Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Was Spurgeon a Calvinist?

Was Spurgeon a Calvinist?It seems incredible that the question should be asked, given the amount of literature available on Spurgeon and the clear and repeated statements the man himself made. But last year, two of my friends – both able evangelists, neither of them with much time for Calvinism or Calvinists (and neither of them, I think, really understanding either) – both expressed their admiration for Spurgeon and ended by saying 'But of course he wasn't really a Calvinist.' It isn't a new charge, of course – many of Spurgeon's contemporary Calvinists said the same thing. What is different about my two friends is that it's non-Calvinists who are saying it; and it set me wondering why; why two men should think that about Spurgeon today. What I want to do in this brief article is look at the two different reasons these friends gave and for each one examine whether there is a misunderstanding of Calvinism involved. Then, in conclusion, I want to suggest some lessons that contemporary Calvinists may need to learn.

1. The reasons they gave
Evangelist number one told me that Spurgeon wasn't really a Calvinist because he was willing to say to a mixed congregation – believers and unbelievers – 'Christ died for you.' In context, this followed the statement 'Calvinists are not seeing people converted today because they are unwilling to say to their congregation "Christ died for you."' With this latter statement there are a number of problems; is it true that Calvinists are not seeing people converted today – or, at least, are seeing fewer people converted than non-Calvinists? It may be – but are there any statistics? (Let us leave aside the admittedly vital question, 'How do we judge true conversion?') And if it is true, how do we establish that it is because Calvinists are not saying 'Christ died for you' to unbelievers? Much more importantly, if the statement 'Christ died for you' is so vital to gospel preaching, how do we account for the plain fact that not one of the evangelists in the Acts of the Apostles ever used the phrase – or anything implying it – in any of their recorded sermons? My evangelist friend – one of the most gifted and able men I know – went quiet at this point; it had never occurred to him (such is the power of presuppositions – ours too, of course, not just 'theirs'!). 'Don't they?' he asked. And then 'What about Isaiah? "The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all."' What indeed? Isaiah of course is not a New Testament evangelist and an Old Testament sermon to a rebellious but covenant community cannot be applied willy-nilly in preaching to pagans. But, just in case any should doubt Isaiah's doctrine of the atonement, the prophet tells us 'He bore the sin of many,' and no Calvinist doubts that.
But what of Spurgeon? Without doubt, he did believe in the doctrine of limited atonement which, properly speaking, does make it impossible to say to a mixed crowd or to a particular unconverted sinner 'Christ died for you.' Then too, he did sometimes – in his closing appeals – seem to invite people to Christ on the basis that Christ had died for them. But, let it be said, not very often. It is equally true that he sometimes invited people to Christ in terms that made him sound like a hyper-Calvinist (A hyper-Calvinist, in the sense in which I am using the word here, believes that the warrant of faith is within the sinner himself; that is, an unconverted person may believe that the gospel promises are for him or her if and only if he or she finds certain qualifications in his or her own self.) It is certainly true that, much more often, Spurgeon invited folks to Christ in terms that did not compromise his Calvinism in either direction.
What then shall we say of the 'lapses'? It is possible, of course, that they are editorial additions, since we know that his secretary Joseph Harrold often edited the sermons and was solely responsible for their editing after Spurgeon died. It is possible, then – but not, I think, likely. In fact, it is much more likely to be quite the reverse: because Spurgeon edited most of his own sermons, we cannot say these phrases were uttered incautiously in the heat of the moment, or taken down wrongly by stenographers. When Spurgeon himself reviewed the manuscript, he let the phrases stand. Why? Surely it is because the preacher was too concerned that sinners be commanded, invited and encouraged to come to Christ in terms that they could understand to worry about possible misunderstandings that people might read into his words? In this, he followed the apostle John – John 3:16, 1 John 2:2 for example.

When evangelist number two expressed his convictions about Spurgeon, I asked him to justify it, and he attempted to do so by referring to a sermon of Spurgeon's on Matthew 23:37 (Volume 45.2630). In the introduction to this sermon Spurgeon – obviously aware that his interpretation will be regarded by some as non-Calvinist, says 'I have long been content to take God’s Word just as I find it.' That, thinks my friend, proves that Spurgeon is not a Calvinist, or at least not a proper one, for he has not come to this scripture with his theology as a mould into which it must fit! Indeed, Spurgeon goes on '…and when, at any time, I have been accused of contradicting myself through keeping to my text, I have always felt perfectly safe about that matter. The last thing I care about is being consistent with myself. Why should I be anxious about that? I would rather be consistent with Christ fifty times over, or be consistent with the Word of God; but as to being for ever consistent with oneself, it might turn out that one was consistently wrong, consistently narrow-minded, and consistently unwilling to believe what God would teach. So we will just take the text as we find it; and it seems to say to me that, if Jerusalem was not saved,— if her children were not gathered together in safety as a brood of chickens is gathered beneath the hen,— if
Christ did not gather them, and protect them, it was not because there was any unwillingness on his part. There was always a willingness in his heart to bless Jerusalem, and, therefore he could truly say, “How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings!” From this utterance of our Lord, I learn that, if any man be not saved, the cause of his non-salvation does not lie in any want of graciousness or want of willingness on the part of God. They who dare to say that it does, venture very far, and are very audacious in their assertions. This text says the very opposite; and so far as it is applicable to the sons of men in general, it declares that God wills not the death of any, but desires that they should turn unto him and live.'

Now, anyone who thinks this does not represent true Calvinism has, I believe, made two vital errors. Those errors, I suspect, are our fault as much as theirs; but I will come to that. First, what are those errors?

