As part of my DMin project, I am immersing myself in all things Spurgeon. I cannot tell you how much his sermons and writings have fed my soul and strengthened me toward holiness and my calling to preach.
The latest book I’m working through is Iain H. Murray’s Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism. Murray contends that this was Spurgeon’s first major controversy in his ministry at New Park Street Church (soon to be Metropolitan Tabernacle). Though he was only 20 years old at the time, his preaching began to truly gain momentum in London. Yet, some of the Strict and Particular Baptists who held a hard line concerning Calvinism began to exclude Spurgeon. Spurgeon noted that they felt his “doctrine was too low for them.”
Spurgeon responded not in the newspaper but through his sermons which were published for a penny a copy, having a readership of approximately 20,000 people.
A Calvinist Preaching Evangelistically? Absolutely!
The reason they felt that his doctrine was “too low” was that he claimed to be a Calvinist but preached evangelistically. In a sermon in 1859, during a service in which the foundation stone was laid for the new Metropolitan Tabernacle, he said: “The stone has to be rolled away from the sepulchre of Calvinism yet. The Calvinism of some men is not the Calvinism of John Calvin, nor the Calvinism of the Puritans, much less the Christianity of God.” You see, what some called “Calvinism” was a type of teaching which said that there should be no appeal to humanity in regards to responding to the Gospel. These “hyper-Calvinists” believe that the Gospel call should only be given to the elect sinners, for this is who the preacher should have in view.
Spurgeon rightly rejected this. While the Scriptures do speak of God predestining and electing (see his sermon on “High and Broad Doctrine” among scores of others), he saw from the New Testament a mandate not just to talk about the facts of salvation, but to make an appeal toward all sinners to trust Christ. It is not up to men to determine who they think are elect and not–let God sort that out. Everyone understands that their salvation is a gift from God.
But to rely on such a subject emotion as to be one who must wait on emotions and feelings before you believe those commands and invitations to repent and receive Christ is dangerous and ultimately self-centered.
What Did Calvin Have to Say About Evangelism?
John Calvin and his theology have come under considerable fire. Some reject Calvinism because they deem that he and his theology discourage evangelism and even prayer. The objection is, “If God has already chosen who will be saved, then why bother sharing the Gospel?” Calvin addresses this himself:
Since we do not know who belongs to the number of the predestined and who does not, it befits us so to feel as to wish that all be saved. So it will come about that, whoever we come across, we shall study to make him a sharer of peace . . . even severe rebuke will be administered like medicine, lest they should perish or cause others to perish. But it will be for God to make it effective in those whom He foreknew and predestined (John Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, trans. J. K. S. Reid, London: James Clarke and Co., Limited, 1961, p. 138)
So those Calvinist who not only reject sharing the Gospel with all peoples or at least de-emphasize it. This is not biblical and, ultimately, its cruel. How could someone who calls themselves a Christian believe that Christ and his apostles taught that sharing the Gospel takes away from God’s sovereign grace. Yes, Christ says that he has called out a people from this wicked world (John 6:37, 44; Matthew 11:25-27), as does Paul (Ephesians 1:3-4, Romans 8:29-30), as well as Peter (1 Peter 1:3-6). It comes along the same theme of God calling the people of Israel out from the world (Genesis 12:1-3; Deuteronomy 7:7-8).
But did not Jesus also say, “Come unto me” (Matthew 11:28). Did not Paul say, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:28-29, ESV)?
Ray Van Neste notes concerning Calvin and Calvinism, “Calvin’s doctrine of predestination did not make the preaching of the gospel unnecessary; instead, it made preaching necessary because it was by the preaching of the gospel that God had chosen to save the predestined.” (I would highly recommend reading the entirety of Van Neste’s article.) With this, Calvin even set up a school of missions where he would send out missionaries to teach the Gospel that was recovered during the Reformation.
So if you hear a nasty rumor that Calvinists are not concerned with evangelism, those “Calvinists” are not from the ilk of John Calvin in the least. We know that God is already at work in those whom He has called— we can evangelize with confidence.