Monday, May 23, 2016

Great Quotes: Charles Spurgeon on the "exceedingly close agreement" of Arminianism and Calvinism

Here is an interesting quote I came across from Charles Spurgeon on the "exceedingly close agreement" of Arminianism and Calvinism. This is from his conference address "Misrepresentations of True Calvinism Cleared Away" (1861):
And then, to come to more modern times, there is the great exception—that wondrous revival under Mr Wesley in which the Wesleyan Methodists had so large a share. But permit me to say that the strength of the doctrine of Wesleyan Methodism lay in its Calvinism. The great body of the Methodists disclaimed Pelagianism in whole and in part; they contended for man’s entire depravity, the necessity of the direct agency of the Holy Spirit, and that the first step in the change proceeds not from the sinner, but from God. They denied at the time that they were Pelagians; does not the Methodist hold as firmly as ever we do, that man is saved by the operation of the Holy Spirit and only the Holy Spirit?  
And are not many of Mr. Wesley’s sermons full of that great truth—that the Holy Spirit is necessary to regeneration? Whatever mistakes he may have made, he continually preached the absolute necessity of the new birth by the Holy Spirit! And there are some other points of exceedingly close agreement; for instance, even that of human inability. It matters not how some may abuse us when we say man could not of himself repent or believe—yet the old Arminian standards said the same. True, they affirm that God has given grace to every man, but they do not dispute the fact, that apart from that grace, there was no ability in man to do that which was good in his own salvation.

Of course, by "Calvinism" he is, in this quote, referring only to the doctrine of "total depravity", the one point which is shared between Arminianism's FACTS and Calvinism's TULIP.  The context of this quote is part of a claim that Calvinism is not the enemy of revivals--basically arguing the opposite of my previous post--but to advance this claim, Spurgeon expands the definition of "Calvinism" to beyond breaking.

Regarding total depravity/inability, Spurgeon is correct. Yet many Calvinists--including myself when I was a 5-point Calvinist--believe Arminians deny total depravity!  Others acknowledge that Wesleyans hold this doctrine but have incorrectly taught that the original Arminians did not (Picirilli, infra, gives Louis Berkhoff, Systematic Theology, and Paul K Jewett, Election and Predestination, as examples).

In his book Grace, Faith, Free Will, Dr Robert Picirilli demonstrates, in agreement with Spurgeon’s comment on the “old Arminian Standards”, that “Arminius and the first Remonstrants likewise held with total depravity and its implications in respect to the need for grace” (Picirilli, 150). As Andrew Wilson explains (link):

Because the Canons of Dordt were a response to the Articles of Remonstrance, they only disagreed with them where they felt the Articles were inadequate. On this point [Article 3: total depravity], they didn’t, so they affirmed it (and, in a manner that is often true of Reformed theologians, expressed it at considerably greater length!) This means that both Calvinists and Arminians believe that man, since the Fall, has been dead in his sins and unable to save himself. It also means that even the most diehard five point Calvinists are, if you like, at least one point Arminians.

When Spurgeon, in another address, “A Defense of Calvinism”, refers to “the heresy of Arminianism” and seems to equate it with "the heresy of Rome", it appears that he did not have in mind Arminianism as we know it and would use the term; those who hold to the doctrine of total depravity and who Spurgeon considered to be, at least broadly, Calvinists. Rather, he seems to have been referring to some other group which in his day used the label "Arminian", but which had strayed from the original Arminian doctrines (it should be noted that the term "Arminian" seems to have been used as a shorthand in the English church for a number of different groups who opposed Calvinism or held to free will, including Laudianism, and Great Tew circle--perhaps correcting this confusion of terms was part of what motivated John Wesley to write his essay, "The Question, 'What Is an Arminian?' Answered by a Lover of Free Grace").

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