The primary one is that Calvinists 'get their system' from somewhere other than Scripture and impose it on the sacred text. I guess we have to admit straight away that some have done and do do that! Many of us have winced at those who want to assure us that when Christ said 'God so loved the world' he meant 'God only loves the elect,' – as if the Saviour did not have the vocabulary to express his meaning properly. But we also have to say that this is not true Biblical, evangelical Calvinism; however well-meaning, and however great its pedigree, it is a perversion. And it's a perversion that is at least as dangerous as Arminianism. By contrast, we would want to insist that the Scriptures alone are our authority; that our Calvinism is clearly taught in the Scriptures; that responsible and careful exegesis of all the Biblical data drives us to our theology – and then to turn the tables on our friends by showing how they impose their own presuppositions and theology on the Scriptures. (For example, what else can we make of Mark 10:45 – the Son of Man came to give his life a ransom for many – other than that the Saviour did not mean 'for all' or he would have said 'for all'?) The Scripture drives and controls our theology, not the reverse. If we are not faithful to the Scriptures – and to all the Scriptures – then let it be shown and we will recant. But (we need to warn our friends) take care; just as we do not abandon our belief in the deity of Christ when heretics point us to 1 Timothy 2:5 ('the man Christ Jesus') so we will not abandon our particular atonement when Christian friends show us (as if we have never seen it!) 1 John 2:2 ('he is the propitiation… for the sins of the whole world'). The cases are exactly parallel; in neither case are we surprised by the text, in neither case do we impose our theology on the text and in neither case is our theology challenged by a proper understanding of the text.

The second error is to think that Calvinists believe that God does not desire the salvation of all. Perhaps there are some (undoubtedly there are some) who call themselves Calvinists who believe this; once again, however, that is not the essence of Calvinism. Calvinists well know that God takes no pleasure in the death of a sinner, but rather than he should turn and live (Ezekiel 33:11); we know it, and rejoice in it. But faced with all the Scriptural data we see the need to make a distinction between the desire of God and the purpose of God. Plainly, not everyone is saved. Either then God does not have the power to save everyone (which makes God less than God and controverts plain Scriptures ) OR it is not God's purpose that everyone be saved. It is his will, but not his purpose. WHY should God's will be different from his purpose? Who knows? As Bunyan said on another issue, 'Where Scripture has no tongue I have no ears.' We are not told why and it is pointless to speculate; so we maintain both truths – not in tension, but in joy. The tension is only in the minds of those who lament our inconsistency!

2. Contemporary Calvinism is not like Spurgeon's.
But I said earlier that, if our non-Calvinist friends hold these errors it is probably our fault as well as theirs. We may want to say 'Hodge and Warfield and a thousand other Reformed theologians will put you straight if you but read them!' But it is not enough; they are reading us, and see not nearly enough to attract them. May I suggest two major errors of which we need to repent?

Firstly, we do not have the passion for the lost that we should have. That's been said often enough, and it's true. No-one looking at Spurgeon or at Whitefield could deduce that their theology made them cold, or ineffective evangelists. But our Calvinism is not like theirs in at least one important respect: many of us are more in love with our theology than we ever have been with souls. Many of us are more concerned with how other Calvinists see us, or with what Spurgeon called 'a foolish consistency' than we are with reaching the lost. Both Spurgeon and Whitefield preached in ways and did things which caused other Calvinists to question their theology; but we are too careful for that. Perhaps we value our welcome at the Leicester Conference far too much to do anything which might raise eyebrows, still less save souls! Both Spurgeon and Whitefield were different; they were innovative, adventurous and careless about their own reputations. When we are the same, others will have far fewer grounds for hating Calvinism.

Secondly – less importantly but not to be forgotten – we need to be more obviously people of the book. Until we know our Calvinism well and can defend it from Scripture alone; until we know what the most likely objections are and can answer them from the Scriptures alone let us not presume to teach others. Many of us can remember those heady days when first we glimpsed those doctrines of grace, and yearned that others should know them too. And that is right, surely. But immature zeal can do great damage – and anyway, reaching the lost is always more important.

Another note to self

I need to try a few times before I have confidence to start using this blog again!

Note to self

I seem to have gained entry to my own blog on the iPad, using Safari and

Tuesday, April 05, 2016


I seem to have managed to get in to my old blog... we'll see!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Preachers and Pop-Stars

Donald Macleod in the November 'Evangelicals Now' complains about New Calvinist preachers dressing like pop stars. (He says 'dressed as pop stars.')  I've been wondering who he means?

John Piper, perhaps, and...

...Elvis Presley?
Or maybe he means
Thabiti Anyabwile

and Michael Jackson?

Surely not! 
Oh, wait - I know:
Donald Macleod
Frank Sinatra

Thursday, October 02, 2014

John Newton - need for personal revival

Do you ask how it is with me?  Just as the weather is this morning.  My heart is cold as the snow under foot, and cloudy as the sky over my head.  Not a beam of sunshine, but it is a mercy to have daylight.  It will not be always winter, though it has been a long winter with me.  We want a revival at Olney both for the shepherd and the sheep.  Yet my mouth is not stopped.  I can sometimes talk loud and look big in the pulpit, but how different a creature am I behind the scenes!  Enter not into judgment with thy servant, O Lord!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Hmm. I'm having trouble making new posts here. When it's sorted, I hope to be back!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


I've always had my spiritual heroes, from the first days of my conversion.

My first hero was undoubtedly the amazing Jim Elliot who died in 1956.  His journals are still worth reading by every young person - the abbreviated version is Shadow of the Almighty.

Later, I developed a love for Spurgeon, and for Lloyd-Jones.  These men became my heroes; and as I began to preach, I tried to imitate these giants.  (I still do.)

And then, after that, I developed a respect and gave 'hero status' to many lesser men - those pastor/preachers who are never 'mightily used by God', never speak at conferences, never write books, never see their churches grow dramatically - but they remain faithful.  They remain at their posts.  Often, they have to do secular work alongside their ministry, just to survive.  They are heroes.

Most recently, I've begun to recognise another class.  I referred to them in last Sunday evening's sermon on Godly Ambition.  This is how I closed the sermon:

I have my heroes; Jim Elliott, missionary to the Aucas in Ecuador, martyred in the fifties as a young man.  Lloyd-Jones, standing firm for preaching and the gospel in a compromising age.  Spurgeon, who is still known as ‘prince of preachers’ and who reached thousands of the lost, built an orphanage, started a seminary… and so on.

But increasingly, my heroes are men like some of our own elders and Board members - and I say it in their presence.  Men who work hard and have the respect of their co-workers; men who serve the Lord at work and at church and in their families.  Men who really are ‘sold out for Jesus’ - but never make a fuss about it.  And when I pray for them - and I do - I pray ‘Lord, let me be like them.’  It’s my ambition.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Stuart Olyott on James Haldane and the greatness if the gospel

James Haldane went to Morocco and after years he became a scholar of the Koran and of Arabic languages and dialects. For 39 years he visited a thousand villages and evangelised them thoroughly, and when he got back to the UK how many converts did he know as the fruit of his ministry? Not one. What a godly man he was who had seen the massiveness of the gospel. Isaiah humbly asks, "Lord how long?" Until there is "the holy seed which will be a stump in the land". 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

I wish I could preach...

... and here's the helpful Stuart Olyott telling me how.  Lots of good advice.  If only I'd listened...

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Why men become paedobaptists...

A link on Conrad Mbewe's blog lead me to a fascinating interview with Paul Levy of the International Presbyterian Church in London.  I almost know Paul; I've met him, I know his brother Steve and I read a fair bit of the stuff Paul writes.

Now Paul grew up in a Baptist home in South Wales.  His Dad's a Baptist.  His brother's a Baptist.  Paul is a Presbyterian.  What went wrong?

This interview confirmed for me again something I've noticed before, and it's always true.  If you ask a man (or woman, though I don't think I ever have) why he (or she) became a Baptist, his answer will start something like this: 'The more I read the Bible...'  But if you ask a paedobaptist why he (she?)  became p/b, they will always start something like this: 'I read this book on the covenants...'  In Paul's case, it was Palmer Robertson's book, and then Schaeffer 'tipped him over'.

Nobody ever, it seems, becomes a paedobaptist through reading the Bible.  Interesting, that.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Preaching and 'different types of learning'

I'm reproducing these posts from the Ref21 folks, completely without permission, but I don't think they'll mind.  The issue is so important it needs to be as widely aired as possible; and it may be that one of my readers (or, indeed, both of them) don't see Ref21:

Posted: 04 Feb 2014 07:52 AM PST
Todd wrote a great piece challenging Donald Miller's recent post, excusing why he doesn't go to church. It just so happens that science wouldn't agree with Miller's argument either.
In his post, Miller bluntly expresses, "So to be brutally honest, I don't learn much about God hearing a sermon," claiming, "I've studied psychology and education reform long enough to know a traditional lecture isn't for everybody." And then Miller educates us, "Research suggest there are three learning styles, auditory (hearing) visual (seeing) and kinesthetic (doing) and I'm a kinesthetic learner."

Does it? Not according to Popular Science. In an article Everything You've Been Told About How You Learn Is A Lie, Shaunacy Ferro reveals, "Many of the theories of 'brain-based' education, a method of instruction supposedly based on neuroscience, have been largely debunked by rigorous science. Brain-based education studies are usually poorly designed and badly controlled. Nevertheless, myths about how we learn persist in the popular imagination, and, most importantly, in educational materials and references for teachers."
It turns out that teaching to particular learning styles does not improve learning. And there is no good research that proves that it is more difficult for students to be educated outside of their so-called learning style. Of course, Todd addresses the fact that going to church is not a me-centered activity, and that we don't assemble together merely to improve our spiritual education by connecting to God on our own terms. He reminds us, "Worship is not about my 'connecting with God.' Worship is about my giving God his due in the ways that he has prescribed in his Word."

Interestingly, God has determined that all of us share in a particular so-called learning style when it comes to spiritual growth. He has prescribed a means to bless his people in Christ, the preached Word and the sacraments. And so we have Jesus declaring in the Great Commission how he will grow his kingdom:

And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matt. 28:18-20)

And we see this very thing in Acts 2:42:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

You see, learning my own way isn't good enough. I need to be changed. And it is the power of God's Word that does that in the means that he has prescribed. To echo Todd again, "What is more, in Christ we do not have to find ways to connect with God. God has connected to us through Christ!" Let us not refuse the Father's generosity to bless us in the Son, who is much more than a learning style. He is worthy of our corporate worship, which is an eschatological event. It is a privilege to partake in the covenantal renewal ceremony, where we get a taste of the future breaking into the present. Like Miller, we all get caught up in our week of accomplishing and we slip into our default mode of thinking we are the ones who create meaning. But we are summoned to gather on Sunday, to be interrupted by our own thinking, stripped by the law of God, and clothed by his gospel grace. Only after this receiving Christ through his preached Word and the sacraments are we then sent out as salt and light.
Miller reasons that he connects with God elsewhere through his own means. God has condescended to connect with his people. I would say that it is imperative that we connect with God the way he has called us to in Christ. 

Posted: 03 Feb 2014 08:13 PM PST
church3.jpgI was saddened but not at all surprised to read Donald Miller's recent disclosure that he does not attend a church. I was sad because one cannot be a Christian and reject Christ's body, his bride, his building. Christians are made and grown in the body of Christ. I was not, however, surprised because this is an all too predictable trajectory for those within the emergent/neo-liberal wing of Protestantism.

I also admit to feeling sorry for Miller as I read his post. I am not trying to be condescending. He certainly does not need my pity. But pity him I do for his impoverishment of understanding of Christ and his church. As a result he is robbing himself of the very ways that God has promised to nourish him.

There are several things that came to mind as I read Miller's post:

1. Worship is not about finding a way of personally "connecting to God."
Miller writes, "I attended a church service that had, perhaps, the most talented worship team I've ever heard. I loved the music. But I loved it more for the music than the worship. As far as connecting with God goes, I wasn't feeling much of anything." Miller has gained a large following critiquing the church. But here he displays a juvenile understanding of the nature and purpose of worship. It is ironic that Miller embraces the same sorts of expectations that led to the rise of the consumer church which the emergent movement so strongly critiques. Worship is not about my "connecting with God." Worship is about my giving God his due in the ways that he has prescribed in his Word.

