Monthly Archives: September 2018

Spurgeon Uncut and Unpasted

Reading Spurgeon is a sheer delight to the heart. At the same time, it is often faintly discouraging to the preacher. How could a preacher manage such eloquence? His sentences are positively dripping with imagery, his prose saturated with trope and metaphor. It seems impossible for such poetic gold to have flowed from a preacher who spoke from a one-page sermon outline. And yet there stand the 63 volumes of Spurgeon sermons, the largest collection of Christian writings by one man, their luxurious oratory still charming and delighting the hungry Christian. These 3563 sermons seemingly testify to the real-life existence in the 19th century of an Apollo with a British accent, who weekly performed herculean feats of rhetoric.

Here is some modest encouragement for the preacher who is a mere mortal. What we read today is not exactly what Spurgeon’s audience heard. How do we know that? Spurgeon’s sermons were transcribed as he preached them by stenographers present in the congregation. Spurgeon spent most of Monday and Tuesday revising and editing the stenographers’ copies of his spoken sermons. Several drafts went back and forth, until the final copies went to the printer on Thursday. At least some of Spurgeon’s profound eloquence was not produced extemporaneously on Sunday, but with a quill and inkwell in the days after the sermon.

So what did Spurgeon’s hearers hear? The stenographers’ copies are the closest thing we have to an audio recording of a Spurgeon sermon. What Spurgeon preached turns out to be something fairly close to what we read, but shorter, a little less florid in eloquence, and more direct, as preaching for the ear should be. Not many stenographers’ copies of Spurgeon’s sermons are still extant. I found a picture of one page from CBLibrary, reproduced here. It’s the stenographers’ copy of a portion of Sermon 2114, “The Burden of the Word of the Lord”, preached in 1889. Spurgeon’s many edits on the sermon are visible.facsimile19cx

So what do we learn by comparing the “audio” version with the “print version” of this sermon? In the edited version of this sermon section, there are 1206 words. In the stenographer’s transcribed version, there are 983 words. Those extra 223 words represent a 23% increase, nearly a quarter more words. If we assume the same editorial gloss for the whole sermon, then the printed sermon of 7130 words could have originally been a spoken sermon of around 5518 words. If Spurgeon spoke at around 150 words per minute, that’s about a 36-minute sermon.

In the table below, I’ve reproduced the print version and the unedited transcribed version. Spurgeon’s many additions for the print version are highlighted.

When you read the column on the right, you’re experiencing, more or less, what Spurgeon’s listeners heard. It’s still brilliant, still eloquent, still stirring. But it’s a little more recognisably human. Enjoy.

Printed Sermon (edits highlighted) Transcribed Sermon
The prophets of old were no triflers. They did not run about as idle tellers of tales, but they carried a burden. Those who at this time speak in the name of the Lord, if they are, indeed, sent of God, dare not sport with their ministry, or play with their message. They have a burden to bear—“The burden of the word of the Lord”; and this burden puts it out of their power to indulge in levity of life. I am often astounded at the way in which some who profess to be the servants of God make light of their work— they jest about their sermons as if they were so many comedies or farces. I read of one who said, “I got on very well for a year or two in my pulpit; for my great-uncle had left me a large store of manuscripts, which I read to my congregation.” The Lord have mercy on his guilty soul! Did the Lord send him a sacred call to bring to light his uncle’s moldy manuscripts? Something less than a divine call might have achieved that purpose. Another is able to get on well with his preaching because he pays so much a quarter to a bookseller, and is regularly supplied with manuscript sermons. They cost more or less according to the space within which they will not be sold to another clerical cripple. I have seen the things, and have felt sick at the sorry spectacle. What must God think of such prophets as these? In the old times, those whom God sent did not borrow their messages; they had their message directly from God Himself, and that message was weighty—so weighty that they called it, “the burden of the Lord.” He that does not find his ministry a burden now, will find it a burden hereafter, which will sink him lower than the lowest hell. A ministry that never burdens the heart and the conscience in this life, will be like a millstone about a man’s neck in the world to come.

The servants of God mean business. They do not play at preaching, but they plead with men. They do not talk for talk’s sake; but they persuade for Jesus’ sake. They are not sent into the world to tickle men’s ears, nor to make a display of elocution, nor to quote poetry—theirs is an errand of life or death to immortal souls! They have something to say which so presses upon them that they must say it. “Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel!” They burn with an inward fire, and the flame must have vent. The Word of the Lord is as fire in their bones, consuming them; the truth of God presses them into its service, and they cannot escape from it; if, indeed, they are the servants of God, they must speak the things which they have seen and heard. The servants of God have no feathers in their caps—they have burdens on their hearts.

Furthermore, the true servants of God have something to carry, something worth carrying. There is solid truth, precious truth in their message. It is not froth and foam, phrases and verbiage, stories and pretty things, poetry and oratory, and all that; but there is weight in it of matters which concern heaven and hell, time and eternity. If ever there were men in this world who ought to speak in earnest, they are the men. Those who speak for God must not speak lightly; if there is nothing in what a man has to say, then God never commissioned him, for God is no trifler. If there is no importance in their message—yes, if their message is not of the first and last importance—why do they profess to speak in the name of God? It is constructive blasphemy to father God with our nonsense. The true servant of God has no light weight to bear; he has eternal realities heaped upon him; he does not run merrily as one that has a feather-weight to carry—he treads firmly and often, slowly—as he moves beneath “the burden of the Word of the Lord.”

Yet, do not let me be misunderstood at the beginning. God’s true servants, who are burdened with His Word, right willingly and cheerfully carry that burden. We would not be without it for the entire world! Sometimes, do you know, we get tempted, when things do not go right, to run away from it—but we view it as a temptation not to be tolerated for an hour. When some of you do not behave yourselves and matters in our church get a little out of order, I say to myself, “I wish I could give this up, and turn to an employment less responsible, and less wearing to the heart”; but then I think of Jonah and what happened to him when he ran away to Tarshish—and I remember that whales are scarcer now than they were then—and I do not feel inclined to run that risk. I stick to my business, and keep to the message of my God; for one might not be brought to land quite as safely as the runaway prophet was. Indeed, I could not cease to preach the glad tidings unless I ceased to breathe! God’s servants would do nothing else but bear this burden, even if they were allowed to make a change. I had sooner be a preacher of the gospel than a possessor of the Indies. Remember how William Carey, speaking of one of his sons, says, “Poor Felix is shriveled from a missionary to an ambassador.” He was a missionary once, and he was employed by the government as an ambassador. His father thought it no promotion, and said, “Felix has shriveled into an ambassador.” It would be a descent, indeed, from bearing the burden of the Lord, if one were to be transformed into a member of Parliament, or a prime minister, or a king! We bear a burden, but we would be sorry, indeed, not to bear it.

The burden which the true preacher of God bears is for God, and on Christ’s behalf, and for the good of men. He has a natural instinct which makes him care for the souls of others, and his anxiety is that none should perish, but that all should find salvation through Jesus Christ. Like the Christ who longed to save, so does the true Malachi, or messenger of God, go forth with this as his happy, joyful, cheerfully borne burden—that men may turn unto God and live! Yet, it is a burden, for all that; and of that I am going to speak to you. Much practical truth of God will come before us while we speak of “the burden of the Word of the Lord.” Pray that the Holy Spirit may bless the meditation to our hearts!

I. And why is the Word of the Lord a burden to him that speaks it? Well, first, it is a burden BECAUSE IT IS THE WORD OF THE LORD. If what we preach is only of man, we may preach as we like, and there is no burden about it; but if this Book is inspired—if Jehovah is the only God, if Jesus Christ is God incarnate, if there is no salvation except through His precious blood—then there is a great solemnity about that which a minister of Christ is called upon to preach. It therefore becomes a weighty matter with him. Modern thought is a trifle light, as air; but ancient truths of God are more weighty than gold.

And, first, the Word of the Lord becomes a burden in the reception of it. I do not think that any man can ever preach the gospel aright until he has had it borne into his own soul with overwhelming energy. You cannot preach conviction of sin unless you have suffered it.

The prophets of old were no triflers. They carried a burden. Those who still speak in God’s name, if the Lord has sent them, dare not trifle with their work. They have a burden to carry—“The burden of the word of the Lord”.

I am often astounded at the way in which some who profess to be the servants of God make light of their work. I read of one who said, “I got on very well for a year or two in my pulpit; for my great-uncle had left me a large store of manuscripts, so I read them.” The Lord have mercy on his guilty soul! Another is able to get on well with his preaching because he pays so much a quarter to the bookseller, and is supplied with regular manuscript sermons.  I have seen the things. What must God think of such people as these? But in the old times, those whom God sent did not borrow their messages. They had their message directly from God Himself, and that message was weighty—so weighty that they called it, “the burden of the Lord.” He that does not find his ministry a burden now, will find it a burden hereafter, which will sink him lower than the lowest hell. A ministry that never burdens the heart and the conscience in this life, will be like a millstone about a man’s neck in the world to come.

