Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘John Bunyan’


As a former Particular Baptist, as they used to be called, I had an appreciation for Charles Spurgeon. While in seminary I did a paper in one of my history classes examining his sermons during the revival of 1859 to see how the doctrines of grace (aka Calvinism) were prominent and therefore consistent with revival.

I’ve found Michael Reeves’ books, Delighting in the Trinity and Rejoicing in Christ, to be engaging and informative. The former helped (re)shape my grasp of missions (including a critique/weakness of Christopher Wright’s tome, in other words, where is the love?).

So, imagine my pleasure in seeing that Reeves wrote the new book Spurgeon on the Christian Life: Alive in Christ. I decided I would read it during my vacation ritual this summer.

Reeves had no easy task in trying to put this together. The vast majority of Spurgeon’s writing are the transcriptions of his sermons. Not quite something you can easily read and grasp a comprehensive understanding of how he understood the Christian life. He is an unenviable position as he writes this book.

One of the interesting things about this series is that often the volume is written by someone outside of the subject’s tradition. Trueman, a Presbyterian, wrote the volume on Luther. Here Reeves, an Anglican, writes about the Calvinistic Baptist.

The sections cover the themes of Christ the Center, The New Birth and The New Life. As you might imagine, regeneration seems to be the central motif in Spurgeon’s view of the Christian life as understood by Reeves. We must become new people with new passions and all of that happens in Christ. Or thru Christ since the focus is not quite union with Christ. Explicitly, anyway.

He begins with a very brief biography of Spurgeon. He was a man of great passion, who felt greatly. He was known for a great sense of humor. While he used some humor in the pulpit, he was not a comedian as some pastors seem to think of themselves. Like Jonathan Edwards, Spurgeon loved creation and allusions and illustration to trees, flowers, animals and more filled his sermons. Spurgeon also grew up reading the books in his grandfather’s library. Many of these were Puritan books, and he developed a great fondness for Bunyan, particularly Pilgrim’s Progress.

Christ the Center

He viewed the Bible as the Word of Christ about Christ. As a result, the Bible did not compete with Christ for our affections, but is the revelation of Christ for us to know Christ. To not love the Bible is to not love Christ. The Bible is living and active as a result. Jesus changes lives through the Bible.

In terms of translations, he held the KJV in high esteem, but not without criticism. There were times the translation frustrated him (as happens with me concerning other translations at times).

Spurgeon affirmed that not only did the OT point us toward Christ, but that OT saints are our brothers and sisters. We shared the same faith. We just know more of the faith. Christ is the center of our faith, and all doctrines find their proper orbit around Christ.

“A Christless gospel is no gospel and a Christless discourse is the cause of merriment to devils.”

He was fully Trinitarian. But we must remember that Christ alone is the Mediator between God and man. It was Christ who became human, obeyed, died and was raised for our salvation. We come to the Father thru the Son, so Spurgeon preached Christ.

As I mentioned before, he grew up reading Puritans. His theology was Puritan. Aside from the issue of baptism (and the ecclesiology that flowed from that)he was “Reformed”. He had a great appreciation for Calvin and understood Calvinism to be a shorthand for the gospel. He understood them as they were intended to be: Christ-centered.

Though he was a Baptist, he affirmed (and perhaps exceeded) the WCF concerning elect infants dying in infancy being saved by the work of Christ. In one place he extended this to all infants dying in infancy. I’m not sure we have biblical warrant for this extension, though I’d like it to be true.

Spurgeon was not dogmatic about Calvinism however (not a Gnostic Calvinist). He would affirm other preachers as long as they preached Christ. Reeves noted a sermon Spurgeon heard by a priest in Belgium. The priest preached Christ, much to Spurgeon’s delight.

Preaching was more than informing people about Christ. He saw his goal to draw people to Christ. While you have content, the target is the heart. This, in some strange way I’d love to talk to him about, was why he discourage sermon series. I was scratching my head. Sermon series can’t be used by God to transform lives?

