23 August 2009


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 "A Mighty Savior," a sermon delivered Sunday morning, January 4, 1857, at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens.

nce a poor Irishman came to me in my vestry. He announced himself something in this way: "Your reverence, I'm come to ax you a question."

"In the first place," said I, "I am not a reverend, nor do I claim the title; and in the next place, why don't you go and ask your priest that question?"

Said he "Well, your riv—sir, I meant—I did go to him, but he did not answer me to my satisfaction exactly; so I have come to ask you, and if you will answer this you will set my mind at peace, for I am much disturbed about it."

"What is the question?" said I.

"Why this. You say, and others say too, that God is able to forgive sin. Now, I can't see how he can be just, and yet forgive sin: for," said this poor man, "I have been so greatly guilty that if God Almighty does not punish me he ought, I feel that he would not be just if he were to suffer me to go without punishment. How, then, sir, can it be true that he can forgive, and still remain the title of just?"

"Well," said I, "it is through the blood and merits of Jesus Christ."

"And" said he, "but then I do not understand what you mean by that. It is the kind of answer I got from the priest, but I wanted him to explain it to me more fully, how it was that the blood of Christ could make God just. You say it does, but I want to know how."

"Well, then," said I, "I will tell you what I think to be the whole system of atonement which I think is the sum and substance, the root, the marrow, and the essence of all the gospel. This is the way Christ is able to forgive. Suppose," said I, "you had killed some one. You were a murderer; you were condemned to die, and you deserved it."

"Faith," said he, "yes I should deserve it."

"Well, her Majesty is very desirous of saving your life, and yet at the same time universal justice demands that someone should die on account of the deed that is done. Now, how is she to manage?"

Said he, "That is the question. I cannot see how she can be inflexibly just, and yet suffer me to escape."

"Well," said I, "suppose, Pat, I should go to her and say, "Here is this poor Irishman, he deserves to be hanged, your Majesty. I don't want to quarrel with the sentence, because I think it just, but, if you please, I so love him that if you were to hang me instead of him should be very willing.

"Pat, suppose she should agree to it, and hang me instead of you, what then? would she be just in letting you go?"

"Ay" said he, "I should think she would. Would she hang two for one thing? I should say not I'd walk away, and there isn't a policeman that would touch me for it."

"Ah!" said I, "that is how Jesus saves. 'Father,' he said, 'I love these poor sinners, let me suffer instead of them!' 'Yes,' said God, 'thou shalt' and on the tree he died, and suffered the punishment which all his elect people ought to have suffered, so that now all who believe on him, thus proving themselves to be his chosen, may conclude that he was punished for them, and that therefore they never can be punished."

"Well," said he, looking me in the face once more, "I understand what you mean; but how is it, if Christ died for all men, that notwithstanding, some men are punished again? For that is unjust."

"Ah!" said I, "I never told you that. I say to you that he has died for all that believe on him, and all who repent, and that was punished for their sins so absolutely and so really, that none of them shall ever be punished again."

"Faith," said the man, clapping his hands, "that's the gospel, if it isn't, then I don't know anything, for no man could have made that up, it is so wonderful. Ah!" he said, as he went down the stairs, "Pat's safe now, with all his sins about him he'll trust in the man that died for him, and so he shall be saved."

Dear hearer, Christ is mighty to save, because God did not turn away the sword, but he sheathed it in his own Son's heart; he did not remit the debt, for it was paid in drops of precious blood, and now the great receipt is nailed to the cross, and our sins with it, so that we may go free if we are believers in him. For this reason he is "mighty to save," in the true sense of the word.

C. H. Spurgeon


Becky Schell said...

Stunning explanation.

Anonymous said...

It wasn't until I gave in to the Biblical Doctrines of Grace that I finally believed that God was mightier to save than I was to muck it all up.

Funny how we are quick to believe that nobody else is strong enough to tear us out of God's hand, but that we ourselves are so strong...

How gracious of Him to save us, even while we go on believing that lie.

