Roy Ingle, “Spurgeon’s Misunderstanding of Arminianism”

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“The old truth that Calvin preached, that Augustine preached, that Paul preached, is the truth that I must preach to-day, or else be false to my conscience and my God. I cannot shape the truth; I know of no such thing as paring off the rough edges of a doctrine. John Knox’s gospel is my gospel. That which thundered through Scotland must thunder through England again.” – Charles Spurgeon on the Gospel

“… I have my own private opinion that there is no such a thing as preaching Christ and him crucified, unless you preach what now-a-days is called Calvinism. I have my own ideas, and those I always state boldly. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.” – Charles Spurgeon on the Gospel

“…grand fundamentals of that holy faith delivered to us by Christ, translated by Paul, handed down by Augustine, clarified by Calvin, vindicated yet again by Whitefield, and held by us as the very truth of God, as it is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Charles Spurgeon on the Doctrines of Calvinism

“The doctrine of justification itself, as preached by an Arminian, is nothing but the doctrine of salvation by works…” – Charles Spurgeon on Arminianism

“The tendency of Arminianism is towards legality; it is nothing but legality which lays at the root of Arminianism.” – Charles Spurgeon on Arminianism

“We are all born Arminians.” – Charles Spurgeon on Arminianism

Arminians & The Prince of Preachers
Without a doubt most Calvinists will be quick to give the title “Prince of Preachers” to Charles Spurgeon. I myself believe that Spurgeon is one of the greatest English preachers in the history of the English Church. Spurgeon’s sermons are one of the best readings you can find as Spurgeon’s grasp of the Bible and his ability to use the English language to bring it all together in a beautiful tapestry of exposition is profound. One needs only read several of Spurgeon’s sermons to see that his speaking ability is impressive. While some Arminians would rather not give Spurgeon the title “Prince of Preachers” simply because of Spurgeon’s devotion to Calvinism, I do believe that he is one of the greatest preachers the world has ever seen. While I would agree that the sermons of John Wesley or even other Calvinists such as George Whitefield or Jonathan Edwards are profound as well, Spurgeon’s speaking ability is well known and documented.
The fact is that anyone reading a biography of Charles Spurgeon cannot help to be impressed with the man. He was the first “mega-church” pastor although he did not seek this as in our day. Spurgeon was not formally theologically trained (neither were any of the Apostles except Paul) yet his sermons are the most mass produced sermons in the history of the Church. It was not uncommon for Spurgeon to preach to over 10,000 people at his London church and this before the days of our modern sound systems. Spurgeon’s sermons fill 63 volumes and contain over 25 million words. His sermons remain the largest volume of gathered data in the history of the Church of Christ. Spurgeon had over 12,000 books in his personal library and had a photographic memory often remembering not only entire quotes but even the page number from the many books he had read. By the age of 20, Spurgeon had already preached over 600 sermons. His largest crowd was 23,654 and this without a microphone. It is estimated that Spurgeon preached to over 10 million people in his tenure. Spurgeon took 20 years to write his most famous work The Treasury of David.
One interesting point is that Charles Spurgeon often met with the great British missionary Hudson Taylor and the great intercessor George Mueller to pray.
But for Arminians, Charles Spurgeon often leaves a bad taste in our mouths simply because of his defense of Calvinism as the gospel. While I (being an Arminian) can easily overlook this, I do believe that Spurgeon often misunderstood Arminianism.
Why Did Spurgeon Misunderstand Arminianism?
1Spurgeon’s Failure To Study Reformation Arminianism – A glance at the various books that Charles Spurgeon owned will leave no doubt that he did not study Arminian authors. His books are full of mainly English Puritans. The commentaries that Spurgeon did own were all Calvinistic in their theology and while Spurgeon did not approve of much of the Hyper-Calvinist teachings, he did enjoy using the works of John Gill, a former pastor of the very church that Spurgeon pastored, New Park Street Baptist Church.
It is doubtful that Spurgeon read the works of Arminius. While Spurgeon no doubt studied the works of John Calvin, he probably had a disdain for Arminius believing that Arminius would be too humanistic and out of line with proper Calvinism of Spurgeon’s day. Further, Spurgeon would have grown to dislike much of what he read of Arminianism from the Calvinist Puritans such as John Owen, Thomas Watson, or Richard Baxter. While I am of the opinion that the Puritans themselves did not study the works of Arminius nor much of reformation Arminian authors, I have no doubt that the Puritans disliked Arminianism.
Sadly, as in our day, Spurgeon probably avoided Arminian works from the likes of Arminius or John Wesley because they simply did not fit into his own Calvinism.
