Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Historical (Biblical) Cessationism

The guys over at Team Pyro from time to time let it be known that they’re not all that enthusiastic about the charismatic movement, and this time Phil Johnson’s weighed in with a thoughtful piece on gullibility and faith. Inevitably, one of their correspondents came back with a quote from Spurgeon’s autobiography:

“While preaching in the hall, on one occasion, I deliberately pointed to a man in the midst of the crowd, and said, ‘There is a man sitting there, who is a shoemaker; he keeps his shop open on Sundays, it was open last Sabbath morning, he took ninepence, and there was fourpence profit out of it; his soul is sold to Satan for fourpence!’ A city missionary, when going his rounds, met with this man, and seeing that he was reading one of my sermons, he asked the question, ‘Do you know Mr. Spurgeon?’ ‘Yes,’ replied the man, ‘I have every reason to know him, I have been to hear him; and, under his preaching, by God’s grace I have become a new creature in Christ Jesus. Shall I tell you how it happened? I went to the Music Hall, and took my seat in the middle of the place; Mr. Spurgeon looked at me as if he knew me, and in his sermon he pointed to me, and told the congregation that I was a shoemaker, and that I kept my shop open on Sundays; and I did, sir. I should not have minded that; but he also said that I took ninepence the Sunday before, and that there was fourpence profit out of it. I did take ninepence that day, and fourpence was just the profit; but how he should know that, I could not tell. Then it struck me that it was God who had spoken to my soul through him, so I shut up my shop the next Sunday. At first, I was afraid to go again to hear him, lest he should tell the people more about me; but afterwards I went, and the Lord met with me, and saved my soul’… I could tell as many as a dozen similar cases in which I pointed at somebody in the hall without having the slightest knowledge of the person, or any idea that what I said was right, except that I believed I was moved by the Spirit to say it; and so striking has been my description, that the persons have gone away, and said to their friends, ‘Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did; beyond a doubt, he must have been sent of God to my soul, or else he could not have described me so exactly.’ And not only so, but I have known many instances in which the thoughts of men have been revealed from the pulpit. I have sometimes seen persons nudge their neighbours with their elbow, because they had got a smart hit, and they have been heard to say, when they were going out, ‘The preacher told us just what we said to one another when we went in at the door’”.

I recognise the quote, and it’s authentic; though I haven’t checked its accuracy it is just as I remember it. And it’s as I remember it from the Banner of Truth edition of the autobiography.

That’s interesting, isn’t it? Banner of Truth – a cessationist publisher if ever there was one. They edited the biography before publishing it: why didn’t they remove this quote, if it promotes a charismatic understanding? Integrity, perhaps? That could be it; but surely a footnote would be in order then, to prevent misunderstanding? Yet there is none: why not? I think it’s because the story does not run contrary to Banner’s own cessationism; it certainly doesn’t run contrary to mine.

What the brother giving the quote doesn’t tell us – and he couldn’t, because he doesn’t believe it – is that Spurgeon was a cessationist. I’m not documenting it: if you’re interested, go look – reading Spurgeon is always worthwhile in its own right.

Historically, cessationism doesn’t mean that God never does anything remarkable, or even miraculous. Take a look at the Westminster Confession, chapter 5, paragraph 3:

God, in his ordinary providence, maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at his pleasure.

What does that mean? God can ‘work without means’ or ‘above means’ or ‘against means’ if he chooses: he can work miracles. And note, not ‘he could, in days gone by’ but rather, in the present tense, ‘God… yet is free…’

Historic cessationists believe that. I don’t know if Phil and the team do, but I’d guess so.

What is cessationism?

It’s the belief that some, at least, of the miraculous gifts known in the early church were ‘signs of the apostles’ – 2 Corinthians 12:12. They were given to authenticate the ministry of the apostles; once the apostles had passed from the scene, there was no longer any need for such things, and they passed. We cessationists believe that in particular the gifts of tongues and of prophecy were temporary, and also believe that the New Testament itself indicates that this would be the case. It's the historic view of the church: cessationists may be in a minority now, but that's purely a recent phenomenon.

Do we pray for healing, even miraculous healing? Yes, and some of us have stories to tell. Those stories don't threaten our cessationism. But we are not impressed by the dishonest claims of many present-day ‘healers’, nor, generally, by the naïve claims of many sincere brethren. We’ve discovered, all too often, that when careful investigation is made, the evidence isn’t there.


Young Mr. Brown said...

"We cessationists believe that in particular the gifts of tongues and of prophecy were temporary"

The big problem that the continuationists have is that there are 17 or 18 centuries during which it seems very little was happening by way of tongues and prophecy.

There are groups and movements here and there - but most of them, on closer examination, don't seem to help the case.

One significant movement was that of the so called "French Prophets". There are interesting similarities with the modern charismatic movement.

The story is told by Hillel Schwartz in The French Prophets: The History of a Millenarian Group in Eighteenth Century England. It is now out of print, but available through Amazon.

You won't always agree with the opinions and analysis of Schwartz, but the history seems to be recounted accurately and fairly.

If you've not read it, it might be worth doing so. I think that it has a lot to say about the modern day charismatic movement.

Bob said...

The problem you have is people like me. Innocently praying one day and suddenly my words start coming out in a language I never studied. Incredible sense of the presence of God. Sorry you missed out.

Gary Benfold said...

No, Bob - you're wrong on every count. (Forgive a hurried reply; got back from a week away to a plethora of emails, but here we go...)
First, I didn't miss out - that was my experience too. Then I read the Bible...
Second, you make it clear that your authority for Christian behaviour is your own experience; mine is the Bible.
Third, I'd take bets (if I were a gambling man) that you didn't speak in a language you'd never studied at all - that is, earthly language. You'll have 'prayed' in the normal gobbledegook that passes for the Biblical gift of tongues in charismatic circles but IS NOTHING LIKE IT - again, (for the third time) your problem is the Bible. Incidentally, some Mormons, Buddhists and Muslims also 'pray' in this way...

THE reason some evangelicals are reluctant to call charismatics 'evangelicals' is just this: whenever we try and reason from the Bible, the charismatic responds 'but my experience...'

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