November 9, 2008

Iain Murray on Spurgeon, Hyper-Calvinism and God's Saving Will

These quotations lead us on to the fourth and perhaps the most serious difference of all between evangelical Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism.

Hyper-Calvinism and the Love of God

Spurgeon saw that behind the distortion of predestination, and the unwillingness to believe that the gospel invitations are to be addressed freely to all men, lay a failure to understand what Scripture reveals about the character of God himself. If God has chosen an elect people, then, Hyper-Calvinism argued, he can have no desire for the salvation of any others and to speak as though he had, is to deny the particularity of grace. Of course, Hyper-Calvinists accepted that the gospel be preached to all, but they denied that such preaching was intended to demonstrate any love on the part of God for all, or any invitation to all to receive mercy. On the contrary, they taught that no man has any right to trust in a loving God until he has first some personal evidence that he is one of the chosen.

A sermon of 1858 which Spurgeon preached on 'Sovereign Grace and Man's Responsibility' identified this crucial difference with Hyper-Calvinism. He took for his text the words of God quoted by Paul in Romans 10:20-21, 'I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me. But to Israel he saith, all day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.' In such words Spurgeon saw the proof that God can be said to desire the salvation even of those who persist in rejecting him:

'Lost sinners who sit under the sound of the gospel are not lost for the want of the most affectionate invitation. God says he stretches out his hands ... What did he wish them to come for? Why, to be saved. "No," says one, "it was for temporal mercies." Not so, my friend; the verse before is concerning spiritual mercies, and so is this one, for they refer to the same thing. Now, was God sincere in his offer? God forgive the man who dares to say he was not. God is undoubtedly sincere in every act he did. He sent his prophets, he entreated the people of Israel to lay hold on spiritual things, but they would not, and though he stretched out his hands all the day long, yet they were "a disobedient and gainsaying people" and would not have his love.'1

Spurgeon regarded the denial of God's desire for the salvation of all men as no mere theoretical mistake. For it converged with one of the greatest obstacles to faith on the part of the unconverted, that is to say, a wrong view of the character of God. Men 'imagine that God is a severe being, angry and fierce, very easily moved to wrath, but not so easily to be induced to love.' The truth of divine love is the last to enter men's heads. Because Hyper-Calvinism is wrong here it fails to disabuse the minds of fallen men of this error. It does not give men the warning to be found in such evangelical Calvinists as John Owen who counseled, 'Let us not entangle our own spirits by limiting his grace ... We are apt to think that we are very willing to have forgiveness, but that God is unwilling to bestow it.' Scripture, Owen continued, sets forth the contrary in order 'to root out all the secret reserves of unbelief concerning God's willingness to give mercy, grace, and pardon unto sinners ... Therefore, the tendency of our former argument is, not merely to prove that there is forgiveness with God, which we may believe and not be mistaken, but which we ought to believe; it is our duty to do so. We are expressly commanded to believe, and that upon the highest promises and under the greatest penalties.'
1. NPSP, vol. 4, p. 341. As John Murray and Ned B. Stonehouse observe, 'It would appear that the real point in dispute in connection with the free offer of the gospel is whether it can properly be said that God desires the salvation of all men.' See 'The Free Offer of the Gospel' in Collected Writings of John Murray (Banner of Truth, 1982), vol. 4, pp. 113–32.
Iain H. Murray, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2000), 88–91.

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