He is mighty to save indeed.

Carlo Provencio said...

Charles Spurgeon is my homie!

Bobby Grow said...

This is a perfect segue for Stuart Wood . . . oh Stuuuart, Stuuart . . . ;-).

Bobby Grow said...

If Christ died only for the "elect," I wonder what humanity he assumed in the incarnation. Since humanity is universally permeated by sin, and Jesus assumed humanity; wouldn't it follow that all of humanity was taken to the cross?

If not, we would have to posit a hybrid humanity ---viz. "elect humanity" --- who was sanctified prior to the incarnation and the cross; thus nullifying the necessity for the cross at all. This is the necessary implication of particular or limited atonement.

If we are going to hold to a genuine substitutionary atonement, then Christ needs be "fully human" (besides of course being fully God); which means that: He who knew no sin, became sin for us, that we might became the righteousness of God in Him.

In other words: The unassumed, is the unhealed. ~Gregory of Nazianzus.

The breakdown with the anecdote provided by Spurgeon is that the "judge" is just as guilty as the criminal; and the substitution offered in the story only meets certain juridical/external/behaviorial problems. It does not truly expiate for the sins of the murderer; the problem is much deeper than that.

The sins of the murderer could only truly be paid for if the life of the slain could be brought back to life; since this could not be done, only the juridical penalty could be paid for --- this is only a half-baked answer of justice.

The cool thing is that Jesus did all of it. He paid for the judges' sins; he paid for the slain's sins; he paid for the murderer's sins; and he paid for our sins. He did this, certainly by meeting the penalty (juridical); but also by becoming us, from the inside/out. He has provided for ALL to have life, in Him. This way, none of His blood was spilled in vain --- even for those who will fail to subjectify His life as their own (which it is objectively). Their condemnation, falls out of the reprobation that Christ became for them on the cross. Their refusal to respond to "life," is the basis for their condemnation, and thus experiencing of "Gospel Wrath."

If Christ is not the center of election/reprobation (atonement) discussion; then we are. And this certainly cannot be the result of a "Christ-centered" theology.

Tony Byrne said...

"Faith," said the man, clapping his hands, "that's the gospel, if it isn't, then I don't know anything, for no man could have made that up, it is so wonderful.

It wouldn't surprise me if this is something Phil read aloud during the recent conference on "The Glory of the Atonement," even though the quote explicitly associates a strictly limited atonement view with "the gospel." There are problems with other things said in the quote, but that's the major problem, and there is no escaping that fact.

Stuart Wood said...

Dear Bobby Grow,

As Phil and co. have chosen the path of censorship rather than allowing their theological opinions to be tested against the light of God's Word, there is very little I can say without being "banned for life" from this blog. The fact that Mr. Phillips could not and would not answer the most basic question that every true minister of the Gospel ought to be able to answer is not only appalling but also should send up a red flag to anyone who has eyes to see. How can one claim to be a minister of the Gospel and not be able to tell another poor and miserable sinner that Christ died for his sins personally? And yet I am slandered, maligned, and censored for asking such a "trick" question?

Anyway, as to this posting by Phil, you will readily recognize that there is not even one Scripture passage quoted here, not one. All is the vain reasonings of man. As Luther said, "Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us; we tremble not, we fear no ill, they shall not overpower us. This world's prince may still scowl fierce as he will; he can harm us none; he's judged - fore'er undone, one little word can fell him." That word, dear Bobby, is the word "our" in Paul's own clear defintion of the one and only saving Gospel in 1 Cor. 15:3, how that, "Christ died for OUR sins", yes, yours, dear Bobby, and mine. This alone is God's own dear Gospel which He alone sealed with His own blood. Woe to the man who would dare to change a single word of it.

Pastor Wood

Bobby Grow said...


Thanks for sharing that. I know you are the "demon" here (and I probably am considered a cohort from a different angle); that's why sarcastically called you out. But I would suggest that you would be "on topic" if you were to speak on the issue that you are so passionate about. This seems to be a chance for you.

I'm afraid that many Classic Calvinists (I consider myself an "Evangelical Calvinist," I have a blog for explaining that)have absolutized the form, as another friend has coined it; in other words Dordt and Westminster has become the "standard of Orthodoxy," w/o question . . . even is scripture questions it.

I could go on and outline the history of ideas that has led to the MacArthurite situation; but again, I have a blog for doing such things (albeit my blog is not myopically focused upon the hybrid version of Calvinism that one finds with those in the MacARthur camp --- I hope to present a positive version of Calvinism that is both "Evangelical" and "historical").


Bobby Grow said...


Although let me add, I still believe the Pyromaniacs are "brothers;" do you?

I don't believe that they are any less brothers, than Paul thought Peter was in Galatians.

Sir Brass said...

Wonderful bit of Spurgeon, Phil. Thank you. Have a good trip back to the states, btw.

Dr. Paul W. Foltz said...

A simple, direct, plain explanation of the Gospel.

Dr. Paul W. Foltz said...

A simple, direct, plain explanation of the Gospel.

Betsy Markman said...

As much as I love the doctrines of grace; as much as I love Calvin and Spurgeon and the like; as much as I am banking my eternal soul on the substitutionary atonement of Christ...
I still HATE the "gospel" explanation Spurgeon gave here.

Sometimes those of us who love the Gospel are so eager to see it vindicated that we will be pleased with the sort of scheme presented here, even though we would be appalled at it in any other setting.

If your loved one was murdered, and the identity of the murderer were known, and the government came to you and said, "Good news! An innocent party came and offered to be executed in place of your loved one's killer, and we agreed! So now the innocent party is dead, the killer is back loose on the streets, and isn't that great?" Would you agree that justice was done? Wouldn't you be horrified? Imagine if that official looked at you in confusion and said, "Well, we had to kill SOMEBODY for the crime, and we did! How could you not be satisfied with that?"

Stay with me here, because I fervently believe in the substitutionary atonement. But the explanation Spurgeon gave was not adequate, as an honest look at the hypothetical situation above would show. What Spurgeon described was a gross miscarriage of justice. The substitutionary atonement which happened at Calvary was absolutely just. So something more happened at Calvary than what Spurgeon described there.

What happened at Calvary was this: An innocent party, completely identified with the murderer, stepped up to take the murderer's punishment and die in his place. BUT THAT'S NOT ALL! He also gave a "heart transplant" (if you will) to the murderer! The murderer's own heart was to be taken out (in essence, "killing" him), and the innocent man's heart was given to him, changing him forever. When he was turned loose, no one could rightly say that a murderer was out on the streets. Instead, a new life, with a new nature, was turned loose on the streets. (It's better than just killing the murderer, if you get a better man added to the scene in his place!) AND the innocent party who died was raised again from the dead, and now enjoys the well-deserved love and adoration of all those whom He has redeemed in this fashion.

Tell me, is this a miscarriage of justice? Could you, even as a relative of the murder victim, object to this arrangement? This is the brilliant, incredibly wise, justice-serving, grace-giving, fully divine Gospel that no human could ever dream up. It should make people admire, praise, love, and joyfully receive the God who came up with it. And it should be attractive to more murderers than just those interested in getting off scot-free. (Think about it. Doesn't the version of the gospel presented there by Spurgeon inadvertently support the very same kind of easy-believism that Spurgeon himself despised?)

Of course Spurgeon knew the true Gospel. Why he presented this illustration is beyond me, but I know it's been used by many people over the years, and every time I hear it, it makes me queasy. If just one person re-thinks this whole thing and decides not to present this distorted view of the Gospel again, it will be worth whatever ire I may bring on myself here.

Unknown said...

Dear Mr. Wood

You quoted, 1 Cor. 15:3, how that, "Christ died for OUR sins";

My question to you is who was Paul's letter addressed to?

DJP said...

You're right. That has been pointed out to him. As with every Scripture that clashes with Wood's human-tradition position, he shrugs it off.