Spurgeon, the Pastor/Theologian

Whatever else he was, Spurgeon was a Christian theologian, preeminently a “Pastor/Theologian.” He wanted to see the gospel preached and presented in light of a full grasp of the biblical revelation. Whether in apologetics or preaching, Spurgeon looked for fullness, proportion, symmetry and uncompromised clarity as hallmarks of a faithful presentation of God’s gospel.

Don’t Stop Short

Spurgeon saw no half-way house to the gospel. For him the only true theology was a fully Christian theology and any attempt to gain a hearing by stopping short of a fully evangelical presentation of the gospel, even in apologetic situations, was a betrayal of the call of the Christian. “That department of polite literature called Natural Religion leads nowhere and profiteth nothing,” Spurgeon maintained. An apologetic attempt by R. A. Redford in The Christian’s Pleas Against Modern Unbelief failed in the lead task of making a truly Christian plea, Spurgeon pointed out. Redford made a noble attempt to create a neutral intellectual position by breaking down the citadel of objections in order to show that theism, the possibility of revelation, the existence of the miraculous, and other foundational issues were not irrational positions. “Our author imagines,” Spurgeon observed, “that simple theism may become an adytum to the inner sanctuary of more select evidences.”[1] In his attempt to tear down the negative he has made a fundamental error by omitting an aggressive proposal of the positive. Spurgeon believed this approach mistakenly assumes that the philosophical argument for possibilities creates receptivity. Spurgeon was skeptical of the method and felt that best approach was always an insistence on the full package of the gospel.

Bare theism and natural theology filled the air “with volatile sentiment, and expresses itself in lackadaisical phrases about ‘the benevolence of the Creator,’ ‘the beauty of his works,’ or ‘the traces of design that are scattered through the universe.’” Such affirmation are a “paltry subterfuge” when what such poor souls need is saving faith; no good comes from dalliance with their prejudices. Spurgeon, therefore, believing that it was preposterous for a Christian minister to plead with an infidel to become a theist, proposed a more robust and aggressive approach to dealing with “Modern Unbelief.” His first postulate was, “He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” The second was, “He that believeth in God must accept Christ as a mediator.” The third continued, “He that accepteth the one mediator between God and men must receive the atonement.” Any method that encourages less leaves a person with no reason to rejoice in God or sing praises to him with spirit and understanding. Apologetic methods that focused on creating neutrality and failed to embrace the full presentation of the gospel would be like trying to solve a crime problem by “intreating burglars not to carry fire-arms.”[2]

Spurgeon wanted no theology or apologetic that was not fully Christian and eschewed any method of presentation intended to bring unbelievers only half way to truth. Such methods tended toward the opinion that openness to theism constituted right standing before God. The cure for limp and languid convictions on theology was a good soaking in the reality of one’s own sin, a perception of the “sovereignty of divine grace, a participation in the renewing work of the Holy Ghost, and an abundant entrance into that life which deals with spiritual and eternal verities.” Theology was not just a right head, much less a half-right head, but a healed heart. Without that, “savage orthodoxy usually begets a frivolus unbelief.”[3]

He was fully in favor, therefore, of apologetic works that aimed at disproving the validity of attacks, either direct or indirect, on the inspiration of Scripture. All parts of the Bible had been “vigourously assailed” at some time, but great powers of faith and ability had come to its defence and “left it more confirmed than before.” Luthardt’s defense of the Johannine authorship of the fourth gospel was worthy of the immense labor it involved in its establishment of the authenticity of the history of that book. All biblical students should be grateful to such defenders of the faith for “an attack upon the outworks of inspiration is aimed in reality at the citadel itself.” Zeal for one must accompany zeal for the other.[4]

Spurgeon advocated a pure Biblicism for theological construction. He believed, confirming the position of Robert Rainey, that the Scripture contained a perfect system “gradually developed in the Old Testament, and speedily completed in the New.” When Rainey, however, filled out this biblical system with doctrinal developments in church history and the discoveries of modern times, and pointed to the “corporate teaching capacity” of the church, Spurgeon resisted. He knew of no corporate church and thus of no such teaching capacity. We may gain assistance through others that interpret Scripture doctrines, but no addition to the doctrines themselves may be allowed. “Development of Christian doctrine in the Scriptures is one thing, and the development of those doctrines after the completion of the Scriptures is another.”[5]

These things should not be confounded. Christian Doctrine, to the degree that God wants us to know, has mature development in Scripture and the church may not add to, diminish, amend, or dilute by false synthesis any assertion of the biblical text. We may find a way to give clear teaching on a variety of subjects and seek to show their mature biblical development and relations, and we may surely benefit from the way Christians through the ages have formulated these biblical truths and their practical applications, but any effort to go beyond the biblical text and its own internal development perverts the truth.