The servants of God mean business.  They do not talk for talking’s sake. They are not sent into the world to tickle men’s ears, or to make a display of elocution. They have a something to say that so presses upon them and they must say it. They have an inward weight, an inward fire, and they must give vent to that (…); for the Word of the Lord is as fire in their bones, consuming them; if, indeed, they be the servants of God. The servants of God are not triflers, for they bear the burden of the Lord.

And in the first place, the true servants of God have something to carry. There is something in their message. It is not froth and foam. It is not words and verbiage, and stories and pretty things, and oratory, and all that. There is weight in it, and if ever there were men in this world who ought to speak in earnest, they are the men that speak for God, and if there is nothing in what they have to say, then God never commissioned them. If there is no importance—yea, if their message be of the first and of the last importance—why, in the name of God, do they profess to speak in the name of God? It must be so, that the true servant of God has no light weight. He does not run merrily as one that has nothing to carry—but he (…) that he bears “the burden of the Word of the Lord.”

Yet, do not let me be misunderstood at the beginning. God’s true servants, who are burdened with His Word, cheerfully carry that burden. They would not be without it for the entire world! Sometimes, do you know, we get tempted, when things do not go right, to run away from it. When some of you do not behave yourselves and things get a little out of order, I say to myself, “I wish I could give this up, ”; but then I think of Jonah and what happened to him when he ran away to Tarshish; and whales are scarcer now than they were then—and I do not seem inclined to run that risk. So I stick to my business, and keep to the message of God; for one might not be brought to land quite as safely as the runaway prophet was. God’s servants would do nothing else but bear this burden, even if they could make a change. Remember how William Carey, speaking of one of his sons, says, “Poor Felix has drivelled into an ambassador.” He was a missionary once, and he was employed by the British government as an ambassador. That is what his father thought of that promotion, , “Poor Felix has drivelled into an ambassador.” It would be a drivelling down, indeed, from bearing the burden of the Lord, if one were to wear a crown, or be first in a senate of philosophers.

The burden which the true preacher of God bears is for God, and on Christ’s behalf, and for the souls of others. He has a natural instinct which makes him care for the souls of others, and his anxiety is that none should perish. Like the Christ who longed to save, so does the true Malachi, or messenger of God, go forth with this as his happy, joyful, cheerfully borne burden, but yet, it is a burden, for all that; and of that I am going to speak tonight. There may be some practical truth arising out of this, “the burden of the word of the Lord”.

I. And why is it a burden? Well, first, it is a burden BECAUSE IT IS THE WORD OF THE LORD. If what we preach is only of man, we may preach what we like, but there is no burden in it; but if this Book is inspired—if Jehovah be the only God, if Jesus Christ be God incarnate, if there is be salvation save through His precious blood—then there is a great solemnity about that which a minister of Christ is called upon to preach. It hence becomes a burden to him. 

And, first, it becomes a burden in the reception of it. I do not think that any man could ever preach the gospel aright until he has had it borne into his own soul with overwhelming energy. You cannot preach conviction of sin unless you have suffered it.

The Many Meanings of “Reformed”

I find it quite amusing these days to be classified by some as “Reformed”, when I’d barely heard the term for most of my Christian life. I grew up in Baptist circles that didn’t use the term Reformed. In fact, the first time I heard it used of my church was when a student attending a local Bible college told us that the lecturers there regarded our church as Reformed.

Since then, I’ve come to understand the many imprecise ways that “Reformed” is used.

First, the broadest use seems to be a kind of identifier as non-charismatic. In some circles (particularly in South Africa), the two categories of views on the spiritual gifts are not cessationist and continuationist, but Reformed and charismatic. This binary division becomes the way a person tries to categorise your understanding of spiritual gifts and the baptism of the Spirit. Of course, with the rise of the Sovereign Grace movement and the continuationist teachings of John Piper, Wayne Grudem, and D. A. Carson, Reformed and charismatic no longer stand as antithetical to each other. Conversely, the vast majority of Southern Baptists and Fundamentalist Baptists would be moderate Arminians who hold to eternal security, but are strongly cessationist. One’s position on the charismata is not necessarily linked to whether or not one accepts Reformed theology.

