Man Crush Confession: Charles Spurgeon (1834-92)

This may be the beginning of a Chief of Least man-crush series. Don’t judge me. I can admit when other dude’s theological muscles make me blush like a school girl.

Charles Spurgeon, the “Prince of Preachers”, was a venerable wordsmith among other things. He could turn a simple phrase or analogy into a heart piercing point of utter conviction. After reading one of his devotions or sermons I have frequently walked away with a deeper understanding of the gospel and sometimes even small quibble from my human nature: “Dang, why can’t I speak or write like that?”

Though he was Baptist, he was considered a rogue of his day, leaving the Baptist Union for doctrinal and discipline issues during the “Downgrade Controversy.” Though he had a growing church and drew thousands during his open air preaching, he had enemies in high places. One reporter wrote of him:

His style is that of the vulgar colloquial, varied by rant….All the most solemn mysteries of our holy religion are by him rudely, roughly and impiously handled. Common sense is outraged and decency disgusted. His rantings are interspersed with coarse anecdotes.

He knew of personal adversity and suffering. Because of a medical condition, his wife was a bed ridden invalid for most of their marriage. He suffered physically from severe cases of rheumatism and gout.  He suffered emotionally from severe cases of depression. These maladies nagged him all the way up to his death, at the age of 57.

He maintained a high view of God’s sovereignty, especially in the midst of suffering:

`Not by might nor by power but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.’ Instruments shall be used, but their intrinsic weakness shall be clearly manifested; there shall be no division of the glory, no diminishing of the honor due to the Great Worker….Those who are honoured of their Lord in public have usually to endure a secret chastening, or to carry a peculiar cross, lest by any means they exalt themselves, and fall into the snare of the devil.

One main take-away from his life and preaching I have gleaned: No matter what the topic or verse being exposited, always make the central point “Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2).

Here is an apt warning from Spurgeon about chasing after the cultural whims and fancies of the day, instead of simply stressing the good ancient paths of the gospel:

The apostles never traveled far from the simple facts of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, ascension, exaltation, and second advent. These things, of which they were the witnesses, constituted the staple of all their discourses. . . .

What a rebuke this should be to those in modern times who are ever straining after novelties. There may be much of the Athenian spirit among congregations, but that should be no excuse for its being tolerated among ministers; we, of all men, should be the last to spend our time in seeking something new.

Our business, my brethren, is the old labor of apostolic tongues, to declare that Jesus, who is the same yesterday to-day and for ever. We are mirrors reflecting the transactions of Calvary, telescopes manifesting the distant glories of an exalted Redeemer. The nearer we keep to the cross, the nearer, I think, we keep to our true vocation. When the Lord shall be pleased to restore to his Church once more a fervent love to Christ, and when once again we shall have a ministry that is not only flavoured with Christ, but of which Jesus constitutes the sum and substance, then shall the Churches revive—then shall the set time to favor Zion come.

The goodly cedar which was planted by the rivers of old, and stretched out her branches far and wide, has become in these modern days like a tree dwarfed by Chinese art; it is planted by the rivers as aforetime, but it does not flourish, only let God the Holy Spirit give to us once again the bold and clear preaching of Christ crucified in all simplicity and earnestness, and the dwarf shall swell into a forest giant, each expanding bud shall burst into foliage, and the cedar shall tower aloft again, until the birds of the air shall lodge in the branches thereof.

I need offer you no apology, then, for preaching on those matters which engrossed all the time of the apostles, and which shall shower unnumbered blessings on generations yet to come.

If you would like to get better acquainted with this English dead giant who lived and died in the 19th century yet still speaks to living generations, you should go here.

Bryan Daniels

Romans 9 and Predestination-Part 3

Welcome miscreants to our much maligned study of Romans 9! : )

Just in case you are a Johnny-come-lately to the discussion I suggest you check out Part I and Part II (Romans 9:6-13) for proper background. In Part III we are going to pick up where we left off and follow Paul’s reasoning through verse 18:

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. (Romans 9:14-18)

Considering what Paul just explained about the election of individuals in Romans 9:6-13, he knows a natural question will arise out of his readers. If God freely chose Jacob over Esau regardless of how good or bad they would be, then is God “just” or “righteous” in choosing the eternal destiny of one over another? (Romans 9:14)
Ask yourself: Would this controversial question over God’s justice arise out of God’s choice of a nation, or out of God’s choice over individuals? Paul knows he is introducing a truth that will be scandalous to the natural mind of men, so he anticipates the heated objection that will come up.

