08 March 2009

What Kind of Confession Do You Make?

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 "Confession of Christ," a sermon preached on Sunday evening, March 21st, 1868.

here is no true confession where there is not a changed spirit and a transformed life, or rather the confession is such as shall suffice to condemn the man out of his own mouth, and send him out from God's presence a revealed pretender.

My dear brethren and sisters in Christ, you members of this church, I ask you to put it to your consciences: Do you confess Christ in your business? You working men, do you confess my Lord and Master by fleeing those vicious and evil habits that are so common among your class? Are you no longer the lover of the lewd song? Do you no longer laugh over the indecent story, or the one that covers vile language? Have you foresworn the tavern, and all the company that frequents it? And you merchants, and you that call yourselves ladies and gentlemen, have you given up those frivolities, those empty vanities, those time murderers, those souldestroyers, of which the most of your class are so fond?

If grace does not make you to differ from your own surroundings, is it really grace at all? Where there is not a thorough separation from the world, there is cause to fear there is no close union to Christ.

The best part of our confession to Christ lies in the practically giving up everything which Christ would not sanction, and the following out of whatever Christ would ordain.

C. H. Spurgeon


Anonymous said...

Here is a fellow who lived under similar preaching, he finally found relief under the preaching of Puritan Richard Sibbes; here's his testimony:

I was for three years together wounded for sins, and under a sense of my corruptions, which were many; and I followed sermons, pursuing the means, and was constant in duties and doing: looking for Heaven that way. And then I was so precise for outward formalities, that I censured all to be reprobates, that wore their hair anything long, and not short above the ears; or that wore great ruffs, and gorgets, or fashions, and follies. But yet I was distracted in my mind, wounded in conscience, and wept often and bitterly, and prayed earnestly, but yet had no comfort, till I heard that sweet saint . . . Doctor Sibbs, by whose means and ministry I was brought to peace and joy in my spirit. His sweet soul-melting Gospel-sermons won my heart and refreshed me much, for by him I saw and had muchof God and was confident in Christ, and could overlook the world . . . My heart held firm and resolved and my desires all heaven-ward. (Ron Frost. Kelly Kapic and Randall Gleason, eds., “The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics,” Frost is quoting from: John Rogers, Ohel or Bethshemesh, A Tabernacle for the Sun (London, n.p., 1653)

The man's name was Humphrey Mills. Similar to Spurgeon's theology on this point, Mills was pointed to look at his behavior as the barometer for measuring his level of union with Christ (if at all). His testimony reveals what this kind of censure can have on an individual who really internalizes the sentiment that Spurgeon is getting at.

Certainly there will be a change as a result of union with Christ, and behavior will change (on a subjective continuum); but one's behavior (subjective) should not be the basis for determining one's union with Christ . . . instead we should look to the objective work of Christ, and find rest for the soul --- at least that's what Mills came to understand as a result of listening to Sibbes.

Beyond this clarification, I still like Spurgeon :-).

Chad V. said...

So true bobby. But remember that the scriptures do tell us that our works will betray who our true master is.

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. 1 John 2:3-6

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 1 John 2:15

I think that's what Spurgeon was getting at. It is wrong to direct one who is troubled about his soul to seek assurance on their own works. Their assurance must be found only in Christ and His finished work. However, the examination of works are often the means of bringing hypocrites to repentance and faith and to bring true believers who have fallen into sin to repentance.

Anonymous said...

Hi ChadV,

I agree to a certain extent, but lets not forget the polarities and the context that John's epistle is working through and in --- in other words, it doesn't necessarily plug into the "Westminster Standards" or Federal Calvinism's bilateral contract from whence even Spurgeon's thinking is informed by.

Also, lets not forget the Pharisees, or even religious people today; good behavior can deceive folks into a false sense of security, as bad behavior can (when framed, for example, by the categories provided by folks like William Perkins, William Aames, et al as evinced in Federal Calvinism) can wrongfully cause folks (even repentant folks) --- like Mills --- to despair.

Actually, to be a little contrarian, it's not "works" that we point people to (first, or methodologically) bring them, to Christ, we point folks to Christ --- and allow his life, His cross-work --- to frame how we speak about "works" even in the negative. I believe that this is what brings folks to Christ (I'm really thinking of Luther's theology of the cross).

Anyway, I don't want to quibble too much, Chad :-) . . . peace in Christ.

Strong Tower said...

Have you foresworn the tavern?

All but the WHI.

Johnny Dialectic said...