The New Birth

Spurgeon was baptized as an infant. Like many new converts today, he read the Bible and believed he should be baptized after he believed. Spurgeon held on to his baptistic convictions despite the fact that many of the theologians he loved and respected practiced infant baptism. Reeves places this within the context of baptismal regeneration and a return to Roman Catholicism. Reformed paedobaptists don’t hold to baptismal regeneration. But it seems the fear of Roman Catholicism was strong in Spurgeon (I once was there too).

We see there the disconnect, or at least I do. He held that we are brothers and Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David and the rest. The covenantal principle seen in the sign of circumcision is that children receive the sign and seal of “righteousness by faith” (Rom. 4). Abraham had the faith, and the sign called his children to the faith. But Spurgeon breaks faith, so to speak, on this principle. He viewed baptism as a sign of our faith, not God’s promise. At times he warned of the baptismal font being a rival of Christ’s for paedobaptists. The same could be said for many of the credobaptists I’ve heard. So there seems to be another inconsistency.

I mentioned about the covenantal principle of visible and invisible church in the OT (and NT). Rather, he holds to the impossible prospect of the “pure church”. Credobaptism doesn’t create a regenerate church, as the rolls of many baptist churches indicate. Baptism doesn’t mean one possesses the reality to which the sign points, whether one holds to paedobaptism or credobaptism. The promise of the new covenant is isolated from how the NT actually speaks about the church (wheat & tares, for instance).

The new birth is necessitated by human sinfulness. We are not merely weakened by sin, but dead in sin and trespasses. We are hostile to Christ and the law in the unregenerate state. People are not neutral. God must grant new life for people to believe. Regeneration is a grace we receive, not because we’ve met any conditions but in order that we may believe. The Spirit uses the Word to give us this new life. He enlightens our minds; He shines His light into our hearts.

Without the cross, there is no regeneration. There is no salvation apart from atonement, by Christ. His focus on Christ’s death meant that he advocated for weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The message that saves is Christ crucified. It is also about the mortification of our sin in the present. Jesus aims to mortify our sin and give life to graces.

The New Life

The new birth necessarily creates a new life. The Spirit doesn’t give us new life and walk away. We are increasingly drawn to Christ and away from the sin that so easily entangles.

Another aspect of our new life is prayer as an expression of our union with Christ. Our communion with Christ doesn’t pull us out of the world but calls us into the world just as Christ went into the world.

“… nobody mixed with sinners more than our Lord.”

Reeves then returns to sanctification. Spurgeon held to the blood of Christ as the “double cure”: free from sin’s guilt and power. Christ’s blood removes our guilt, but in Christ we also died to sin. Saved by grace thru faith, we also begin to walk in the good works prepared for us. This new life is a gift, but we live it. The Spirit isn’t living for us.

Spurgeon made much of joy. It reveals that we serve a great Savior. It is the strength for our service to Him. Complaining and despondency rob us of joy, strength and vitality. But Spurgeon knew this first hand, as Reeves points out later.

As we grow into Christ, we increasingly hate our sin. And increasingly see our sinfulness. We become more sensitive to sin and recognize our sinful motives and not simply actions.

“As the man loves God more, and becomes more like Christ, he takes greater delight in prayer.”

Reeves then returns to prayer with its own chapter. Spurgeon saw prayer as essential, not only to the Christian life, but to ministry. The Monday Prayer meeting was attended by over a thousand people each week. He saw it as the engine of the ministry. It is the battlefield between faith and unbelief. Spurgeon, who didn’t like planned out sermon series, also didn’t like planned out prayers either. He preferred spontaneity. I think this is a more a matter of preference and personality instead of principle.

Reeves then shifts to Bunyan’s influence. We are pilgrims. But we are not solitary pilgrims. We are a community of pilgrims. But we are engaged in warfare- an army of pilgrims. The warfare motif wasn’t reserved for sermons, but Reeves shows that it influenced his private prayer journals. His was an active faith. Spurgeon oversaw “the Pastor’s College, the Stockwell Orphanage, seventeen almshouses for poor and elderly women, the Colportage Association, and a day school for children.” This was just the tip of the iceberg. He didn’t expect the government to solve his society’s problems. He expected the church engage them, and led the charge.

