Contend Earnestly: Spurgeon vs. James White

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Spurgeon vs. James White

I am basically done with the book Spurgeon vs. Hyper-Calvinism, as I only have the last part of Spurgeon's exegesis on 1 Timothy 2:3,4. The book is written by Iain Murray and I have found that if I merely started with this book it would have made more sense the fallacies that James White has been putting forth for some time. I am basically continuing something that I read from Kevin Williams in his post "Calvin disagrees with James White on John 3:16." This post could very well be Spurgeon, Iain Murray and T.J. Crawford disagree with James White on the desire of God, the well meant offer, John Gill and the exegesis on John 3:16, Matthew 23:37; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:3,4 and any other verses on God's desire. But that would be a very long post heading. What is interesting is that what I, and others, have been saying is exactly what Spurgeon said of Gill in trying to explain his position on God's desire and love for the reprobate. Here is Spurgeon explaining some of Gill, whom Spurgeon and Murray both declare to be a Hyper-Calvinist (Gill is someone who White leans on and defends)

Very seldom does he allow himself to be run away with by imagination, except now and then when he tries to open up a parable, and finds a meaning in every circumstance and minute detail; or when he falls upon a text which is not congenial with his creed, and hacks and hews terribly to bring the word of God into a more systematic shape
Charles Spurgeon; Commenting and Commentaries, P. 9

Spurgeon basically says that instead of allowing Scripture to speak for what it says, Gill has to hack away at it so badly to fit into his creeds, that it makes no sense at all anymore. This is what we have seen when dealing with others as we try to look at John 3:16; Matthew 23:37; 2 Peter 3:9 and 1 Timothy 2:3,4. It is laughable, except they don't seem to get the joke.

T.J. Crawford (1812-1875), Professor of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh speaks of the desire of God in this way:

It may be alleged, however, that the invitations of the Gospel, besides being expressive of the undisputed fact that whosoever complies with them shall obtain the offered blessings, are also indicative of a desire on the part of God that all sinners to whom they are held out should comply with them; and how, it may be asked, can such a desire be sincere, if it be the purpose of God to confer only on some sinners that grace by which their compliance will be secured?

Now, without pretending that we are able to give a satisfactory answer to this question, we are not prepared to admit, what the question evidently assumes, that God can have no sincere desire with reference to the conduct of all His creatures, if it be His purpose to secure on the part of this desire. For how does the case stand in this respect with His commandments? These, no less than His invitations, are addressed to all. Both are alike to be considered as indications of what He desires and requires to be done by all. Nor are there wanting, with reference to His commandments, testimonies quite as significant as any which are to be found with reference to His invitations, of the earnestness and intensity of His desire that the course which they prescribe should be adopted by all who hear them. Take, for example, these tender expostulations: 'O that there were such a heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children forever!' 'Oh that my people had harkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways!' 'O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments; then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea!'

But while the commandments of God are thus indicative of what God desires, approves of, and delights in, as congenial to the goodness and holiness of His moral nature, they are certainly not declarative, at the same time, of what He has fixedly purposed or determined in His government of the universe to carry into effect. For if they were so, it is certain that they would be unfailingly and universally obeyed by all His creatures; whereas they are frequently violated, without any interference on His part to secure their observance. Doubtless it is an inscrutable mystery that things should thus be done under the government of the Almighty which are in the highest degree displeasing and offensive to Him. It is just the old mystery of the existence of moral evil, which no one has ever been able to explain.

It is clear through the reading of this book that Spurgeon, Murray and others believed that God has a true inner desire for the reprobate and that those who oppose this idea are those believing in a tenant of hyperism. Murray quotes many men in this respect and labors to make the point clear. What I also found interesting is that when Spurgeon continued to make the point of God's desire and duty faith that he was called an Arminian, or at least one with some sort of Arminian leanings. This is exactly what I find every time I bring up these points. That if I believe that God has a true desire for something that does not come to pass, then I am an Arminian. I would rather stand on the Scriptures with Spurgeon on this, than what was historically labeled as Hyper-Calvinism.

