Thursday, May 21, 2015

Which Comes First New Birth or Faith: Thoughts on Spurgen - Part 2

In a previous post, I raised the question of Charles Spurgeon's views on effectual calling (often referred to as Irresistable Grace). Many non-Calvinists use the following quote to argue Spurgeon - a well-established and bold 5-Point Calvinists - denied the "i" in TULIP:
If I am to preach the faith in Christ to a man who is regenerated, then the man, being regenerated, is saved already, and it is an unnecessary and ridiculous thing for me to preach Christ to him, and bid him to believe in order to be saved when he is saved already, being regenerate. Am I only to preach faith to those who have it? Absurd, indeed! Is not this waiting till the man is cured and then bringing him the medicine? This is preaching Christ to the righteous and not to sinner.
So, according to Spurgeon, which comes first new birth or faith?

Before drawing any conclusions, let us look at some (though certainly not all) of the evidence. Let us consider what Spurgeon said elsewhere regarding the Holy Spirit, faith, regeneration, and Calvinism.

In his sermon entitled The Work of the Holy Spirit Spurgeon said the following:
The first thing, then, that God the Holy Spirit doth in the soul is, to regenerate it. We must always learn to distinguish between regeneration and conversion. A man may be converted a great many times in his life, but regenerated only once. Conversion is a thing which is caused by regeneration, but regeneration is the very first act of God the Spirit in the soul. "What," say you, "does regeneration come before conviction of sin?" most certainly; there could be no conviction in the dead sinner. Now, regeneration quickens the sinner, and makes him live. He is not competent to have true spiritual conviction worked in him until, first of all he has received life. It is true that one of the earliest developments of life is conviction of sin; but before any man can see his need of a Saviour he must be a living man; before he can really, I mean, in a spiritual position, in a saving, effectual manner, understand his own deep depravity, he must have eyes with which to see the depravity, he must have ears with which to hear the sentence of the law, he must have been quickened and made alive; otherwise he could not be capable of feeling, or seeing, or discerning at all. I believe, then, the first thing the Spirit does is this—he finds the sinner dead in sin, just where Adam left him; he breathes into him a divine influence. The sinner knows nothing about how it is done, nor do any of us understand it. "Thou understandest not the wind—it bloweth where it listeth;" but we see its effects. Now, none of us can tell how the Holy Spirit works in men. I doubt not there have been some who have sat in these pews, and in the middle of a sermon or in prayer, or singing—they knew not how it was—the Spirit of God was in their hearts; he had entered into their souls; they were no longer dead in sin, no longer without thought, without hope, without spiritual capacity, but they had begun to live. And I believe this work of regeneration, when it is done effectually—and God the Spirit would not do it without doing it effectually—is done mysteriously, often suddenly, and it is done in divers manners; but still it hath always this mark about it—that the man although he may not understand how it is done, feels that something is done. The what, the how, he doth not know; but he knows that something is done; and he now begins to think thoughts he never thought before; he begins to feel as he never felt before; he is brought into a new state, there is a change wrought in him—as if a dead post standing in the street were on a sudden to find itself possessed of a soul, and did hear the sound of the passing carriages, and listen to the words of the foot-passengers; there is something quite new about it. The fact is, the man has got a spirit; he never had one before; he was nothing but a body and a soul; but now, God has breathed into him the third great principle, the new life, the Spirit, and he has become a spiritual man. Now, he is not only capable of mental exercise, but of spiritual exercise; as, having a soul before, he could repent, he could believe, as a mere mental exercise; he could think thoughts of God, and have some desires after him; but he could not have one spiritual thought, nor one spiritual wish or desire, for he had no powers that could educe these things; but now, in regeneration, he has got something given to him, and being given, you soon see its effects. The man begins to feel that he is a sinner; why did he not feel that before? Ah, my brethren, he could not, he was not in a state to feel; he was a dead sinner; and though he used to tell you, and tell God, by way of compliment, that he was a sinner, he did not know anything about it. He said he was a sinner; yes, but he talked about being a sinner just as the blind man talks about the stars that be has never seen, as he talks about the light, the existence of which he would not know unless he were told of it; but now it is a deep reality. You may laugh at him, ye who have not been regenerated; but now he has got something that really puts him beyond your laughter. He begins to feel the exceeding weight and evil of transgression; his heart trembles, his very flesh quivers—in some cases the whole frame is affected. The man is sick by day and night; his flesh creepeth on his bones for fear; he cannot eat, his appetite fails him. He cannot bear the sound of melody and mirth; all his animal spirits are dried up. He cannot rejoice; he is unhappy, he is miserable. downcast, distressed; in some cases, almost ready to go mad; though in the majority of cases it takes a lighter phase, and there are the gentle whispers of the Spirit; but even then, the pangs and pains caused by regeneration, while the new life discovers the sin and evil of the past condition of the man are things that are not to be well described or mentioned without tears. This is all the work of the Spirit.
A few phrases from the above are worth highlighting. First, Spurgeon's emphasis on the "first work" of the Holy Spirit being regeneration is noteworthy. Secondly, "the phrase before any man can see his need of a Saviour he must be a living man" sounds like effectual call (in the same sentence, he uses the phrase "effectual manner").