The way Spurgeon related these ideas served as a foundation for his criticism of R. W. Dale’s Laws of Christ for Common Life. Spurgeon questioned, if not the candor, at least the relevancy of Dale’s approach in his statement, “A man may believe in the Nicene Creed, and in the Creed attributed to Athanasius, or in the confession of Augsburgh, or the confession of the Westminster divines; but if he does not believe in the Sermon of the Mount–believe it seriously as containing the laws which must govern his own life–he has denied the faith, and is in revolt against Christ.”[6] Spurgeon considered such paragraphs to assert a “vicious irrelevancy,” of the nature of asking if a person preferred Jotham’s parable in the book of Judges to Calvin’s Institutes. The inferences that underlie the comparison amounts to a discrediting of the “choicest standards of orthodoxy.” Spurgeon asked pointedly if Dale were revolting against all creeds including those “ancient Catholic Creeds, which sound Protestants, with one consent, were willing to accept.” As for his own part Spurgeon was jealous for such ancient landmarks, and believed that Dale’s resistance to the imposition of any creed on the ministers or members of the Congregational churches could only lead to fragmentation and eventual decline as a force for truth and godliness. “What can you expect if you lack any element of cohesion.” How all of this confessional concern relates to biblical authority Spurgeon revealed when he put forward another inquiry that he felt equally pertinent to Dale’s strange proposition. “Why put forward an early discourse of our blessed Redeemer before he had set forth the full purpose of Redemption,” Spurgeon queried, “or ever he said, ‘The good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep’–as if the Sermon on the Mount is to be accounted a complete body of divinity?”[7]

Dale’s failure at the confessional level extended from an interpretive method that pushed him into misapplication and disfigurement of biblical truth. If one does not see the moral teaching of Christ in light of his redemptive work and his own humanity’s dependence on divine grace, then his supposed preference of the words of Christ to the words of a creed is not that at all–rather, it amounts to a preference of one’s own narrow idiosyncratic creed to the confession of the church at large through the centuries. Which of these actually presents the greatest faithfulness to the Bible?

Find the Center

Spurgeon, therefore, looked at the meaning of all texts as expressive as one part of the larger biblical synthesis of meaning. The synthesis that satisfied Spurgeon’s overall grasp of biblical teaching was covenant theology. “The subject is the basis of all theology, and ought to be a chief point of study among believers,” he contended.[8] This idea he found perhaps the single most encouraging concept in the Bible. He began a sermon entitled “The Wondrous Covenant” with the words, “The doctrine of the divine covenant lies at the root of all true theology.”[9] A preacher who grasps and maintains clarity on the distinctions within the covenant is a master of divinity. “I am persuaded,” he affirmed, “that most of the mistakes which men make concerning the doctrines of Scripture are based upon fundamental errors with regard to the covenants of law and of grace.”[10]

In “The Blood of the Everlasting Covenant,” Spurgeon asserted that every relation we have with God has a covenant character and “that he will not deal with us except through a covenant, nor can we deal with him except in the same manner.”[11] He described the covenant of grace as “made before the foundation of the world between God the Father, and God the Son; or to put it in a yet more scriptural light, it was made mutually between the three divine persons of the adorable Trinity.” In this covenant “Christ stood… as man’s representative.” Though individual men would benefit personally from this arrangement, no individual man stood as a party to the arrangement. “It was a covenant between God with Christ, and through Christ indirectly with all the blood-bought seed who were loved of Christ from the foundation of the world.”[12] The power of Spurgeon’s theological conceptions and the joy of preaching consisted in grasping and conveying a clear vision of this divine initiative.