But life is not all flowers and sunshine. Afflictions come and spirits falter. Depression can come home to roost whether by circumstance or medical conditions. Spurgeon fought with depression. The incident in Surrey Gardens, a “joke” that panicked the crowd resulting in 7 dead and 28 severely injured, resulted in clinical depression. Spurgeon also suffered from “a burning kidney inflammation called Bright’s Disease, as well as gout, rheumatism, and neuritis.” At times he would be unable to preach for extended periods of time.

One reason we suffer is that Jesus suffered. The cross comes before the crown for us too, according to Paul. It is a sign of our adoption and union with Christ. We also learn to depend on Christ rather than ourselves. God also prepares us for greater ministry thru humility and empathy.

He wraps up with the hope of glory. This is not our best life now. Spurgeon likely was a premillenialist, but clearly not a dispensationalist. He was not into speculation. He was into focusing on Christ.

Summing Up

Perhaps it was my high expectations, but I finished the book thinking “That’s it?”. At no point was I stopping to ponder something more fully. This is the first volume in the series that disappointed me. This is not a volume I would be inclined to recommend to anyone (my favorite remains the volume on John Newton). This was more theoretical and geared toward the pastor, in my opinion. It also seemed to skim the surface.

As I mentioned above, the source material is so vast but due to his habit of not systematically preaching through the Scriptures. It is seemingly impossible to sort through and “systemize” the material. This is still unfortunate.

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »


Earlier, I had noted that the fear of God is not an Old Testament deal.  It is meant to characterize us in the New Covenant.  But I didn’t get into the source of true fear, which is the gospel.  Some of you might be scratching your head in confusion.  Some might be yelling at the screen in anger, debating with me.  Hold on a moment and let me explain.

Let’s start with a definition of the fear of God.  It is not, as many godly men have said, slavish fear.  It is not the fear of punishment and displeasure that drives people away.  When my son is guilty, he often wants to run and hide (usually covering his bottom just in case).  This is not the fear that is given to us in the gospel.  This the fear that perfect love casts out (1 John 4:18).

“The goodness as well as the greatness of God begets in the heart of His elect an awful reverence of His majesty. … Godly fear flows from a sense of the love and kindness of God to the soul.” John Bunyan

The fear I’m talking about is often called filial fear, or the fear of a son.  It is like a stew comprised of love, trust, awe, reverence and delight.  In various places obedience is attributed to love (John 14) and faith (Hebrews 11).  In my text this Sunday it is the fear of God.  Godly fear includes that love and faith or trust which are necessary for any true, God-honoring & God-pleasing obedience.  Without faith it is impossible to please Him (Hebrews 10), so true fear must include faith.  But the idea of awe and reverence point us to delight.

(more…)

Read Full Post »


The Fear of God is one of those topics that is greatly neglected, much to our own hurt.  My sermon text this week includes God’s great test of Abraham to see if he feared God.  Though we hate to think of such a thing, I suppose God tests us often to see if we fear/revere Him or if we’ve given ourselves to an idol of some sort.

“There flows from this fear of God a readiness and willingness, at God’s call, to give up our best enjoyments to His disposal.”  John Bunyan

Additionally:

20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”  Exodus 20

They were afraid that God was going to stomp on them.  After all, they were sinners.  But Moses tells them not to fear, but to fear God.  Sounds strange doesn’t it.  We rob God of glory when we fear anyone or anything instead of Him (like when we love anyone or anything instead of or beside Him).  The fear, or reverence, of God is what was to keep them (and us from sinning).

