I can only imagine the range of reactions to the title of this post! (And based on the number of hits this post gets every month, there are quite a few of you reading it. After reading this you might appreciate my honest review and confessions in another post: Strange Fire, Straw Men, and Arguing from Silence. Also, you might benefit from a post about avoiding the reactionary theological errors that land people in the ditch on either side of the road.
People love to make it look like famous people from the past agreed with their positions.
Spurgeon is one of those famous ones. It can be shown from his writings that he believed that some of the gifts of the Spirit that the original apostles wielded have passed away (a theological position known as “cessationism”). But at the same time you can read some pretty amazing (actually, miraculous) stories of how the Holy Spirit worked in Spurgeon’s ministry.
I want to include here a portion of one of Spurgeon’s sermons. In it, among other things, he gives testimony of spontaneous prophetic insight (or “impressions” as he called them) he was often given even as he stood in the pulpit.
We have often had very clear proof of God’s knowing what is in man’s heart, even in the ministry. Some months ago, whilst standing here preaching, I deliberately pointed to a man in the midst of the crowd, and said these words—”There is a man sitting there that is a shoemaker, keeps his shop open on Sunday, had his shop open last Sabbath morning, took ninepence, and there was fourpence profit out of it. His soul is sold to Satan for fourpence.”
A City Missionary, when going round the West end of the town, met with a poor man, of whom he asked this question: “Do you know Mr. Spurgeon?” He found him reading a sermon. “Yes,” he said, “I have every reason to know him; I have been to hear him, and under God’s grace I have become a new man. “But,” said he, “shall I tell you how it was? I went to the Music Hall, and took my seat in the middle of the place, and the man looked at me as if he knew me, and deliberately told the congregation that I was a shoemaker, and that I sold shoes on a Sunday; and I did, sir. But, sir, I should not have minded that; but he said I took ninepence the Sunday before, and that there was fourpence profit; and so I did take ninepence, and fourpence was just the profit, and how he should know that I’m sure I can not tell. It struck me it was God had spoken to my soul through him; and I shut my shop last Sunday, and was afraid to open it and go there, lest he should tell all about me again.”
I could tell as many as a dozen authentic stories of cases that have happened in this Hall, where I have deliberately pointed at some body, without the slightest knowledge of the person, or ever having in the least degree any inkling or idea that what I said was right, except that I believed I was moved thereto by the Spirit; and so striking has been the description, that the persons have gone away and said, “Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did: he was sent of God to my soul, beyond a doubt, or else he could not have painted my case so clearly.”
And not only so, but we have known cases in which the thoughts of men have been revealed from the pulpit. I have sometimes seen persons nudge with their elbows, because they have got a smart hit, and I have heard them say, when they went out, “That is just what I said to you when I went in at the door.” “Ah!” says the other, “I was thinking of the very thing he said, and he told me of it.” Now, if God thus proves his own Omniscience by helping his poor, ignorant servant, to state the very thing, thought and done, when he did not know it, then it must remain decisively proved that God does know everything that is secret, because we see he tells it to men, and enables them to tell it to others. (source info below)
“We see He tells it to men, and enables them to tell it to others.” This is basically a definition of the new testament gift of prophecy, explained and guarded by Paul in 1 Corinthians 14. Spurgeon might say that the office of a prophet is no more or that authoratative, binding prophecies have ceased, but by that he means prophecies that are on par with Holy Scripture. (Btw, every continuist (i.e. non-cessationist) I know also believes this with Spurgeon.) But by Spurgeon’s own testimony, prophetic impressions which revealed the secrets of men’s hearts had NOT ceased. Just read 1 Corinthians 14 again. Spurgeon’s experience was analagous with that of Paul’s churches.
So I like to refer to Spurgeon as a “Charismatic cessationist.” His own experience may have contradicted at least some of the cessationist views he had held. No doubt he continued to hold to some of those views, while personal experience required adjustment to others. And this was Spurgeon, if not by confession, then by the evidence itself.
By the way, I know a lot of cessationists whose experience with the Holy Spirit is much more powerful and revelatory than their cessationist theology might suggest. By the way, this is the way most of us escape the cessationist dogma. It’s by experience.
“Ah hah!”, someone is thinking, “See, you are admitting your theology is based upon experience… and not the Bible!”
Actually, people on both sides of the argument are guilty of interpreting their own experience (or lack) back into the biblical texts. Experience is a powerful force of persuasion. It’s hard to convince somebody who hasn’t eaten my wife’s chocolate pie that it’s to die for. But it’s impossible to convince me that that pie is no longer available. Because I experience it from time to time.
To clear the air, and perhaps connect with my readers who are cessationists, let me say that I do NOT believe that there is ongoing, binding, “special” revelation from God, outside of the Bible. (So to this degree you could call me a charismatic cessationist too!) God does not use prophets and apostles today to establish new truth for the church. The Bible plays an exclusive role in this area now. But just because we say that “special revelation” has ceased, does not mean that God no longer speaks to His children providentially, leading them in unique and personal ways, sometimes without the immediate use of the Scriptures, and working through them even in miraculous ways via spiritual gifts. Spurgeon’s testimony of speaking to the shoemaker (above) is a classic example of this. This was a revelation from God, spoken into Spurgeon’s heart, that was nothing short of miraculous. It was part of what brought intense conviction to the soul of that shoemaker…and played a key role in his turning to Christ for salvation. Dear cessationist friend, even the Westminster divines, who believed that special revelation had ended, made room for this kind of ongoing revelation.
Those who have read this far might enjoy or at least be stirred up by reading my post about John MacArthur’s Strange Fire Conference. It’s called, Strange Fire, Straw Men, and Arguments from Silence.
Excerpted from “God, the All-Seeing One”
Sermon (No. 177)
Delivered on Sabbath Morning, February 14, 1858, by the
REV. C. H. Spurgeon
at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens.