11 January 2009

Don't Pamper Your Doubts

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 "Unbelief Upbraided," a sermon preached on Thursday Evening, June 8th, 1876, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London. Spurgeon's text was Mark 16:14: "He . . . upbraided them with their unbelief."

SHALL not dwell so much upon this particular instance of the disciples' unbelief as upon the fact that the Lord Jesus upbraided them because of it. This action of his shows us the way in which unbelief is to be treated by us.

As our loving Saviour felt it to be right rather to upbraid than to console, he taught us that on some occasions, unbelief should be treated with severity rather than with condolence.

Beloved friends, let us never look upon our own unbelief as an excusable infirmity, but let us always regard it as a sin, and as a great sin, too. Whatever excuse you may at any time make for others,—and I pray you to make excuses for them whenever you can rightly do so,—never make any for yourself. In that case, be swift to condemn.

I am not at all afraid that, as a general rule, we shall err on the side of harshness to ourselves. No; we are far too ready to palliate our own wrong-doing, to cover up our own faults and to belittle our own offenses. I very specially urge every believer in Jesus to deal most sternly with himself in this matter of unbelief. If he turns the back of the judicial knife towards others, let him always turn the keen edge of it towards himself. In that direction use your sharpest eye and your most severely critical judgment. If you see any fault in yourself, you may depend upon it that the fault is far greater than it appears to be; therefore, deal more sternly with it.

It is a very easy thing for us to get into a desponding state of heart, and to mistrust the promises and faithfulness of God, and yet, all the while, to look upon ourselves as the subjects of a disease which we cannot help, and even to claim pity at the hands of our fellow-men, and to think that they should condole with us, and try to cheer us.

Perhaps they should; but, at any rate, we must not think that they should. It will be far wiser for each one of us to feel, "This unbelief of mine is a great wrong in the sight of God. He has never given me any occasion for it, and I am doing him a cruel injustice by thus doubting him. I must not idly sit down, and say, This has come upon me like a fever, or a paralysis, which I cannot help; but I must rather say, 'This is a great sin, in which I must no longer indulge; but I must confess my unbelief, with shame and self-abasement, to think that there should be in me this evil heart of unbelief.'"

C. H. Spurgeon


Ed de Blieck said...

I always find that my trouble is recognizing unbelief as unbelief.

It is something that my soul kicks hard against.

I am perfectly willing to upbraid myself for the sin, once I see it is a sin, but something infuriating within me balks at discovering immediately that what it knows to be sin is sinful.

The only remedy I know is habitually to ask of any thought "am I trusting God here?"

Some habits are hard to break, but this one is hard to form.

Praying "lead us from temptation and deliver us from evil" also works miracles.

Doug Hibbard said...

I wonder how he really felt?

And am disgusted in myself that I probably wouldn't preach truth that directly, for fear of losing something that shouldn't hold on to, or by seeking to gain something that I shouldn't need.

And to think, I thought I got away with an easy sermon tonight that applied to the congregation more than the preacher.

Dr. Paul W. Foltz said...

unbelief kills faith, prayer and reading of the Word of God

Unbelief limits God working in our lives, homes, and churches.

Jesuscould not do a mighty work in Nazareth because of their unbelief.

NiftyDrewFifty said...

The problem with denying your doubts is the assumption that you were right in the first place.

Isn't it more realistic to start from a place of total doubt and go from there?

Dr. Paul W. Foltz said...

Dear Nifty Drew Fifty,
Total doubt will always lead to despair, unaided by the Holy Spirit.

If the Holy Spirit doesn't work, all doubt will end in doom.

Dr. Paul Foltz

Doc said...

The problem with doubt/unbelief is that, if we were only willing to acknowledge it, "God is here and He is not silent" is emblazoned on every speck of creation and within ourselves, such that the only way we do deny it is by figuratively putting our fingers in our ears, closing our eyes, and going, "Nyaah nyaah nyaah I can't hear or see you!" The fool says in his heart there is no God. To use only one example of the many evidences, one assumes that you will admit that it is morally wrong to torture an innocent child to death for fun. If God is not there, and we are the accidental byproducts of a cosmic burp some umpty-billion years ago, then is not that 'knowledge' actually just some sort of evolutionary or societal programming, and it isn't really 'wrong' in any meaningful sense of the word, it just makes you feel bad somehow? And if your denial of God leads you to say, "Yes, that's really the way of it," then you have also displayed yourself to be a barbarian who doesn't actually think that doing said deed is wrong, it just gives you 'cold pricklies'. Such a person's opinions aren't worth listening to. But if you will acknowledge that true morality must come from above, then I will ask, what will you do when you are face-to-face with the Lawgiver and you (like me) have broken His laws in His face repeatedly and brazenly? Why should He forgive you?

