Monday, December 12, 2011

A Brief Quote on the Reformed Faith and Our Mission

W. Robertson Nicoll was a well-regarded British pastor, Bible scholar and journalist in the nineteenth century. Throughout the years, he wrote a series of obituaries and brief tributes to British church notables that he had known. These are collected in the volume entitled Princes of the Church. Some were doubtless famous in their own day and are now forgotten. Some are remembered for their scholarly accomplishments (Lightfoot and Westcott). Some are remembered by their theological heirs (A. Maclaren, Alexander Whyte, Andrew Bonar). A few stand out as titans in their respective traditions: Cardinal John Henry Newman and the great Baptist Charles H. Spurgeon.

What Nicoll says about Spurgeon flies in the face of the popular myth that Calvinism can only flourish among educated, elite people (in fact the whole history of Dutch Calvinism flies in the face of that too --google Petronella Baltus, but I digress).

Nicoll writes: It may seem a hard saying, but it cannot be doubted that his theology was a main element in his lasting attraction. Why has Calvinism flourished exceedingly in the damp, low-lying, thickly peopled, struggling regions of South London(?)...Mr. Spurgeon's hearers had many of them missed all the prizes of life; but God did not choose them for the reasons that move man's preference, else their case were hopeless. Their election was of grace. And as He chose them, He would keep them. The perseverance of the saints is a doctrine witout meaning to the majority of Christians. But many a poor girl with the love of Christ and goodness in her heart, working her fingers to the bone for a pittance that just keeps her alive, with the temptations of the streets around her and the river beside her, listened with all her soul when she heard that Christ's sheep could never perish.

The very poor...are beginning to hope that councils and parliaments will do much for them. They may find it so, but Mr. Spurgeon made little of such things. He taught them...that now in the living communion of the soul with Christ, they might have all the joy they needed. A man too wise, too experienced, not to know how slowly the battles of the poor are won and how little their victories often yield --he insisted on the joy and peace in believing, which the world could neither give nor take away. Life might pursue its hard, monotonous way of obscure toil, scanty wages and a great weight of care, but over it all there might rest a soft and sacred light. The common people heard this gladly, and well they might, for it is so. Perhaps when they have had a little more experience of the politician they will hear it more gladly than ever.

I think sometimes we have a Reformed brain, but not Reformed hearts. Calvinism and affluence are strange bedfellows, sometimes, Max Weber notwithstanding. Calvinistic commitment, historically, has seemed to wane with increased prosperity (Religion begat prosperity, Mather said, and the daughter devoured the mother).

Do we, in the new Reformed movement, really believe we are the lowest of the low, and that God can reach other lowest of the low with his sovereign grace? Or, do we assume that the elect must have a certain educational level and financial means? Are we really in this for "whosoever will" or only for people like us? May God build his people from all races and income levels and walks of life!

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