Misperception and Criticism of Reformed theology

Reforming Our Mission
By Albert Mohler

Looking across the landscape of evangelicalism, the most common misperception and criticism of Reformed theology is that it is incompatible with a high commitment to evangelism and missions. Even the slightest theological understanding and historical perspective should prevent such confusion, but the revivalistic bent of twentieth-century evangelicalism created a disastrous impression that retains cultural potency even today.

None of this would surprise Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Throughout his illustrious and culture-shaping ministry as pastor of London’s Metropolitan Tabernacle, Spurgeon faced the need to defend evangelical truth and to define evangelical Calvinism over against both misperceptions and misconstruals.

Spurgeon was always most powerful in his pulpit. On February 7, 1864, Spurgeon delivered a message on entitled, “Election No Discouragement to Seeking Souls.” This message became something of a touchstone for Spurgeon’s ministry — representing a classic statement of his evangelical commitment to Reformed theology and of his passion for conversions.

In this sermon, Spurgeon responded to those who claimed that the doctrine of election betrayed a vision of a harsh and unloving God. “God is good, infinitely good in His nature,” Spurgeon insisted. “God is love; He willeth not the death of any, but had rather that all should come to repentance. …Our friends very properly insist upon it that God is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His work; that God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy; let me assure them that we shall never quarrel on these points, for we also rejoice in the same facts.”

Spurgeon refused to see or to acknowledge a conflict between God’s omnipotent will and His love. “There is not the slightest shadow of a conflict between God’s sovereignty and God’s goodness. He may be sovereign, and yet it may be absolutely certain that He will always act in the way of goodness and love. … If the sons of sorrow fetch any comfort from the goodness of God, the doctrine of election will never stand in their way.”

The doctrine of election should not cause troubled souls to doubt the goodness of God, Spurgeon insisted, but to doubt their own confidence apart from the work of Christ.

“Let such remember that God is just as well as good, and that He will by no means spare the guilty, except through the great atonement of His Son, Jesus Christ. The doctrine of election … does come in, and breaks the neck, once for all, of all this false and groundless confidence in the unconvenanted mercy of God.”

The doctrine of election simultaneously affirms the glory of God and the helplessness of sinners, Spurgeon explained. Human pride falls dead at the foot of the cross, he believed, and nothing made this so clear as the Reformed doctrine of election.

Spurgeon’s ministry was intensely evangelistic, with the proclamation of the Gospel at the very center of his preaching and with thousands of faithful church members distributed throughout the world as evangelists, missionaries, and witnesses. As Iain H. Murray argues, “It was Spurgeon’s own persuasion of the love of Christ for the souls of men that lies at the heart of his weekly evangelistic preaching in London for thirty-seven years.”

Spurgeon was a deeply honest man, and he also confronted those who considered themselves to be committed to Reformed theology, but were opposed to evangelism. He preached faith as a duty, and called for persons to believe in Christ. Without apology, he stared

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19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. (ESV)

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