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The Doctrine of Election in Its Place

The second of four “Lessons from the Conflict” with the Hyper-Calvinists of Spurgeon’s day:


This controversy brings out the danger which is created when biblical truths are constantly presented to the non-Christian in the wrong order. Spurgeon believed all the truths commonly called Calvinistic but he did not believe that all the truths commonly so designated had to be presented to sinners in order to their conversion. As noted, he wanted to see both divine sovereignty and human responsibility. The tendency of Hyper-Calvinism was to make sinners want to understand theology before they could believe in Christ, as though “they cannot be saved until they are theologians.” But the non-Christian can hear “the soul and marrow of the gospel’, that is, Christ as the Savior, and see his responsibility to repent and believe, without understanding “the doctrines commonly called Calvinistic’. It is with his responsibility, says Spurgeon, that “the sinner has the most to do’, whereas God’s predestining grace is the subject of with which “the saint has most to do. Let him praise the free and sovereign grace of God, and bless his name’.

In so thinking Spurgeon was surely siding with what the wisest preachers in the church had always taught. While Reformed Confessions may begin with statements on the doctrine of God and divine decrees, that is not where preachers and teachers need to begin in addressing men about salvation. In the apostolic teaching to the lost, recorded in the book of Acts, nothing is said of the doctrine of election, while in the Epistles “it is scarcely ever omitted’. In accordance with his approach, Calvin, in the later editions of his Institutes, moved his treatment of election to follow teaching on justification. He recognized that Scripture generally introduces the doctrine of election to show believers the security and certainty of their salvation and to make clear who made them to differ. But when election is constantly introduced as a preliminary to hearing the gospel it inevitably comes to be seen as though it were designed to limit or obstruct the salvation of men and women. No one put this point better than John Bradford, the English reformer, whose words were often quoted by Whitefield, “let a man go to the grammar school of faith and repentance, before he goes to the university of election and predestination.”

It ought not to be the business of the evangelist to teach God’s decrees to the unconverted. It is certainly God’s decree of salvation which is fulfilled in conversion but knowledge of that decree is no part of saving faith. As Crawford says, God’s decrees are his fixed purposes and his “secret designs for the regulation of his own procedure; but they are not rules of laws prescribed for the guidance of others . . . The doctrine of election is not to be regarded as what an apostle calls “milk that babes have need of,” but as the “strong meat that belongs to them who are of full age.” It ought not, therefore, to be prefixed to the calls of the Gospel, or placed in the fore-front of the calls and invitations which are therein addressed without restriction to all sinners. When so placed, it is apt to perplex and disquiet humble souls . . . No man can be of the number of the elect if he utterly neglects the appointed means of salvation; and no man can be of the number of the non-elect if he truly repents and unfiegnedly believes the Gospel. The salvation of a sinner is actually brought to pass, according to the plainest declarations of the Holy Scripture, in the way of faith and repentance, and no otherwise.”

—Iain Murray, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism (Banner of Truth, 2002), 114–117.

Posted 2009·12·16 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Charles Spurgeon · Church History · Iain Murray · John Bradford · John Calvin · Soteriology & the Gospel · Spurgeon v Hyper-Calvinism · T J Crawford

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