A Second Open Letter to Thomas Ascol and Earnest C. Reisiger,
Editors of The Foundation Journal.
I trust that my last letter was received safely in the spirit I sent it and that my heart reached your heart through my words, clumsy as they were. I am unused to this kind of correspondence and need to mould and manage my words so that they are honouring to God. Any help or advice you can give me to this end will be greatly appreciated and received as a token of your brotherly love to me.
The bulk of this letter was written a few days after my last but I waited until I received a copy of Iain’s book before finishing it. Up to now, I had only the chapter on Gill, published in the Banner magazine to go on. Usually Banner books arrive after five days but I had to wait five weeks this time to receive the ordered books.
What a terrible book S. v. H-C is! I wish for Iain’s sake that he had never written it. It is far, far below the standard of most of his other works. Iain professes to be called to controversy but he always shoots over the mark when employed in it. The cheek of the sub-title The Battle for Gospel Preaching. This is obviously written in the face of strong criticism that the Banner is watering down the gospel so that it is hardly discernible from Finneyism. Iain has, indeed, made all the major mistakes a historian could possibly make, besides showing a great lack of common sense. He has back-projected a modern controversy with modern terminology into the past and pretended it was there all along. This is the method of many a historical novel writer but ought to be limited to that guild. Although Iain says there is no sign of Hyper-Calvinism reviving, he yet does his very best to awaken the sleeping dog. It cannot be thought an exaggeration to say that he is provoking Hyper-Calvinism, whatever it is, and wherever it is, to show its ugly face. Iain throws terms into the arena without defining them and pastes labels on people without either saying what the title entails or why the person ought to have it. He suggests that Fullerism is an antidote for Hyper-Calvinism but neither adequately defines the one nor the other. What Iain says about Fullerism shows even more fantasy than what he says about Hyper-Calvinism. To argue that Spurgeon thought Fuller a man of God, in no way suggests that he thought Gill was no such being. Gill had the benefit of being a man of God without going into Fuller’s Latitudinarian and New Divinity extremes. Iain says that Spurgeon stopped hanging Hyper-Calvinist labels on people but Iain is loath to follow Spurgeon’s excellent advice. Indeed, Iain is misusing a bulldozer (Spurgeon) to crush a hypothetical gnat (Hyper-Calvinism) whereas the bull-dozer in question rarely used his powers for such a dubious enterprise. Where he has done, according to Iain, this is more in Iain’s imaginative reconstructions than in fact. Note, for instance, Spurgeon’s supposed fourfold appeal to Scripture against modern theoretical Hyper-Calvinism. Iain tells us with whom Spurgeon would agree or disagree, giving us his own word for it which he believes no one ought to doubt. Primary evidence is, however, not forthcoming. On the contrary, Iain backs up what he says about Spurgeon by quoting what Toon says, rarely allowing Spurgeon to have a say in the matter. When Spurgeon is quoted, apart from in one quote where numerous dots between words confuse the issue, it is not difficult at all to find parallels in Gill and Huntington who are supposed to be modern Hypers. Huntington, as always, is completely misrepresented by Iain and made to say what he categorically denies. Huntington was certainly less a Hyper in his view of the law than Iain himself as I have informed Iain with evidence from both the men’s writings.
Throughout the book, Iain never proves his case because he never states it clearly. He has some fossil bone to pick but we must have flesh on identifiable bones to know what animal they belong to. It is difficult to agree or disagree with Iain in his theological testimony as agreement stands or falls on definitions used. When, for instance, Iain speaks of a ‘warrant’, he sometimes hints that this means a guarantee of salvation ought to go out to all unconditionally as a gospel call, which, I trust, he cannot possibly mean. Spurgeon, however, would seemingly contradict Iain here as he clearly says in Iain’s quote that the warrant of faith is to the truly penitent. I cannot possibly imagine any of Iain’s supposed Hypers quarrelling with Spurgeon here. The use of a nebulous word like ‘warrant’, a favourite of Iain’s, cannot but be confusing. As a noun it can mean anything from a necessity to a safeguard or guarantee and as a verb means to put in a position of safety or security. Iain seems to now use the one meaning and now the other. The gospel obviously offers security in Christ but, in the wisdom and mercy of God, only to those for whom Christ is a security. I am very open on this matter myself, but cannot imagine that the Scriptures teach that Christ is the security of the unrepentant and the none elect.
The way Iain quotes to build up his own argument is quite unfair. He is only able to find one contemporary of Spurgeon’s who comes anywhere near his idea of a Hyper-Calvinist. This was a man who stood almost alone in his age and in history. Yet Iain misuses his own trump card. He builds up an exaggerated case against Wells, and therefore against Hyper-Calvinism, which he later admits was one-sided and artificial. As Iain’s attempted argument progresses we find that even Wells was not the man Iain first made him out to be. It seems odd to me that Iain acknowledges how Wells drew the crowds and I know from my own reading that many conversions took place, but Iain seems to argue that this was in spite of his preaching!
Iain is equally confusing and careless with most of his quotes. He refers to John Rippon as disagreeing with Gill in his Brief Memoir but this is a sheer misrepresentation. Rippon is not emphasising where he personally differs from Gill, who is not even named, but that the two sides on the Modern Question are united in the essentials of the gospel. Where Gill is named (‘our author’) it is where Rippon agrees with him (p. 46). Rippon is emphasising agreements not disagreements between the two sides. Iain is not in fellowship with his hypothetical Hyper-Calvinists on the essentials of the gospel and does not agree with Gill, as Rippon did, in so much. He has no business to bend Ripponout of his position of one who can view both sides generously. Iain has not Rippon’s gift, here. Notice, too, how Iain misuses Kenneth Dix (p. 108). What Dix sees as objective, Iain depicts as if Dix were sorry about the fact. Dix view of the Modern Question differs radically from Iain’s. Dix points out how co-operative and brotherly both sides of the Modern Question were with each other – Iain will have war! Dix shows how “Historically, SBs have consistently maintained that ‘saving faith is not a legal duty imposed on unregenerate men.’” (p. 15, SBHSB, No. 13). Iain maintains the very opposite. Note, too, how Dix affirms that the roots of the SBs are in the PBs. Since 1976, the SBHS has moved radically from this position. I believe you will know why.
Iain shows such a lack of knowledge of Baptist history that it is quite painful to read what he says. He obviously does not know the 17th century Particular Baptist creeds. See my criticism of this point in my Focus article enclosed last. To make the Gospel Standard such fierce opponents of Spurgeon is quite unfair. One must understand here, however, that the name Gospel Standard is being used as an umbrella term by Iain and Erroll Hulse for those whose Calvinism differs from their new Grotian interpretation of it. Erroll Hulse called me a Gospel Standard man at a time when I had no idea who they were. I have written to him several times, asking him to justify his continued accusation but he chooses to snub me. When I found out who the GS were, I wrote to them concerning their Declaration of Faith, suggesting that Scriptural evidence was lacking on the ‘added’ points and received very gracious, brotherly replies. I am still not a Gospel Standard man but I know they are not the demons Iain, Erroll and Co. make them. I am now corresponding with a number of their pastors and people and find they know far more about both law and grace than most Christians. I am thankful to Erroll for forcing me to compare views with them. Through them, I have been introduced to those fine men of God that Iain says were used for the gospel’s sake in spite of their system. What a silly comment! Iain’s accusations concerning the GS and their declaration is greatly at fault. He seems to believe that what he calls the 1689 Confession contained what the 1878 GS declaration denied. This is not the case. The GS action was to show clearly that pro-duty-faith additions made to the old Baptist confession by succeeding liberals were not part of the traditional Particular Baptist faith. This is confirmed by SB older publications (see Dix again) besides PB publications. This is why the GS cannot accept Andrew Fuller as a Particular Baptist. Though not a Particular Baptist denomination-wise, I agree with their concern but I can live with Fullerites providing they do not insist on my substituting their cut-down gospel for the real thing. Actually, I find most modern Fullerites are orthodox but they call themselves such because Iain and Erroll have re-coined the word Fullerite, to mean orthodox. These two now see Gill and Co. as ‘Hyper-Orthodox’. I have recently received two letters from a convinced Fullerite who had never read Fuller. The first letter was to tell me off for being critical of Fullerism. I advised the gentleman to read Fuller’s major works. In his second letter the brother thanked me for opening his eyes as he found Fuller a wolf in sheep’s clothing. No further comment needed!
