May 29, 2006

Calvinism is the Gospel?

This quote by Spurgeon has appeared on internet discussion boards ad nauseam:
And what is the heresy of Arminianism but the addition of something to the work of the Redeemer? Every heresy, if brought to the touchstone, will discover itself here. I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else”—C H SPURGEON, Autobiography, Volume 1: The Early Years (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1981), 168.
Here's a recent comment of mine from a discussion board touching on the issue:
Spurgeon was not careful in his statement that "Calvinism is the gospel." Not all in the Calvinistic tradition would say that. They would say that what Dort teaches, or the five points (which the TULIP construct sloppily represents), is the logical entailment of gospel truths, as with the rest of the bible's theological teaching. The five points are a detailed reaction to the Remonstrant errors as it touches particular theological subjects. The men at DORT never meant to equate the gospel with the so-called "TULIP" points. They were just expressing what was consistent with the gospel in important areas concerning Theology Proper, Christology, Harmartiology, Anthropology, and Pneumatology, etc. One need not believe in TULIP in order to be saved. One must believe Christ as revealed in the gospel to be saved, and the genuine sanctification of a disciple will result in the bible's teaching about God's sovereignty as well. The gospel is not the TULIP (and even Dort is not to be equated with TULIP), but the gospel is consistent with, and therefore conceptually associated with, Dortian teaching. If you hear someone equating the two, you can be sure they are confused.
The gospel, according to Paul, concerns the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through faith in him and his work, one can be saved. God the Son, by the will of the Father, became man in order to suffer the curse of the law on behalf of sinful mankind and to rise again. Christ became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in him (i.e., through faith in him). This is the gospel simply stated.

Even though it is related to the truths touching God's secret will, the gospel is primarily concerned with God's revealed will. When we hear the gospel as lost sinners, we are not commanded to believe in special decrees concerning the elect. We are to believe that God is good to us (no matter who you are) through the Son, and that there is an adequate provision for our sins (no matter who you are, whether elect or not) in his blood. The eternal benefit of his work is obtained through faith in him. Therefore, God the Father commands and sincerely invites all sinners to come to him by means Christ alone on the basis of grace alone through faith alone, and no other way. This is his revealed or preceptive will.

It would be helpful if the promoters of Spurgeon's writings were willing to criticize him where he needs to be criticized, or at least try to clarify what he meant contextually. However, I have yet to see this from those who are constantly promoting him on the Internet. Spurgeon was an excellent man and preacher, but he was not careful in some of his statements and arguments. The above quote is just one example.

Update on 6-8-2020: See John MacArthur's explanation of what Spurgeon meant here (click).


Mathew Sims said...

Good point! Not all of what could be labeled Calvinism equals the gospel, and the gopel is not strictly speaking equal to the gospel.

I do not think one must believe Calvinism to be saved, of course, but a proper view of sin, salvation, and Christ as redeemer will help one to be so confused. From my experience (which is of course faliable) those who do not have a strong concept as Christ as their all in all (salvation, sanctification, et al) then also struggle with legalism and trying to earn God's favor.

Anyways, good thought!

MBS~Soli Deo Gloria

P.S. It's always good to meet a fellow calvinist who is also premil=)

Mathew Sims said...

Pardon the typos!

Aaron Mills said...

Hi Tony,

Surely you know that Spurgeon was preaching a sermon, and his hearers understood the point he was making (i.e. that the doctrines of grace known as "Calvinism" is a summary of biblical truth--not a man-made system). A preacher cannot make every qualification that may be needed to accurately define a doctrine when he's preaching (Spurgeon was not writing a position paper). If we look at this sermon in isolation from the rest of his work it may appear that his statement was "not careful", but we must consider the breadth of his ministry as well. The thrust of what he was saying is correct in the context in which he said it (preaching to his people Sunday by Sunday). Now I grant you that this quote may be misapplied by those mounting a defense of Calvinism, but I just wanted to defend Spurgeon here. I'm willing to criticize him too, by the way :-)

I haven't forgotten about our previous exchange, still reading and thinking and praying.....

--Jon Unyan

Tony Byrne said...

I just read this excellent comment by Dr. Tom Ascol:

“Granted, Spurgeon did say that Calvinism is the Gospel. But anyone who has read his sermons or books knows that by that he did not mean that simply articulating the 5 points is proclaiming the Gospel... When Calvinists quote Spurgeon on this it tends to confuse as much as clarify. As my own concerns over the loss of the Gospel in our churches has grown in recent years I have become more careful not to speak like this, and here is the reason why. I know of Calvinists who preach careful doctrine but who do not preach Christ so well. And the Gospel is all about Jesus Christ, who He is, what He has done and why that matters.”

Steve Costley said...

Hi Tony. Good comment about Spurgeon, and thanks very much for that comment by Ascol. I have used Spurgeon's quote myself in my younger days, though I would now be more careful to explain and clarify his comment.