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Spurgeon the Arminian? - What is Duty-Faith?

Updated: Jun 2

Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892)

This is certainly an interesting title! Although we often think of Spurgeon, today, as a Calvinist, did you know that Charles Spurgeon was considered, by some, a closet Arminian, due to some of the positions he took? Let's look at this for a moment.

When Spurgeon came on the scene in the mid-1850s, some people noticed some "inconsistencies" in Spurgeon's sermons. Some said that Spurgeon's Gospel was "contradictory." Two influential men, observing this in Spurgeon's preaching, were James Wells and Charles Banks.

One of those "inconsistencies" was related to this idea of "Duty-Faith." This wording is a bit foreign to our language today, but it involves whether an individual has a "duty" to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. Calvinists would generally not adhere to the idea that it is a person's duty to believe, thinking that this "belief" has already been pre-determined before the person was born, or at least that "belief" is a result of salvation, not the means of it.

Spurgeon, it was believed, was teaching the sinfulness of man, but he also called his hearers indiscriminately to faith in Christ (duty faith). According to some, he was "preaching a doctrine of works, for dead captive sinners cannot exercise faith." (1) Spurgeon was accused of being a "duty-faith" preacher... "Deeply tainted with an Arminian spirit." (2)

Charles Banks was willing to give Spurgeon some latitude concerning "duty-faith" (even though he didn't believe in it), however, Wells was not. Wells went so far as to say this. "The doctrine of duty faith...I throw to Paul's dung heap. He deplored the idea that "great numbers of professing Christians...hold that it is the duty of man savingly to believe in Christ and that men are condemned for not having saving faith in Christ." (3) Pastor Wells routinely devoted a portion of his Sunday service to criticize Spurgeon's message that had been published the previous week. Spurgeon was not considered "high Calvinist." He was not the right kind of Calvinist. (4)

Spurgeon, was his own man, and refused to be swayed by powerful men and man-made theological systems. He made the following statement in one of his sermons, "Many make theology into a kind of treadwheel, consisting of five doctrines, which are everlasting repeated, for they never go to anything else." (5) He stated "We care far more for the central evangelical truths than we do for Calvinism as a system." (6) He went on to say, "Truth is no more to be contained in one rigid system than the ocean in a shell." (7)

In his preaching, Spurgeon once said concerning some enquirer, "I am afraid I am not elect?" Spurgeon rhetorically responded, "Oh! dear souls. Do not trouble yourselves about that. If you believe in Christ, you are elect. Whosoever puts himself on the mercy of Jesus, and who had nothing at all tonight, shall have mercy if he come for it."

Wells, having heard of this statement responded, "What am I to understand by this? Do not such words quietly set election aside, and rest the whole matter with the creature...this mode of address to my mind is like having more faith in the supposed power of the creature than in the truth of the living God." (8)

Another man was shocked that Mr. Spurgeon could find fault with William Hungtington's view of human responsibility and that Spurgeon apparently believed that God desired the salvation of all who hear the Gospel. (9)

It is true that Spurgeon "indiscriminately" called upon sinners to believe in Christ.

Concerning general invitations for sinners to believe the gospel (as found in Revelation 22), Spurgeon says,

"This 'Come' seems to sound both ways,—from heaven to earth, and from earth to heaven. Christ saith to us, 'Come;' and we cry to him, 'Come.' Oh, that sinners would be obedient to the divine 'Come,' and 'take the water of life freely;' for then would the second coming of Christ be full of joy to them, and not a matter of dread." (10)

From Spurgeon's sermon, "The Two Comes," comes the following words...

"Now, notice three vast doors through which the hugest and most elephantine sinner that ever made the earth shake beneath the weight of his guilt may go. Here are the three doors. 'Whosoever'—'will'—'freely.'

“'Whosoever', there is the first door. 'Whosoever'—then what man dare have the impudence to say that he is shut out? If you say that you cannot come in under 'whosoever,' I ask you how you dare narrow a word which is in itself so broad, so infinite. 'Whosoever'—that must mean every man that ever lived, or ever shall live, while yet he is here and wills to come.

"Well, then, the word 'will.' There is nothing about past character, nor present character; nothing about knowledge, or feeling, nor anything else but the will: 'Whosoever will.' Speak of the gate standing ajar! This looks to me like taking the door right off the hinges and carrying it away. 'Whosoever will.' There is no hindrance whatever in your way.

"And then 'freely.' God’s gifts are given without any expectation or recompense, or any requirements and conditions—'Let him take the water of life freely.' Thou hast not to bring thy good feelings, or good desires, or good works, but come and take freely what God gives you for nothing. You are not even to bring repentance and faith in order to obtain grace, but you are to come and accept repentance and faith as the gifts of God, and the work of the Holy Spirit. What broad gates of mercy these are! How wide the entrance which love has prepared for coming souls! 'Whosoever!' 'Will!' 'Freely!'

"Observe how the invitation sums up the work the sinner is called upon to do. First, he is bidden to come. 'Whosoever will, let him come.' Now, to come to Christ means simply for the soul to draw near to him by trusting him. You are not asked to bring a load with you, nor to work for Christ in order to salvation, but just to come to him. Nothing is said about the style of coming, come running or creeping, come boldly or timidly, for if you do but come to Jesus, he will in no wise cast you out. A simple reliance upon the Lord Jesus is the one essential for eternal life.