Actually, I find myself clearly agreeing with Iain only on one point as it is difficult to get beyond his smoke-screens to his faith. This is on the matter of open communion, which has really nothing to do with the subject matter of the book and there were those for and against this matter on all sides, in all denominations. I am used to being frank with my brethren and do confess that it is the question of church government and the ordinances which deny me full fellowship with many Particular Baptist churches who seem, to me, to be very popish in these things and practice what goes clean against their sound theology. I certainly, however, find that the main 18th century Baptist Creeds which I have referred to and commented on in my Gill biography are more in tune with Christian faith and practice than with the Westminster Confession, wonderfully good as it is. My own favourites remains the 39 Articles and the 1729 Particular Baptist Declaration, however. Contrary to what Iain says, Rippon used this until well into the 19th century.
I need not dwell on Chapter 8 of Iain’s book as I have already recorded my views. Iain needs to do his homework on the relationship between Hussey, Skepp and Gill. I think he is in for some surprises. Of course, nearly everything Iain says in this chapter has little foundation in historical fact and is prejudice run loose. I would like to challenge him on almost every line. Iain’s army continually quote Hussey as the founder of Hyper-Calvinism, forgetting that he came to his ‘none offer’ position quite late in life after he had spent years of arguing with other people who held to the doctrines he later assumed. I cannot help feeling that Hussey is being set up as an Aunt Sally, merely because he is an easy target for the coco-nut throwers. It is odd that Iain leaves out Richard Davis in this connection. Davis is the stumbling block of all Bannerites. A High Calvinist with an enormous evangelistic outreach. I suppose Iain will put Davis down to ‘Revivalism’ and not ‘Revival’. (I an not referring to Samuel Davis).
Now to the promised subject of using quotes from Spurgeon (Chapter 11) as a weapon against hypothetical Antinomianism. By way of introduction, I would like to suggest the obvious, namely that a man will say one thing and mean one thing but a second person will understand that one thing in another way. A third ear or eye is tuned differently and will receive a different impression. On reading Spurgeon, I have been tempted to think of him now as a ‘high’ Calvinist and now as a free-willer, until I realised that the latter instances were very few and spoken in very special circumstances and I must accept Spurgeon’s whole testimony, not force it to represent now one, now another point of view. It is most important in understanding Spurgeon to find the Sitz-im-Leben not only of his text under scrutiny but also of the circumstances under which he expounded it. We must also bear in mind, as Spurgeon so graciously admitted, that we fallen humans are notoriously inconsistent in our thoughts, words and deeds. This is also very much true of John Gill, who is flanked against Spurgeon so often by Banner men these days. It is rather sickening, for instance, to find the best of Spurgeon so often compared with what many think the worst of Gill in order to score a point against Gill. Spurgeon would have given such critics a severe dressing down as we know from his history. Personally, I find no man as consistent as Gill in theology, though, in my ill-trained opinion, he is inconsistent at times in his work on the covenants, the ordinances, church government and eschatology. This may reflect negatively on me but I presume I am inconsistent in certain matters, too. You will remember that although Gill is depicted nowadays as a Hyper of Hypers, he was accused of Antinomianism by contemporaries. This is because of his great fervency in preaching and his obvious evangelical approach and emphasis on combining faith with duties. John Rippon gave such critics of Gill a good telling off! Iain’s criticism of Rippon for being too moderate in his evaluation of Gill’s life and ministry is quite unbalanced.
I believe you will agree with me that Spurgeon invariably speaks of Gill with great respect and even awe. Iain finds him ‘too generous’. Spurgeon exercises the usual fond criticism against Gill that a pupil makes against his favourite teacher but who will take such banter amiss? Where his mild criticism comes, it is in Gill’s sermon construction and academic work. We know that Spurgeon ordered Gill’s books for the education of his own children, affirming that they had been the best of the best for him. He even affirms that his doctrines are those of Gill and of Christ and we wonder why Christ is put last! When, therefore, men who should know better, make Spurgeon Gill’s most prominent and sometimes fiercest critic, we are suspicious. Especially when words are forced into Spurgeon’s mouth against Gill which the Prince of Preachers never uttered and evidence which Spurgeon used for other matters is picked up and used as if Spurgeon were fighting Gill. This is the situation in Iain’s latest extravagances against Gill in which this man, who has blessed many, has suddenly become most glaringly inconsistent with himself. I believe in such a case as this, we will be forgiven for protesting loudly.
Now let us turn to the passage taken from Spurgeon’s exposition of I Tim. 2:3-4. which Brother Reisinger, following Iain uses. It is obvious that this passage is chosen to illustrate Spurgeon’s polemics against the modern Hyper-Calvinist controversy of which he was fully unaware. As an illustration of this unawareness, we may take the example of Robert Hawker. This great preacher of righteousness was even thought to be an Antinomian in his day by Arminians and even a few professing Calvinists. John Kitto’s first theological essay in the days of his youth was to ‘prove’ that Hawker was an Antinomian. Yet, read Spurgeon on Hawker. He finds him all sweetness and recommends him warmly. The only criticism Spurgeon has of Hawker is that he sometimes finds Christ in the Bible where others would not see Him. Would to God that this were my only ‘fault’! Note, too, Spurgeon’s comments on the man he called the ‘prince of divines’, John Owen. Today I received an American magazine in which a Brother Passerello (unknown to me) points out the now obvious. The Banner of Truth has discarded Owen’s theology. He suggests, which is equally plain, that they have rejected Witsius. I would also add Louis Berkof.
It is very dubious whether Spurgeon is attacking any form of Hyper-Calvinism at all as his criticisms are directed against then commonly held opinions expounded by those who had nothing to do with Hyper-Calvinism. I spent some 12 years as a pupil in a Methodist Sunday School and two years as a teacher there. I studied theology at a most ‘moderate’ Bible College before further studies at Hull, Uppsala, Hamburg, Essen and Duisburg. I never came across a single 17th-18th century Hyper-Calvinist commentary but I did come across a number of none-Calvinist and mild Calvinist commentators who took the very side with which Spurgeon seems to be disagreeing. I never encountered the interpretation Spurgeon gives anywhere! I will not mention the names of the commentaries I am thinking of as my experience tells me, these ‘moderates’ will be then labelled ‘Hyper-Calvinists’ at once by Bannerites. You will certainly have some of these books on your shelves. Commentators who adopt Spurgeon’s view here are those who believe that the covenant of works has been abolished, the whole of the Old Testament Covenant abrogated as if it no longer had any significance and every man, believer or unbeliever, was now within the covenant of grace with all the blessings at his disposal. The idea is that God either wishes or wills (there are various degrees of certainty) to save all because all are put in a saveable position. Those who disagree with Spurgeon’s exegesis of I Tim. 2:3-4 do so mainly because they believe that the covenant of works is binding even in the New Testament dispensation.
Now I am not arguing that Spurgeon did not believe in the continuation of the covenant of works but merely striving to show that the problems Spurgeon discussed had probably nothing whatsoever to do with the problems of present day critics of Hyper-Calvinism. The whole construction and contents denies such thought. Spurgeon wished merely to emphasise God’s love for mankind and the world He had created.
Furthermore, it is obvious that this passage is not quoted so that we might be addressed and edified as Spurgeon’s hearers undoubtedly were. Nor can we imagine that he expected posterity to weigh every one of his words on a goldsmith’s scales. I have made glaring mistakes in speaking ‘off the cuff’ but the Lord has blessed it in spite of me. Thus, if I criticise Spurgeon, it is only to show the folly of using this passage in criticism at all! To use this passage as a touch-stone to test Hypers is a preposterous endeavour and demands more of the text than it can possibly give. Such an attempt would have us believe that the text has a theological, exegetical and text-critical level for which it was never intended. It is certainly not the best comprehensive analysis of the dangers of Hyper-Calvinism. This is no fault of Spurgeon’s, the fault lies entirely with Iain and with yourselves. Spurgeon’s sermon will stand when your misuse of it falls.
Iain sees John Gill as the Proto-Hyper, though he was obviously nothing of the kind. Not only do Gill’s works speak for him, so does a massive amount of contemporary witness. It would seem that Iain chose the passage because it refers playfully to the follies of ‘a doctor’, whom he nevertheless views as ‘very able.’ Could it be that Iain takes this to be Dr. John Gill? Evidence in Ian’s book points to this. Spurgeon, however, always called Gill by his name and title or used the epithets ‘good’ or ‘eminent’ or even ‘glorious’ with the definite article. He never thought of Gill in terms of ‘some doctor or another,’ no matter how able. I have read all that Spurgeon clearly says about Gill, including Iain’s quotes in his works but cannot ever find Spurgeon referring to his predecessor as ‘a doctor’ but as the doctor. Rather this is a name which Spurgeon gave to not only academics but clergymen in general. This was the custom of the day. Spurgeon also gave Gill’s sermons three stars, which was his way of saying ‘the very best’ and used words such as ‘precious’ and ‘ever green’ to describe them and says of those who are not moved by his sermons that they are ‘incapable of elevated feelings.’ He bemoans the fact that his contemporaries have been so prejudiced by Arminians that they have no eyes for Gill’s beauties.
It is depressing indeed to see how Iain, over the years, has worked himself into an increased criticism of Gill at Spurgeon’s expense. I have watched this developments since around 1959. Note that in 1962 Iain enthusiastically presents Spurgeon as the loving pupil and successor of a ‘glorious’ Gill with no shade of criticism. Four years later, we find Iain casting doubt on Spurgeon’s allegiance to Gill, without new evidence being forthcoming. The doubt concerning Gill was obvious in Iain’s eyes, not in Spurgeon’s. Now, with the introduction of Iain’s controversy, we have the 1995 Banner of Truth article followed by Iain’s work on Spurgeon as a weapon against Hyper-Calvinism and though, Iain still has to affirm that Spurgeon loved Gill, he makes it quite obvious that he, himself, has no love for the man and obviously bends Spurgeon’s arm to make him agree. Again, Iain brings no further evidence to back up his case but must revert to historical juggling as referred to in my Focus article. If you look at what Spurgeon actually says about Hypers, you will find that he uses the term to describe those who reject theological and exegetical works, i.e. he is talking about those who are the opposite to Gill and Co.! He points out, however, that even they cannot do without such works completely and they must look into Gill’s ‘invaluable’ commentaries ‘on the sly’ and if they do so, even these perverters of the truth ‘will not go far wrong’. In other words, he sees Gill as helping to curb Hyper-Calvinism, not spread it!
But back to the text under discussion and to evidence of Gill being the butt of Spurgeon’s criticism. It is furthermore unlikely that Gill is referred to by Spurgeon because, if we look at Spurgeon’s sermon, in his introduction, he makes much of the different interpretations of ‘all’, criticising ‘a doctor’s’ laborious explanations about what the word means before expounding a text containing the word. Although such an introduction is obviously necessary, given the different applications of ‘all’, in Gill’s preaching on the same text, there is no such introduction. To extend the meaning of ‘all’ savingly to every single person in history and relate this to God’s will, is a risky business indeed, especially in the Pastoral Epistles and can only be argued on the basis of speculation. II Thess. 2:11-12 must serve as a warning here. If the Banner had to reject all their authors who believe that ‘all’ has a different reference in different contexts, they would soon have to declare themselves bankrupt. Again, I shall not mention particular names through fear that the Banner will indeed put them on their index.
You will find that Gill sticks closer to the text than Spurgeon who even has Matthew Henry against him in his ‘asides’ and diversions at times. I mention this name on second thought as no one, we hope, will call him a Hyper. But I have seen strange things!
If we compare Gill’s and Spurgeon’s exegesis of I Tim. 2:3-4, we see at once that they thwart any comparison. Spurgeon is speaking informally, teasingly, chattily and in a most friendly way, obviously because this was most suited to his hearers. Gill is expounding closely, meticulously, scientifically and in the wider context. To compare the two methods and the different aims of these men and use the criteria of one as a yardstick for the criteria of the other would be like using a piece of entertaining, though uplifting, poetry as a standard for news broadcasts. What would be the point?
In his sermon, Spurgeon emphasises that he is not wishing to stir up controversy but he is dealing with a side of the gospel which he feels is neglected. This is a legitimate stand. He is now being used, however, by Iain to thwart his own wishes. He is being misused as a controversial figure. Nevertheless, we notice that Gill does not qualify, excuse and fill out his exegesis in this way but gets down to the text at once. There is no ‘beating about the bush’. His people were already interested in the subject. Gill’s hearers were a very well-schooled congregation. From 1719 on to 1771, Gill dealt out deep theology. Perhaps he was more a teacher than a preacher but he was amazingly well-equipped didactically and what he said went home. Spurgeon has the difficult business of gaining the interest of his hearers before preaching to them. This is the only explanation I can find as to why at least half of the passage you give is not taken up with direct exegesis.
Next we notice that Spurgeon does not centre his text in the context as Gill does. Again this is legitimate in certain kinds of evangelical preaching but it cannot be then used as a standard for establishing the meaning of a text. Here Gill is more careful. Of, course, when preaching in an open-air market etc., one cannot give the people ‘the whole works’.
Now Spurgeon adopts a daring and critical stand to the Scriptures, testing what they mean. This often interests preaching to unbelievers but just as often puts believers, who know their Bibles, off. Surprisingly, Spurgeon tells the people that when God wills that someone will be saved, as in this passage, He does not mean this is the divine purpose. Note that Gill does. He takes the text at its face value. In order to justify his statement, Spurgeon says ‘will’ means ‘wish’. This it might do sometimes as perhaps in Gal. 4:20, but it is only a ‘perhaps’. Normally speaking the word used here means to chose, to will into being, to intend or to design. Spurgeon’s is, therefore, a questionable exposition but he is preparing his hearers to understand that God’s will in salvation must be translated into deed, whereas His wish need not. This is superfluous metaphysics, though prompting interesting thought processes. Talking about God’s unfulfilled wishes is a red herring and is not in the text. Gill finds the text means what it says and keeps to the meaning of ‘will’ which he only finds conditional according to the conditions God has set and not according to conditions of response set up by man. Here Henry and our Lutheran evangelical friends keep to the meaning of ‘will’ as Gill but believe that this will applies to putting everyone in a saveable state. Gill cannot accept this because, like Spurgeon (I quote from Iain’s 1962 work) he believes:
“Some persons love the doctrine of universal atonement because they say, “It is so beautiful. It is a lovely idea that Christ should have died for all men; it commends itself,” they say, “to the instincts of humanity; there is something in it full of joy and beauty.” I admit there is, but beauty may be often associated with falsehood. There is much which I might admire in the theory of universal redemption, but I will just show what the supposition necessarily involves. If Christ on His cross intended to save every man, then He intended to save those who were lost before He died. If the doctrine be true, that He died for all men, then He died for some who were in hell before He came into this world, for doubtless there were even then myriads there who had been cast away because of their sins. Once again, if it was Christ’s intention to save all men, how deplorably has He been disappointed, for we have His own testimony that there is a lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, and into that pit of woe have been cast some of the very persons who, according to the theory of universal redemption, were bought with His blood. That seems to me a conception a thousand times more repulsive than any of those consequences which are said to be associated with the Calvinistic and Christian doctrine of special and particular redemption. To think that my Saviour died for men who were or are in hell, seems a supposition too horrible for me to entertain. To imagine for a moment that He was the Substitute for all the sons of men, and that God, having first punished the Substitute, afterwards punished the sinners themselves, seems to conflict with all my ideas of Divine justice. That Christ should offer an atonement and satisfaction for the sins of all men, and that afterwards some of those very men should be punished for the sins for which Christ had already atoned, appears to me to be the most monstrous iniquity that could ever have been imputed to Saturn, to Janus, to the goddess of the Thugs, or to the most diabolical heathen deities. God forbid that we should ever think thus of Jehovah, the just and wise and good!”
Now Spurgeon, in order to maintain his Calvinistic doctrine that God wills the salvation of the elect, (but he is not willing, for the sake of his general metaphysical speculation, to use the word ‘all’ to describe this number), gets himself into extraordinary difficulties. He extends his speculation. We cannot blame him, here, as even Witsius and Owen speculated about what would have happened if man had not fallen or Christ had atoned for all. I have thought about it much myself and it has filled me with shame that myself and my fellow men have so fallen from Adam’s original state. In the pressure of the moment, however, Spurgeon does not pay enough attention to his expression and grammar in the text and removes the word he is speculating on from its sense content. His speculations have made themselves independent. A mistake Spurgeon rarely made. He now tells his hearers that it is God’s ‘wish that every man should be saved.”
Giving the language of the time, and knowing Spurgeon’s theology as a whole, it seems that he is merely saying “Mankind has been given the chance of salvation but lost it at the fall.” Nowadays, however, with the emphasis on man’s retained ability to believe which has not been lost by the fall, Spurgeon’s words could be interpreted as indicating, “There is still a chance for the non-elect to be saved and if they do not get themselves saved, it is their own fault. They ought to be saved, according to God’s wish.” Condemnation, to them, lies in rejecting Christ rather than in the fall, but the Scriptures state clearly that Christ came to save His elect from the consequences of the fall not from the consequences of not being elected! Even in Spurgeon’s days, however, to say that God wishes that man should be saved must have left many puzzled. If God thought that man should be saved, why did He not save them? Spurgeon raises this question but confuses the answer which lies in God’s will by diverting too much and speculating on God’s imaginary wish. Gill does not speculate for a moment on what might have been if . . . . and keeps to the plan of God’s will as revealed in Scripture. We may not agree with him, but what is the use salvation-wise in agreeing with Spurgeon that “God wishes that we should be saved.” If this is our gospel to all men, surely we are deceiving them if we do not preach an atoning solution which gives man a chance to comply with the conditions, using his own abilities. We would also be taking away man’s responsibility for not complying with them if he was not intended to do so. The modern Banner movement get over this problem by following Fuller who maintained that man’s responsibility lay in his not following his natural abilities to believe. He is thus damned for rejecting Christ according to his abilities and responsibilities. Spurgeon would not accept that for a moment. He believed that man was responsible for his lost state because of the fall which left all his abilities to comprehend his spiritual state marred, indeed, lost. He is, however, clearly responsible for this state. This is what Gill, Hervey, Huntington, Hawker, Philpot, Kershaw etc. also believed, i.e. men whom Bannerites claim are Antinomians.
We do find Spurgeon here rather weak exegetically, but this does not warrant Iain to see his weakness as the very strength of his own questionable theological position. The odds are, if it were not for the Banner’s new theology, few would misunderstand Spurgeon at all! Thankfully, I read Spurgeon through my own glasses of the blossoming fifties rather than through Iain’s glasses of the decadent 90s. Believe me, Spurgeon free makes much better reading than Spurgeon capsulated in Iain’s tight system, portrayed with such an exclusive spirit!
By the way, Brother Reisinger, you speak of ‘responsibility’, ‘ability’ and ‘will’. You will find most certainly, that the people you are backing have completely different interpretations of these words to yours. Indeed if you collect their various views of these matters, you will find they are all keenly anti-Gill etc. but differ from one another far greater than they differ from Gill. Bannerites have views on these terms which extend from Baxterism to crass Hyper-Calvinism. Could it be that you confuse Hyper-Calvinism with Fullerism? It was Fuller who maintained that “If a man is to be held responsible for something, then he must have the ability to do it. On the other hand, if a man does not have the ability to perform it, he cannot be obliged to do it.” Surely this is his main argument in The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation. He will not accept the reformed view that man cannot comprehend his spiritual state because he argues this would mean he could not be held responsible. Reformed teaching has always been that man has been condemned for not carrying out his responsibilities. Fuller also teaches that God demands gospel faith from sinners, though He has made no provision for such for them (Letter to Philanthropos). He also argues that the proper gospel is only for believers (ditto). This all smacks of Hyper-Calvinism at its worst to me but the Banner is promoting Fuller as if he were the answer to all our theological problems, including Hyper-Calvinism! I have become a very cautious person as I have been duped by pseudo-reformed men many times. Could I be forgiven for confessing that I see more Hyperism in Bannerism than I have ever seen in Gillism or Huntingtonianism? I also see much Latitudinarianism and not a little Socinianism. It seems that the devil is throwing all he has got at the reformed faith now that the Banner of Truth has been lowered!
When I read Iain’s Banner article last year and heard immediate comments, I was fearful that the Banner would provoke criticism of Spurgeon as they have unwittingly provoked criticism of other good men, not forgetting Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. This would be a back-firing, indeed. A few days ago, I received an article from a British Reformed magazine that did not so much criticise Iain for using Spurgeon as the soap with which to wash his dirty linen, but made an all out criticism of Spurgeon as if this one-off sermon was typical of him. As Iain back-projected a modern controversy on Spurgeon, this writer, whom I believe belongs to Iain’s denomination, back-projected further modern ideas which have arisen as a reaction against the new Bannerism. Though I am much in sympathy with this magazine, I was sad that they had allowed Iain to provoke them in such a way that they worked off their frustration on Spurgeon instead of Iain.
Iain Murray will certainly go down in history as the man who instigated the Second Downgrade Controversy. There are, however four important differences which makes the second controversy more dangerous than the first.
The First was mainly a British affair. The second, backed by the Banner of Truth’s large financial resources is being propagated world-wide. The third is that extremism is being nurtured by Iain and Co. to a degree far more serious than over a hundred years ago. Five point men, on the whole are now regarded as Hypers and the trend is towards Arminianism, Baxterism and Socinianism in an effort to appear innocent of Hyperism. This is encouraged by the Banner’s condemnation of such people as Gill and their modern counterparts and by their rejection of the Biblical doctrine of the Atonement in place of a satisfaction through application, reconciliation through repentance and sincere obedience and election through reception. Erroll Hulse and Robert Oliver must be named as Iain’s right and left hands in this ‘enterprise’. The result is a rejection of the covenant of works as in Wesley’s teaching, a rejection of Christ’s necessary obedience to the whole law as per Baxter and a Socinian usage of the Word of God. During the First Downgrade Controversy, there were orthodox men still on both sides. In the Second Downgrade Controversy there are no orthodox men on either side. The Hypers do not really exist but Five Point men are automatically ruled out by their now bad reputation and the other side is ruled out because of its liberal theology. The sides are separating at a hellish speed, or rather orthodoxy is going over to heresy. We are left with a Tohuwabohu!
The fourth tragedy is that Spurgeon relied on Gill to help him through the Downgrading. It is in conjunction with this that Spurgeon affirms that he has taken up Gill’s mantle and Gill’s doctrine. Iain, in ruining Gill’s doctrinal and personal reputation is undermining the defence of any opposition which might come up against him. This is very cunning. I find it very evil.
This must suffice for now. I shall await your replies before proceeding further. If I have been unfairly critical or too heated in my argument, please point this out to me. If I have said anything which you feel I could not verify, please inform me. If I have accused anyone wrongly, then please fall on me like a ton of bricks, I will have deserved it!
Other Recommended Articles: