly out of the land, and error alone shall reign.

This, indeed, is the object of our foes: under the cover of attacking sects, they attack true religion, and would drive it, if they could, from off the face of the earth. In the controversy which has raged, a controversy which, I again say, I believe to have been really healthy, and which has done us all a vast amount of good, mistakes have arisen from two reasons.

Some brethren have altogether forgotten one order of truths, and then, in the next place, they have gone too far with others. We all have one blind eye, and too often we are like Nelson in the battle, we put the telescope to that blind eye, and then protest that we cannot see. I have heard of one man who said he had read the Bible through thirty-four times on his knees, but could not see a word about election in it; I think it very likely that he could not; kneeling is a very uncomfortable posture for reading—and possibly the superstition which would make the poor man perform this penance would disqualify him for using his reason. Moreover, to get through the Book thirty-four times, he probably read in such a hurry that he did not know what he was reading, and might as well have been dreaming over "Robinson Crusoe" as the Bible. He put the telescope to the blind eye.

Many of us do that; we do not want to see a truth, and therefore we say we cannot see it.

On the other hand, there are others who push a truth too far. "This is good; oh! this is precious!" say they, and then they think it is good for everything; that in fact it is the only truth in the world. You know how often things are injured by over-praise; how a good medicine, which really was a great boon for a certain disease, comes to be despised utterly by the physician, because a certain quack has praised it up as being a universal cure; so puffery in doctrine leads to its dishonor.

Truth has thus suffered on all sides; on the one hand brethren would not see all the truth, and on the other hand they magnified out of proportion that which they did see.

You have seen those mirrors, those globes that are sometimes hung up in gardens; you walk up to them and you see your head ten times as large as your body, or you walk away and put yourself in another position, and then your feet are monstrous and the rest of your body is small. This is an ingenious toy, but I am sorry to say that many go to work with God's truth upon the model of this toy; they magnify one capital truth, till it becomes monstrous; they minify and speak little of another truth till it becomes altogether forgotten.

. . . . . . . . .
Scripture teaches both that the work of salvation rests upon the will of God, and not upon the will of man; and (secondly, the equally sure doctrine) that the will of man has its proper position in the work of salvation, and is not to be ignored.

C. H. Spurgeon


steve said...

I've always appreciated how Spurgeon held these two truths in tension, as opposed to the many today who push too far one way or the other and thus distorting the Word much like those glass globes in gardens (great illustration!).

I've been wanting to find a good recent book that addresses this tension well. Any recommendations, Phil?

Thanks, in advance.

Unknown said...

Once again, an excellent example of Spurgeon dancing along the high tension wire of truth.

Sometimes the hardest thing is to accept the apparent contradiction SIMPLY because the Bible teaches both positions.

Great stuff.

Kristine said...


I would recommend J.I. Packer's "Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God", if you haven't read it already.

It's a wonderful treatment of the apparent paradox between these two truths, allowing God's Word to speak on behalf of both of them.

donsands said...

"they magnify one capital truth, till it becomes monstrous"

I wonder how much of our personalities figure into this?

I need to work on my balancing all doctrine. What a difficult task at times, but I also enjoy it.

I always enjoyed looking in those funhouse mirrors on the Boardwalk in Ocean City, MD.

James Scott Bell said...

Great message from Spurgeon. He was too biblical to be blindly dogmatic.

I find too many times those who pay lip service to human will but then treat it as the crazy aunt in one of those Victorian novels--shut up in the attic and ignored.

OTOH, those who emphasize man's responsibility often know too little about sovereignty and preach a human effort gospel.

Spurgeon has it right.

Also, another great graphic from TeamPyro, Spurgeon in the globe. Amazing!

Would love

Leslie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert N. Landrum said...

Spurgeon is unmatched in his ability to make hard doctrines more understandable.

Matt said...

Words of wisdom from Spurgeon.

Steve, another attempt at reconciling God's supreme sovereignty with the will and moral responsibility is found in "Chosen But Free" by Norman Geisler. Geisler labels himself a moderate Calvinist. Some, of course, have not appreciated Geisler's work. James White wrote a response entitled "The Potter's Freedom". Maybe that can help you?

Norman said...

"I have heard of one man who said he had read the Bible through thirty-four times on his knees, but could not see a word about election in it; I think it very likely that he could not; kneeling is a very uncomfortable posture for reading—and possibly the superstition which would make the poor man perform this penance would disqualify him for using his reason. Moreover, to get through the Book thirty-four times, he probably read in such a hurry that he did not know what he was reading, and might as well have been dreaming over "Robinson Crusoe" as the Bible.

I wish I was the pastor of this man. I would stand in awe of his commitment to God's Word and try to learn from him instead of giving him a verbal slap.

Unknown said...

I just read an execellent article that tries to explain the relationship between the two, entitled Myth of Free Will.

I recommend you read it.

Tony Byrne said...

"Puffery in doctrine"

I love that expression :-)

Spurgeon also said, "Faith is God's gift, but it is also the act of renewed manhood." (MTP, vol. 9, pp. vi-ii. See also Murray's Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism [Banner, 2000], pp. 86-87) That articulates the balance succinctly and accurately. Also, in a sermon on Faith and Life, he said:

"Although faith is the act of man, yet it is the work of God. “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness;” but that heart must, first of all, have been renewed by divine grace before it ever can be capable of the act of saving faith. Faith, we say, is man’s act, for we are commanded to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” and we shall be saved. At the same time, faith is God’s gift, and wherever we find it, we may know that it did not come there from the force of nature, but from a work of divine grace.”

With the way some people speak of faith being God's gift, it seems that they want to deny that it is the act of man, contrary to Spurgeon's balance. They seem to think that if faith is the act of man, it must therefore be a "work." This is false. A "work" is a particular kind of action (not all actions--such as the need for repentance and faith for justification--are works) that reaches within for self-sufficiency and/or self-righteousness, rather than reaching outward to Christ and his righteousness. All works are acts, but not all acts are works. Spurgeon is right to insist that faith is our voluntary response or action, and he is not thereby introducing "works" into the ground of our justification.

John Flavel also has the balance between divine sovereignty and human responsibility in our salvation. He said:

"Coming to Christ notes the voluntariness of the soul in its motion to Christ. It is true, there is no coming without the Father's drawing; but that drawing has nothing of coaction in it; it does not destroy, but powerfully, and with an overcoming sweetness, persuade the will. It is not forced or driven, but it comes; being made "willing in the day of God's power," Psal. 110: 3. Ask a poor distressed sinner in that season, Are you willing to come to Christ? O rather than live! life is not so necessary as Christ is! O! with all my heart, ten thousand worlds for Jesus Christ, if he could be purchased, were nothing answerable to his value in mine eyes! The soul's motion to Christ is free and voluntary, it is coming."

In all of these quotes, note carefully how divine sovereignty and human responsibility are kept in biblical balance, without introducing "works" into the ground of our justification.

Tony Byrne said...

"I hold as firmly as any man living, that repentance and conversion are the work of the Holy Spirit, but I would sooner lose this hand, and both, than I would give up preaching that it is the duty of men to repent and believe and that it is the duty of Christian ministers to say to them, 'Repent and be convereted, that your sins may be blotted out.'" MTP, vol. 14, p. 196

Faith and repentance are man's "duty" (i.e. responsibility) because 1) God commands us to respond and 2) faith is our act. Just because faith and repentance are the result of God's sovereign, efficacious drawing (or regenerating work), it does not follow that those actions are not our "duty." If any of Phil's readers have doubts about the doctrine of "duty-faith" (and I know it's true of a few reading this :-), then this is all it means. Spurgeon has the balance on this subject. Hear ye him.