It is a noble and glorious thought, the very poetry of that old Calvinistic doctrine which we teach, that long ere the day-star knew its place, before God had spoken existence out of nothing, before angel’s wing had stirred the unnavigated ether, before a solitary song had distributed the solemnity of the silence in which God reigned supreme, he had entered into solemn council with himself, with his Son, and with his Spirit, and had in that council decreed, determined, proposed, and predestinated the salvation of his people. He had, moreover, in the covenant arranged the ways and means, and fixed and settled everything which should work together for the effecting of the purpose and the decree.[13]

Within the framework of the covenant Spurgeon found his only source for the encouragement of Christians; his understanding of the gospel was built on covenant theology; all of God’s actions toward creation, sin, redemption, providence, and final consummation were built on the covenant; his own exhilarating spiritual experiences flowed from lengthy meditation on the eternal and sure provisions of the covenant. “My soul flies back now, winged by imagination and by faith, and looks into that mysterious council-chamber, and by faith I behold the Father pledging himself to the Son, and the Son pledging himself to the Father, while the Spirit gives his pledge to both, and thus that divine compact, long to be hidden in darkness, is completed and settled–the covenant which in these latter days has been read in the light of heaven, and has become the joy, and hope, and boast of all the saints.”[14]

The sweetest consolation for the despondent saint comes in reflection on the everlasting covenant, an understanding of “what God did for us in past times.” Nothing can give joy to the spirit and steel to the soul like a song of “electing love and covenanted mercies.” When you are low, Spurgeon advised, it is well to sing of “the fountain-head of mercy,” the “blessed decree wherein thou wast ordained to eternal life, and of that glorious Man who undertook thy redemption.”[15] To see the “solemn covenant signed, and sealed, and ratified, in all things ordered well” reflecting that one is an object of eternal electing love is a “charming means of giving thee songs in the night.”[16]

For the sake of planting the reality of the covenant firmly in the minds of his people, he loved to set it forth as a discussion between the persons of the triune God, though he knew clearly that he could not tell it “in the glorious celestial tongue in which it was written” but would “bring it down to the speech which suiteth to the ear of flesh, and to the heart of a mortal.”[17] The substance was the same in each successive libretto though the exact words differed in accordance with context. In “The Gracious Lips of Jesus,” a sermon preached around 1857, Spurgeon said, “When God the Father originally made the covenant, it stood somewhat in this form.”[18]

My Son, thou desirest, and I agree with thee, to save a number, that no man can number, whom I have elected in thee. But in order to their salvation, that I may be just, and yet the justifier of the ungodly, it is necessary that some one should be their representative, to stand responsible for their obedience to my laws and their substitute to suffer whatever penalties they incur. If thou, my Son, wilt stipulate to bear their punishment, and endure the penalty of their crimes, I on my part will stipulate that thou shalt see thy seed, shalt prolong they days, and that the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in thy hands. If thou to-day art prepared to promise that thou wilt bear the exact punishment of all the people whom thou wouldst save, I on my part am prepared to swear by myself, because I can swear by no greater, that all for whom thou shalt atone shall infallibly be delivered from death and hell, and that all for whom thou bearest the punishment shall hence go free, nor shall my wrath rise against them, however great may be their sins.[19]

The conversation continued with an appropriately worded response from the Son in scriptural language, “I delight to do thy will, O my God.” On the basis of that covenantal arrangement all the saints were justified in the mind of God prior to the shedding of one drop of the Redeemer’s blood. “The surety’s oath was quite enough; in the Father’s ears there needed no other confirmation,” for by his Son’s oath, the Father’s heart was satisfied. His Son had sworn to his own hurt and would not change.[20]

Another of these dialogues constructed by Spurgeon included the stipulations made by the Spirit, as well as the agreement entered into by Father and Son. The Father and the Spirit carried one side of the covenant, and the Son the other. The Son carried the side that related to man while the Father and Spirit, in ways appropriate to each, pledged to honor the work of the Son on behalf of man. He imagined the Father speaking thus,:

I, the Most High Jehovah, do hereby give unto my only begotten and well-beloved Son, a people, countless beyond the number of stars, who shall be by him washed from sin, by him preserved, and kept, and led, and by him, at last, presented before my throne, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. I covenant by oath, and swear by myself, because I can swear by no greater, that these whom I now give to Christ shall be for ever the objects of my eternal love. Them I will forgive through the merit of the blood. To these will I give a perfect righteousness; these will I adopt and make my sons and daughters, and these shall reign with me through Christ eternally.