"Taking Christ as your Lord and King involves obedience to His will as far as you know it in each smallest detail of life. There are those who tell us that they have taken Christ as their Lord and King who at the same time are disobeying Him daily in business, in domestic life, in social life and in personal conduct. Such persons are deceiving themselves. You have not taken Jesus as your Lord and King if you are not striving to obey Him in everything each day. He Himself says, “Why call ye Me ‘Lord, Lord!’ and do not the things that I say?” (Luke 6:46)." (R. A. Torrey, How to Succeed in the Christian Life, Revell, 1906)

Frank Turk said...

There is a difference between declaring a perpetual war on sin in your life and being sin-free. If you are sin-free, you don't even need a savior anymore, do you?

I agree with Spurgeon, and with Bobby. The question is not whether you are still a sinner: it is where you affections lie.

Chad V. said...



Anonymous said...


Oh come on, don't you want to "debate" just a little (at least for old times sake ;-) . . . oh yeah I was the one who stopped :-).

Anonymous said...

And I don't disagree with the "affections" point (of course not), it's the 'external signs' that I want to make sure are framed the right way.

Phil Johnson said...

Chad V. It is wrong to direct one who is troubled about his soul to seek assurance on their own works.

Right, but what I think Bobby is missing is that Spurgeon here is speaking to people who aren't the least bit troubled about their souls, but should be.

It's one thing to struggle with sin; another thing to revel in it. The person who professes to know Christ while reveling in sin--nurturing a seared conscience while happily pursuing the very same lifestyle he did as an unbeliever--is probably not the recipient of divine grace at all, no matter how much he talks about grace.

Anonymous said...


And if that is the context for Spurgeon's quote, then you're right, I wouldn't disagree with that . . . if he is speaking about unbelievers who flippantly say "yeah, I'm a Christian" (like what is it, 80% of Americans), and truly they aren't (professors but not possessors) --- then amen!

But if Spurgeon was speaking to believers, or using "good works," or lack thereof to scare people into a right relationship with Christ (as you know Federal Calvinism, with its Practical Syllogism, and Divine Pact, promotes); then with this I disagree.

I'll defer to you on the "context," since you're the Spurgeon expert here; but I'm inclined to think, that some of the "Federal" categories might be informing his sermon here --- given the kind of Calvinism he was exposed to in his milieu (but I do realize that Spurgeon was his own unique man, both theologically and pastorally).

Chad V. said...


That's precisely where I was going.

Anonymous said...

Phil said:

. . . nurturing a seared conscience while happily pursuing the very same lifestyle he did as an unbeliever--is probably not the recipient of divine grace at all, . . .

So the default to this is exactly what I was originally getting at; our job is not to determine (based upon 'behavior' that we can see) whether this guy or that gal is "saved" or not --- our job is to point people to Christ, even if they are living like hell. I suppose this represents one of my primary problems with this approach --- and I'm not denying that we don't have responsibility to be holy as "He is holy" --- is that when we say "oh, they're living like that, they can't really be saved." We can't make that determination --- and I realize you said probably not recipients of grace . . . so you're caution is good.

I think scripture speaks of two groups of people (Gal. 5:17ff), those being destroyed and those being saved (I Cor 1:18); there is "being destroyed behavior" (which serves as the occasion for many of Paul's epistles, as well as other NT epistles), and "being saved behavior." Clearly Christians can engage in "destroyed behavior" which even can lead to death (I Cor 11; Acts 5; I Cor 5; etc.), Christians can "look" like the world --- of course this is not commendable, and discipline should ensue --- but this does not mean they aren't still Christians or recipients of grace. In fact we are admonished to "treat them like unbelievers" if they are unrepentant, but that does not mean we have the place to damn them to hell.

We can say these behaviors are damned, and those behaviors are "saved;" but we cannot say, because someone is engaging in either of those behavior patterns that they are or aren't saved one way or the other . . . again that is God's place (I think the Pharisees are exhibit A on this, they looked "good" --- even saved --- but we know what they really were Mt 23 --- this illustrates the unreliability of external signs as THE cipher for determining someone's ultimate union with Christ).

donsands said...

"those souldestroyers"

The world will kill your joy, when the world is trying to convince you that it is where joy is found.

If we come out from the world, then we are sons and duaghters of God. How great is that. 2 Cor. 6

Thanks for the exhortation from Spurgeon.

Johnny Dialectic said...

I do see Bobby's point here. Spurgeon says, "Where there is not a thorough separation from the world, there is cause to fear there is no close union to Christ."

One might go mad wondering how "thorough" thorough needs to be, and if each day I look at myself and wonder if it's "thorough" enough. This has been the unhappy lot of many Christians over time.

Better, I think, is to view these things as Hebrews views them: warnings. If you continue in sin deceitfulness, your heart will grow hard and could very well "turn away from the living God."

So don't.