Sunday, November 22, 2015

Spurgeon's Take on "All Men" Examined

A look at Spurgeon's comments regarding I Timothy 2:4 is revealing.

I guess it is no secret that I am not a fan of Charles Spurgeon. It is not that Spurgeon didn’t say a lot of wonderful things over the course of his ministry, he most certainly did. Indeed, his ability to turn a phrase is the envy of most who would endeavor to speak publically. It is because a great many of the errors that I see among evangelicals, and especially modern Calvinists, find their headwaters in his ministry.


While many regard him as a bastion of conservatism, I believe it is fair to say that Spurgeon marks the significant but subtle entry of a very liberal notion among God’s people, namely, the idea that God’s revelation to us cannot be logically reconciled, and that we must accept logical inconsistencies, yea, preach them as gospel truth. This mindset opens up a variety of logical problems, all of which do a disservice to our understanding:
  • If logic ultimately fails us, how do we know when we are set free from employing logic? 
  • If some of God’s truth is fundamentally illogical, in what sense can it be a revelation to us? 
  • If God’s truths are illogical, how do we know that seemingly logical things affirmed in the bible are true?
  • Who is the arbiter of when logic is no longer useful in studying the scriptures? 
I believe Spurgeon’s paradox theology addles the minds of many men, stifling any progress they might otherwise make beyond the contradictions that bind them shy of the truth, and consigning them to a prison of ignorance by robbing them of the logic required to liberate them.




Spurgeon Regarding "All Men" in I Timothy 2:4


A good example of Spurgeon’s illogic is found in his handling of I Timothy 2:4. I believe that taking a moment to examine his take on that passage is helpful in establishing a more sober view of Spurgeon as a theologian.
"It is quite certain that when we read that God will have all men to be saved it does not mean that he wills it with the force of a decree or a divine purpose, for, if he did, then all men would be saved." (Sermon No. 1516, Charles Spurgeon)
We should not let his affirmation slip past us, because it will be profitable in assessing Spurgeon’s subsequent analysis of I Timothy 2:4. It is clear that Spurgeon believe that God did “purpose” to save all men.  Here I believe it is important to ask – Is any man ever saved apart from the preceding purpose of God to save him?  Clearly not. So let’s be very explicit about this – There are a great many men that God has not purposed to save. Hopefully we’re clear on that. Let’s listen on…
"What then? Shall we try to put another meaning into the text than that which it fairly bears? I trow not." (Spurgeon)
Well, Spurge, we’ve got to do something with it, because if there are a great many men that God has not purposed to save, and salvation is a monergistic work of God, then if the statement that God “will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of truth” then you have a bald logical contradiction on your hands.

Spurge Scoffs at "All Men" Meaning "Some Men" Though it OFTEN Does

"You must, most of you, be acquainted with the general method in which our older Calvinistic friends deal with this text. 'All men,' say they,—'that is, some men': as if the Holy Ghost could not have said 'some men' if he had meant some men." (Spurgeon)
But it is readily evident that “all men” is a phrase that VERY, VERY, VERY frequently does not design all of humanity in the scriptures. This point is not difficult to establish and I will not belabor the case here, but will simply point out three instances which establish this incontrovertible fact beyond any reasonable dispute: Acts 2:45, Acts 4:21, Luke 21:17. In all of these instances it is abundantly clear that “all men” does not design “all of humanity.” Spurgeon asks, “Could not the Holy Spirit have said ‘some men’ if he had meant some men?” To which a biblically well-informed Christian may respond, “All men OFTEN means some men in the word of God.” With this simple, biblical observation Spurgeon’s eloquent irrationalism is vaporized. I’ll stop here to add a cautionary word about Spurgeon. The forcefulness with which he presents his case and the passion and eloquence of his discourse is often sufficient to convince many of the soundness of his line of reasoning. But Spurgeon’s arguments are often found to be threadbare once one looks beneath the cloak of his rhetoric and exposes the ersatz logic underneath.
"'All men,' say they; 'that is, some of all sorts of men': as if the Lord could not have said 'all sorts of men' if he had meant that. The Holy Ghost by the apostle has written 'all men,' and unquestionably he means all men." (Spurgeon)
Again, this is true enough, but what is also true is that “all men” very, very, very frequently does not mean “all of humanity.” Frankly, Spurgeon’s undeniable intelligence and understanding of language, coupled with his persistence upon making this threadbare point in such a forceful manner, calls his credibility into question on this matter. Stated plainly, Spurgeon is far too smart and far to familiar with the bible to be unaware that “all men” frequently means “some men” in the bible, and therefore it is difficult to exonerate his foolish argument based on ignorance. I’ll just leave it at that…

Spurgeon's Disdain for Grammar and Exposition When it Opposes Him

"I know how to get rid of the force of the 'alls' according to that critical method which some time ago was very current, but I do not see how it can be applied here with due regard to truth." (Spurgeon) 
Here Spurgeon implies that this “critical method” – which is really nothing short of just being diligent about rightly dividing the bible in a way that is not self-contradictory – is really not useful where I Timothy 2:4 is involved.
"I was reading just now the exposition of a very able doctor who explains the text so as to explain it away; he applies grammatical gunpowder to it, and explodes it by way of expounding it." (Spurgeon)
Here it appears that Spurgeon is launching out against John Gill, whose theological shoes Spurgeon is not worthy to untie, IMO. But more of note here is the disdain that Spurgeon expresses for “grammar” and “expounding” things. One wonders what manner of logical access we may have to biblical truth apart from a careful attention to “grammar” and “expounding” the meaning of the texts in a way that is non-contradictory. Spurging on…
"I thought when I read his exposition that it would have been a very capital comment upon the text if it had read, 'Who will not have all men to be saved, nor come to a knowledge of the truth.' Had such been the inspired language, every remark of the learned doctor would have been exactly in keeping, but as it happens to say, 'Who will have all men to be saved,' his observations are more than a little out of place." (Spurgeon)
In all deft illusions, the magician works trains one’s eye away from the action. In this maneuver, Spurgeon subtly shifts the issue away from the demonstrably false, insistent definition of “all men” and redirects the listener’s attention to the phrase, “Who will have.” The implication is that such men are saying this should be rendered “Who will NOT have.” But this is a crass misrepresentation of the position that seeks to hold up a false rendering that cannot be grammatically supported, as a means of disproving a grammatical argument based on completely different terms, that is both grammatically and systematically sound. It’s a cheap parlor trick aimed at the minds of the na├»ve who lack the capacity to follow this bait and switch. It would be comical were it not for the great many professing Calvinists who remain so blinded by Spurgeon’s status as the “Prince of Preachers” that they are completely duped by Spurgeon’s shell game. Again, I’ll point out that Spurgeon is entirely too brilliant to be unaware of the dodgy nature of his rhetoric.

Consistency and Orthodoxy Set at Odds

"My love of consistency with my own doctrinal views is not great enough to allow me knowingly to alter a single text of Scripture. I have great respect for orthodoxy, but my reverence for inspiration is far greater. I would sooner a hundred times over appear to be inconsistent with myself than be inconsistent with the word of God." (Spurgeon)
This statement is quoted a great deal among modern Calvinists, but it is very problematic. Given that Spurgeon believes himself to be teaching the unadulterated truth of the word of God, it is evident that any inconsistency that he deferentially absorb is likewise chargeable against the word of God as well. Let’s keep listening…
"I never thought it to be any very great crime to seem to be inconsistent with myself; for who am I that I should everlastingly be consistent? But I do think it a great crime to be so inconsistent with the word of God that I should want to lop away a bough or even a twig from so much as a single tree of the forest of Scripture." (Spurgeon)
What lurks in this statement is the admission that to be consistent with the teaching of the word of God, one must be logically inconsistent in the theology they preach. Plainly stated, Spurgeon opens up the Pandora’s box of paradox theology with this statement, and in so doing has influenced a great many theologians and preachers to resist the urge to logically reconcile doctrinal inconsistencies and simply embrace contradictions as truth. This singular poisonous precept has done a great deal of damage to the theological progress of many by teaching them that right division is only possible in some instances, but in others we must simply accept that truth is contradictory. That is a serious and cancerous error that continues to plague a great many in Christendom today.

Spurgeon Basks in His Glorious Contradiction

"God forbid that I should cut or shape, even in the least degree, any divine expression. So runs the text, and so we must read it, 'God our Savior; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.'" (Spurgeon)
Ok Spurgeon, but that illogical approach to scripture would insist that Jesus Christ was, “the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (I John 2:2), and that this utterly universal language and applies to all of humanity; while also insisting that a great many in the world will end up in hell nonetheless. (Matthew 25:41) Propitiation is the satisfaction of divine wrath. The moment one affirms universal propitiation, one has likewise undermined the possibility of anyone remaining under the abiding wrath of God in hell. Apart from the proper contextual qualifications on such biblical statements achieved through right division (II Timothy 2:15, i.e., grammar and exposition) the bible is reduced to a self-contradictory heap mystical nonsense.

Hard as it may be for some to accept, the simple fact of the matter is that we are never told to understand the word of God via the plain meaning method of interpretation – we are told to rightly divide the word of truth (II Timothy 2:15) and that requires study and logical reconciliation of statements both line upon line (exegetically) and precept upon precept (systematically). Failure to do so leads to numerous interpretive errors in the bible, because what appears to be the plain meaning of a text is often NOT the rightly divided interpretation. (Malachi 4:5, Matthew 11).
"Does not the text mean that it is the wish of God that men should be saved?" (Spurgeon) 
Spurgeon goes on to continue his illusion through a discourse regarding the word “wish” – but this is just a continuation of the previous sleight of hand. I am not aware of ANY theologian who bases an argument against the plain meaning interpretation of I Timothy 2:4 based on the meaning of “will” or by extension “wish.” It is based upon what is meant by “all men” and there is manifold evidence that the Holy Spirit of God OFTEN used this phrase in a way that designs less than all of humanity.


FINALLY


Hopefully this analysis is sufficient to cause those who idolize Spurgeon as the gold standard of right division to reconsider that opinion. He was a great orator, he even preached a lot of things that are true, but he was very unstable on a number of theological topics. Many of Spurgeon’s theological positions and the arguments he uses to set them forth, are completely illogical and without merit. That so many today quote him as though he is the final word on theological truth says as much about our penchant for evangelical hero-worship as it does about our inability to logically interact with the ideas set forth by such men.


No comments:

Post a Comment