Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching

By Iain H. Murray
Carlisle, PA : Banner of Truth (1996). xv + 164 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Dennis Swanson
7.2 (Fall 1996) : 283-285

Studies and writings about the multi-faceted life of Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-92), seemingly have single-handedly been a fulfillment of Ecclesiastes 12:12. However, Iain Murray's latest addition to Spurgeon studies is neither "wearying to the body" nor superfluous in its content.

Murray, perhaps the pre-eminent Spurgeon scholar of the present, has provided a valuable work covering the first and perhaps the most forgotten of several controversies that arose during Spurgeon's ministry. Sensing that a "resurgence of Calvinistic belief has occurred across the world" (xiii), Murray has ably chronicled and evaluated the battle Spurgeon has with so-called Hyper-Calvinism. The reason for the study is "when evangelical Calvinism is again being recovered in many parts of the earth, the danger of Hyper-Calvinism is once more a possibility and the lessons to be drawn from this old controversy have again become relevant" (41).

 Hyper-Calvinism was difficult to define in Spurgeon's day as it is today. He said, "I do not think I differ from any of my Hyper- Calvinistic brethren in what I do believe, but I differ from them in what they do not believe" (38). Murray himself comments "the danger with Hyper-Calvinism is not so much what it believes, but what that it does not believe enough" (xiv). Because of this situation, misunderstandings of the differences between Calvinism and Hyper- Calvinism are frequent. Murray thoroughly summarizes the Hyper- Calvinistic position:

For a preacher to convey to his hearers the impression that they are called to receive Christ, and to believe in him for salvation, is to deny, in the opinion of Hyper-Calvinists, the sovereignty of divine grace. It is to represent salvation as available to those whom God has excluded by the decree of election. Gospel preaching for Hyper-Calvinists means a declaration of the facts of the gospel but nothing should be said by way of encouraging individuals to believe that the promises of Christ are made to them particularly until there is evidence that the Spirit of God has begun a saving work in their hearts, convicting them and making them "sensible" of their need (69).

Murray recounts the early public controversy between Spurgeon and James Wells (1803-72) on this issue. As was normal for that era, the printed debate appeared in the magazine of Charles Waters Banks (1806-86), the Earthen Vessel. Murray appends Spurgeon's views on the necessity of clear gospel preaching, a "universal proclamation of good news" (75) and his "four-fold appeal to Scripture" (66-99). He describes the aftermath of the controversy and draws four lessons for the modern church from this episode in Spurgeon's ministry. He includes five short appendices of illustrative material, including excerpts from two sermons by Spurgeon on 1 Timothy 2:3-4 (149-54) and on "The Injury Done by Hyper-Calvinism and Antinomianism" (155-57).

With his clear writing style Murray has brought his usual historical insight to bear on this subject. Along with Murray, many have noted the resurgence in the last several years of "Calvinistic" belief within evangelicalism. This volume will encourage new Calvinists toward a biblical Calvinism as embodied in Spurgeon's ministry and warn them away from the unbiblical practices of Hyper- Calvinism and its errors.