We all should read for ourselves. But who doesn’t like a helpful review every now and then? Tim Bixby is pastor of Cleveland Park Bible Church in Spartanburg, SC. Enjoy. (Then get the book!)
Title: The Forgotten Spurgeon
Author: Iain Murray
Publisher: The Banner of Truth Trust
Number of pages: 249
Purchased: Sept. 2004, Christianbook.com, $9
Recommended by: Had to read chapter 6 for Dr. Minnick’s Romans class; Phillip
Review: “Charles Spurgeon forgotten?!! Why, everybody quotes him!” True. But some of the most well known names, belong to some of the most forgotten people. Iain Murray contends this is true of Spurgeon: though a household name, he is a forgotten man. Murray’s makes it his ambition to spare Spurgeon from being the poster boy of such incongruous theologies and philosophies as Arminianism and Calvinism, compromise and integrity, ecumenism and separatism. He does a masterful job.
After portraying Spurgeon in his role as preacher–his emphasis on prayer, his dependence on the Holy Spirit, his willingness to accept the slander thrown at him from other men in the ministry–Murray surveys three controversies that marked Spurgeon’s career.
The first controversy: Arminianism vs. Calvinism
Spurgeon was unashamedly a Calvinist. But how did that shape his evangelism? Murray explains that Spurgeon never separated the need to believe from the need for regeneration, which was solely the work of God. Thus, while the sinner’s responsibility was impressed upon him, the sinner’s utter inability was equally magnified. Such preaching portrayed salvation to the sinner, not as “something I must do,” but as “something God must do to me.” The sinner is left unquestionably guilty, yet with no hope but to cry out for mercy to God.
Murray eloquently shows how Arminianism instructs the sinner that he must begin the work of conversion by becoming willing, and then God will finish the work. A sinner who has made a “firm and willing decision for Christ” is immediately exhorted, ipso facto, to believe that God has saved him. Murray opines, “A teaching which promises that God’s will must follow our will may have the effect of causing men to trust in a delusion–an experience which is not salvation at all. … But Arminianism, instead of cautioning men against this danger, inevitably encourages it, for it throws men, not upon God, but upon their own acts. … On this basis a man may make a profession without ever having his confidence in his own ability shattered; he has been told absolutely nothing of his need of a change of nature which is not within his own power, and consequently, if he does not experience such a radical change, he is not dismayed” (104-05). This “lowered standard of conversion” results in a “lowered conception of the real nature of true Christian experience” (p. 106-07). This chapter is a much-needed antidote to the all-too-popular ideas that surround “evangelism” and “decisions” in our day.
The second controversy: compromise vs. integrity
What began as a sermon on “Baptismal Regeneration” soon grew into a debate over the legitimacy of a minister to be both a self-professed evangelical and a good Anglican clergyman. Spurgeon attacked the Anglican liturgy “which ignores the distinction between the regenerate and the unregenerate” (p. 133) and a church that paid and promoted men with “the mark of the beast in their foreheads.” “We wonder they are not ashamed of being connected with men who openly defy the law and preach the worst form of Popery,” Spurgeon said in his review of a book by J.C. Ryle. Speaking of Ryle, Spurgeon says, “He pleads hard for a comprehension which shall include believers in doctrines which are diametrically opposed to each other. Such is the sad influence of a false position…. We wish Mr. Ryle could review his own position in the light of the Scriptures rather than in the darkness of ecclesiasticism; then would he come out from among them, and no more touch the unclean thing” (137).
The third controversy: ecumenism vs. separatism
Spurgeon suffered more from personal, scathing attacks during the so-called “Down-Grade” controversy than any other. No one could deny that Spurgeon was at heart a Biblical separatist. The problem was that most people didn’t like it. “It is our solemn conviction,” said Spurgeon, “that where there can be no real spiritual communion there should be no pretence of fellowship” (p. 144). Spurgeon’s conviction was that “nothing has ever more largely promoted the union of the true than the break with the false” (p. 159).
Murray states, “The tragedy of the Down-Grade was that there were many who could not see that scripture spoke definitely on the existing situation” (p. 158). The same is true today. If you’re someone left with a bad taste for separatism in your mouth, read about Spurgeon in the Down-Grade. You’ll love him, feel for him, and want to be like him.
Those who have a sentimental, maudlin perception of Spurgeon–and want to keep it–should not read this book. This is not the “popular Spurgeon.” This is the “Forgotten Spurgeon.” Murray says it best, “Spurgeon’s legacy is neither his oratory nor his personality–these things have gone the way of all flesh–but his testimony to the whole counsel of God and his utterance of the great Reformation principle that the Lord alone must be before our eyes and His honour the ultimate motive in all our actions” (p. 17).
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