What is more, in Christ we do not have to find ways to connect with God. God has connected to us through Christ! The work has been done. Atonement has been made. Justice has been satisfied and now we are united to Christ through faith. "Connecting to God" is a less than helpful part of the lexicon of the new evangelicalism. It has as many definitions as there are people to use it.

2. I, Me, My
Miller's reflections are all about his personal preferences and experiences. Certainly there is a place for this to a certain extent. We want to be appropriately introspective. I am a bit of an introvert so I understand this. But nowhere does Miller attempt to talk back to his "me-centeredness." Indeed, he seems to indulge it. Personal preferences and learning styles seem to be the chief concern in determining whether or not he will be a part of the church or participate in worship with God's people.

3. The church can be identified.
The church is not an atmosphere. It is not some sort of universal principle. The church is a concrete and identifiable reality. However, Miller writes, "But I also believe the church is all around us, not to be confined by a specific tribe" (He invites us to tweet this). Why does he believe this? It is not taught in the Bible. So I can only guess that Miller has developed this theology of the church from his own personal preferences. It is true that the church is universal, consisting of all those throughout the world who profess faith in Jesus Christ. But we worship with, serve with, and grow with brothers and sisters in a local church. The epistles were written to local congregations. Most of the instructions to the church in the New Testament are applied to the church as she is known in local congregations. At the risk of sounding like a rube, I don't know what Miller means when he writes that "the church is all around us." I wonder if he even knows what he means.

4. The church is not primarily about my learning.
Throughout the post Miller assumes that Sunday gatherings are primarily about him learning something. And while we certainly assemble to hear the Word of God proclaimed, this is not simply to learn something. It is about worship. It is about building up our brothers and sisters. And it is about having our hearts shaped by the means God has ordained for this purpose. God uses the proclamation of the Word to produce faith in the unbelieving and holiness in his people.

The fact is, people have always preferred more kinesthetic ways of learning. The prophets were routinely ignored. Preaching was considered foolish in Paul's day. When man invents a religion it is generally weighted toward sense experiences and mysticism. But one of the distinguishing facets of biblical faith has always been its heavy reliance on words. God's exodus people hated this. They called on Aaron to make a God they could experience kinesthetically while Moses was on the mountain getting more words. When God creates, he speaks. When God reveals himself, he speaks. God has made his people to be an auditory lot. And he did this without consulting education theorists.

5. False choices
Miller writes some very helpful comments about the goodness of work as a means of enjoying God. Unfortunately he sees this as an alternative to worshiping with the body of Christ on the Lord's Day. The Reformed faith would be a great benefit for Miller in this for its robust doctrines of creation and vocation. It is the Reformers who reasserted the goodness of work as a means by which we glorify and enjoy God. But this is never to be seen as a replacement to our responsibility to gather with God's people.

6. What we believe about Scripture matters.
The issues Miller discusses are addressed in Scripture. The Bible tells us what worship is, what the church is, and what it means to be a part of the body of Christ. But Miller seems to give more weight to educational theory than he does to the Scriptures. In fact, at no point does he reflect on what God's Word teaches. Instead he makes reference to unspecified research about learning styles. Of course, there is really no surprise here. What happened in the now unhip emergent movement was simply rehashed, though less intelligent, Protestant Liberalism. When the doctrines of the Scripture's inerrancy and authority are discarded so too, in time, will everything else.

Miller suggests that God's people gathered together for praise, prayer and the proclamation of the Word is merely "the traditional church model." It's easy to dismiss something that is "traditional." It's even easier to dismiss a "model." What Miller does not seem to understand is that God has prescribed for his people to gather on the Lord's Day to sing, pray, give, receive the sacraments, and hear God's Word proclaimed. It is not mere model. Miller dismisses the revealed will of God for his church with a very simple wave of the hand.

I am not trying to pick on Donald Miller. I am concerned because he is an influencer. And what he is teaching about the church, the Scriptures, and obedience to God is dangerous. It is a prescription for spiritual demise. I am concerned because Donald's story will not end well if he continues to starve himself of the ways God has determined to feed his flock.

"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." (Hebrews 10:23-25 ESV)

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God."  (Colossians 3:16 ESV)

"And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love." (Ephesians 4:11-16 ESV)

"And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved." (Acts 2:42-47 ESV)

Suggested Reading:
The Church by Edmund Clowney
The Glorious Body of Christ by R.B. Kuiper
The Enduring Community by Habig & Newsome
The Church by Mark Dever
On Being Presbyterian by Sean Michael Lucas
A Better Way by Michael Horton
Rhythms of Grace by Mike Cosper

Friday, October 18, 2013

Strange Fire...

It won't have escaped the attention of either of my readers that John MacArthur is hosting a conference on the Charismatic Movement this week, called 'Strange Fire'.  If you were in doubt, the title makes it clear that he's agin' it.  By the wonders of modern technology - and they truly are wonders - we can all watch the conference 'livestream' if we choose - though for those of us here in the UK, the timing is awkward with some sessions beginning at 3a.m. GMT.  (Having said that, Conrad Mbewe is speaking at 5pm GMT today - he's always worth watching.)

What's interesting to me, as a convinced cessationist, is the reaction of some really quite sane charismatic commentators: 'MacArthur shouldn't be doing this; he's dividing the body of Christ.'  Even Adrian Warnock thinks that.  (Adrian also quotes MacArthur while ignoring the context, and then defends himself for doing so.  Even worse, one man in his comments plays the race card!  Now we know that the charismatic movement is good - anybody who opposes it is like those who oppose racial equality.  Note to anybody that's interested: THE MOMENT anybody plays the race card in a debate that's nothing to do with race, I lose all interest.  It's like wearing a t-shirt that says 'I have no valid argument to make so shut yer face.')

It's interesting that when Charismatic churches (NFI, for example) and conferences hold meetings promoting charismatic theology, that seems to be a good thing.  But let anyone speak out against it, and that's a bad thing.  Are our charismatic friends becoming like some in the gay movement - wanting to stifle all debate, expecting all those who disagree to keep silent?  Surely not.  And yet...

The claims to renewed charismatic gifts in the church are either the biggest fraud to hit Christendom since infant baptism OR the greatest blessing to the church since apostolic days.  I've no doubt which; I hope MacArthur and his fellow contributors are careful to make a good case.

One of my regular readers (hi, Martin, how are you doing?) thinks I give far too much attention to charismatic issues on this blog.  He suspects that it's evidence I'm a repressed charismatic!  (Funny - that's another tactic the gays tend to use...)  Not repressed, brethren - recovering is the word.  So, just in order to keep him happy - I'm working on a little series.  Watch this space. 

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Spurgeon Preaching to Persuade

Barry King

Dear Preacher of the Gospel,

Before you let your 'native reserve', 'cultural sensitivity' or even your 'theological position' keep you from earnestly imploring sinners to repent and believe the gospel today, please, I urge you, consider the words of Mr Spurgeon who preached thusly: 

"We need a Baxter to bring men to immediate decision—Baxter with weeping eyes and burning heart—Baxter who says, “I will go down on my knees to entreat you to think upon eternal things.” Baxter, who cries and groans for men till they cry and groan for themselves! Why will you die? Why will you let that fatal procrastination kill you? Why will you put off seeking the Saviour until your day is over? Why will you still waste the candle which is so short? Why will you let the day go when the sun already dips beneath the horizon? By the shortness of time, by the sureness of death, by the certainty of eternal judgment, I beseech you to fly to Jesus and to fly to Jesus now."

May many come to Christ through your preaching today.

Warmly in the Saviour,
Barry King

Barry's words are used with his kind permission; and he sent me the link for the Spurgeon sermon, 

Have you ever heard anyone plead with a congregation like that?  And - not withstanding Barry's opening remarks - would it be culturally appropriate in the UK today?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Better than life

It's been a bit quiet round here lately.  It's not that I've more work to do than I used to have; it's just that it takes me longer to do it.  However, by the kind kindness of one of the Editors of the Evangelical Magazine of Wales (one of the very best Christian periodicals in the UK), I have permission to post some of the articles I've written for them over the years.  That should at least get us started: here's the first, 'Better than life'.

Better than life

'Life is good.'  I was browsing recently through the 'Friends Reunited' website, catching up on what has happened to some of my old friends.  After nearly thirty years, it's fascinating.  Some are living in far-flung parts of the world; others have been there and come back.  Some have suffered great illness or tragic bereavement.  Several seem to making a real success of their careers but are not nearly so successful in their personal lives.  But the comment that sticks most in my mind is the girl that said 'life is good.'  Even in our bleakest moments, most of us would admit to finding life better than the prospect of death; I'm reminded of Maurice Chevalier who when asked his reaction to growing old said 'I prefer it to the alternative!'  But there is something that is better; better by far than even the most comfortable of lives: 'Your lovingkindness is better than life,' said David the psalmist (Psalm 63:3).  It is a staggering claim, and David makes it in the full knowledge that his life is in danger as he flees from King Saul, who was determined to kill him.

David is not on his own.  Centuries later, another servant of God is in danger and makes a similar claim.  This time it is the apostle Paul, in prison for his faith and facing possible death.  If he were to be given the choice to live or die, he says, he would hardly know which one to choose, because 'for to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain' (Philippians 1.21).

It is not just the great saints who feel like this: ordinary New Testament believers, we are told, 'joyfully accepted the confiscation of [their] property' (Hebrews 10.34).  Why did they do this?  'Because [they] knew that [they] had better and lasting possessions.' For the same reason, believers accepted suffering and rejoiced in it (Romans 5:3) – even when it led to martyrdom.  It is one of the best kept secrets in the world: knowing God, knowing his love poured out in our hearts, is the very best thing that the life can offer.  There may be great costs to being a Christian: sin has to be turned from, ambitions may have to change.  Suffering and rejection may come.  But all these things have been found by Christian people to be as nothing: not just (just!) because of the peace that having sins forgiven brings, and not even because of the assurance of heaven.  Rather, it is because of the joy of knowing God himself.  'Your lovingkindness is better than life.'

Raymond Lull

Raymond Lull was the first missionary to the Moslems – he was born in 1235.  In 1314, as a man of almost 79,  his love for Christ was burning brighter than ever.  He returned quite deliberately to an area of North Africa where he had preached as a younger man and known much danger. For nearly a year, he laboured secretly among the little circle of converts that he had won over previously to the Christian faith.  Then, weary of seclusion, he stood in an open market where once he had been chased out, and proclaimed Christ knowing full well that it would cost him his life. Filled with fury at his boldness, his hearers dragged out of town and stoned him to death on 30th of June 1315.  Why did he do such a thing?  'Your lovingkindness is better than life.'

Devotion like that can only come from an appreciation of the love of Christ, and there are many such stories, even in our own day.  John Piper quotes the story of a man from Haiti, named Edmund.  His church was having a special offering, and one envelope contained $13 cash – equivalent to three months' income for a working man and at least as striking,  therefore, as a three or four thousand pound gift would be in our own land.  One of the church leaders, knowing or guessing where the gift had come from, looked round for Edmund in the meeting but could not see him.  Later, though, he met him in the village and discovered that he had sold his horse to raise the $13.  'But why didn't you come to the meeting?'  he asked.  Edmund hesitated, and at first would not answer.  Finally, though, he admitted 'I had no shirt to wear.'  Why would a poor man – too poor to clothe himself properly – make such a gift?  'Your lovingkindness is better than life.'

In the light of this verse and those stories, there are two things that need to be said.

The first is that too many of us Christians today live at far too low a level.  Somehow, though we know God and rejoice in the forgiveness of sins, we have allowed ourselves to be seduced again by the world.  Perhaps we can say 'to die is gain' but we have grown to love the things God has given us in this world more than we love the giver.  We could not take joyfully the confiscation of our property.  We find it hard to make sacrifices, even for the sake of the gospel.  We have grown used to giving our tithe – surely it's enough?  And when the church has special needs, we will dip a little – a very little – deeper into our pockets to help.  And as a result of our worldliness, the Holy Spirit is grieved.  Our Christian experience is impoverished, our Christian witness is poor.  And the cause of the gospel languishes.  Only a radical re-thinking of our priorities followed by radical action will make any difference.  'My heart says of you 'Seek his face.'  Your face, Lord, will I seek.'

The second thing is addressed to those who do not know the Lord. Perhaps you're idly flicking through this magazine, wondering what Christianity is all about or why some people take it so seriously.  This is why: God made us for himself, that we might know him, love him and enjoy him.  He is infinite and eternal; there is therefore no limit to his goodness, to his power – and to his loveliness.  However hard we might try, the truth is we can never be satisfied with anything other than God himself.  As one old preacher said 'God made us for himself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in him.'  Our sin has separated us from God – and that single fact accounts for all the misery in the world, and all the misery in our hearts and lives, too.  But God gave his Son, Jesus, to die for us, so that we might be reconciled to God.  That is the gospel; that is the good news.  And those who turn to him find him to be great and gracious beyond words.  They begin to know him, and enjoy him – and look forward to heaven, where they will love him and know him without any barriers between.  Do not let anything else keep you away from him, and away from the heaven he offers.  'Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man that takes refuge in him' (Psalm 34:8).


Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Steps to renewal?

...surely clericalism as a leadership style is Spirit-quenching.  Clericalism, which on my analysis involves more persons than the ordained, is a sort of conspiracy between leaders and those led: the one party (it does not matter which) says 'all spiritual ministry should be left to the leader,' and the other party says, 'yes, that's right.'  Some leaders embrace clericalism because it gives them power; others, running scared, embrace it because they fear lest folk ministering alongside them should overshadow them, or because they feel incapable of handling an every-member-ministry situation.  But every-member ministry in the body of Christ is the New Testament pattern, and anything which obstructs or restricts it is an obstacle to a renewing visitation from God.  What does this suggest that leaders, and others, ought to do now?...

The first step, perhaps, to the renewal of the Christian people is that leaders should begin to repent of their too-ready acceptance of too-low levels of attainment both in themselves and in those whom they lead, and should learn to pray from their hearts the simple-sounding but totally demanding prayer in Edwin Orr's chorus: 'Send a revival - start the work in me.'
(J.I. Packer in 'Serving the People of God', page 83/84)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ah, me... (part 2)

If you prefer it in writing, here is Conrad Mbewe's modern-day parable:

Car keys are meant by the car designer to be used only in the ignition keyhole. You do not, in the name of human rights, insert them in any other opening on the dashboard or, worse still, in the exhaust pipe. It is only when we follow the mind of the car designer, and insert the keys in the ignition keyhole, that we can have a joyful and fruitful ride.

Kids playing in their parents’ car often insert keys anywhere. With their voices they mimic the roaring of the engine. With their hands on the steering wheel they gleefully bounce off the seats as if they are on a bumpy road, but they never bring back any groceries from their joyful rides. That is okay. It is kids’ stuff!

The leaders of the Church of Scotland are adults. Have they enquired from the Designer of human sexuality where to insert the keys in order to have a fruitful ride?

Ah, me...

Thursday, April 11, 2013

All I will say...

All I will say about the Late Lady Thatcher, copied unashamedly from the blog of Cranmer::

In the Commons, it was her friend Conor Burns who mingled just the right amount of personal recollection with her international political accomplishments. He paid moving tribute to The Great Lady from the very seat in Parliament where she made her maiden speech, and the place to which she returned after leaving No10. He ended with her own account of attending Mass at the Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw in 1993: 
Every nook and cranny was packed, and the choral singing of unfamiliar Polish hymns was all the more uplifting because I could not understand the verses. It forced me to try to imagine what the congregation was asking of God. Foreign though this experience was, it also gave me a comforting feeling that I was but one soul among many, in a fellowship of believers that crossed nations and denominations. When the priest rose to give the sermon, however, I had the sense that I had suddenly become the centre of attention. Heads turned and people smiled at me. As the priest began, someone translated his words. He recalled that during the dark days of Communism, they had been aware of voices from the outside world offering hope of a different and better life. The voices were many, often eloquent, and all were welcome to a people starved so long of truth as well as freedom. But Poles had come to identify with one voice in particular - my own. Even when that voice had been relayed through the distorting loudspeaker of the Soviet propaganda, they had heard through the distortions the message of truth and hope. Well, Communism had fallen, and a new democratic order had replaced it. But they had not fully felt the change, nor truly believed in its reality, until today, when they finally saw me in their own church. The priest finished his sermon, and the service continued. But the kindness of the priest and the parishioners had not been exhausted. At the end of Mass I was invited to stand in front of the altar. When I did so, lines of children presented me with little bouquets while their mothers and fathers applauded.

...Of course, no human mind, nor any conceivable computer, can calculate the sum total of my career in politics in terms of happiness, achievement and virtue. Nor, indeed, of their opposites. It follows, therefore, that the full accounting of how my political work affected the lives of others is something we will only know on Judgement Day. It is an awesome and unsettling thought. But it comforts me, that when I stand up to hear the verdict, I will at least have the people of the Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw in court as character witnesses.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

In the Pink

Some time ago in another place I voiced (a little tongue-in-cheek) the opinion that A.W. Pink may not have been genuinely converted.  I based this speculation on the fact that though he travelled the world, living on three continents, he could not find a single church that was worth joining – and this at a time when, for example, Lloyd-Jones was ministering in Westminster.  ‘They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us’ (1 John 2.19).  I used the analogy, I remember, of a ‘minister’ conducting adulterous affairs on several different continents and arrogantly defending his right to do so.  We would not consider a man who was so contemptuous of his wife and marriage vows to be a believer or, at very least, a man to be admired.  Why then are we so wimpy about a man who was so contemptuous of Christ’s bride?