“Moses draws a contrast between being afraid of God and fearing God. … Simply being afraid of God will lead to distrust and disobedience of Him.  But fearing God will keep us from sinning.”  Jerry Bridges

(more…)

Read Full Post »


This Sunday I’m sort of preaching on the Ten Commandments since it is 10/10/10.  What I’ll be doing is grappling with Law and Gospel.  I want my people to understand the nature of their relationship to the law because of the gospel.

I’ve had a few of those conversations on the internet lately.  It is a difficult issue to grasp and we tend to head toward the extremes of legalism and antinomianism.  They are the 2 ditches on the side of the road.  And both ditches are deadly.  I don’t advise falling into either.

So, I started to listen to Sinclair Ferguson’s Pastoral Lessons from the Marrow Controversy.  Here is a short history of the Marrow Controversy.  I thought my notes might help a few people to understand what was going on, whetting the appetite about this pastorally important theological controversy.

The History of the Marrow Controversy

1717- the Presbytery of Auchterarder examined a candidate for ordination, William Craig was asked a question unique to that Presbytery.

“Do you subscribe to the following: I believe that it is not sound and orthodox to teach that we forsake sin in order to our coming to Christ.”  Craig hesitated and they refused to grant him ordination.  This brought the Auchterarder Creed before the General Assembly.

It was condemned by the Church of Scotland “as unsound and detestable doctrine.”

Thomas Boston was there, and he was quite disturbed by the proceeding.  He saw this as an attack upon the gospel of grace, falsely accusing it of antinomianism.  In 1700 Boston had discovered The Marrow of Modern Divinity which enabled him to grasp the relationship of law and gospel.  He recommended it to James Drummond who gave it to James Hog who ended up reprinting it.

(more…)

Read Full Post »


The Fear of God by John Bunyan is probably one of those books you will never see on the top of a best-seller list.  And that is a shame.  First, we are talking John Bunyan, who is a best-selling author.  His Pilgrim’s Progress is a classic work of English, and Christian, literature.  If you haven’t already, buy a modern English edition and enjoy.  Second, this is a neglected topic.  The only other book on this topic I can recall is Jerry Bridges’ The Joy of Fearing God (an excellent book by the way).  And Bridges is heavily reliant on this book.  My copy has a blurb by Jerry on the cover.

If anything, Bunyan is thorough.  That is a typical Puritan trait.  And at times it can weary the modern reader.  At times I felt like saying, “John, I think I get it.”  But if I had to choose between overdoing it, and treating it too quickly, I’ll take the former.

The book begins with reasons why we should fear God.  I love this quote, “Man crumbles to dust at the presence of God, though He shows Himself to us in His robes of salvation.”  But the meat of the book comes in distinguishing the various types of fear, and their place, or lack thereof, in the Christian’s life.  Some are “natural” found even in unbelievers.  These flow from the light of nature and His difficult providence.  But there is one  that is godly, though temporary.  This is essentially the stirring of the Spirit to produce a sense of guilt and condemnation.  When a person converts they should then have a filial fear (the awe/respect of sons toward their father).  The fear from guilt and condemnation should then dissipate.  Though, the Evil One likes to utilize its counterfeit to hinder the spiritual progress of Christians.

In Bunyan’s eyes, gracious fear of God is the seedbed of all other graces we experience as a Christian.  He sees faith, repentance, love and other graces flowing out of God-given fear.  He then goes in depth concerning the effects this fear has in Christian living: care for the poor and distressed, prayer & the other means of grace for instance.

Bunyan advances to the privileges of those who fear God, knowing Him as our Savior, our Shield and Defender, etc.  In typical Puritan fashion, Bunyan includes many uses of this doctrine, including ways to cultivate it, and ways in which it is hindered.  Bunyan ends with a word of chastisement for the hypocrites.  Odd to see that, from our modern perspective.

This is a book well worth reading.  But a warning- it is not light reading.  You need to have lots of mental energy when you sit to read it.  That is not a bad thing, but if you don’t you will get frustrated and put it aside without giving it a fair hearing.  Read, and be humbled.

Read Full Post »