In the same vein he envisioned the Spirit in viewing how the Father had given a people to the Son joined in full harmony with the words,

I hereby covenant that all whom the Father giveth to the Son, I will in due time quicken. I will show them their need of redemption; I will cut off from them all groundless hope, and destroy their refuges of lies. I will bring them to the blood of sprinkling; I will give them faith whereby this blood shall be applied to them, I will work in them every grace; I will keep their faith alive; I will cleanse them and drive out all depravity from them, and they shall be presented at last spotless and faultless.

That pledge in the covenant presently is operative, being scrupulously kept. Christ Himself then took the other side as the representative of the people, and covenanted with His Father.

My Father, on my part I covenant that in the fullness of time I will become man. I will take upon myself the form and nature of the fallen race. I will live in their wretched world, and for my people I will keep the law perfectly. I will work out a spotless righteousness, which shall be acceptable to the demands of thy just and holy law. In due time I will bear the sins of all my people. Thou shalt exact their debts on me; the chastisement of their peace I will endure, and by my stripes they shall be healed. My Father, I covenant and promise that I will be obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. I will magnify thy law, and make it honourable. I will suffer all they ought to have suffered. I will endure the curse of thy law, and all the vials of thy wrath shall be emptied and spent upon my head. I will then rise again; I will ascend into heaven; I will intercede for them at thy right hand; and I will make myself responsible for every one of them, that not one of those whom thou hast given me shall ever be lost, but I will bring all my sheep of whom, by thy blood, thou hast constituted me the shepherd–I will bring every one safe to thee at last.[21]

On the side of the Son, the covenant is perfectly fulfilled. Only now he continues to intercede to bring all his blood-bought ones safely to glory.

Given the reality that all things are included in this covenant, should a sinner come to be sure of just one part of it, then he may assume that all of it is his. All parts of it stand or fall together, for the one true God, the triune Jehovah has pledged as a manifestation of His own glory, faithfulness, and truth to accomplish every part of it–nothing of all events and things can be omitted from the provisions of this covenant for creations, providence and redemption all serve its end. Thus if the most lowly and meek of sinners can be assured of forgiveness, he can be denied nothing from the eternal bounties of divine mercies or the temporal goodness of his providence. “When I know I am pardoned, then I can say all things are mine.”[22] Spurgeon exuded an exhausting amount of spiritual energy on this point and stretched his gifts to the limit in emphasizing it.

I can look back to the dark past–all things are mine there! I can look at the present–all things are mine here! I can look into the deep future–all things are mine there! Back in eternity, I see God unrolling the mighty volume, and lo! In that volume I read my name. It must be there, for I am pardoned; for whom he calls, he had first predestinated, and whom he pardons, he had first elected. When I see that covenant roll, I say It is mine! And all the great books of eternal purposes and infinite decrees, are mine! And what Christ did upon the cross is mine![23]

Spurgeon continued in an unrestrained accounting of all the things that the pardoned person could count as his on the basis of the unity and immutability of the covenant. On he went through the list with some indication as to the purpose of each gift contained in the covenant of grace. All the wheels and circumstances of Providence, afflictions, prosperity, all the promises of the Bible, the future of the earth’s dissolving in a great conflagration, the great judgment, the river of death, the resurrection, and heaven–all belong to the pardoned sinner. “What though there be palaces there of crystal and of gold, that sparkle so as to dim mortal eyes; what though there be delights above even the dream of the voluptuary; what though there be pleasures which heart and flesh could not conceive, and which even spirit itself can not fully enjoy the very intoxication of bliss; what though there be sublimities unlawful for us to utter, and wonders which mortal men can not grasp; what though the Divinity hath spent itself in heaven, and doth unravel his glory to make his people blessed–all is mine!”[24] The covenant not only served as the basis for coherent theological construction, but embraced every point of the shield of faith wherewith one could quench all the fiery darts of the evil one.

