Charles Haddon Spurgeon The Star Preacher

This is the day that Charles Haddon Spurgeon resigned from the Baptist Union of Great Britain!! It was 1887.

History refers to it as the ‘Downgrade Controversy’, a sorry spectacle of modern theology creeping into the denomination he loved.

He wrote in The Sword and the Trowel his reason for his withdrawal:
“Believers in Christ’s atonement are now in declared union with those who make light of it; believers in Holy Scripture are in confederacy with those who deny plenary inspiration; those who hold evangelical doctrine are in open alliance with those who call the fall (of Adam) a fable, who deny the personality of the Holy Ghost, who call justification by faith immoral, and hold that there is another probation after death … yes, we have before us the wretched spectacle of professedly orthodox Christians publicly avowing their union with those who deny the faith…”

Spurgeon came from a lineage of independent ministers (his father and grandfather) and was converted in a primitive Methodist chapel. In 1850 he was baptised as a Baptist, due to the influence of his employer, and formerly joined a Baptist congregation.

That same year he gained a place at Cambridge, joined a Baptist congregation there and preached his first sermon at age 16. His gift for oratory was immediately recognised, and by 1852 he was a Baptist pastor.

In April 1854 he was ‘called’ to the pulpit of the Baptist congregation at New Park Street, Southwark. Within a few months of his call his powers as a preacher made him famous. The chapel had been empty yet within a year the crowds that gathered to hear this country lad of twenty forced the enlargement of the building. At twenty-two Spurgeon was the most popular preacher of the day.

The Metropolitan Tabernacle in Newington Causeway was opened for service in 1861, accommodating six thousand people. There Spurgeon ministered until his death, and, fully maintained his popularity and power as a preacher until illness disabled him.

Spurgeon found increasing distance with fellow Baptists, due to his strenuous and unbending faith in Calvinism. He saw their indifference to orthodoxy. He thought they laid too little stress on Christ’s divine nature, and that the Arminian views which were spreading among them tended to Arianism. He keenly resented the ‘down grade’ of modern biblical criticism. Conviction grew in him that faith was decaying in all Christian churches. Consequently he announced his withdrawal from the Baptist Union, which declined to adopt his serious view of the situation.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Jacob Arminius in Pursuit of Doctrinal Truth

This is the day that … Jacob Arminius was born in 1560.

Born Jacob Harmenszoon in Oudewater, Holland, the death of his father during Jacob’s infancy devastated the middle-class family. Then the Spanish massacre of Oudewater in 1575 claimed the lives of his mother and siblings.

Raised by friends, he eventually Latinized his name, after a 1st Century Germanic leader who resisted the Romans. Thus the Arminius name became a rallying point for those who resist Calvinist teachings, as Jacob did during his life.

During his studies he spent time in Geneva from 1592, under Beza, the 62 year-old who succeeded Calvin. Beza is responsible for introducing into Calvinist thought the particular emphases of predestination, the sovereignty of God and various ritualistic practices.

He later returned to Amsterdam and pastored the Old Church congregation. In 1590 he married the aristocratic Lijsbet Reael who ensured he kept close contact with the most influential merchants and leaders of the city.

He ministered in Amsterdam for 15 years and in Leiden for 6. He practiced his belief that being a pastor does more for the minister’s holiness than engagement in theological wrangling.

During that time he began to question the distinctive teachings of John Calvin, of which Holland was a stronghold.

Aminius left the pastorate and became Professor of Theology at Leiden, where his attack on Calvin’s view of predestination led to violent controversy.  The student body and Reformed pastors became polarised over the issue.

After his death in 1609 his followers issued a “Remonstrance” – so called because it remonstrated with Calvin’s teaching.  And the Reformed churches countered with their “Synod of Dort” condemning Arminians as heretics.

They were stormy days indeed, and in some circles today the battle still rages.

Note that Arminius had great regard for Calvin’s teachings in general. It seems that the points emphasised by Beza distorted something of the spirit of Calvin’s own insights. In affirmation of Calvin note this quote from Arminius. “I recommend that the Commentaries of Calvin be read…. For I affirm that in the interpretation of the Scriptures Calvin is incomparable and that his Commentaries are more to be valued than anything that is handed to us in the writings of the Fathers.”

Note too that Arminius, although a highly intellectual and widely studied man, was not distracted with theology for its own sake. His sole ambition was “to inquire in the Holy Scriptures for divine truth…for the purpose of winning some souls for Christ.”

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Benjamin Keach Compelled to Preach

This is the day that … Benjamin Keach died in 1704.

He had been born in North Buckinghamshire, England, on February 29, 1640, in the days when England was about to be plunged into civil war…

Although brought up in the state church, he was baptised again at the age of 15 and joined a Baptist church … walking seven miles each Lord’s Day to join with the congregation in a neighbouring village.

At 18 he was ‘set aside for the work of the ministry’, the church having recognised his God-given gift in that area.

Two years later he married Jane Grove. And he began to preach …

But by now Oliver Cromwell was dead and Charles II was insisting that all church services conform to those of the Church of England.

Keach refused to do so … but continued his ministry. And as a result he was arrested and put in the pillory at Aylesbury. “Good people”, he said to the assembled crowd, “I am not ashamed to stand here this day, with this paper on my head. My Lord Jesus was not ashamed to suffer on the cross of me …”

Many a time he suffered similar indignities – ‘often seized, sometimes whilst preaching, committed to prison, sometimes bound, sometimes released on bail, and sometimes his life was threatened…’

In 1664 – at the age of 24 – we find him in Southwark, pastoring a Particular Baptist Church.

He had begun his days as a General Baptist (Arminian in theology), but now was Particular Baptist (ie, Calvinistic).

His first wife died at the age of 30, and Keach remarried in 1672.

He wrote 60 books and was “to the forefront in introducing congregational hymn singing into the Baptist church”.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

Building Up Your Faith

One of the personal issues I am pressing through at present is that of encouraging my faith so I can press in for some particular blessings I believe God has for me at this time. So the idea of ‘building up our faith’ is in my thinking. Since I know that you need to have your faith encouraged I am sharing some of my thinking with you, as a fillip to your own spiritual condition.

The Bible speaks of differing levels of faith. Jesus told His disciples they were of “little faith” (Matthew 8:26). He commended another person’s faith, calling it “great faith” (Matthew 8:10).

We have each experienced times when our faith has been encouraged and we have been much more ready to act in faith. While at other times our faith seems to be at low ebb and we have hesitated. My personal aim is to encourage my faith in God, so that I am emboldened to do the things He wants me to do for Him.

So, how do I build up my faith? The main mechanism for increasing faith is to hear the word of God. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). Listening to the faithful and faith-filled preaching of God’s Word is a positive way to boost your faith in God. Get into God’s Word, the Bible, and believe what God speaks to you from its pages.

Now, to be more thorough in my explanation let me pull some key thoughts out of the Apostle Paul’s sermon on faith, in Romans 10:6-17. Paul declares that Faith produces Righteousness which cannot be gained by serving the Mosaic Law. Faith involves a heart conviction which is expressed in our words. The heart conviction is that Jesus came from heaven, died for our sins and then God raised Him from the dead. The verbal declaration is that Jesus is Lord of your life. The act of believing in Jesus rescues you from shame and brings deliverance in your situation.

So faith involves a conviction of heart that is then expressed in your life.

As we hear God’s Word our heart conviction that God is able to do more than we could ask or think is built up. Our faith is increased. That faith needs to be put into action, by our confession of Christ as saviour, and by other appropriate expressions of our confidence in God.

Let me now take you to Hebrews 11, the great Faith Chapter in the Bible, to find another simple way to understand what you have to believe to have effective faith. I call this the Faith Two-Step. It’s found in Hebrews 11:6.

“But without faith it is impossible to please him (God): for he that comes to God must believe that he is (exists), and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Hebrews 11:6

Firstly that verse declares the absolute centrality of faith in our life and experience. It is absolutely vital in our relationship with God, since only by faith can we please God.

Faith is then described as two compatible beliefs. The first is a belief in God, Himself. We must believe in His existence, as He reveals Himself in the Bible. We “believe that he is” – which means we believe Him to be all that He says He is. He is all powerful, holy, loving, gracious, eternal, and so on.

Next we must believe that God responds to human initiative. While God is able to do whatever He wants to do, He has somehow connected His actions to ours. While He can do far more for us than we can imagine, He limits what He will do, waiting on us to prompt Him to action. He is a “rewarder of those who diligently seek him”. This means He does not give His grace equally to all. He measures out more of His blessing to those who take initiative and action to draw upon His grace.

In this verse we have the convergence of Calvinist and Arminian concepts of God. God is indeed supreme, yet God has also limited Himself, at least to some degree, to the actions of mankind.

I have two simplistic questions, the Faith Two-Step, which I use to get to the grist of faith in this key verse. First question is: “Can God Do It?” This question challenges our heart with, “Do we believe God to be who He says He is?” It speaks to the “believe that he is” portion of Hebrews 11:6.

The Second question is: “Will God Do It For Me?” This question challenges our heart with, “Do we believe that God will use His eternal power for your benefit?” It speaks to the “he is a rewarder” portion of Hebrews 11:6.

Many people believe God is able to do miraculous things, but they don’t believe that God will do anything for them. Thus they only have one part of the Faith Two-Step. God’s sovereignty is real, but it won’t impact your life if you don’t activate personal faith in God.

Allow me to encourage you to build up your most holy faith (Jude 1:20). Make it your intention to boost your confidence that God can do anything. Nothing is impossible to God. Then build up your confidence that God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

Charles Finney Waking America

This is the day that … Charles Grandison Finney was ordained to Christian ministry, in 1824.

Thus began – or “continued” might be a more accurate word – a mighty moving of the Spirit of God through this converted lawyer. Immediately the winning of the lost had become his one purpose in life … as he expressed it – he had been given a “retainer from the Lord Jesus Christ to plead His cause”.

Elmer Towns sums up one of Finney’s revival campaigns: “During his meetings in Rochester, New York … 1,200 people united with the churches of the Rochester Presbytery; all the leading lawyers, physicians and businessmen were saved; 40 of the converts entered the ministry, and the whole character of the town was changed. As a result of that meeting revivals broke out in 1,500 other towns and villages” (Hall of Fame, page 102).

It is estimated that “over 500,000 responded to his public invitations to receive Christ” (ibid).

In 1835 Finney became president of Oberlin College, introducing a curious blend of Calvinism and Arminianism into his theological teaching. The Second Great Awakening in America moved away from the Calvinistic focus of men like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield, to a focus on man’s responsibility for his sin and man’s need to take moral action in the face of his sin. This could be called practical Arminiansm.

Finney’s autobiography has been republished in paperback (Bethany Fellowship, 1977, 230 pages), and his Revival Lectures are still a classic in their particular field.

“The pastor who ordained Finney later said he regretted this ordination,” writes Jack Hyles in his book Today. “Finney became known as somewhat of a fanatic, embarrassing his old pastor. God give us more fanatics!!”

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.