James Scott Bell said...

I like the title of this post, because it gets to the heart of our responsibility. Doubts and questions may come, but if we "pamper" them, we are on our way to what Spurgeon describes: "... to mistrust the promises and faithfulness of God."

So our setting must be fully on "trust," always, even as we work through the questions. Practically, that means there is never ANY question about the goodness of God and the promises in his Word. Should such thoughts ever edge into our crania, we must indeed confess "with shame and self-abasement, to think that there should be in me this evil heart of unbelief."

Dr. Paul W. Foltz said...

To Johnny Dialectic,
Your post hit the nail squarely on its head. It blessed my soul. Thanks for posting it

FX Turk said...


When you apply that view to, for example, your trust in the Health Department (see our previous exchanges), you can start applying it here as broadly as you are trying to do.

There is no question that, at the end of the day, you have to believe whatever it is you say you believe. But at-root, you accept untested authorities all the time -- and like every other person, sometimes you invest the wrong level of credibility in the wrong expert.

The question comes down to how we qualify experts -- and for me (in fact, for any Christian), the place where the final authority of God and the Bible is settled is in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

If Jesus Christ is raised from the dead, Drew, all other epistemological benchmarks get relegated to secondary status -- and doubt gets harnessed to the promises of God rather than our own human epistemological frailty.

That's the problem you have to resolve, dude: did Jesus Christ raise from the dead? Every other question pales in comparison.

donsands said...

I faith for many things every day. The car will start up; the lights will brighten the room, and so many other things.

But I isn't it true that God's Word is something we can trust even greater?

yet many times, when the big trials come, I ask the Lord to "increase my faith" (Luke 17:5).

And the Lord says, "If you had faith as a mustard seed, you could have that tree be thrown into the sea".

And yet when I do believe Christ, and so live in faith and righteousness, I surely can not boast, for I'm doing only which was my duty, and only by His grace.

I do hate my unbelief at times, and other times take it lightly.

Good words from the prince of pastors. Thanks.

Steve said...

Frank, great post. I think this may be the most effective apologetic as well; Christ and him crucified, and historically RESURRECTED!

DJP said...

DrewIsn't it more realistic to start from a place of total doubt and go from there?

Are you certain about that?

Dr. Paul W. Foltz said...

to frank turk;donsands;
God has given every man a measure of natural faith, which you both used examples of. However saving Faith and repentance are the fruit of Regeneration, which leads to the initial conversion experience.

This occurs when The Holy Spirit awakens the elect sinner to who he is, the judgment he is under, and to Christ as Lord and Saviour.

Dr. Paul W. Foltz

FX Turk said...

Dr. Foltz --

There is no question that I agree with you. My addendum would be, at the end of your last sentence, "by the declaration of the Gospel."

Telling Drew that he has to believe the Gospel because of the fact of Jesus Christ is declaring the Gospel.

Dr. Paul W. Foltz said...

Bro. Turk,
I stand corrected. thankyou.

Bro. Foltz

donsands said...

Dr. Paul W. Foltz,

What Frank said. Ditto.

NiftyDrewFifty said...

Frank/DJP/Dr. Paul-

The only thing we can be certain of is that we are not certain of anything.

Do you think there are UFO's? Whatever your answer may be, you cannot be certain of it.

That's the just the human condition, sorry to break it to you. So, at the end of the day what's wrong with just saying "I don't know" when we don't?"

But like I said before, we don't have to remain in that state of total doubt. There is nothing wrong with it but its not very useful. We can still try find out certain truths with relative certainty and this is why the scientific method has been so popular in this department.

Science has competing claims and competing theories, all testable with independent evidence and independent testers.

However, unlike what you said Frank, the theory is not given credibility just by the claims of an "expert witness." Commonly and tragically "expert witnesses" have been right about one thing and then dead wrong about another.

Take Einstein (and read his most recent biography by walter isaacson). At a young age he was a young unknown patent clerk who wrote a paper on special relativity that was extremely groundbreaking in physics. Because he was so unknown, the expert physicists of the time vehemently tried to discredit his theory because he was unknown and his theory would have made their own lifetime theories false. However, because the mathematics behind the theory were airtight, they could not refute it outright. Still, they were not fully convinced until Einstein made this prediction: if my theory is correct the following width of light refraction will occur in a lunar ecclipse visible off the west coast of Africa at this time on this date. The physics world held their breath and an independent astromoner measured the width of light in the lunar ecclipse, and lo and behold, Einstein's prediction was right on. Courageously and humbly, the expert physicists discarded their false theories and the physics world was changed. And Einstein's theory gets verified all the time with new discoveries. However, that didn't mean Einstein was right about everything either. He spent the latter half of his academic career trying to come up with a new theory for quanta because quantum theory went against his own intuition. Sadly most physicists consider this was wrong, but that's how the pursuit of truth goes, sometimes your right, sometimes your wrong.

Yet the mighty spurgeon would tell us that no, one should have their certainties from the start, and then repress doubt and twist all the evidence to coincide with their beliefs. This is both arrogant and ignorant.

And then you are going to tell me that hearsay of ancient illiterate, resurrection prevalent, (see Matthew or other 1st century writers of that time period) people in contradicting unoriginal manuscripts is any kind of evidence that Jesus is the son of God, was born of a virgin, rose from the dead, and will save you from your original sin is the criteria for the evidence of these amazing claims? I don't think so. Like I said before, if that was my criteria I would be a Hindu, and if it is your criteria you should be one too.

If you were to be asked to jump off a cliff because some people 2,000 years ago said it was safe would you do it? Why not just stay on the cliff and not believe anything without sufficient evidence?

FX Turk said...

Dr. Foltz --

That kind of humility is rare, and the fact that you read our blog is humbling.

Grace & Peace. :-)

FX Turk said...


You miss the actual point by a long shot.

If you are asking, "how can I have infallible knowledge?" you are right: you can't; I don't.

But that fact doesn't strand us in epistemological and ethical limbo. I can eat a cheeseburger at McD's with sufficient confidence -- that is, with actionable certainty -- that it will not immediately kill me. I can do that becuase the Health Department says that my local McD's is clean enough that eating there will not kill me.

The phrase "clean enough", btw, ought to be vomit-inducing -- because the truth is that the health department doesn't vouch for McD's impeccability: it vouches for its compliance to a minimum standard. That is: it achieves a minimum standard of trustworthiness.

The problem for you, Drew, is that the Bible establishes a maximum threshold for trustworthiness. Yet you who would trust McD's not to kill you by dipping below the minimum standard are faced with the maximum standard -- a text preserved over 4000 years to the highest degree, reporting facts at the time which no witness disputed, and explaining an event in history which changes all interpretations of history -- suddenly become an epistemological blank slate. Suddenly -- and uniquely -- doubt becomes a virtue rather than an untennable practice.

Judge the Scripture the way you actually do judge any other event, Drew -- and know for certain that Jesus is both Lord and Christ.

Dr. Paul W. Foltz said...

bro. Frank. i am the one who is humbled, that you would let an old wretch of a sinner, lke me comment, not less read the blog.

God bless you.

BRO. Paul

DJP said...

DrewThe only thing we can be certain of is that we are not certain of anything

These necessarily follow:
1. Your position is self-refuting
2. You are unsure that you should be proselytizing for your uncertainty
3. Since to you, uncertainty is sufficient reason not to do something, you should cease commenting immediately.

We know you're a troll. Now we learn if you're an honest troll, or a hypocrite.

NiftyDrewFifty said...

Have it your way dan, thanks to all for the discussion.

JustJan said...

The only thing we can be certain of is that we are not certain of anything.

How can we be certain that we are not certain of anything?

NiftyDrewFifty said...

Well what are you 100% certain of?

Jim Jordan said...

Are you really saying there are things you're not 100% certain of? Do you have advanced Alzheimer's or something?

threegirldad said...

Well what are you 100% certain of?

"Oh that my words were written!
   Oh that they were inscribed in a book!

Oh that with an iron pen and lead
   they were engraved in the rock forever!

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
   and at the last he will stand upon the earth.

And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
   yet in my flesh I shall see God,

whom I shall see for myself,
   and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
   My heart faints within me!"

And this:
"The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners..."

For starters...