Second, an almost equally vague use of the term identifies Reformed with a certain approach to corporate worship. If your church sings hymns and has a fairly modest worship service without disco balls and metalheads jamming with Fender StratoCasters, you will be considered by some as Reformed. Certainly, the Reformation reformed worship, and the Reformed are often associated with sober worship, but this is not necessarily the case. The Regulative Principle was championed by the Reformers, but not only the Reformed abide by it. By this loose definition of Reformed-equals-conservative-worship, A. W. Tozer, an Arminian, was Reformed. Conversely, have a look at Reformed youth conferences, or Google “Reformed rap”. And read Peter Masters’ critique of the worship in the New Calvinism. Conservative worship and Reformed are no longer Siamese twins.

Third, the slightly more accurate use of the term identifies Reformed with Calvinistic doctrine. Calvinism is really a subset of Reformed, not the other way around. Calvinism is a particular view of soteriology: how saving grace manifests. Calvinism, in its moderate, strict, and extreme forms deals with the doctrines of election, the effectual call, the perseverance of the saints, and the extent of the atonement. If you line up with the five points of TULIP, many consider you Reformed. Purists won’t accept anything less than five-point Calvinism, but the theologically informed know that Calvinism and Arminianism represent a spectrum of positions, not a binary choice. When understood this way, it is possible to be Calvinistic, without being Reformed, in the strict sense.

(By the way, the five points of Calvinism have little to do with the five Solas of the Reformation. The five solas rescued the Gospel from Roman Catholicism, and could (and should) be affirmed by anyone who holds to the gospel of justification by faith, whether Calvinist or Arminian.)

Fourth, the theologically accurate use of Reformed identifies a school of Protestant theology that involves a lot more than the five points of TULIP. Reformed theology necessarily includes covenant theology, and the form of covenant theology that requires paedobaptism. The church is understood not as an opt-in, voluntary organisation but as an opt-out, involuntary covenant community that one enters by being born into believing households that baptise in infancy. This strict form of covenant theology excludes believers’ baptism. In this very precise use of the term, Baptists cannot be Reformed: the term Reformed Baptist becomes an oxymoron. Reformed theology sees the sacraments as efficacious in some sense, and generally excludes premillennialism (eliminating Charles Spurgeon, Robert Murray M’cheyne and George Muller from its ranks). And if you think I’m making this up, get it from the horse’s mouth: Richard Muller of Calvin Seminary tells you what he thinks of Reformed Baptists: http://kimriddlebarger.squarespace.com/how-many-points/

In this very strict sense, the Reformed are necessarily Calvinists, but not all Calvinists are Reformed.

Therefore, if I am asked, “Are you Reformed?”, I will give what sounds like an irritatingly evasive answer. “Well, I am proudly Protestant, and believe in justification by faith alone. I do worship in a conservative fashion, adhering to the Regulative Principle, and I don’t subscribe to Pentecostal or charismatic views of the charismata or the baptism of the Spirit. I am a compatibilist in soteriology, and recognise sovereign election and the effectual call. But I am a Baptist, and a premillennial one at that. So, depending on your definition of Reformed, you tell me: am I Reformed?”

The Scholar-Pastor

A few years back a book came out, pointing out the need for pastors to be more scholarly and for scholars to be more pastoral. Coming from someone like D. A. Carson, the exhortation is easy to receive, given how he has modeled both. It is rare to find both scholarship and a shepherd-heart in one man. Pastors should certainly be given to intellectual discipline, and Christian scholars should see the pastoral application of their academic labour, though few men are a pure mix of both.

I respect genuine pastors. I respect genuine scholars. What I find more difficult to respect is the man who is neither, but pretends to be a form of both, and assumes the prerogatives of both.

After all, a true scholar has

  1. achieved a terminal degree in his area of study, the Ph.D. or its equivalent, mastering the tools of research, and fluent in the conventions of academic writing and argumentation: when he writes or teaches, you can hear the dispassionate tone of the humble researcher;
  2. mastered comprehensively the literature in his discipline;
  3. understood the broader conversation within and surrounding his discipline;
  4. contributed to the conversation, and submitted his work to peer-review.

That eliminates most of the self-appointed scholars right there. Truthfully speaking, most pastors have not been trained in this way, or reached this place of learning. Most don’t desire the life of a scholar, and aren’t inclined to it. Most lack the time for the kind of full-time reading and writing that scholarship requires. Scholarship is a vocation in its own right, and pastoring usually precludes being able to be a scholar. Certainly, I’m not a scholar, though I read them, and benefit from their labours.

On the other hand, a pastor has

  1. desired the office of pastor, which includes not just teaching, but leading (as an overseer), and providing an example and wisdom (as an elder) in a local church;
  2. submitted his life to the scrutiny of a local church, to whom he is accountable, so that he can be examined for the presence of the the character qualifications of 1 Timothy 3;
  3. been either recommended by a group of pastors (1 Tim 4:14) who are in a better position than most churches to test his life and qualifications, or been sent by a local church (Acts 13:3), and been consequently called by a local body of believers to shepherd the flock;
  4. given himself to the best equipping available to him, so as to fulfill his calling (2 Tim 2:15).

Not every public speaker or teacher in Christianity is or needs to be a pastor. The body of Christ is blessed with apologists, itinerant preachers, and people with particular ministries that supplement the church. I’m thankful for these, insofar as these bless the local church, as ours certainly has been by them. But the best of these teachers always admit that they are not called to shepherd the flock, but to their particular ministry focus. The most honourable of these can tell you which local church they belong to, who their teachers are and who they are accountable to. The academy has true scholars. The church has true pastors, supplemented by teachers.

What is intolerable is the man feigning scholarship, and acting like a pastor. He’ll travel around and take up pastoral duties (counselling intimate situations, installing pastors, baptising, disciplining, giving communion), but take no week-to-week responsibility for any group of people. He’ll act like a bishop over multiple churches, supposedly protecting people from the false shepherds, but he himself is submitted to no one, anywhere. He’ll cast stones at faithful shepherds, and accuse them of “heavy shepherding”, but he’s never shepherded anyone, in any real sense. And if people seem to smell a rat in his maverick ways, he’ll begin to speak academese to the unlearned, quickly reminding them that the Learned One is speaking. He conveniently switches roles so that when his scholarship appears shoddy, he pretends to be a generalist pastor, and when he appears to lack pastoral qualifications, he pretends to be a scholar on a teaching tour.

Both pastors and scholars have submitted to tough callings, and accepted both their privileges and responsibilities. You’ll notice that real pastors and real scholars accept the burdens of their callings along with the joys. They know who they are, their domains of expertise and authority and what they can realistically achieve.

But beware the man who seems claim all the privileges of both pastoring and scholarship, while dodging all the burdens of either calling: the burden of watching for the souls of one congregation or the burden of academic peer review; the burden of submitting to ordination councils or the burden of getting a terminal degree; the burden of labouring in one place for many years or the burden of mastering his discipline. Deliberately avoiding burdens is the work of sluggards and shysters. 

In short, a fair question is this: if he is a true leader in the church or the academy, then to what, and to whom, has he submitted?

Two Views on Christ’s Invitation

Below are two works of Christian imagination. Both attempt to depict what it means for Christ to invite sinners to Himself, and how sinners should understand themselves. On closer examination, however, they are nearly opposite in meaning. We do not see the same Christ, the same Gospel and the same dilemma of the sinner in both.

Read both and then ask yourself the questions that follow.

1. Have You Any Room for Jesus? (Anonymous, Adapted by Daniel Whittle, 1878)

Have you any room for Jesus,
He who bore your load of sin?
As He knocks and asks admission,
Sinners, will you let Him in?

Refrain:

Room for Jesus, King of Glory!
Hasten now His Word obey;
Swing the heart’s door widely open,
Bid Him enter while you may.

Room for pleasure, room for business;
But for Christ, the Crucified,
Not a place that He can enter,
In the heart for which He died?

Refrain

***

2. The Silver Chair   (C.S. Lewis)

(Jill Pole, rasping with thirst, wants to drink from a stream, but Aslan the Lion sits on the opposite bank, watching her.)

“If you are thirsty, you may drink.”…
For a second she stared here and there, wondering who had spoken.
Then the voice said again, “If you are thirsty, come and drink,”…
She realised that it was the lion speaking. The voice was not like a man’s. It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way.
“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.
“I’m dying of thirst”, said Jill.
“May I – could I – would you mind going away while I do?”, said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.
The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
“Will you promise not to – do anything to me, if I do come?”, said Jill.
“I make no promise”, said the Lion.
Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.
“Do you eat girls?”, she said.
“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms”, said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
“I daren’t come and drink”, said Jill.
“Then you will die of thirst”, said the Lion.
“Oh dear!”, said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
“There is no other stream”, said the Lion.

***

1. How is Christ depicted in each of the works?
2. What affections towards Christ do the writers wish to evoke with their respective pieces?
3. How does each author view the sinner with respect to Christ?
4. Which of the two has captured the biblical Christ?