"Then the next direction is 'take.' 'Whosoever will, let him take.' That is all. That word 'take' is a grand word to express the gospel. The world’s gospel is 'bring': Christ’s gospel is 'take.' Nature’s gospel is 'make': just change the letter and you have the gospel of grace which is 'take.' There is the water, dear friends, you have not to dig a well to find it, you have only to take it. There is the bread of heaven, you have not to grind the flour or bake the loaf, you have only to take it. There is a garment woven from the top throughout, and without seam; you have not to add a fringe to it, you have only to take it. The way of salvation may be summed up in the four letters of the word 'take.' Do you desire Christ? take him. Do you want pardon? take it. Do you need a new heart? take it. Do you want peace on earth? take it. Do you want heaven hereafter? take it—that is all. 'Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.'

"And there is one other word which I love to dwell on, and it comes twice over 'let him that is athirst come, and whosoever will let him take.' It is graciously said, let him. It seems to me as if the Lord Jesus Christ saw a poor soul standing thirsty at the flowing crystal fountain of his love, and the devil standing there whispered to him, 'You see the sacred stream, but it flows for others. It is what you need, but you must not have it, it is not for you.' Listen, there is a voice from beyond the clouds which cries aloud, 'Let him take it!' Stand back devil, let the willing one come! He is putting down his lip to drink—he understands it now—but there comes rushing upon him a host of his old sins like so many winged harpies, and they scream out to him, 'Go back, you must not draw nigh, this fountain is not for you: this pure crystal stream must not be defiled by such leprous lips as yours.' Again there comes from the throne of love this blessed password, 'Let him come and let him take.'

"It is as when a man is in court and is called for, to go into the witness box. He is standing in the crowd, and his name is called: what happens? As soon as he hears his name he begins to push through the throng to reach his place. “What are you at?” says one. 'I am called,' says he. 'Stand back; why do you push so?' says another. 'I am called by the judge,' says he. A big policeman demands, 'Why are you making such confusion in court?' 'But,' says the man, 'I am called. My name was called out, and I must come.' If he cannot come, if it is   not possible for him to get through the throng, one of the authorities calls out, 'Make way for that man—he is summoned by the court. Officers, clear a passage and let him come.'

"Now the Lord Jesus calls the thirsty one and he says, 'Whosoever will, let him come!' Make way doubts, make way sins, make way fears, make way devils, make way all of you for Jesus Christ the great king and jud"ge of all has said, 'Let him come!' Who shall hinder when Jesus permits? He who is divinely called shall surely come to Jesus. Come he shall, whoever may stand in his way. This morning I feel as if I could come to Jesus over again, and I will do so. Do you not feel the same, my beloved brethren? Well then, dear brother or sister, after you have so done turn round and proclaim this precious gospel invitation to all around you, and say to them “Come and take the water of life freely.” (11)

My pastor was a prolific preacher. He was a unique and colorful man. He would preach all over America, many times, 40+ weeks out of the year. One time, he told a story about being in a meeting where a Calvinist-leaning preacher preached just before him. My pastor said that it was a tolerable sermon. At the end of my pastor's sermon, he referred to the previous preacher's sermon. He made the statement, "The previous preacher gave a pretty good sermon, but he gave a sorry invitation." He then proceeded to give an invitation to "whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely."

May the Gospel message be preached fervently once again throughout our land, with the clarion call for sinners to come to Jesus. May our message not be clouded with confusing jargon but with the clarity of Scripture, that "whosoever will let him come and take of the water of life freely." All you have to do is ask!

John 4:10

10 Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.

Reference works

(1) Murray, Iain H. 2010. Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism. Banner of Truth, 59.

(2) Murray, 54.

(3) Murray, 56.

(4) Drummond, Lewis A. n.d. Spurgeon, p. 216, Kregel Publications.

(5) Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, Vol. 11 (1865), p. 29.

(6) Spurgeon, The Sword and the Trowel, (1887), p. 642.

(7) Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, (1855), pp. 529-554.

(8) Murray, 59-60.

(9) William Huntington (1745–1813) was an English preacher and coal miner who later became known as William Huntington, S.S. (Sinner Saved). He is primarily remembered for his colorful life story and his unorthodox religious views. Huntington claimed to have experienced a profound religious conversion in 1769, after which he began preaching as a self-taught minister. Despite his lack of formal education, he gained a following and eventually became a prominent figure in the Strict Baptist movement. Huntington's theological views were distinctive and sometimes controversial. He emphasized the doctrine of predestination and believed in the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation. He also held to the notion of "particular redemption," the belief that Christ's atonement was specifically for the elect. Throughout his life, Huntington faced criticism and controversy, including accusations of antinomianism (the belief that faith alone is sufficient for salvation, without necessarily requiring moral behavior). Despite this, he maintained a devoted following and left a significant impact on evangelical Christianity in England during his time. Today, he is still remembered and studied within certain theological circles, particularly those influenced by Calvinism and Reformed theology.

(10) C. H. Spurgeon, “Preparing for the Week of Prayer,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 57 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1911), 624.

(11) C. H. Spurgeon, “The Two ‘Comes,’” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 23 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1877), 8–10.

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