Remembering Our First Year

Thursday, May 3rd 2007
Jan/Feb 2007

In 1992, Modern Reformation magazine first appeared as a monthly, glossy magazine after existing as a quarterly newsletter for six years. That year, it competed for the attention span of readers with the likes of the Rodney King beating, a new audio format gaining in popularity called "compact discs," and something called the World Wide Web, which could only be accessed with a text-based browser. The magazine only had a few hundred subscribers its first year, but it immediately took up timely topics in a slightly off-key fashion (its calling card for the next fifteen years).

We're reprinting three articles from that first year of publication. These articles are not the most important that we've ever published, but they are representative of our enduring identity and mission: to feature authors who represent a broad Reformation perspective and write with equal doses of wit and sincerity about issues that matter to the everyday Christian who had questions about God, this world, and his life in it. We commend these three articles to you, not just for fond recollection but also for your edification.

Wanted: Apathetic Lutherans and Calvinists by Michael Horton

About fifteen years ago, my brother, then an assistant football coach at Arizona State, introduced me to Danny White, who was then the star quarterback for the Sun Devils. I was only twelve years old and in awe of White. Meeting him was one of those moments when you are aware of every movement you make, of every nervous gesture. As we walked toward him on the football field where he was running, I could feel my feet become lead. Fear gripped me and I almost wanted to go back, but there was no turning back now. With a dry throat and clumsy handshake I met White-just when my brother announced that he needed to take care of some business with the trainer. So here we were, Danny White and this awkward teenager who was unusually short on words. But Danny immediately broke the tension when he said, "Hey, Horts, how about a few passes?" "You mean passes to a game?" "No," he replied, "I mean throwing some passes here on the field for a while." For the next 20 minutes or so there we were, Danny White and Mike Horton, throwing the ball around and getting to know each other-not just as a fan gets to know a hero by following his career, but as one person gets to know another.

Since then, I have had the opportunity to meet some other people who made me feel pretty nervous: other sports stars, actors, writers, and a few foreign dignitaries. But no meeting presents a greater challenge than when we meet God in the person of the Holy Spirit. It is a wonderful opportunity, to be sure, but it is also a challenge. We do just fine in the stands, shaking our heads at the unbelievable skill and energy of the Holy Spirit, and we follow his work closely through the years. But to actually meet him? To get to know him, not just as an awestruck fan meets a celebrity, but as two friends out on the field together? We often find such intimacy beyond what we can (or should even attempt to) reach. But it is at God's invitation that we leave the stands, walk out to the field, and befriend him through the person of the Holy Spirit.

God the Father longs to have a relationship with us. He "loved the world so much that he sent his only begotten Son" to save us so long ago. When God the Son took on flesh, suffered, died, and rose again, he brought us everlasting peace with God. If it were not for the Holy Spirit, we would still be up in the stands, unrelated to God as anything other than an admiring fan. It is through God the Holy Spirit that the Father's initiative in Christ-adoption and reconciliation-is finally fulfilled. It is he who brings us into the benefits planned for us by the Father and purchased for us by the Son.

The Reformation tradition, while eschewing the fanaticism of "those who think they've swallowed the Holy Spirit, feathers and all" (Luther's phrase), recovered the legitimate biblical teaching concerning the Spirit by training their lens once again on his role as the one who reveals Christ, illumines our souls to understand the Word, and enables us to believe it and to repent of everything that stands up to challenge it. In fact, Calvin has been called "the theologian of the Holy Spirit," not, of course, because he instructed the third person of the trinity, but because so much of his emphasis falls on the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing us into union with Christ and communicating to us the benefits of that union. In the remainder of this article, I want to challenge us all to return to the classical doctrine of the Trinity as we attempt to recover what we who claim to be heirs of the Reformation have lost concerning the person and work of the Holy Spirit in our day.

Back to the Trinity

There is only one God. On that Christians and Jews (as well as Moslems) are agreed. But the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. Yet, there are not three Gods, but one. The biblical writers do not explain this apparent contradiction, but affirm it nonetheless. In the second century, the church father Tertullian came up with the phrase, one in essence, three in person, and the term trinitas (trinity) was employed for the first time to explain the relationship of those two affirmations: three persons (tri); one God (unity).

And yet, this staggering mystery has proved easier to affirm in public worship than in personal faith. In every age the church seems to carve up the trinity and emphasize one person of the Godhead above the others. Sometimes this is done to redress imbalances, but it often results in other imbalances.

In our day, many hyper-Calvinists are so fascinated with the sovereignty of God that the person and work of the Son and the Holy Spirit get short shrift, while many hyper-Lutherans and Barthians risk embracing a form of Christomonism, in which the Father and the Spirit are footnotes to the person and work of Christ. Like the sovereignty of God for hyper-Calvinists, justification for hyper-Lutherans can become not only the central doctrine (after all, it must occupy that spot for all evangelicals), but the only doctrine in the system, divesting the biblical message of its fullness, driving the Father and the Spirit into the shadows, and leaving the flock unbalanced and malnourished.

In the meantime, the Charismatic movement has brought much attention to the reality of the third person of the Godhead, while often underplaying the study of the divine attributes and the objective character of Christ's person and work. It's not doctrine that concerns most Charismatics, as it concerns most Calvinists and Lutherans, but experience. So, the Holy Spirit becomes the central Trinitarian figure. Just as the Holy Spirit's person and work can be ignored when we emphasize only the objective side of salvation (the Father and Son's work outside of us in history), so also it is true that the Father's and Son's saving work can be pushed aside in an obsession with the real and alleged experiences and gifts of the Holy Spirit. But for us as Reformation Christians, emphasizing the objective character of salvation in the face of so much subjective introspection and emotionalism, we risk keeping the work of Christ external and "outside us." What the reformers meant by emphasizing Christ's saving work "outside" and "external" to us was that our justification does not refer to inner renewal by the Spirit or the life of Christ within us, but to the once-and-for-all work of Christ for us. Nevertheless, as Calvin wrote, "It is not enough to have Christ working outside of us for our salvation unless this gift becomes ours and is brought into us by the Holy Spirit." There must be a spiritual union with Christ if we are to receive the blessings. There must be faith if we are to be justified, sanctified, and glorified; this faith we have by virtue of our union with Christ, the gift of the Holy Spirit.

What we desperately need, then, is a return to a practical, real-life, realization of the doctrine of the trinity in our daily thinking: God the Father so loved the world that he gave Christ to his people and his people to Christ; then the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit. If the person and work of any member of the trinity is overlooked or underplayed, to that degree we will be unbalanced Christians.

The Shy Member of the Trinity

The Holy Spirit, often called the "shy member of the trinity" because he does not draw attention to himself, but chiefly to Christ, is not, therefore, an impersonal "force" or appendage to the Godhead, but the vibrant, life-giving, renewing partner of the Father and the Son, whose essence he shares. As the Father has assigned to the Son a name which is above every other name, so Jesus himself declared, "It is good that I go, for if I go I will send the Comforter." In other words, Jesus measures the importance of the Holy Spirit's coming by the fact that it will compensate for the loss of his leaving. But our Lord further states, "It is he who testifies concerning me." The Holy Spirit is essential in the redemptive mission, but he does not "blow his own horn." Rather, he trumpets the glories of Christ's person and work. I worry that the Charismatic movement, generally speaking, misses this chief role of the Holy Spirit by trying to make him the center of attention. The Holy Spirit refuses to be center stage and any group or movement that seeks to put him there gravely misses the point of his mission.

But if our Reformation tradition has erred, especially of late-and it has-it has been on the side of denying experience, subjectivity, emotion, and the application of redemption. Sanctification, inner renewal, life in the Spirit, victory over sin: Because these have been so emphasized, twisted, disfigured, misinterpreted, and misapplied in our day, we risk becoming cynical about some very holy matters, quenching the same Spirit who brought us everything Christ purchased for us. While we find it easy (and, too often, delightful) to apply to Charismatics the Apostle Paul's lament, "They have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge," can anything be said in favor of knowledge without zeal? In fact, which is the more inexcusable offense: serving God in spite of poor theology, or ignoring him in spite of better?

In every great move of God in his church, reformation (doctrinal purification) and revival (spiritual renewal and awakening) have gone hand-in-hand. In the Reformation, Luther was hardly afraid of the Holy Spirit. The German reformer wrote, "Without the Holy Spirit hearts are either hardened in sins or they despair. . . . Now, this is the article which must ever be and remain in operation; for creation is an established fact, and redemption, too, is finished. But the Holy Spirit carries on his work without ceasing until the Last Day." In Calvin's crest there is a hand holding out a heart, with the inscription, "Behold, I offer you my heart, promptly and sincerely." The divorce between doctrine and piety, the mind and the heart, characteristic of both orthodox Reformation folk on one side and pietists and Charismatics on the other, is a course for disaster, not for either reformation or revival.

Reformation without revival can change the way we think, but it will never transform our attitudes, feelings, and actions. It will be a short-lived, mid-flight course correction. Revival without reformation cannot happen in any case, for revival is the sovereign work of the Spirit of God and he will not bless with revival a church that refuses to conform its teaching and preaching to the Word of God. The first Great Awakening in the eighteenth century was great because it called the colonies back to the Reformation truths and encouraged people to make those truths their own in an experiential, personal way. Combining the mind and the heart, Edwards, Whitefield, and others used the Word of God to bring the whole person into confrontation with the truth and presence of God's Spirit.


The Heidelberg Catechism, from the Reformed churches, has the right idea. After every major doctrine, it asks, "How does this comfort you?" Sometimes we get so caught up in defending particular doctrines and frustrated at being told so often, "But doctrine isn't practical," that we stop trying to answer that question, "How does this comfort you?" Our own tradition calls us back to go beyond rehearsing doctrinal formulae and formal terms-not to ignore them, but to go beyond them, to take these great truths on board and use them in daily life. Further, the Westminster Shorter Catechism answers that the chief end of man is "to glorify God and to enjoy him forever." Glorify, sure. That's a word we orthodox folk can understand. But enjoy? That's a bit too emotional. To enjoy God is a delight that only children enjoy. Like an awestruck fan, it's more comfortable to glorify God from the stands than to enjoy him on the field. But let's not settle for anything less than God's very best.

This article originally appeared in the September/ October 1992 issue of Modern Reformation.

Was Martin Luther A Born-Again Christian? by Rick Ritchie

Martin Luther was a Protestant. He was the father of Protestantism. Martin Luther was an evangelical. He defended the authority of Scripture and restored the gospel to its central position in the church. Martin Luther was a Protestant and an evangelical, but was he a born-again Christian?

Absolutely yes! Jesus told Nicodemus that he had to be born again to enter the kingdom of heaven (John 3:3). Clearly, in order to be a Christian, one must be born again in the way Jesus intended. If Martin Luther was a Christian-and he certainly was-then he must have been a born-again Christian.

Absolutely no! In twentieth-century America, there are many zealous Christians whose experience of the faith bears little resemblance to that of Luther. We may think that if we just strip away the cultural accretions that have attached themselves to today's born-again Christianity, we might discover the type of faith that Luther advocated, but that is mistaken. When all the cultural layers are peeled back, what is revealed is, at best, the faith that Luther left behind in the monastery when he discovered the gospel. If Martin Luther was a born-again Christian in the biblical sense, he was not a born-again Christian in the modern sense.

Born-Againism versus the Gospel

The thought of pitting born-again Christianity against the gospel is bound to strike some as bizarre. If it is not the born-again Christians who know the gospel, who does? How many times have we heard of staunch church-goers who were converted at a Billy Graham crusade after years of spiritual deadness in their mainline churches? Are we to discount all of these stories? If not, what does it mean to say that born-again Christianity is in conflict with the gospel?

It is not its emphasis on evangelistic outreach for which the born-again movement is to be faulted. Its evangelistic crusades and campus ministries are probably responsible for more unchurched Americans hearing the gospel than all other means combined. The born-again movement is to be commended for preaching the cross to those who have not heard, wherever it has done this faithfully. The real problem is that this movement preaches not only two births, but two gospels, and is not even aware of it. One gospel tells us of our estrangement from God and how, while we were dead in sin and hostile to God, God reconciled us to himself on the cross. The other gospel tells us how we can be saved by making a decision for Christ and asking him into our hearts. Most of us were taught to think that these teachings were two parts of the same message. When we study the life of Martin Luther, we find that the Reformation occurred when Luther abandoned the second message for the first.

Martin Luther the Monk

Just like their spiritual brethren today, Christians in the Middle Ages liked to pattern their lives after the great saints in the Bible. It has been said that the entire monastic movement was a commentary on the text, "We have left all to follow you." Like St. Paul before him, Martin Luther had a catastrophic conversion experience while journeying on a road. In his youth, Luther, caught in a storm, was struck by lightning. This experience filled the young man with dread at the majesty of God. He knew that he had to get right with his divine Judge.

Luther did this by vowing poverty, chastity, and obedience. He dedicated himself to a lifestyle of learning about God and subduing the flesh. Praying and fasting, his consecration and effort was to no avail, however. The harder Luther strove to please God, the more distant God seemed. The harder Luther struggled, the greater his sense of sin became. To make matters worse, God could read Luther's heart, and know that he was motivated by fear and not love. How could Luther escape?

Mortifying the flesh would not help. One cannot get to heaven by works. But what about love? Luther was advised by the mystics to come to God by loving him. This mystical piety was the sixteenth-century version of "Christianity is not a religion, but a personal relationship." Instead of being a solution to Luther's spiritual anxiety, however, it only made things worse. He wanted to love God so that God would grant him salvation, but how could he produce this love within himself? How could he be sure that his love for God was genuine when it sprang not from a desire for God, but a desire to escape wrath? No, this would not work. If law-keeping was an impossibility, producing a pure love for God in oneself was doubly impossible.

Luther the Evangelical

If the new life that Luther found after his conversion experience was a living death, Luther found true life when he repented of his youthful repentance. While teaching on the book of Romans as a university professor, Luther's anxiety was only intensified by those passages that spoke of the righteousness of God. At first Luther thought that this righteousness meant solely his justice-that God must punish the wicked. Then he came to see that if the righteous were to live by faith (and if there were to be any righteous), then God's righteousness must find its foremost expression in his demonstration of mercy, when he declared the wicked to be righteous by punishing Christ in their place. It was in abandoning the manufacture of a new life within himself (yes, even with the help of the Holy Spirit-medieval Christians were quite familiar with that!) that Luther discovered the gospel.

Luther the Enemy of Free Will

Luther discovered that trying to find peace with God apart from the work of Christ was a dead end, even if pursued by a devoted person desiring a personal relationship with God. Fine. This may be an indictment against the excesses of born-again Christianity, but Luther's criticisms of medieval Catholicism do not seem to militate against its essence. What about those churches where people are warned that the only way to God is through Christ? Surely Luther would not have had harsh words for any of them-or would he?

Many of those who were raised in churches that advocated born-again Christianity were taught that they were the true heirs of Luther's reformation. The evidence used to support this claim was the fact that we could compare born-again Christianity to medieval Catholicism, and of the two, born-again Christianity had produced a more biblically literate laity which was less attached to superstitious ceremony. Was not this the result that Martin Luther had envisioned for his work?

The problem with this reasoning is not that there is no difference between today's born-again Christian and his medieval Catholic cousin, but that this contrast does not run deep enough. This becomes more apparent to us when we discover how hospitably today's born-again Christianity would have been received by one of Luther's opponents. While Pope Leo would have been irate over the success of our present born-again Christianity, one of his fellow churchmen, Desiderus Erasmus, would have been quite pleased.

Erasmus was a brilliant contemporary of Luther who agreed with Luther concerning the need for church reform, but disagreed with Luther's understanding of the gospel. For Luther, the gospel was an offense to our reasoning, harsh in its condemnation of sinners, and generous in forgiving them. It was a message of guilt and grace. For Erasmus, the Bible was God's guide to a better lifestyle: an owner's manual. During the early years of the Reformation Erasmus and Luther appeared to be heading in the same direction. Erasmus' scholarship had provided Luther with the Greek New Testament from which Luther produced the first widely circulated German translation of the Bible. Both men hoped that increased Bible knowledge among the laity would bring about a changed society. It was later that the divergence between the two men's understandings of reformation was made evident.

