Results tagged “Charles Spurgeon” from Reformation21 Blog

Spurgeon's standards for conversion and membership

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Spurgeon, Charles Haddon 4.jpgI hope that I will be able at some point to provide a review of Tom Nettles' excellent volume, Living for Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (pastors and preachers, you need this book, and can get it at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Westminster).

In the meantime, there are a couple of threads from the book that it is profitable to weave together. Spurgeon was adamant that the door to the church be well-guarded, and had a carefully-developed system whereby converts applying for membership were graciously but robustly assessed by elders, himself, and the whole congregation. He did not rush people into professions of faith, baptism and church membership (indeed, he had some distaste for the inquiry room as potentially exerting a pressure beyond that of the Holy Spirit's work on the heart of a sinner).

At two separate points in the book, Nettles shows how - at times of particular evangelistic endeavour, as well as during the more regular procedures of church life - the saints were encouraged to make a thoughtful and scriptural assessment of a man's standing with God and prospective relationship with the local church.

With regard to conversion,
counselors of inquirers looked for three pivotal evidences of true conversion. One focused on the nature of the individual's perception of his sin and dependence on the work of Christ. Did the inquirer seem to have a clear and distinct and abiding sense of the seriousness of his offense toward God, a healthy remorse for that sin, a desire to turn from it and cease such offensive behavior toward God; did he also recognize that God was willing to receive him through the atonement made by Christ and through that alone? Second, did the present determination of the person's soul indicate a clear intention to live for Christ and overcome the opposing forces of the world; did he feel the urgency of seeing others escape from the wrath to come? Three, with a full knowledge of his own unworthiness and his full dependence on God, did the person have some knowledge of the doctrines of grace and that mercy was the fountain from which his salvation flowed? (310-11)
Then, with a great deal of common ground, here is the expectation for church membership:
Arnold Dallimore's examination of this book [called the Inquirers {sic} Books, in which interviewing elders recorded their comments] showed that the entire interview process centered on the determination of three things. One, is there clear evidence of dependence on Christ for salvation? This involved a clear and felt knowledge of sin and a deep sense of the necessity of the cross. Two, does the candidate exhibit a noticeable change of character including a desire for pleasing God and a desire for others to believe the gospel? Three, is there some understanding of, with a submission to, the doctrines of grace? The only effective antithesis to merit salvation, in Spurgeon's view, was a knowledge of utter dependence on divine mercy. (248)
Perhaps, in our day, we are not always sure what we should be looking for in the heart and life of men and women who profess faith in the Lord Jesus. Far too many churches, perhaps feeling the pressure of numbers or some other force, are inclined to drop their standards or blur their distinctions, if they have them in the first place. In the face of that, these standards seem to me to be thoroughly biblical, genuinely gracious, and appropriately robust. They combine doctrinal understanding, experimental religion, and principled obedience - a religion of head, heart and hand, if you will. If more congregations embraced a righteous assessment of this sort with regard to professing converts and applicants for membership, I am persuaded that they would be spiritually healthier places than they too often are.

Lawson on Spurgeon free

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In case you have not already picked it up, Steven Lawson's "Long Line of Godly Men" treatment of The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon is free on Kindle at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

Nicely browned

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Charles Spurgeon was not the only man of God to be labouring during the heyday of the gospel's progress in Victorian London. On the other side of the river lived and worked that most excellent servant of Christ, Archibald Geikie Brown. He is the subject of Iain H. Murray's fairly recent biography, Archibald G. Brown: Spurgeon's Successor (Banner of Truth, 2011) (Amazon.com/Amazon.co.uk/Westminster Bookstore). In some senses the subtitle is a little misleading, for Brown - though also a student of the older man - was in many senses and for many years a co-labourer with Spurgeon, manifesting much of the same spirit and much of the same Spirit, if I might put it so. Brown did, for a brief time, though not immediately, follow Spurgeon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, but he stands in his own right as a man worthy of our attention. (Indeed, the esteem in which a man as gifted and gracious as Brown held Spurgeon only casts an additional lustre on the greater man: we are tempted to say, "If this is the five-talent man, what must have been the man of ten talents!" Any illusions as to our own status and competence take a healthy battering in the process.)