One last note, and we'll be done. When speaking on 1 Timothy 2:3,4 Spurgeon makes this comment:

What then? Shall we try to put another meaning into the text than that which is fairly bears? I trow not. You must, most of you, be acquainted with the general method in which our older Calvinistic friends (he is speaking of James Wells, Gill and other hyper-Calvinists) deal with this text. 'All men,' say they, - 'that is, some men': as if the Holy Ghost could not have said 'some men' if he had meant some men. 'All men,' they say; 'that is, some sorts of men': as if the Lord could not have said 'All sorts of men' if he had meant that. The Holy Ghost by the apostle has written 'all men,' and unquestionably he means all men. I know how to get rid of the force of the 'alls' according to that critical method which some time ago was very current, but I do not see how it can be applied here with due regard to truth...I never thought it to be any very great crime to be so inconsistent with myself, for who am I that I should everlastingly be consistent? But I do think it is a great crime to seem to be inconsistent with the word of God that I should want to lop away a bough or even a twig from so much as a single tree of the forest of Scripture. God forbid that I should cut or shape, even in the least degree, any divine expression. So runs the text, and so we must read it, 'God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.'

Does not the text mean that it is the wish of God that men should be saved? The word 'wish' gives as much force to the original as it really requires, and the passage should run thus - 'whose wish it is that all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.' As it is my wish that it should be so, as it is your wish that it might be so, so it is God's wish that all men should be saved; for, assuredly, he is not less benevolent than we are.

Charles Spurgeon, MTP, vol. 26, pp. 49-52

It is undeniable what Spurgeon thought on the desire and love of God and also his thought that Gill was a Hyper-Calvinist. He would disagree with James White on this understanding and would also say, as I have said, if you do not believe in the fact that God desires the salvation of all men, including the reprobate, that is a tenant of Hyper-Calvinism. Not only this, but he would also exegete all the major passages of the love of God differently than James White and would say that White is hacking away the word of God to fit his creeds.

Again, I pray that James White would see his error in this and turn from it. I thank God that White believes in the preaching of the Gospel to the reprobate (and he does so mightily) and I also thank God that James White believes in duty-faith (which he also faithfully proclaims). I just pray that he could see the love that God has for all people and the true desire that He has for their salvation.

9 comments:

Puritan said...

excellent post brother, and 2 great quotes from Spurgeon.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

Hey Seth. I think, in fairness to White, we should avoid the term "hyper-Calvinist". While it's true (at least historically) that the belief that God doesn't in any way desire the salvation of the reprobate is hyper-Calvinistic, it isn't really a definitional tenet (tenants are inhabitants, Seth) of hyper-Calvinism. Certainly in modern theological usage, hyper-Calvinism is centrally defined by its denial of the universal call and subsequent de-emphasis on evangelism, rather than by the denial of the free offer, and its ancillary issues. So if we say that White is a hyper-Calvinist, or even just that he is hyper-Calvinistic, in modern usage what we are perceived to be saying is that he denies that we should evangelize all people without distinction. Even though that isn't what we mean, it's how people automatically understand us. Therefore, in the interest of fairly representing our opponents, I think we should avoid the term.

That said, I would argue that White is being highly inconsistent. He wants to hold to a premise that logically entails hyper-Calvinism; but without actually being pushed into hyper-Calvinism: he wants to reject the free offer on the basis of it entailing conflicting desires in God; but this leads logically into rejecting the universal call as well, because the same argument applies to both:

1. God cannot desire the salvation of the reprobate, because he has already determined not to save them, and God cannot entertain conflicting desires.
2. Therefore, God cannot sincerely offer salvation to the reprobate, because to offer something one must desire the person to take it.
3. Therefore, the gospel cannot be a free offer to all people.