In 1524, seven years into the Reformation, Erasmus wrote a work entitled The Freedom of the Will in which he argued that individuals were saved by a combination of God's mercy and their efforts. Whereas he tried to give proper credit to the operation of God's grace in salvation, Erasmus' focus was on the need for human effort. In his response to Erasmus in The Bondage of the Will, Luther thanked Erasmus for uncovering the true difference between Erasmus' Romanism and Luther's Protestantism. It was not in the presence or absence of ceremony, in the formality or informality of one's approach to God, but in how they were to be made right with God in the first place.

Scripture is clear that in salvation God must act first. Had our debt not been paid on the cross, there would have been no way back to God for us no matter what we did. The question then arises as to what part we play now that the debt has been paid. Did God merely set up a system whereby we could now use our free will to save ourselves? That is what synergism (the teaching that we work together with God to save us) always boils down to, and this is what Luther saw in Erasmus' teaching.

Erasmus taught that our salvation resulted from the working of new powers imparted to fallen humans by God's grace. At first this sounds like a grace-centered theology. God makes the first move; we cannot save ourselves without his help. Who is supposed to use these new powers, though? Fallen man? The Bible teaches that man is dead in trespasses and sins and hostile to God. Will a dead man follow his doctor's orders? Will a hostile man help his enemy to conquer him? We have wills that can choose to follow one course or another, but these wills always will sinfully even when they will what is outwardly good. As Luther used to say, we have all the free will in the world to choose which path to follow to hell. Getting into heaven will require something other than our sinful wills, even contrary to them. Perhaps it might be asked "Might credit not be shared with the new wills which God gives us?" At best this is how Erasmus' position can be understood.

While Luther insisted that God does change our wills in salvation, he would flatly deny that our new nature was the cause of salvation. If God chose to save us when we were hostile, would it make sense to say that we were saved because we were not hostile? Even when credit was given not to fallen man, but to the new nature, Luther saw lurking behind this the desire of the old sinful nature to steal God's glory. What Erasmus really wanted to do was to give credit to the old nature. If the new nature were responsible for salvation, how come it did not turn out the same for all? All are equally sinful, and one would suppose that God gave equally good new natures to people, yet in the end some were not saved. Erasmus was trying to locate the explanation for this in man. Whether we were rewarded for cooperating with the new nature or for resisting it less, Erasmus really taught that some people were more deserving of salvation than others. Luther would have none of it. The only credit man could receive was for his own damnation. All glory, honor, and credit for the salvation of the saved belonged to God who could save us in spite of our wills.

Is it not strange that many who call themselves Protestant teach that a person is saved by doing that which Luther, the father of Protestantism, declared that a lost person could not do? Is it not even stranger that the type of conversion experience that evangelicals take to be the litmus test of genuine Christianity is based on the doctrine of free will, a doctrine that Erasmus had to defend against Luther, against Protestantism, and against the gospel which had just been rediscovered?

This article originally appeared in the January/February 1992 issue of Modern Reformation.

Are You Sure You Like Spurgeon? by Alan Maben

"The doctrine of justification itself, as preached by an Arminian, is nothing but the doctrine of salvation by works." C. H. Spurgeon

Praised by many evangelicals as a great preacher, Charles H. Spurgeon is considered a successful and "safe" example of a "nontheological" minister. His works are recommended as a means to lead many aspiring pastors into developing their own successful ministries. His Lectures to My Students are often used for this purpose, emphasizing the "practical" aspects of evangelism. But while the form of Spurgeon's successful preaching is often studied by would-be pastors, the content of this Christian giant's preaching and teaching is often ignored. Rather, Spurgeon is popularly thought to have heartily approved of the same theology that is presently dominating American culture: Arminianism.

Many Christian leaders, for instance, like to point out Spurgeon as one who also had no formal college training. They ignore the fact that he had a personal library containing more than 10,000 books. It is further argued that the success of his ministry in the mid-to-late 19th century was due to his anti-intellectual piety, "his yieldedness to the Spirit," and his Arminianism. The fact is, Spurgeon was not anti-intellectual, nor did he entertain delusions of being so holy that he could allow God to work only if he was "yielded." Most importantly, he was not an Arminian. He was a staunch Calvinist who opposed the dominant religious view of his day (and of ours), Arminianism. Even toward the end of his life he could write, "From this doctrine I have not departed to this day." He was grateful that he never wavered from his Calvinism. "There is no soul living who holds more firmly to the doctrine of grace than do I." Reading Spurgeon's beliefs, one will see that this tremendously fruitful ministry was built upon the preaching of the biblical gospel.

In his work, "A Defense of Calvinism," he states unequivocally:

[T]here is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation.

Here Spurgeon affirms his agreement with what are usually called "The Five Points of Calvinism." Spurgeon's own summation was much shorter: A Calvinist believes that salvation is of the Lord. Selections from his sermons and writings on these subjects make his position clear. Regarding total depravity and irresistible grace:

When you say, "Can God make me become a Christian?" I tell you yes, for herein rests the power of the gospel. It does not ask your consent; but it gets it. It does not say, "Will you have it?" but it makes you willing in the day of God's power…. The gospel wants not your consent, it gets it. It knocks the enmity out of your heart. You say, I do not want to be saved; Christ says you shall be. He makes our will turn round, and then you cry, "'Lord save, or I perish!"

Regarding unconditional election: I do not hesitate to say, that next to the doctrine of the crucifixion and the resurrection of our blessed Lord-no doctrine had such prominence in the early Christian Church as the doctrine of the election of grace. And when confronted with the discomfort this doctrine would bring, he responded with little sympathy: "'I do not like it [divine election],' saith one. Well, I thought you would not; whoever dreamed you would?" Regarding particular atonement:

[I]f it was Christ's intention to save all men, how deplorably has he been disappointed, for we have His own testimony that there is a lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, and into that pit of woe have been cast some of the very persons who, according to the theory of universal redemption, were bought with His blood.
He has punished Christ, why should He punish twice for one offence? Christ has died for all His people's sins, and if thou art in the covenant, thou art one of Christ's people. Damned thou canst not be. Suffer for thy sins thou canst not. Until God can be unjust, and demand two payments for one debt, He cannot destroy the soul for whom Jesus died.

Regarding the perseverance of the saints:
I do not know how some people, who believe that a Christian can fall from grace, manage to be happy. It must be a very commendable thing in them to be able to get through a day without despair. If I did not believe in the doctrine of the final perseverance of the saints, I think I should be of all men most miserable, because I should lack any ground of comfort.

The selections above indicate that C. H. Spurgeon was without a doubt an affirmed, self-professing Calvinist who made his ministry's success dependent upon truth, unwilling to consider the Five Points of Calvinism as separate, sterile categories to be memorized and believed in isolation from each other or Scripture. He often blended the truths represented by the Five Points, because they actually are mutually supportive parts of a whole, and not five little sections of faith added to one's collection of Christian beliefs. Spurgeon never presented them as independent oddities to be believed as the sum of Christianity. Rather, he preached a positive gospel, ever mindful that these beliefs were only part of the whole counsel of God and not the sum total. These points were helpful, defensive summaries, but they did not take the place of the vast theater of redemption within which God's complete and eternal plan was worked out in the Old and New Testaments.

Certain that the Cross was an offense and stumbling block, Spurgeon was unwilling to make the gospel more acceptable to the lost. "The old truth that Calvin preached, that Augustine preached, is the truth that I must preach today, or else be false to my conscience and to God. I cannot shape the truth; I know of no such thing as paring off the rough edges of a doctrine." Elsewhere he challenged, "I cannot find in Scripture any other doctrine than this. It is the essence of the Bible…. Tell me anything contrary to this truth, and it will be heresy." Spurgeon believed that the price of ridicule and rejection was not counted so high that he should refuse to preach this gospel: "[W]e are reckoned the scum of creation; scarcely a minister looks on us or speaks favorable of us, because we hold strong vies upon the divine sovereignty of God, and his divine electings and special love towards His own people."

Then, as now, the dominant objection to such preaching was that it would lead to licentious living. Since Christ "did it all," there was no need for them to obey the commands of Scripture. Aside from the fact that we should not let sinful people decide what kind of gospel we will preach, Spurgeon had his own rebuttals to this confusion:

[I]t is often said that the doctrines we believe have a tendency to lead us to sin…. I ask the man who dares to say that Calvinism is a licentious religion, what he thinks of the character of Augustine, or Calvin, or Whitefield, who in successive ages were the great exponents of the systems of grace; or what will he say of the Puritans, whose works are full of them? Had a man been an Arminian in those days, he would have been accounted the vilest heretic breathing, but now we are looked upon as the heretics, and they as orthodox. We have gone back to the old school; we can trace our descent from the apostles…. We can run a golden line up to Jesus Christ Himself, through a holy succession of mighty fathers, who all held these glorious truths; and we can ask concerning them, "Where will you find holier and better men in the world?"

His attitude toward those who would distort the gospel for their own ideas of "holiness" is clear from the following: No doctrine is so calculated to preserve a man from sin as the doctrine of the grace of God. Those who have called it "a licentious doctrine" did not know anything at all about it. Poor ignorant things, they little knew that their own vile stuff was the most licentious doctrine under heaven.

According to Spurgeon (and Scripture as well), the response of gratitude is the motive for holy living, not the uncertain status of the believer under the influence of Arminianism and its accompanying legalism. "The tendency of Arminianism is towards legality; it is nothing but legality which lays at the root of Arminianism." He was very clear on the dangerous relationship of Arminianism to legalism: "Do you not see at once that this is legality-that this is hanging our salvation upon our work-that this is making our eternal life to depend upon something we do? Nay, the doctrine of justification itself, as preached by an Arminianism, is nothing but the doctrine of salvation by works."

A status before God based upon how we "use" Christ and the Spirit to feign righteousness was a legalism hated by Spurgeon. As in our day, Spurgeon saw that one of the strongholds of Arminianism included the independent churches. Arminianism was a natural, God-rejecting, self-exalting religion and heresy. As Spurgeon believed, we are born Arminians by nature. He saw this natural aversion to God as encouraged by believing self-centered, self-exalting fancies. "If you believe that everything turns upon the free-will of man, you will naturally have man as its principal figure in your landscape." And again he affirms the remedy for this confusion to be true doctrine. "I believe that very much of current Arminianism is simply ignorance of gospel doctrine." Further,

"I do not serve the god of the Arminians at all; I have nothing to do with him, and I do not bow down before the Baal they have set up; he is not my God, nor shall he ever be; I fear him not, nor tremble at his presence … The God that saith today and denieth tomorrow, that justifieth today and condemns the next … is no relation to my God in the least degree. He may be a relation of Ashtaroth or Baal, but Jehovah never was or can be his name."

Refusing to compromise the gospel in any way, he soundly refuted and rejected common attempts to unite Calvinism and Arminianism into a synthesized belief. Nor would he downplay the importance of the differences between the two systems:

This may seem to you to be of little consequence, but it really is a matter of life and death. I would plead with every Christian-think it over, my dear brother. When some of us preach Calvinism, and some Arminianism, we cannot both be right; it is of no use trying to think we can be-"Yes," and "no," cannot both be true. Truth does not vacillate like the pendulum which shakes backwards and forwards…. One must be right; the other wrong.

In this article, Mr. Maben provides facts about Spurgeon found in the following sources: J.E. Johnson, "Spurgeon, Charles Haddon", in Walter A. Elwell, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1984); a sermon cited in Iain Murray, The Forgotten Spurgeon, 2nd ed. (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1986); C.H. Spurgeon, "A Defense of Calvinism", in S. Spurgeon and J. Harrold, eds., C.H. Spurgeon Autobiography, rev. ed., vol. I, The Early Years 1834-1859 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1976: reprint); and Spurgeon's Sermons, Vol. 6 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989).

This article originally appeared in the May/June 1992 issue of Modern Reformation.

Thursday, May 3rd 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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