Editor’s Note:

The purpose of this series is to help Christians think through the doctrine of Scripture and provide practical guidance on not only how to read the Bible but to deal with objections and attacks on the Bible.

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Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s influence today is felt more than ever, as he is the most published Christian author in church history.[1] Helmut Thielicke helpfully points out the impact and influence of Spurgeon’s ministry when he notes that, “The fire Spurgeon kindled turned into a beacon that shone across the seas and down through generations, was no mere brush fire of sensationalism, but an inexhaustible blaze that glowed and burned on solid hearths and was fed by the wells of the eternal Word. Here was the miracle of a brush that burned with fire and yet was not consumed.”[2]

Dr. Albert Mohler explains that “the defining characteristic of Spurgeon’s ministry was an undiluted passion for the exposition and proclamation of God’s Word.”[3] Spurgeon’s influence is felt today because he was a man of the people, a man whose infectious love for the Lord Jesus Christ spilled over into all he wrote, said and did. Spurgeon’s influence won him many friends and many critics but it is undeniable that his influence is felt on evangelicalism today because of his passionate pursuit of proclaiming the glory and majesty of Christ in everything he said and wrote.

Spurgeon’s influence is still felt today in evangelicalism, because he was a man of conviction. Spurgeon did not seek after controversy but rather picked which battles he entered into with great care only choosing to enter into those battles which compromised the Christian faith. Spurgeon’s example is instructive to Christian ministry leaders as many supposed evangelicals today claim to follow in the line of evangelicalism, but do not have a high view of the Bible. If the story of Church history has taught evangelicals anything it should be that when a high view of Scripture is upheld then Jesus will be brought glory. The example of Spurgeon is especially important in this regard as he had a high view of God’s Word and of His Son Jesus Christ. Spurgeon proclaimed the Word of God in a time when truth was under attack, much like today, but did not compromise.

Dr. Albert Mohler explains “Spurgeon was a man, possessed by deep passion for the Word of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”[4] Spurgeon’s passion for the Word of God and the person of Jesus consumed all of his waking hours. Spurgeon’s conviction to preach the Word of God without compromise is needed among evangelicals today more than ever. In recent days some voices are calling for a “big-tent” evangelicalism that is more inclusive than exclusive. One voice, Dr. Roger Olson, teaches that “evangelicalism has no definable boundaries.”[5] He continues explaining that “evangelicalism is a broad tent that includes a great variety of people all facing toward the center.:[6] The problem with Dr. Olsen’s comment, as Dr. Mohler rightly notes is that “the center is not explained.”[7]

Dr. David Bebbington defines evangelicalism in four ways:

First conversion, or “the belief that lives need to be changed”; second, the Bible, or the ‘belief that all spiritual truth is to be found in its pages”; third, activism, or the dedication of all believers, including laypeople, to lives of service for God, especially as manifested in evangelism (spreading the good news) and mission (taking the gospel other societies); and finally, crucicentrism, or the conviction that Christ’s death was the crucial matter in providing atonement for sin (i.e. providing reconciliation between a holy God and sinful humans.)[8]

Dr. Roger Olson (in his explanation of big-tent evangelicalism) teaches that “those who defend inerrancy have not learned their lesson from history.”[9] The problem with this statement by Dr. Olson regarding inerrancy, as will be demonstrated in the following paragraphs, is that it is historically incorrect and misleading. Evangelicalism should not be defined broadly but rather narrowly by a high view of Scripture and the person and work of Jesus Christ.

“Affirming the total truthfulness, trustworthiness, and authority of the Bible is a first order-theological issue.”[10] Dr. Mohler notes that “first-level theological issues are most central and essential to the Christian faith.”[11] He continues explaining that:

“Without an unqualified confidence in the Bible as the revealed Word of God, the Christian Church is left without any means of knowing what the gospel is and what the Christians are to believe and teach. Without affirming biblical inerrancy, the Christian Church is left without any adequate way of expressing a confidence in the Bible’s truthfulness and trustworthiness.”[12]

The early church fathers to the 16th century Protestant Reformers across Europe, and up to the present day conservative evangelicals, have all affirmed verbal plenary inspiration, and inerrancy.