Recently, Pyromaniac Dan Phillips weighed in with his critique of Pink and does it so much better than I.  Tom Chantry’s replies (several of them) in the ‘comments’ section are illuminating and worth reading, too but the rest of the comments – not so much.

Of course, I have no way of knowing the state of Pink’s heart, regenerate or not.  But let it be faced about professed Bible teachers who dismiss all of evangelicalism that does not agree with them on every jot and tittle.  Such men are not to be followed.  They are not to be supported.  They are not to be admired.  Their souls are in danger.

Let the reader understand.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Too far, this time

Many years ago I read a piece by Peter Masters reviewing IVP’s ‘New Bible Commentary Revised’ in which, among other things, he criticised it for its ‘liberal’ dating of the Exodus.  I checked the book to see who this nasty liberal was and discovered – to my surprise – that it was Hywel Jones, a man I knew and know.  Now, Dr Jones may (or may not) be wrong about the date of the Exodus, but he’s certainly no liberal.  That was the first indication I had of how naughty Masters can be when criticising others – it wasn’t (by any means) the last.

I was surprised when he criticised Iain Murray, in the eighties, for compromising the gospel. I was saddened, when Lloyd-Jones died, that he got no mention in ‘Sword and Trowel’ – in spite of his major influence on evangelicalism in the UK and on Peter Masters personally.  (Even today, the Met Tab bookshop website only lists two of Lloyd-Jones’ books – and on closer examination they turn out to be two editions of the same title (‘Why does God allow war?’).)  It’s somewhat amusing therefore, in a sardonic kind of way, that Masters positions himself as the faithful upholder of the Lloyd-Jones position. And I’ve been saddened to see him condemn men such as Carson and Piper and Macarthur, none of whom have escaped his lash.  None of them are beyond criticism – of course not.  But they all – to a man – are faithful evangelicals standing for truth in a compromised world.  Masters’ thesis, however, seems to be that everyone outside his own small group is somehow neo-liberal – and to see just how small his own group is, check out the names of speakers at their Summer School.  How many different names can you spot?  How many of the UK speakers have you ever actually heard of?

My regular reader will know that I have, from time to time (and very recently) blogged positively about PM and the Met Tab.  I commended his evangelistic preaching in the only article I’ve ever written for Banner of Truth.  I  have tried to uphold the view that – although he is unnecessarily narrow and critical in some areas – he is a man of God, blessed by God and should be recognised as such.  Some of my friends ‘cluck’ in amazement at my support for him, even though it has been limited.

Now, however, he has taken a step too far for me.  The Sword and Trowel’s publication of the vicious attack on WEST is just too much.  You can read it here  and read, also, on the WEST website, a response from 'a friendly third party'  here.  

I take leave to wonder whether such articles would ever be published if the author were not confident of the protection of 1 Corinthians 6 which prevents believers going to a secular court to settle differences  (Actually, I’m not sure it does – but that’s a different matter.)  WEST is an Evangelical, Reformed Bible College standing firm on a strong basis of faith.   Palgrave, however – without any shame – attempts to destroy the work of that seminary as she suggests that they are to be condemned because of imagined association with various heresies and heretics.  Well, you may read the articles for yourself.  You may, of course, decide that her international credibility lends weight to her criticisms.  Or you may never have heard of her.

And then, today, an email comes to me – and other FIEC pastors – from another internationally-known theologian, ‘Susan’.  In it she attacks the FIEC for its involvement with the ‘Explicit’ conference later this month.

What connection does this have with ‘the Tab’?  As far as I know, only that the talks linked to are given by Dr Ted Williams at a Tab Summer School. 

Now, regular reader, you will know that I’ve expressed serious concern about Mark Driscoll – which must mean I have some reservations about Acts 29.  You may even have read my review in Evangelicals Now of Matt Chandler’s book ‘The Explicit Gospel’ (Chandler is a major speaker at the ‘Explicit’ conference’) which ends ‘In summary: it’s a good book in many ways, but for me its flaws and flippancy make it one that I’m unlikely to use.’  And I haven’t always agreed with the FIEC, either.  But when Andy Paterson is quoted as saying "Everything I have seen and heard confirms that these men love the gospel, love the Saviour, love the Bible and would be regarded as orthodox, main-stream evangelicals. I would also commend to you the ‘Gospel Coalition’ website where Chandler plays a significant role alongside Carson, Keller and Piper"  I see no reason to doubt him.   

But what of their associations – the people they meet with, fellowship with?  ‘Susan’ comments ‘I cannot comment on the Cardiff speakers, they may well be sound, however their association with Acts 29 and others raise serious concerns.’  But she fails to notice that, also involved in the Gospel Coalition and speaking at one of its conferences, is Joel Beeke – a regular at the ‘Tab’ Summer School. (See here)  The same logic would see the Met Tab condemned for its association with Joel Beeke who is himself associated, through the Gospel Coalition, with the ‘New Calvinists’.

I am not saying, of course, that WEST, or the FIEC, or any of the men involved are beyond criticism or should not be questioned.  BUT - and it's a big BUT (that's why it's in capitals), there is all the difference in the world between 'Brethren, I think this conference, or this partnership, is a serious mistake and I urge you to reconsider it for the gospel's sake' and 'Oh, look: WEST has joined the ranks of the compromised too.  Come out from among them and be separate!'  Readers can judge for themselves which category Palgrave and Susan fall into.

I have little doubt (a little doubt, to be frank) that both of these ladies are genuinely and sincerely concerned for the truth.  Certainly, that’s a Biblical concern: ‘Earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints.’  At the same time, maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace is ALSO a Biblical concern – and there is none of that in these writings.

Perhaps it’s inevitable, in a fallen world, that we should all overplay one and downplay the other to some degree.  We have to learn to live with that.  But there are, I think, limits.  And that limit is now passed, in my opinion.  It is time for those who love truth AND gospel unity to show their disapproval of the Met Tab’s ongoing critical spirit by cancelling orders for Sword and Trowel and refusing to attend their Summer School, until these matters are put right.  But it won’t happen, for as Lloyd-Jones commented to TT Shields, ‘I’ve noticed that whenever dogs fight, a crowd gathers.’


Disclaimer: lest I be accused of hiding it, I admit to counting Jonathan Stephen and Andy Paterson as friends (I hope they don't mind) as well as faithful gospel ministers, and I am currently doing a course of study with WEST.  

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

He'd still 'rather have Jesus'

Bev Shea was 104 years old last Friday.  Converted aged 6, God has kept him for 98 years!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A tale of two tabernacles


Recently during our brief break in London, we faced the usual question of where to worship.  We settled on East London Tabernacle in the morning, and the MetropolitanTabernacle in the evening. 

East London Tabernacle

Where have all the preachers gone? Gone to America, every one… But here’s one who came the other way.  Ken Brownell is American, an able preacher, and the Pastor of ELT.  I was at LTS with him 30+ years ago, and he’s been at ELT almost ever since. 

Founded by Archibald Brown – one of Spurgeon’s friends – this church is close to Mile End tube station, and close to another church advertising ‘miracle service here every alternate Sunday…’, which struck me as singularly unambitious! 

The philosophy of the church is very much that of MBC I imagine: sound and reformed teaching, a mixture of old songs and new songs led by a good band and pianist.  The preaching – on Jeremiah 13:1-15 (the linen belt) – was certainly good – good clear headings that got to the point of the passage well and applied the passage to the church at ELT.  It did, I felt, lack that indefinable ‘punch’ though – perhaps because it is a difficult passage.  The church was very friendly and welcoming and we had several invitations to stay to lunch.

Metropolitan Tabernacle

The big decision for me was to attend the Met Tab in the evening – my regular reader will know that I have blogged about it, and its pastor, from time to time.  Dr Peter Masters has been pastor here for around 40 years – yes, honestly!  It’s about 36 years since I last visited on a Sunday and was keen to do so this time because – well, he can’t go on forever.

From my point of view the Met Tab does most of the unimportant things wrong, and does so by conviction.  They are VERY separated: the FIEC and even the Grace Baptists seem to be too compromised for PM.  He believes (edited: see comments) that only the AV should be used in public worship, only the organ should accompany the singing, no songs at all from a charismatic stable should ever be sung (the Tab have produced their own large but narrow hymn-book), people should dress in ‘Sunday best’ to come to church, God must be addressed as ‘thee’ and ‘thou’, never ‘you’ (PM calls it ‘the reverent tense’ which really bugs me: it’s not reverent and it’s certainly not a tense!) and so on.

It would be wrong though to say that ‘there are no concessions to anything modern’ – the building is large, light and airy for example – nothing gloomy about it.  All their literature is brilliantly produced, crisp and modern-looking and in full colour; a screen at the front carries a simultaneous transcript of the sermon (!) for a number of deaf folk who sit there, and there is also ‘signing’ for them, and simultaneous translation via headphones into Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and French - now that's impressive.  While in many respects it is old-fashioned (and I believe wrongly so), it is not ‘for the sake of it’ – where it is old-fashioned it is as a matter of principle.  Three out of the four songs sung that evening were Psalms, or psalm-settings.

There were around 400+ people there; the surprising thing to me was that between one-quarter and one-third (a guess, obviously) were young people – twenties or younger.  (Attendance in the mornings is, I was told, upwards of 700.)  Everything was very formal: all the sidesmen were in grey suits, as was the secretary who read the notices, (edited: see the comments) the men who took up the offering, the church leaders who accompanied Dr Masters from the vestry.  PM began the service with a solemn ‘Let us pray’ – on the stroke of 6.30.  Everything, from there, ran like a well-oiled machine. 

The preaching was very good indeed: PM always preaches evangelistically in the evening (Hooray!  Somebody ought to!), and on Sunday he was on the centurion (Luke 7:1-10) whose servant was healed.  PM’s points were breathtakingly simple – even obvious: 1. The centurion was awakened to his need.  2. He recognised his unworthiness.  3.  He realised the uniqueness of the Lord Jesus.  (If you’re interested, you can hear it or watch it by following the link here ( to ‘When spiritual need dawns’.)  Though PM began the service hoarse and looking rather pale and frail (he is well into his seventies) there was little sign of it when he preached.

This too was a friendly church; on my way to the door I was stopped twice (by men in grey suits!) who introduced themselves, chatted for a while, and were very welcoming.  Exactly the same, I remember, happened the last time I was there – they’re (rightly) determined not to let anyone out without someone speaking to them.

First-thought lessons:

  1. Strong convictions build a church (under the Holy Spirit – need I add that?)  PM is different from most, but he knows what he wants and why, his leaders seem to be united around that and the church has grown a multi-cultural and multi-age congregation.  It may be that (humanly speaking, this time) it is their very distinctiveness that has served to attract people.  Which brings me to…

  1. A church where everyone knows why they do what they do is likely to be a strong church; hence there’s a need not just for convictions but for communication. 

  1. Big men have big faults – I do think PM’s separatism has crossed the line (but see Romans 14.4).  Our faults, however, do not prevent God from working mightily.  (The Met Tab was more-or-less a dying church when PM went there.)

  1. It is possible, and important, to do things well.  The Holy Spirit does not require sloppiness and has not promised to bless it.  Everything that is done in church therefore, being done ‘as to the Lord’, can and should be done as well as possible – whether it’s music, stewarding, preaching/leading, upkeep of the buildings, Sunday School and so on.  The impression of competence is important, not least because it reinforces the belief that the service of God is important. 

  1. There are benefits to a long ministry – what one preacher called ‘a long obedience in the same direction’.  Of course there may be dangers, too – and perhaps PM’s failure, in his seventies, to have someone ‘in situ’ ready to take over will have disastrous consequences, as it did at Westminster Chapel.  But the benefits (provided it is a good, visionary ministry) surely outweigh the risk.