But, as I observed in my recent entry on this exact argument in my series on the atonement, this applies equally to the gospel as a command:

1. God cannot desire the salvation of the reprobate, because he has already determined not to save them, and God cannot entertain conflicting desires.
2*. Therefore, God cannot sincerely command salvation of the reprobate, because to command something one must desire the person to obey.
3*. Therefore, the gospel cannot be a command to all people.

This of course is a conclusion White absolutely must deny, and I'm sure does deny. There is no doubt that God "commands all people everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30). Is this statement to be redefined to refer only to the elect also? Of course not (although that would be consistent with how Calvinists like White interpret other "all" passages I suppose). So this argument, which really rests on the premise that God cannot entertain conflicting desires, if it proves anything proves far too much. It leads to absolute absurdities, where God unequivocally desires what we ought not to do, while commensurately unequivocally not desiring what we ought to do, and where the very definition of "ought" is based on moral imperatives he gives, which he unequivocally does not want followed. If a human being acted in such a way, we would commit him—he would be, in fact, insane.

To be honest, I don't think White has thought through his position very well. He's so concerned to avoid some kind of frustration in God, or some kind of irrationality, that he isn't letting God speak for himself, and he isn't letting the implications of his own theology come into view. Neither, therefore, is he thinking about whether this "frustration" is actually a real problem, or just an apparent difficulty based on his own preconceptions of what God must be like. As I mentioned in the comments of the abovelinked article, White doesn’t seem to recognize that God can have desires for contradictory things without having contradictory desires. The law of non-contradiction requires the same relationship as well as the same time for a contradiction to obtain—and God's desire for the salvation of all is contingent on his decree to only save some, which in turn is contingent on his superlative desire to glorify his name. So no contradiction exists.

Regards,
Bnonn

Seth McBee said...

Bnonn.
Thanks for catching my blunder in regards to tenant vs tenet...oops...

I would also say that there is no reason that we should be afraid of calling an apple an apple. This is why when I say that he has tendencies or tenets of hyperism, I put the qualifiers.

To deny the term because someone might think of something other than what I mean is because they aren't reading the entirety of the post.

It is fair, with qualifiers. Especially historically.

David said...

Hey Dom,

You say:

I think, in fairness to White, we should avoid the term "hyper-Calvinist". While it's true (at least historically) that the belief that God doesn't in any way desire the salvation of the reprobate is hyper-Calvinistic, it isn't really a definitional tenet (tenants are inhabitants, Seth of hyper-Calvinism.

David: I think I would have to disagree on that. That has been part of the big debate. Historically, all hypers have denied it. Some hypers have tried to exclude that as part of the definitional set.

For the contrary, go here. Murray cites Spurgeon as making this very point.

You continue:
Certainly in modern theological usage, hyper-Calvinism is centrally defined by its denial of the universal call and subsequent de-emphasis on evangelism,

David: sure this is what modern hypers have been trying to do. Engelsma in his Hypercalvinism and the Call of the Gospel tried hard to say the PRC is not hyper because it engages in Evangelism. But this never was a definition predicated to hyperism ever. On the call of the gospel or universal call, both Gill and the PRC have their own versions of the call. In terms of the words they use, they held to it. Gill said the Gospel calls all men to a natural faith, as it cannot call them to faith in Christ, directly. However, he held to the call. I know it is crazy but thats what he taught. The PRC do deny duty-faith so they do not buy into Gill's distinction. Thus they hold that all are called to faith in Christ.

You say: rather than by the denial of the free offer, and its ancillary issues.

David: I would say no. Both Curt Daniel and Iain Murray and Phil Johnson hold that the denial of the well-meant offer, or sincere offer, is a strong marker for hyperism.

You say: So if we say that White is a hyper-Calvinist, or even just that he is hyper-Calvinistic, in modern usage what we are perceived to be saying is that he denies that we should evangelize all people without distinction.

David: Yes, here you are right. For example, I noticed that White in own defense insisted that he was not a hypercalvinist because he evangelises. This shows us that he has actually bought into the PRC redefinition of hypercalvinism. But as Murray shows, as Daniel shows, this was never a marker for hyperism by anyone's terms.