2. Spurgeon’s Misunderstanding of Reformation Arminianism – From the above quotes it is clear that Spurgeon believed that Arminianism was fundamentally man-centered and that Arminians believed that man works to be saved. He obviously had not read the works of Arminius nor John Wesley to come to such a conclusion. Had Spurgeon read and studied the works of Arminius, he would have clearly seen that Arminius taught that we are justified by faith in Christ and not by works and that the only way to salvation is by the shed blood of Jesus Christ for our sins. Furthermore, Arminius taught that man is totally depraved and that the only way to salvation is not by the will of man but by the grace of God (which Wesley called prevenient grace or pre-conversion grace). Arminius never taught that man wills himself to salvation or even that man cooperates with God for salvation, but Arminius taught (as with Calvin) that salvation is a complete work of God through His Spirit. While Arminius did in fact defend the free will of man, he did not teach that man can save himself other than by the work of the Spirit through the preaching of the gospel.
Ironically, Spurgeon would no doubt not have been in good graces with either John Calvin or James Arminius for his Baptist views. The Anabaptist movement was not held in high regard by either Calvin or Arminius though Arminius would not have been in favor of persecuting the Anabaptist as perhaps Calvin would have. Calvin opposed baptism by immersion and he supported infant baptism both of which Spurgeon would have disagreed with Calvin over. Arminius likewise did not teach baptism by immersion though he differed with Calvin or infant baptism since Arminius did not believe that infants were condemned.
3. Spurgeon’s Failure To Dialogue With Arminians – While it is likely that Spurgeon did interact with Arminians of his day, I don’t know of one good dialogue I have read between Spurgeon and an Arminian theologian. We are all quite aware of the interactions between Wesley and Whitefield (and they remained loyal friends until the end of their lives) but I have not read of Spurgeon having a close Arminian that he could debate theology with. I don’t believe that there is quite the chasm as many Calvinists and Arminians would like to believe exist between us. After all, we are first brothers and sisters in Christ and then we can debate how we became Christians in the first place.
This does not mean, however, that interaction would have meant that Spurgeon would have been polite in his teachings toward Arminianism nor does this mean he would have been an Arminian convert. However, it does mean that he would have at least represented Arminianism better in his sermons and writings than he did.
4. The Arminianism of Spurgeon’s Day – I am also convinced that the Arminianism of Spurgeon’s day was not the same Arminianism that was taught by either James Arminius or John Wesley. Sadly, the Arminianism that Spurgeon encountered was probably very liberal and neither biblical nor based on the works of Arminius. In fact, by the time of Charles Spurgeon, the teachings of the pragmatist Charles Finney would no doubt have been influencing much of Arminianism in that day. Finney’s teaching, however, is not Arminian and is more in line with semi-Pelagianism than with Arminius. I would not be against Spurgeon’s preaching against semi-Pelagianism for Arminius would have done the same as would John Wesley. Sadly, it was this that Spurgeon called Arminianism that was semi-Pelagian and not reformation Arminianism.
Conclusions on Spurgeon
I enjoy the life and works of Charles Spurgeon so much that I named my second child after him, Haddon Spurgeon Ingle. My wife’s grandfather is a Calvinist and he often jokes, “You know you named your son after a Calvinist” to which I always reply, “Papa, we can’t all be perfect.”
Charles Spurgeon was just a man. While I do believe he was a man after God’s own heart, this doesn’t mean that I support all he teaches. Many of my Reformed Calvinist brethren would amen me there. Many Reformed Calvinists would take exception with Spurgeon over his Baptist views on immersion for example and his sermons against infant baptism. Spurgeon was just a man who was used by God but only by God’s grace and not because Spurgeon was correct on all issues.
I personally wish that I could do two things. First, I wish I could have heard Spurgeon preach and when I get to heaven I will ask him to preach me a good word. Secondly, I wish that I could have been good friends with Spurgeon. I would love to have talked long on theology and perhaps help him to see that he does not oppose Arminianism as much as he opposes semi-Pelagianism.
D.L. Moody was not a true Calvinist and would probably fit better within Arminianism but he once went to London for a series of meetings. When he came back to the United States someone asked Moody if he had heard Spurgeon preach. Moody replied, “Even better – I heard Spurgeon pray.” While I might not agree with Spurgeon’s views on Arminianism, I am convinced he was a man after God’s heart and God used him to glorify His Son during his time on this earth and God continues to use Spurgeon to bring honor to His name.