In his devotional study Morning and Evening the covenantal arrangements of the triune God consistently make their way into the text. For example, on December 26 for the morning Spurgeon wrote:

Jesus is the federal head of his elect. As in Adam, every heir of flesh and blood has a personal interest, because he is the covenant head and representative of the race as considered under the law of works; so under the law of grace, every redeemed soul is one with the Lord from heaven, since he is the Second Adam, the Sponsor and Substitute of the elect in the new covenant of love. The apostle Paul declares that Levi was in the loins of Abraham when Melchizedek met him: it is a certain truth that the believer was in the loins of Jesus Christ, the Mediator, when in old eternity the covenant settlements of grace were decreed, ratified, and made sure forever. Thus, whatever Christ hath done, he hath wrought for the whole body of his Church. We were crucified in him and buried with him, and to make it still more wonderful, we are risen with him and even ascended with him to the seats on high. It is thus that the Church has fulfilled the law, and is “accepted in the beloved.” It is thus that she is regarded with complacency by the just Jehovah, for he views her in Jesus, and does not look upon her as separate from her covenant head. As the Anointed Redeemer of Israel, Christ Jesus has nothing distinct from his Church, but all that he has he holds for her. Adam’s righteousness was ours so long as he maintained it, and his sin was ours the moment that he committed it; and in the same manner, all that the Second Adam is or does, is ours as well as his, seeing that he is our representative. Here is the foundation of the covenant of grace. This gracious system of representation and substitution, which moved Justin Martyr to cry out, “O blessed change, O sweet permutation!” this is the very groundwork of the gospel of our salvation, and is to be received with strong faith and rapturous joy.

The theme occupied his thoughts again on the morning of August 26, when he commented on Psalm 111:9, “He hath commanded his covenant forever.”

The Lord’s people delight in the covenant itself. It is an unfailing source of consolation to them so often as the Holy Spirit leads them into its banqueting house and waves its banner of love. They delight to contemplate the antiquity of that covenant, remembering that before the day-star knew its place, or planets ran their round, the interests of the saints were made secure in Christ Jesus. It is peculiarly pleasing to them to remember the sureness of the covenant, while meditating upon “the sure mercies of David.” They delight to celebrate it as “signed, and sealed, and ratified, in all things ordered well.” It often makes their hearts dilate with joy to think of its immutability, as a covenant which neither time nor eternity, life nor death, shall ever be able to violate–a covenant as old as eternity and as everlasting as the Rock of ages. They rejoice also to feast upon the fulness of this covenant, for they see in it all things provided for them. God is their portion, Christ their companion, the Spirit their Comforter, earth their lodge, and heaven their home. They see in it an inheritance reserved and entailed to every soul possessing an interest in its ancient and eternal deed of gift. Their eyes sparkled when they saw it as a treasure-trove in the Bible; but oh! how their souls were gladdened when they saw in the last will and testament of their divine kinsman, that it was bequeathed to them! More especially it is the pleasure of God’s people to contemplate the graciousness of this covenant. They see that the law was made void because it was a covenant of works and depended upon merit, but this they perceive to be enduring because grace is the basis, grace the condition, grace the strain, grace the bulwark, grace the foundation, grace the top-stone. The covenant is a treasury of wealth, a granary of food, a fountain of life, a storehouse of salvation, a charter of peace, and a haven of joy.

During the year Spurgeon encouraged spiritual growth by meditation on the covenant in 72 different devotions. March contained only one that spoke of the covenant while December had nine The least amount, other than March, was four in June and August.

Sermons regularly employed the covenantal arrangement of salvation as a vital part of his proclamation. The covenant of works made with all mankind through Adam posited life, corporate life, on the basis of obedience, but death for the whole on the occurrence of disobedience. When he fell, we all fell and became inheritors of sin and heirs of wrath, bound to sin and subject to misery. Though the covenant of redemption was made before creation within the eternal will of God appropriate to the distinct operations of each person of the Trinity, Spurgeon viewed its effectuality as dependent most significantly on the Son. In “Christ in the Covenant,” he dealt with the place of Christ in the “covenant of eternal salvation” under the assumption that “Christ is the Sum and substance of the covenant.”[25] He then summarized His attributes as eternal God and perfect man, His offices as prophet, priest and king both in His humiliation and His exaltation, all the works of Christ that He did in our stead, all the fullness of the godhead in bodily form put in motion for empty sinners, the life of Christ in whom His people are hid, and the very person of Christ in His glorious, ravishing, delightful, endearing presence that contains all these other gifts and transcends them by taking us into the depths of pleasure that only may be found at His feet. Consistent with but beyond all the offices and descriptions of attributes, “the person of Christ is the covenant conveyed to you.”[26]

Work for Symmetry

Such a lofty center of theology some would convert into an excuse for passivity and pessimism. Not Spurgeon. He saw reason for action and great hope. Scripture was filled with ideas, doctrines and motives to drive us to make our calling, and thus, our election, sure. The Covenant embodied all of divinity in its rich fullness and perfect symmetry–God and man, sin, judgment, and salvation, faith and action, heaven and hell. None need overstep the established boundaries of revelation or understate the things surely revealed. If we know that where sin abounded grace abounded all the more, we need not conclude that we magnify grace by pursuing sin. Spurgeon discovered as one of the treasures of divine revelation its power to halt the fallacious journeys of our sophomoric and sinful logic.

In a sermon on Deuteronomy 22:8, entitled “Battlements,” Spurgeon expressed his view of the expositor’s task in deriving theological ideas from Scripture. Battlements were placed around the roves of houses to protect children, or inattentive adults, from falling off the roof to their death. While this implies, from the practical side, our obligation to do what we can for the temporal safety and well-being of our fellow man, its more profound application is that we not overstep designated boundaries for the spiritual and eternal safety of our own souls and the souls of others.

Spurgeon affirmed that none need fear the “most high and sublime doctrines” of divine revelation, for God had “battlemented” it. No one need fear the doctrines of election, eternal and immutable love, or any point of revelation concerning the covenant of grace. It is a high and glorious truth, a truth of clear revelation, that “God hath from the beginning chosen his people unto salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and the belief of the truth.” Many simpletons, however, have perverted this doctrine, perhaps some purposefully, into antinomianism, leaping over the battlements God has placed around it. Not only does God have a chosen people, but those will be known by the fruits of holiness, and their zeal for good works; not only will they be forgiven of sin, but purged from sin. The same holds true for the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints–“A housetop doctrine indeed!”–in that while it holds great promise and comfort for the believer, yet battlements are in place to prevent its abuse. Spurgeon quoted Hebrews 6 and other warnings as applicable to Christians in order to show that “if the first salvation could have spent itself unavailingly, there would be no alternative, but a certain looking for of judgment and of fiery indignation.”[27] Even so, in the doctrine of justification, the free, unmerited declaration of righteousness by which God pronounces the ungodly forgiven and esteemed as law-keepers, if no sanctification follows, then the presence of justifying faith is dubious. “Where faith is genuine, through the Holy Spirit’s power, it works a cleansing from sin, a hatred of evil, an anxious desire after holiness, and it leads the soul to aspire after the image of God.”[28] Paul and James cooperate in making sure both tower and battlement are in place. “Thus is each doctrine balanced, bulwarked, and guarded.”[29]

He explained the necessity of seeking such biblically integrated doctrinal fullness as a special stewardship for the preacher. Expounding the subject of faith and regeneration in 1871, Spurgeon gave insight into the dangers and difficulties involved in this pastoral delicacy. In making “full proof of his ministry” a pastor requires much divine teaching, not only in the manner and spirit of his ministry, but also much in the matter of his ministry. “One point of difficulty, ” Spurgeon advised, “will be to preach the whole truth in fair proportion, never exaggerating one doctrine, never enforcing one point, at the expense of another, never keeping back any part, nor yet allowing it undue prominence.” Practical result depends on an equal balance, (symmetry and proportion as Jonathan Edwards would say), and a right dividing of the Word. One vital doctrinal area where much depends on such proper relationship is in the positioning of the work of Christ for us, and outside of us, and the operations of the Spirit within us. “Justification by faith is a matter about which there must be no obscurity, much less equivocation; and at the same time we must distinctly and determinately insist upon it that regeneration is necessary to every soul that shall enter heaven,” for Christ himself has made it essential. Spurgeon feared that “Some zealous brethren have preached the doctrine of justification by faith not only so boldly and so plainly, but also so baldly and so out of all connection with other truth, that they have led men into presumptuous confidences, and have appeared to lend their countenance to a species of Antinomianism.” A dead, inoperative faith should be dreaded and special attention must be given to avoiding it. To stand and proclaim, “Believe, believe, believe,” without explanation as to the nature of faith, “to lay the whole stress of salvation upon faith without explaining what salvation is, and showing that it means deliverance from the power as well as from the guilt of sin, may seem to a fervent revivalist to be the proper thing for the occasion, but those who have watched the result of such teaching have had grave cause to question whether as much hurt may not be done by it as good.”[30]

At the same time, Spurgeon saw an equal danger in the other extreme. While the emphasis on the new creature as necessary to salvation is clearly biblical, “some have seen so clearly the importance of this truth that they are for ever and always dwelling upon the great change of conversion, and its fruits, and its consequences, and they hardly appear to remember the glad tidings that whosoever believeth on Christ Jesus hath everlasting life.[31] Some have set so high a standard of experience and have been so “exacting as to the marks and signs of a true born child of God, that they greatly discourage sincere seekers, and fall into a species of legality” that is just as necessary to be avoided as antinomian fideism. The sinner, deeply aware of his damnable failings, must never receive the impression that he is to look within for the ground of his acceptance before God, but must see clearly “the undoubted truth that true faith in Jesus Christ saves the soul, for if we do not we shall hold in legal bondage many who ought long ago to have enjoyed peace, and to have entered into the liberty of the children of God.”[32]

Spurgeon proposed that the perfect balance in the connection of these doctrines appears in the third chapter of John where both the necessity and secret sovereignty of the Spirit is taught along with the powers of simple faith in Christ. “So, too, in the chapter before us,” Spurgeon said in calling his congregation’s attention to John 3, “he insists upon a man’s being born of God; he brings that up again and again, but evermore does he ascribe wondrous efficacy to faith; he mentions faith as the index of our being born again, faith as overcoming the world, faith as possessing the inward witness, faith as having eternal life–indeed, he seems as if he could not heap honour enough upon believing, while at the same time he insists upon the grave importance of the inward experience connected with the new birth.”[33] As a true Pastor/Theologian, Spurgeon insisted, “I earnestly long that these two doctrines may be well balanced in your souls.”[34]


Like Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon saw a coherent biblically induced, systematically arranged theology as foundational, not only the Christian ministry, but to a healthy Christian life. The theme that most naturally embraced all the doctrines of Scripture and from which they radiate in perfect symmetry is the eternal covenant of redemption. In explicating this covenant faithfully, giving due attention to all its truths in their proper relation to each other and to the central purpose of the covenant, the minister will give opportunity for the right integration of truth in the spiritual formation on His sheep–repentance and faith, fear and hope, examination and confidence, justification by imputation and sanctification by the renewing of the mind, rest in Christ’s perfect work and pursuit of Christ-likeness. Pastors, arise! Be theologians that our churches may be inhabited by Christians indeed that know the hope of their calling and desire to walk worthy of that calling. n



1 The Sword and the Trowel [S&T], November 1881, 582.

2 Ibid.

3 S&T, January 1883, 28.

4 S&T, January 1876, 44.

5 S&T, January 1876, 44.

6 S&T, May 1885, 238.

7 Ibid.

8 S&T, June 1878, 312

9 Spurgeon’s Expository Encyclopedia, [SEE] 5:449.

10 Ibid.

11 CHS, “The Blood of the Everlasting Covenant,” in Revival Year Sermons, 36; Spurgeon’s Sermons, [SS] 6:212. Spurgeon’s Sermons consists of twenty volumes published in America by Funk & Wagnall beginning in 1857. The last volume [20] consisted of a biography by G. Holden Pike, who eventually wrote a six volume biography of Spurgeon.

12 SS, 6:215.

13 Ibid.

14 Ibid.

15 SS, 2:173.

16 SS, 2:173-74.

17 SS, 6:216.

18 SS, 4:97.

19 Ibid.

20 SS, 4:98.

21 New Park Street Pulpit, 1859, 417ff.; SS, 1:216-17.

22 SS, 4:65.

23 SS, 4:65.

24 SS, 4:67.

25 SS, 2: 395.

26 SS, 2:402.

27 S&T August 1865, 351.

28 Ibid.

29 Ibid., 352.

30 Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, [MTP] 1871, 133f.

31 MTP, 1871:134.

32 Ibid.

33 Ibid.

34 Ibid., 135.


Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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