However, because so many have been misled by Engelsma, hypers can plead the defense that they are not hypercalvinists because they engage in the call of the Gospel and thereby "evangelize."

You say: Even though that isn't what we mean, it's how people automatically understand us. Therefore, in the interest of fairly representing our opponents, I think we should avoid the term.

David: I think what needs be looked at by way of discussion is the issue: Can one hold to a sincere and well-meant offer if they deny that in any actual sense God desires the salvation of all men by will revealed? But I do not see folk discussing that right now.

Hope that helps a little.

David

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

Hi David, Seth. I don't deny that we should call an apple an apple. I agree that White is hyper-Calvinistic. I just think we should be prudent with our terms. If the term "apple" is going to cause dispute which detracts from the real issue, why not just focus on the shiny red skin and sweet delicious taste? It seems to me that an enormous amount of time has been wasted in this whole controversy simply because people on both sides are so hung up on the labels that they can't look at the issues. A thorn by any other name is still a thorn—if the term "hyper-Calvinist" is so loaded that bringing it into the discussion will redirect that discussion into a defense for/against the label, rather than for/against the position that the label is supposed to be representing, then frankly I think we should simply avoid the label. I don't see how whether White accepts the label or not, or even whether the label has been redefined, is actually of any importance to the truth of the issues underlying it. Labels get redefined all the time in any case. So it just doesn't seem worth the trouble using it, given how the debate very rapidly degenerates when it is used:

MODERATES: James White wrongly denies the universal salvific desire of God. Historically, such a denial is associated with hyper-Calvinism.

HYPERS: Lies, lies! Hyper-Calvinism means this, this, this, and this; never what you're claiming.

MODERATES: No, hyper-Calvinism means those things and this also; cf various references.

HYPERS: You're misinterpreting those references!

WHITE: I'm not hyper-Calvinistic because I have spent most of my highly auspicious career battling hyper-Calvinists in an epic struggle which is documented in these highly awesome locations here, here, and here. So you obviously don't know what you're talking about. Plus, how ironic that anyone who doesn't do as much apologetics as I do would criticize me! Look how much I do for the cause of the gospel!

MODERATES: That isn't the point; on this particular issue, you are taking a hyper-Calvinistic position.

HYPERS: No he isn't, as we've already shown. You're just trying to smear him by using that label!

MODERATES: No we aren't—we are just using it because it's historically accurate, as we've already documented.

HYPERS [giving the fingers]: Document this!

MODERATES [sighing and rolling eyes]: Whatever; you still aren't addressing the actual issue, which is that God does desire the salvation of all men.

WHITE: Only a confused closet Arminian would say that. God's desires are not frustrated. Why don't you just come out of that closet? It's full of trouble-makers and poorly educated Reformed young men!

HYPERS [chanting]: Closet, closet, closet!

MODERATES: This is pointless. You aren't listening. Since the only people who will listen are other moderates, we're going to go preach to the choir for a bit and continue this discussion among ourselves.

HYPERS: Good riddance to you and your theological innovations!

All that could have been easily avoided just by saying:

MODERATES: James White is wrong to say that God doesn't desire the salvation of all men for these reasons.

That's my version anyway (:

Steve said...

LOL ... document this!

David said...

Hey Dom,

You say:

Hi David, Seth. I don't deny that we should call an apple an apple. I agree that White is hyper-Calvinistic. I just think we should be prudent with our terms.

David: Oh I totally agree. We need to be careful. It is one thing to tag someone something, another thing proving it. I think on your blog I posted my concerns and I am not wishing to go much further than that.

My comment to you was focused on the historical tidbit alone.


Dom: If the term "apple" is going to cause dispute which detracts from the real issue, why not just focus on the shiny red skin and sweet delicious taste? It seems to me that an enormous amount of time has been wasted in this whole controversy simply because people on both sides are so hung up on the labels that they can't look at the issues.

David: Sure I can see that. I think the problem lies in the fact that we have some serious ambiguity in some of the statements made in all this. As I posted at your site. The basic question I laid out there needs to be worked out, I think.

Dom: A thorn by any other name is still a thorn—if the term "hyper-Calvinist" is so loaded that bringing it into the discussion will redirect that discussion into a defense for/against the label, rather than for/against the position that the label is supposed to be representing, then frankly I think we should simply avoid the label.

Ah I see what you are saying. Part of the problem is the fact that lets say I call you hyper. You then call me Amyraldian. I then shout out that you are hyper. You then blog that I am Amyraldian. Frombog to utoob we go. Something has gone wrong. It can become will to power, as I saw in the back and forth from some parties during the J3:16 conference. I didnt see a lot of critical and thoughtful discussion about what are the markers of hypercalvinism.

Dom: I don't see how whether White accepts the label or not, or even whether the label has been redefined, is actually of any importance to the truth of the issues underlying it. Labels get redefined all the time in any case. So it just doesn't seem worth the trouble using it, given how the debate very rapidly degenerates when it is used:

David: Sure. Like I said on your site, we were all just left hanging with the ambiguity, and we were told to be satisfied with that or else. ;-)

Dom: MODERATES: James White wrongly denies the universal salvific desire of God. Historically, such a denial is associated with hyper-Calvinism.

David: such a denial is always associated with hyperism. Yes.

Dom: HYPERS: Lies, lies! Hyper-Calvinism means this, this, this, and this; never what you're claiming.

David: Enter stage left: David Engelsma, smiling cherubicly. :-)


MODERATES: No, hyper-Calvinism means those things and this also; cf various references.

HYPERS: You're misinterpreting those references!

WHITE: I'm not hyper-Calvinistic because I have spent most of my highly auspicious career battling hyper-Calvinists in an epic struggle which is documented in these highly awesome locations here, here, and here. So you obviously don't know what you're talking about. Plus, how ironic that anyone who doesn't do as much apologetics as I do would criticize me! Look how much I do for the cause of the gospel!

Dom:
MODERATES: That isn't the point; on this particular issue, you are taking a hyper-Calvinistic position.

HYPERS: No he isn't, as we've already shown. You're just trying to smear him by using that label!

MODERATES: No we aren't—we are just using it because it's historically accurate, as we've already documented.

HYPERS [giving the fingers]: Document this!


David: Sure. I agree Dom.

Dom:
MODERATES [sighing and rolling eyes]: Whatever; you still aren't addressing the actual issue, which is that God does desire the salvation of all men.

WHITE: Only a confused closet Arminian would say that. God's desires are not frustrated. Why don't you just come out of that closet? It's full of trouble-makers and poorly educated Reformed young men!

David: Young white men who need to be out evangelizing, not attacking a servant of God. :-) Sure.

Dom:
HYPERS [chanting]: Closet, closet, closet!

MODERATES: This is pointless. You aren't listening. Since the only people who will listen are other moderates, we're going to go preach to the choir for a bit and continue this discussion among ourselves.

HYPERS: Good riddance to you and your theological innovations!

All that could have been easily avoided just by saying:

MODERATES: James White is wrong to say that God doesn't desire the salvation of all men for these reasons.

That's my version anyway (:

David: Hindsight is always good. I think for our part, we all agree that the labeling only served to mis-direct the discussion. I totally agree there.

So Dom, I think we agree on all this.

Thanks and take care,
David

David said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
barrywallace said...

Hey, Seth. I'm sure you've seen (and probably quoted somewhere) Spurgeon's comment about Gill's exegesis of 1 Tim. 2:4:

I know how to get rid of the force of the “alls” according to that critical method which some time ago was very current, but I do not see how it can be applied here with due regard to truth. I was reading just now the exposition of a very able doctor who explains the text so as to explain it away; he applies grammatical gunpowder to it, and explodes it by way of expounding it."

I couldn't help but think of that when I read your post.

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