In Romans 9:15, Paul answers the objection in a very peculiar way. He quotes God’s words to Moses in Exodus 33:19: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” Theologians call this a “verbal theophany” which God concludes in similar language in Exodus 34:6, 7.

But how does this verse satisfactorily handle the objection brought up in Romans 9:14? It seems Paul is reasoning in an almost circular way, saying, “God can save whomever he pleases, because God can save whomever he pleases.” Paul may be saying that, for what it means to be God is that He is a Sovereign King who can decree what He wills when He wills according to His good pleasure. But Paul may be saying a little more than that when we look at Exodus 33:18-19 in context.

Moses is interceding on behalf of transgressing Israel when he asks God:

“Please, show me your glory.” And God said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” (Exodus 33:18-19)

Moses asks for God’s glory, and as a result what God proclaims to be a manifestation of His glory is His free sovereign prerogative to “show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” In other words God seems to respond: “Moses, if you want to see my glory, goodness, and name manifested, then observe my sovereignty in election.” We alluded to this in part II where we saw our election is clearly tied to God’s glory in the church. God’s glory is most clearly seen by us when we behold the mystery that He sovereignly bestows grace on sinful wretches who have no deserving of it.

Romans 3:23 directly ties “unrighteousness” with the “falling short of the glory of God”, not just law breaking (Romans 3:22-23). By deduction we can conclude that to be righteous would be to attain or display the glory of God. This confirms the great function of the law to display God’s glorious character, rather than a rulebook for legalists.

This is the heart of God in election: His glory.

God must act in defense of His own glory. He would cease to be God if He did not. In the election of persons, God has His highest glory in view and it would be unrighteous of Him to pursue anything less (Isaiah 48:11). As John Piper is fond of saying, “God is not an idolator. He puts no one above Himself.” So if God is acting in election for the full esteem of His name and glory then He is acting rightly, or righteously, according to His character. This reasoning is how Paul puts the charge of “unrighteousness with God” in Romans 9:14 to rest.

Along with this God centered revelation, comes a shocking bolt to any remnants of pride we may have for acquiring our gift of salvation in Christ.

Romans 9:16 is the death blow for any argument that would posit that a free will choice is the basis of one’s election in Christ. It was a devastating blow to my long held presuppositions when I began to study it. Romans 9:16 remained there, as an irritating thorn in my long held Arminian perspective until I began to grapple with it’s ordinary meaning.

The implications are clear. A person’s election for salvation is not based on any choice originating within their hidden will or any action of outward physical exertion. Saving faith does not naturally arise in the mind, heart, or affection of mere men any more than a diamond would naturally arise out of a sewage dump (Jeremiah 13:23).

Our election is God’s only prescribed medicine for the fallen Adam nature we all inherited (Romans 5:12). 

We can’t get frustrated here and just throw our hands up and say, “In the end, what we believe about Romans 9 doesn’t really amount to a hill of beans!” No,the very eternal throne of God’s sovereignty and glory is what is at stake here with our intepretation of passages like Romans 9:16. 

The prince of preachers, Baptist minister CH Spurgeon, said of this passage:

If it be as God wills, then Jehovah sits as sovereign upon his throne of glory, and all hosts obey him, and the world is safe; if not God, then you put man there, to say. “I will” or “I will not; if I will it I will enter heaven; if I will it I will despise the grace of God; if I will it I will conquer the Holy Sprit, for I am stronger than God, and stronger than omnipotence; if I will it I will make the blood of Christ of no effect, for I am mightier than that blood, mightier than the blood of the Son of God himself; though God make his purpose, yet will I laugh at his purpose; it shall be my purpose that shall make his purpose stand, or make it fall.” Why, sirs…I shrink with solemn awe and horror from that doctrine which makes the grandest of God’s works—the salvation man—to be dependent upon the will of his creature whether it shall be accomplished or not. Glory I can and must in my text in its fullest sense. “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.”

Dead men cannot muster up one inch of obedience and faith to warrant God’s grace, so it must be accomplished through God’s mercy and grace (Eph 2:3, 2:5, 2:8-10). We bring nothing to the table except a deep abiding need for mercy. Regarding our salvation, God’s perfect merciful will has the final say. This is a consistent thread in Scripture and is not confined to Romans 9 by any means (see John 1:12-13, Philippians 2:12-13).
 
Most importantly, consider the words of our own Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in John 6:

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes I will never cast out (John 6:37)

No one can come to me unless the Father who sends me draws him (John 6:44)

No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father (John 6:65)

No human being in the world has the natural spiritual or moral ability to come to Christ on his own unless God Himself gives him an inclination to do so. If we think Romans 9:16 is still strange it is because we mistakenly think God owes us anything, and we forget we deserve a sinner’s hell even on our best days (Romans 3:11-18).

John Newton used to tell a humorous story of a good woman in his church who said, in order to prove the doctrine of election, “Ah! sir, the Lord must have loved me before I was born, or else He would not have seen anything in me to love afterwards.”

So it is with us. Unless God chose us, we would have never chosen Him.

In Romans 9:17, Paul brings up the OT arch enemy of God, Pharaoh, to display and preserve the free election of God on individuals.

Even in the midst of Pharaoh’s hardened heart God carried forth his purposes to make his name great. Paul’s quotation of Exodus 9:16 in Romans 9:17 brilliantly displays this. In mercy (Exodus 33:19) and in hardening (Exodus 9:16), God’s sovereign freedom is the means by which He declares the glory of His name. Pharaoh’s repeated insults of God inevitably set the stage for awesome displays of God’s power throughout the Exodus narrative.

Whether the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was a passive or active hardening by God is of little effect. The Reformed view holds that all men will ultimately harden their heart towards God’s purposes apart from the restraining grace of God. God didn’t work “fresh evil” in the heart of Pharaoh, for Pharaoh’s fallen heart was already manifestly evil. God did choose to not work grace or regeneration in the heart of Pharaoh though. 

Here the Arminian usually constructs a straw man of the Reformed view in order to publically tear it down. They would opine that the Calvinist view would make God guilty of evil. What our precious free will friends fail to understand is that though God works all things according to His will (Ephesians 1:11), He does not work all things in the same exact way. He can work in man or around man to accomplish making His name great. Still, we can’t escape the fact that God promised Moses He would harden Pharaoh’s heart long before the evil ruler actually ever hardened his own heart in the narrative (Exodus 4:21). God’s own mysterious hand is indeed in the first act of resistance by Pharaoh in some way.

Men are not “merely pawns” as the Arminian intepretation of Calvinism would assert. They are really evil people who make really evil choices according to their nature (Romans 5:12-21).

To us, God’s election is a strange way to show there is no unrighteousness or injustice in God (Romans 9:14). But Paul’s view of God’s righteousness is this: God’s own commitment to preserve the honor of His name and display His glory (Ezekiel 36:22-27). God’s election of some and not others is righteous and just, for when God chooses unconditionally those who He will have mercy on He is acting out of full allegiance to His own name.

To keep the reader from assuming that such treatment by God was only relevant to Pharaoh’s day and age Paul draws the universal principle from his argument and applies it to all men: “(God) hardens whomever he wills, and he has mercy on whomever He wills.” (Romans 9:18)

We don’t deserve any better treatment than Pharaoh, but praise God for His mercy!

God’s election of individuals is indeed righteous because it is the way He intends to get the most glory for His name. If there were a better way to exalt Himself He would have done it.

Paul knows there is still some serious tension between man’s responsibility and God’s sovereignty in all this election talk. In part IV, our final installment of the series covering Romans 9:19-24, Paul will attempt to answer a final objection. Namely, if God is in control of man’s destiny in such an absolute way why does He still find fault with man?

Keep it classy. Grace and peace!

Bryan

The Unwelcome Beast of Depression (You’re Not Alone)

A few months ago, I wrote about an elephant dwelling in the back of our church sanctuaries. That post was about the prevalence of “porn” in the American church, and it included a short lament regarding our tendency to keep it a dirty little secret rather than shedding the gospel light on it. I called porn an elephant because when an elephant is in any room it must be acknowledged. Yet so many church leaders have taken the ridiculous stance of acting like the “porn elephant” is not seated among their own congregations, when statistics clearly show it is.