Spurgeon, though this is not always accepted, believed that the Downgrade Controversy was the death of him. In March 1891, as a preacher he had trained left for Australia, Spurgeon bade him farewell with these words: "Good bye, Ellis; you will never see me again, this fight is killing me." AGB, as Murray often refers to him, is an interesting study in that he was serving as a preacher and pastor during the brightest period of the nineteenth century, then fought side by side with Spurgeon through the Downgrade, and continued to labour in gospel work for years after the death of his beloved friend. In each period there is much to instruct.

With regard to the full flood, AGB was at the forefront: his decision, commitment, and vigour in making Christ known rapidly won him much respect, love and antagonism from various quarters. He is, not least, a model of the kind of Christian compassion that ought to characterise a true man of God, entirely consistent with his confession yet never perverted into a merely 'social gospel.' Brown pursued and obtained the great and enduring transformation not of fallen cultures but of lost souls. When people are chuntering on about incarnational ministries in inner cities, Brown is both example and rebuke, showing us priorities and practices by means of which God will be much glorified. The Lord blessed his plain, pointed preaching with a great ingathering, as sinners were saved and a healthy and engaged church formed.

With the turn of the tide, AGB proved a most courageous fighter, a genuine Valiant-for-Truth. Among the articles from his pen at this time is a pungent, telling tract entitled The Devil's Mission of Amusement, which really ought to be required reading for every evangelical, especially those who call themselves Reformed, in the current climate. His essential contention is, in his own words, that "the mission of amusements is the devil's half-way house to the world." Here is a taster:
It is only during the past few years that "amusement" has become a recognized weapon of our warfare and developed into a mission. There has been a steady "down grade" in this respect. From "speaking out," as the Puritans did, the Church has gradually toned down her testimony, then winked at and excused the frivolities of the day. Then she has tolerated them in her borders, and now she has adopted them and provided a home for them under the plea of "reaching the masses and getting the ear of the people." The devil has seldom done a cleverer thing than hinting to the Church of Christ that part of her mission is to provide entertainment for the people with a view to winning them into her ranks. The human nature that lies in every heart has risen to the bait. Here, now, is an opportunity of gratifying the flesh and yet retaining a comfortable conscience. We can now please ourselves in order to do good to others. The rough old cross can be exchanged for a "costume," and the exchange can be made with the benevolent purpose of elevating the people.
If he were aware of the current state of play in most evangelical churches, doubtless the speed of his mortal remains' revolutions would do something to counteract the turn of the earth. Without vindictiveness and with untiring zeal, AGB contended for the truth and held the line of faithful, simple witness. In this respect, there is a fascinating essay attached to Murray's book, in which the author explains the conviction of men like Spurgeon and Brown that far from being an aid to gospel endeavour, the kind of performance approach to worship characteristic of so many churches today militated against both clear and decisive conversion and ongoing commitment to Christ with increasing abandonment of worldliness. The danger that sinners would be carnally attracted to mere entertainments rather than spiritually drawn to a crucified Christ was too great to overlook. This is a lesson that needs to be learned all over again.

As the waters began to ebb, and as many of those alongside whom he had taken a stand fell, perhaps we see AGB's sterling character most clearly. Unable to sustain the pastoral demands imposed upon him as his own health began to suffer, he was obliged to leave a settled ministry, but his continuing kingdom investments both in the UK and in the course of his many travels are eminently praiseworthy. He did not go on seeing the sort of blessing, at least numerically, to which he had been once accustomed, but he did not capitulate to the numbers game, nor adapt his convictions to suit his circumstances. He rather laboured on faithfully, persuaded that simple obedience and believing perseverance was the appropriate course for a child of the Most High and a servant of the King. This was not merely a failure to move with the times; if was a refusal to compromise. The fact that - sailing against the current of the age - he continued to see a measure of blessing, and retained the high esteem of so many, is a testimony to his character and work.