Perhaps most notable is the following from above:
Now, he is not only capable of mental exercise, but of spiritual exercise; as, having a soul before, he could repent, he could believe, as a mere mental exercise; he could think thoughts of God, and have some desires after him; but he could not have one spiritual thought, nor one spiritual wish or desire, for he had no powers that could educe these things; but now, in regeneration, he has got something given to him, and being given, you soon see its effects.
This is Calvinism, plain and simple. Spurgeon is arguing that regeneration precedes faith.

Later in the sermon, Spurgeon adds:
And, my brethren, it is quite certain that no man ever begins the new birth himself. The work of salvation never was commenced by any man. God the Holy Spirit must commence it. Now, the reasons why no man ever commenced the work of grace in his own heart, is very plain and palpable. First, because he cannot; secondly, because he won't. The best reason of all is, because he cannot—he is dead. Well the dead may be made alive, but the dead cannot make themselves alive, for the dead can do nothing. Besides, the new thing to be created as yet hath no being. The uncreated cannot create. "Nay," but you say, "that man can create." Yes, can hell create heaven? Then sin may create grace. What! will you tell me that fallen human nature, that has come almost to a level with the brutes, is competent to rival God; that it can emulate the divinity in working as great marvels, and in imparting as divine a life as even God himself can give? It cannot. Besides, it is a creation; we are created anew in Christ Jesus. Let any man create a fly, and afterwards let him create a new heart in himself; until he hath done the less he cannot do the greater. Besides, no man will. If any man could convert himself, there is no man that would. If any man saith he would, if that be true, he is already converted; for the will to be converted is in great part conversion. The will to love God, the desire to be in unison with Christ, is not to be found in any man who hath not already been brought to be reconciled with God through the death of his Son. There may be a false desire, a desire grounded upon a misrepresentation of the truth; but a true desire after true salvation by the true Spirit, is a certain index that the salvation already is there in the germ and in the bud, and only needs time and grace to develope itself. But certain it is, that man neither can nor will, being on the one hand utterly impotent and dead, and on the other hand utterly depraved and unwilling; hating the change when he sees it in others, and most of all despising it in himself. Be certain, therefore, that God the Holy Spirit must begin, since none else can do so.
That last sentence is particularly noteworthy.

In yet another sermon, entitled The New Heart, Spurgeon preached the following:
To sanctify a man is the work of the whole life; but to give a man a new heart is the work of an instant. In one solitary second, swifter than the lightning flash, God can put a new heart into a man, and make him a new creature in Christ Jesus. You may be sitting where you are today as an enemy of God with a wicked heart, hard as a stone, and dead and cold; but if the Lord wills it, the living spark shall drop into your soul, and in that moment you will begin to tremble–begin to feel; you will confess your sin, and fly to Christ for mercy. Other parts of salvation are done gradually but regeneration is the instantaneous work of God’s sovereign, effectual, and irresistible grace.
Again, the last sentence is the language of a Calvinist. He specifically uses the terms divine "sovereignty," "effectual," and "irresistible grace."

The above evidence looks at only two sermons. We have several other resources to survey before drawing a clear conclusion, but no doubt we can already see that it is simply inaccurate to conclude, as many Arminians do, that Spurgeon denied effectual call.


See also
Which Comes First New Birth or Faith: Thoughts on Spurgen - Part 1

All Around the Web - May 21, 2015


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Trevin Wax - 10 Books to Read This Summer

Kevin DeYoung - Monday Morning Machine