The porn elephant is not the only unwelcome beast in our midst that no one is talking about. Apparently, we have given a second elephant residence in our congregations while applying similar silent treatment towards it. This elephant’s name is “Depression.” While no one is really talking about it almost all struggle with it. Many take prescription meds to numb the mood or escape from self for a short drug induced vacation. Many try to tough it out while wallowing in guilt because they believe they shouldn’t be feeling this way. Even worse, others turn to alchol and hard drug abuse in a vain attempt to soothe the inconsolable longing of their wounded psyche.

But let this resonate within your sorrowed soul if you have (or are) experiencing such a cloud: You are not alone.

This depressed kitten should cheer you up....

Despondent saints are not a new trend in the church or bible history. Depression and doubt runs a thread through the life of almost every hero of our faith. Fruitfulness in ministry and the power of the Holy Spirit does not make one immune to deep bouts with the disease.

Nearly every publicly powerful leader on our spiritual pedestals have dealt with privately pitiful periods of despair (say that five times fast).

Job was the most righteous man on earth. Yet when all hell broke loose on his life he had some probing questions regarding the purposes of God.  In cursing the moment of his birth instead of the birth itself, Job barely skirts what would have been blasphemous and suicidal language (Job 3:1-4).

The prophet Elijah just called down fire from heaven and saw the slaughter of every false prophet of Baal in a mighty display of God’s power and glory.  The very next chapter of his life he is in a cave of despair doubting God’s providence and regretting his very existence (1 Kings 19:4, 10).

The prophet Jeremiah was made certain of his calling and election by God Himself (Jeremiah 1:5). After preaching God’s given message, Jeremiah saw no fruit in his ministry and only unrelenting torrents of judgment are poured out on the nation he loves. Jeremiah, broken and depressed, likewise curses the day he was born (Jeremiah 20:14).

Have you ever despaired over your life, even questioning the purpose of your existence? So it was with Job, Elijah and Jeremiah for a time.

David killed lions, bears, and giants as a scrawny youth through God’s power. He was divinely chosen as Israel’s anointed king, lauded by his countrymen, and slaughtered every pagan army he faced through God’s might. Yet read the Psalms and you will see a man marked by dark bouts of depression during significant spans of his reign (Psalm 42:3, 9, 69:1-3).

Do you feel your tears are your only food and consolation? So it was with David for a time.

CH Spurgeon, the prince of preachers and hero of little reformers everywhere, was susceptible to this grim grip of despondency. Spurgeon saw his depression as his “worst feature.” “Despondency,” he said, “is not a virtue; I believe it is a vice. I am heartily ashamed of myself for falling into it, but I am sure there is no remedy for it like a holy faith in God.”

You’re not alone. Most people in the church just don’t have the spiritual backbone to admit their weak estate. But with admitting should not come a wallowing, but rather a warring against such strongholds in us (2 Corinthians 10:5). Many saints have stayed in this dungeon for a time, but they made it their aim to never make the depths of despair a dwelling place.

Self pity and self despair are just symptoms of self worship. We are not depressed because we hate ourselves so much, we are depressed because we love ourselves so much. It is natural to be fixated on self, that is why we need to ask God to supernaturally aid us in fixing our eyes on Christ (Eph 1:18). Christ is the end of self worship for everyone who takes up their cross and follows Him (Matthew 16:24-25).

Depression, doubt and despair are not the unforgivable sins. Your current mental/emotional/spiritual state is not beyond the scope of God’s eternal grace. Chemical imbalances, genetic dispositions, difficult circumstances, and scarred childhoods are no match against the love of Christ and His Comforter being shed abroad in our hearts (Romans 5:5). Family history must bow down to King Jesus in the end (Phillipians 2:9-11).

All of our bouts with depression this side of eternity are temporal bouts (2 Cor 4:17). We can take heart, for no current state of depression is ultimate. Surely, there is a despair that is ultimate. Eternally ultimate. But those who are in Christ will never taste it. The Son of God bore the eternal despair we deserved on the cross. In Him, we will never ever have to utter these words:  (Matthew 27:46): “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  

We may lament, mourn, and be depressed this very moment. But we can say with David, our fellow despondent doubter, in the very next breath:

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

(Psalm 42:11)

Bryan Daniels