I would vigorously recommend Murray's book, especially to pastors and preachers. Yes, it will convict and rebuke, but also it will instruct and encourage. If nothing else, it paints a sweet portrait of Christian humility, faithfulness, and endeavour which we would do well to emulate. A splendid companion volume to the biography would be a small collection of AGB's sermons, The Face of Jesus Christ: The Person and Work of our Lord (Banner of Truth, 2012) (Amazon.com/Amazon.co.uk/Westminster Bookstore). I have a soft spot for such addresses: as a counterpoint to the kind of expository series which are often lauded today almost to the exclusion of other kinds of preaching, Brown - like Spurgeon - models another expository approach. I am aware that there are times when they go a little off-beam, but these men had a gift to take a short passage of Scripture, sometimes a verse or even a portion of a verse, and - without neglecting a proper awareness of its context and taking legitimate account of the proper sense of the words - to turn the Scripture jewel in gospel light, providing a rich, inventive, Christ-soaked, closely-applied discourse which stirs the soul. Brown's sermons hit home with that sweet strength that does the soul so much good. I would recommend them to any believer desiring a dose of light and heat, and also to those with an appetite for the truth sufficient to carry them into such pages.

A closing plea

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How would you close a sermon? How would you bring to an end a sermon in which you were pleading for sinners to receive God's great pardon for sin? Here is an example from Spurgeon, preaching from Psalm 25.11 ("Pardon my iniquity, O Lord, for it is great"), in a sermon entitled "Great Pardon for Great Sin" (#2988, MTP 52):
I have tried, and I am trying, to preach a wide gospel. I do not like to have a net with such big meshes that the fish get through. I think I may catch you all if the Lord wills. If the vilest are not shut out, then you are not shut out, friends. And if you believe in Christ with all your heart, you shall be saved! But oh, what if you should say, "I care not for forgiveness. I do not want pardon, I will not seek it! I will not have it - I love my sins - I love myself"? O sinner, then, by that deathbed of yours where you shall see your dreadful sins in another light, by that resurrection of yours where you shall see eternity to be no trifle, by that doom of yours, by the last dread thunders, by the awful sentence, "Depart, you cursed," of the Judge, I beseech you, do me but this one favour! Acknowledge that you had an invitation tonight and that it was affectionately pressed upon you. I have told you, in God's name, that your sin is not a trifle with God - that it is not a matter to be laughed at or to be whistled over. I have told you that the greatness of your sin need not shut you out. What is needed is that the Spirit of God should teach you these things in your heart. But do remember, if your ears refuse these truths of God, and if you reject them, we are a sweet savour unto Christ as well in them that perish as in them that are saved! But woe unto you - woe unto you, who, with the Gospel ringing in your ears, go down to Hell! "Verily, verily, I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the Day of Judgment, than for you!" May God save you, for Jesus' sake! Amen!
Whatever the relationship that sustains our pleading, can we not learn from this?

What about next Sunday?

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I have been in Zambia for the last few days - due to leave for home fairly soon - and so opportunity for anything other than my responsibilities here has been limited. However, things have slowed down a little, and I have an opportunity to pause.

As I paused I came across a snippet from Spurgeon here which I provide in slightly fuller form, and I offer it in the form of a question: What about next Sunday?

There is no ordinance in Scripture of any one Lord's-day in the year being set apart to commemorate the rising of Christ from the dead and for this reason every Lord's-day is the memorial of our Lord's resurrection. Wake up any Lord's-day you please, whether in the depth of winter, or in the warmth of summer and you may sing -

Today he rose and left the dead,
And Satan's empire fell!
Today the saints his triumph spread,
And all his wonders tell.

To set apart an Easter Sunday for special memory of the resurrection is a human device for which there is no Scriptural command. But to make every Lord's-day an Easter Sunday is due to him who rose early on the first day of the week. We gather together on the first, rather than upon the seventh day of the week, because redemption is even a greater work than creation and more worthy of commemoration and because the rest which followed creation is far outdone by that which ensues upon the completion of redemption! Like the apostles, we meet on the first day of the week and hope that Jesus may stand in our midst and say, "Peace be unto you." Our Lord has lifted the Sabbath from the old and rusted hinges whereon the Law had placed it long before and set it on the new golden hinges which his love has fashioned. He has placed our rest day, not at the end of a week of toil, but at the beginning of the rest which remains for the people of God. Every first day of the week we should meditate upon the rising of our Lord, and seek to enter into fellowship with him in his risen life.

And so, what of next Sunday? Have you peaked for the year, or will you enjoy in short order another, and another, and another day in which you can meditate on the rising of our Lord, and seek to enter into fellowship with him in his risen life?