Clement of Rome (A.D. 80-100 taught, “You have looked closely into the Holy Scriptures, which are given through the Holy Spirit. You know that nothing unrighteous or falsified has been written in them.” (1 Clement, XLV. 2.3.) Augustine wrote to Jerome (A.D. 394), “It seems to me that most disastrous consequence to follow upon our believing anything false is found in the sacred books, that is to say, that the men by whom the Scriptures have been given to us, and committed in writing, did not put down in these books anything false.” (Cited by James Olive Buswell, Outlines of Theology, 24.)  Calvin thought of Scripture as “the sure and infallible record,” “the inerring standard,” “the pure Word of God,” “the infallible rule of His Holy Truth,” “free from every stain or defect,” “the inerring certainty,” “the certain and unerring rule,” “unerring light,” “infallible Word of God,” “has nothing belonging to man mixed with it,” “inviolable,” “infallible oracles.” Inerrancy was the view of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin, as well as of the entire church; inerrancy is the ‘central church tradition.” (John D. Hannah, ed., Inerrancy and the Church (Chicago: Moody, Press, 1984), ix.). The Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) was founded in 1949 and had a singular doctrinal statement at its founding that affirmed inerrancy: “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs. (“Evangelical Scholars Remove Robert Gundry for His Views on Matthew,” Christianity Today, February 3, 1984.)

The remark by Dr. Olson that, “Evangelicals who defend inerrancy have not learned their lesson” is untenable in light of the historical fact that the church fathers, the Reformers, and conservative evangelicals have all affirmed verbal plenary inspiration and inerrancy of the Word of God throughout the history of the Church.[13]

The attack on inerrancy is nothing new since it goes back to the 19th century during the time of Spurgeon. Spurgeon countered the attacks on the Word of God by stating, “Brethren, we shall not adjust our Bible to the age; but before we have done with it, by God’ grace, we shall adjust the age to the Bible.”[14]

Dr. Mohler writing on Spurgeon notes that “the famous preacher found himself engaged in several heated theological disputes and resisted any compromise on substitutionary atonement, the authority and inspiration of Scripture, eternal punishment for unbelievers, original sin, and the absoluteness of Christianity.”[15]

At the end of the day those who want to redefine evangelicalism and reshape it in their own mold do so at their own peril. Evangelicals today would be wise to follow the example of Spurgeon who stood on the Word of God and called his readers to “read not so much man’s comments, or man’s books, but read the Scriptures, and keep your faith on this, — “God said it.”[16]

Conclusion

The ministry of Spurgeon is instructive to Christians today because Spurgeon was a man aflame with the glory of the grace of God. Spurgeon made an impact because of his passion for and stance on evangelical truth, which he contended for, defended, and proclaimed with all of his might to the glory of God. Men of passion and conviction are needed in evangelicalism today, men who will contend, defend and proclaim the truth of substitutionary atonement, the authority and inspiration of Scripture, eternal punishment for unbelievers, original sin, and the absoluteness of Christianity.

Godly men of passion and conviction will be maligned and persecuted– as was Spurgeon, but they must follow the example of Jesus and men like Spurgeon who modeled for Pastors, ministry leaders, and believers how to stand firm in the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. While truth is under attack today on many fronts inside and outside the church, an even greater need and threat is arising from within its ranks, and that is found in the need of men to stand up and be counted.

Every generation of believers must determine if they are going to stand for biblical truth or lay down their swords and accept the lie of liberalism. While there is much to be commended in recent days in evangelicalism especially in the growing movement of Christians, ministries and churches that are discussing what is the gospel and its implications; there is still much to be alarmed about as many are questioning and casting aside the authority of the Word of God either through how they use the Bible, what they think about Adam being a historical person, or their stance on gender roles. This generation of believers will have to decide– as did Spurgeon– if they will stand on the Truth of the Word of God and lift up the Son of God among the nations, or whether they will lay down their sword and succumb to the lie of liberalism.

At the end of the day, Spurgeon was right “believers must never adjust the Bible to the age, but the age to the Bible.”[17] Believers have been given the Word of God not to speculate on, but to study, to mediate upon, contend for, defend and proclaim to the nations. The Word of God always stands in judgment of men never do men stand in judgment of it. This fact reveals the fundamental problem going on inside and outside the church by exposing as Spurgeon knew in his time that the issues of today are old issues rooted in who is authoritative, God or man. As with every generation before and everyone after it, the Truth of God’s Word will remain authoritative, unchanging and unrelenting as it seeks to lift high the name and glory of Jesus among the nations.

As the Word of God did its work in Spurgeon’s time so today evangelicals can be encouraged that the Word of God is sharper than any two edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). The Word of God is the means God uses by His Spirit to pierce the heart of the convinced atheist, rejecters like Judas, and deniers like Peter. Evangelicals today need to stand firm in the grace of God and the Word by looking to the example of men like Spurgeon and be encouraged that God by His grace is still working to bring people to Himself and build His church for His glory and praise.

 


[1] Eric W. Hayden. “Did You Know: A Collection of True and unusual facts about Charles Haddon Spurgeon.” Christian History, 10:1, #29, (February 1991).

[2] Helmut Thielicke, Encounter with Spurgeon, trans. John W. Doberstein (Cambridge, MA: James Clarke & Co., 1964) 1.

[3] Albert Mohler, He Is Not Silent: Preaching In A Postmodern World, (Chicago, Moody, 2008), 163.

[4] Albert Mohler, He Is Not Silent: Preaching In A Postmodern World, (Chicago, Moody, 2008), 163.

[5] Roger E. Olsen, “Postconservative Evangelicalism.” In Four Views On The Spectrum OF Evangelicalism, 163. Edited by Andrew David Naselli and Collin Hansen. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

[6] Roger E. Olsen, “Postconservative Evangelicalism.” In Four Views On The Spectrum OF Evangelicalism, 179. Edited by Andrew David Naselli and Collin Hansen. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

[7] Albert Mohler, “A Confessional Response to Postconservative Evangelicalism.” In Four Views On The Spectrum Of Evangelicalism, 196. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

[8] Mark. A. Noll, David W. Bebbington, George A. Rawlyk, eds. Evangelicalism: Comparative Studies in Popular Protestantism in North America, the British Isles, and Beyond, 1700-1990 (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

[9] Roger E. Olsen, “Postconservative Evangelicalism.” In Four Views On The Spectrum OF Evangelicalism, 182. Edited by Andrew David Naselli and Collin Hansen. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

[10] Albert Mohler , “Confessional Evangelicalism.” In Four Views On The Spectrum Of Evangelicalism, 91. Edited by Andrew David Naselli and Collin Hansen. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

[11] Albert Mohler , “Confessional Evangelicalism.” In Four Views On The Spectrum Of Evangelicalism, 78. Edited by Andrew David Naselli and Collin Hansen. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

[12] Albert Mohler , “Confessional Evangelicalism.” In Four Views On The Spectrum Of Evangelicalism, 91. Edited by Andrew David Naselli and Collin Hansen. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

[13]Clement of Rome (A.D. 80-100 taught, “You have looked closely into the Holy Scriptures, which are given through the Holy Spirit. You know that nothing unrighteous or falsified has been written in them.” (1 Clement, XLV. 2.3.) Augustine wrote to Jerome (A.D. 394), “It seems to me that most disastrous consequence to follow upon our believing anything false is found in the sacred books, that is to say, that the men by whom the Scriptures have been given to us, and committed in writing, did not put down in these books anything false.” (Cited by James Olive Buswell, Outlines of Theology, 24.)  Calvin thought of Scripture as “the sure and infallible record,” “the inerring standard,” “the pure Word of God,” “the infallible rule of His Holy Truth,” “free from every stain or defect,” “the inerring certainty,” “the certain and unerring rule,” “unerring light,” “infallible Word of God,” “has nothing belonging to man mixed with it,” “inviolable,” “infallible oracles.” Inerrancy was the view of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin, as well as of the entire church; inerrancy is the ‘central church tradition.” (John D. Hannah, ed., Inerrancy and the Church (Chicago: Moody, Press, 1984), ix.). The Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) was founded in 1949 and had a singular doctrinal statement at its founding that affirmed inerrancy: “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs. (“Evangelical Scholars Remove Robert Gundry for His Views on Matthew,” Christianity Today, February 3, 1984.)

[14] Charles Spurgeon, An All-Round Ministry: Addresses to Ministry and Students (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1906), 230.

[15] Albert Mohler, He Is Not Silent: Preaching In A Postmodern World, (Chicago, Moody, 2008), 167.

[16] Charles Spurgeon, From “The Plea of Faith,” The New Park Street Pulpit, Vol. 2 (London: Passmor and Alabaster, 1856), 273-280.

[17] Charles Spurgeon, An All-Around Ministry: Addresses to Ministers and Students (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1906), 230.