Sunday, January 29, 2012

Charles Spurgeon and the Hyper-Preterists

This is a follow-up to my earlier entry, Charles Spurgeon, Full-Preterism, and Figurative Language. In that entry I discussed a Spurgeon quote I found being used by some full-preterists (henceforth referred to as "hyper-preterists"). That Spurgeon quote states:
(On the New Heavens and Earth)
"Did you ever regret the absence of the burnt-offering, or the red heifer, of any one of the sacrifices and rites of the Jews? Did you ever pine for the feast of tabernacles, or the dedication? No, because, though these were like THE OLD HEAVENS AND EARTH to the Jewish believers, THEY HAVE PASSED AWAY, and WE NOW LIVE UNDER A NEW HEAVEN AND NEW EARTH, so far as the dispensation of divine teaching is concerned. The substance is come, and the shadow has gone: and we do not remember it." (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. xxxvii, p. 354)."
I had thought perhaps this quote was simply a one-time oddity. I was amazed though to hear it being brought up in an old debate between hyper-preterist Don Preston and dispensationalist Tommy Ice on the Voice of Reason radio Show. Here's a brief mp3 clip of the exchange on the Spurgeon quote. You'll notice that neither men had any idea what was was being put forth by Spurgeon in the quote. How could they? Without a context, the quote can mean whatever someone wishes it to.

I also found Spurgeon being cited on a new hyper-preterist Facebook page. Another Spurgeon quote was cited inferring a future restoration of the Jews and this comment was added, "Seems strange to hear him say this after what he says about the New Heavens and Earth." So I asked what was meant by this, and if you scroll into the comments you'll notice the very same Spurgeon quote was brought forth, along with the following commentary:
Some would say that a preterist has pulled this out of it's context. The greater context they are speaking of would be his larger body of thought. The only thing bringing in his larger context is that he is simply inconsistent. So this may not be the best preterist proof text from Spurgeon. If it does anything, it simply calls into question his humanity...James - thoughts on the Spurgeon quote?
My response:

Yes, I have a few comments on that Spurgeon quote you posted from the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. xxxvii, p. 354. I am in no way any sort of expert on Charles Spurgeon, nor would I even go so far as to claim I've read enough of his writings to really say I'm familiar with him like I am other authors.

I noticed Frank had posted the same Spurgeon quote a few days ago . I would take a guess that Frank posted the quote simply to highlight Spurgeon's use of figurative language as a polemic against dispensational theology. If not, he can correct me. I would also guess Frank took the quote not from any sort of deep study into Spurgeon's writings, but rather snagged it off a secondary webpage (like the one on the Preterist Archive that used the same two Spurgeon quotes Frank used, documented exactly in the same way). As to your usage, it appears to me you see some sort of disconnect between the two quotes from Spurgeon. That is, in some way they contradict each other. If I've misinterpreted your intentions, my apologies. Same to Frank- If I misinterpreted you or your intentions, my apologies.

The sermon is on Isaiah 65:17-19 ("Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind"). The sermon is entitled, God Rejoicing in the New Creation (no. 2211). It can be found in the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Vol. 37 beginning on page 442. Spurgeon begins:
"THIS passage, like the rest of Isaiah’s closing chapters, will have completest fulfillment in the latter days when Christ shall come, when the whole company of his elect ones shall have been gathered out from the world, when the whole creation shall have been renewed, when new heavens and a new earth shall be the product of the Savior’s power, when, for ever and for ever, perfected saints of God shall behold his face, and joy and rejoice in him" (p.442).
One can see that Spurgeon begins saying the New heavens and earth are future. He goes on to say:
"There is to be a literal new creation, but that new creation has commenced already; and I think, therefore, that even now we ought to manifest a part of the joy. If we are called upon to be glad and rejoice in the completion of the work, let us rejoice even in the commencement of it" (p. 443).
"He has commenced it thus — by putting new hearts into as many as he has called by his Spirit, regenerating them, and making them to become new creatures in Christ Jesus. These the apostle tells us are a kind of firstfruits of this now creation" (p.443).
Spurgeon then goes on to speak of how people should see God in the current world and rejoice in God as creator. Christians should most rejoice in their being a new creation. Spurgeon continues on this theme of Christians being the begining of the new creation, as people who look forward to the new creation coming in its fullness. Then comes the quote you cited. From the context, Spurgeon's figurative language is simply describing the Old Testament rituals and practices that looked forward to Christ. Since Christ has come, he's begun to usher in the new heavens and earth, beginning this work in the hearts of believers, in regeneration.
There certainly isn't any sort of disconnect between the two Spurgeon quotes you cited.

Here was the response:
Notice Chuck’s take on Rev 21:1…
(Rev 21:1 NASB) “And I saw A NEW HEAVEN AND A NEW EARTH; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is NO LONGER ANY SEA.”
"Scarcely could we rejoice at the thought of losing the glorious old ocean: the new heavens and the new earth are none the fairer to our imagination, if, indeed, LITERALLY there is to be no great and wide sea, with its gleaming waves and shelly shores. IS NOT THIS TEXT TO BE READ AS A METAPHOR, tinged with the prejudice with which the Eastern mind universally regarded the sea in the olden times? A real physical world without a sea it is mournful to imagine, it would be an iron ring without the sapphire which made it precious. THERE MUST BE A SPIRITUAL MEANING HERE. In the new dispensation THERE WILL BE no division…


…the sea separates nations and sunders peoples from each other. To John in Patmos the deep waters were like prison walls, shutting him out from his brethren and his work: there shall be no such barriers IN THE WORLD TO COME (I.E. THE NEW HEAVENS & EARTH). Leagues of rolling billows lie between us and many a kinsman whom to-night we prayerfully remember, but in THE BRIGHT WORLD (New H&E) TO WHICH WE GO there SHALL BE unbroken fellowship for all the redeemed family; IN THIS SENSE THERE SHALL BE NO MORE SEA." ~ "Morning and Evening" (1834-1892)


JAMES: Here Chuck clearly FUTURIZES the New Heaven & Earth and interprets the eradication of the sea as NON-LITERAL (Metaphor - a thing MANY if not all futurists would deplore - but which all Preterists would celebrate).The point here is Chuck’s inconsistency. He wants it both ways. Here is the initial quote again…


"Did you ever regret the absence of the burnt-offering, or the red heifer, of any one of the sacrifices and rites of the Jews? Did you ever pine for the feast of tabernacles, or the dedication?”


An obvious reference to the Old Covenant System under Judaism. He continues…


“No, because, though these things were like THE OLD HEAVENS AND EARTH to the Jewish believers, THEY HAVE PASSED AWAY, and WE NOW LIVE UNDER A NEW HEAVEN AND NEW EARTH, so far as the dispensation of divine teaching is concerned. The substance is come, and the shadow has gone: and we do not remember it."


Now here, C.H. clearly accepts a NON-LITERAL interpretation of the New H&E (not a new material creation but a new covenant) and then he proceeds to tell his congregation that they (Christians) are ALREADY (NOW) living in the New H&E!


Well which is it? Is it a FUTURE happening – a thing TO COME or is it a PAST event – a thing that came?


To hold a view that says “BOTH are true; we live in the New H&E Currently and it is also to be realized in a more fashion at a future material consummation is in my humble opinion, pure conjecture.


Mr. S’s handling the LANGUAGE and the TIMING of the New H&E in Isaiah are contradictory of his handling of IDENTICAL language in Rev 21:1. There is no SCRIPTURAL JUSTIFICATION for holding that the Apostle John in Rev 21 was speaking of a FUTURE MATERIAL CONSTRUCT (“New H&E”) - but when Isaiah uses the IDENTICAL TERM in Ch 65:17 he is metaphorically speaking of the New Covenant in Christ - unless one is prepared to say that there are MULTIPLE New Heavens and earths.


For my money - The Hebrew Prophet Isaiah prophesied the EXACT SAME New H&E as the Hebrew Prophet John - only Isaiah said it is far off and John says it near – to arrive upon the consummation of the Old Covenant era – “end of the age” (Mt 24:3; 1 Cor 10:11; Heb 9:26).
And my response:
Thanks for your explanation. Just so I'm understanding you and we're not speaking past each other, these were my previous concerns: Mr. Loomis posted two Spurgeon quotes that appear to be contradictory according to his own writings. I don't think they are at all, and even a cursory reading of the sermons in question don't amount to "The only thing bringing in his larger context is that he is simply inconsistent."

It is my understanding that Rev. Spurgeon was a historic premillennialist. Within that view, as far as I understand it, Spurgeon's use of figurative language in the quotes cited by Mr. Loomis are consistent with historic premillennialism (for a helpful overview of that view, see: George Eldon Ladd, "Historic Premillennialism" in Robert G. Clouse, ed., The Meaning of the Millennium (WI: Intervarsity Press, 1977) pp. 17-40).

In regards to your further citations of Spurgeon, the historic premillennial view has some similarities with the amillennial paradigm of "already and not yet." While you may disagree with this paradigm (either used by amillennialists or historic premillennialists), all of the Spurgeon quotes you've posted are harmonious with it. That is, Charles Spurgeon is not being inconsistent with the historic premillennial view. Swanson's article http://www.spurgeon.org/​eschat.htm does a fine job going through the Spurgeon eschatology maze.

It appears to me your concerns are geared toward whether or not Spurgeon's historic premillennial view is a consistently biblical view. The point of Mr. Loomis appears to me to be that Spurgeon contradicted himself within his own writings. My response has been to the later and not the former. While I'm not fluent in Spurgeon's writings, I do have the desire to see the study of any person in church history as an exercise in the love of God and neighbor. How do we love our neighbor in the study of church history? There probably are many ways, but the one that applies here is in our words. If we bear false witness against our neighbor, we are not loving him. I don't think Mr. Loomis intended to say anything unloving towards Charles Spurgeon, but I certainly think Spurgeon's eschatological thought was not portrayed fairly or correctly here on this Facebook page.

3 comments:

michael loomis said...

Frank Speer:

To my mind the crux of the matter here is this: Mr. Spurgeon agreed (at least to some degree) that the NH&E was a new DISPENSATION and not the destruction and re-creation of the material universe...

"...these were like THE OLD HEAVENS AND EARTH to the Jewish believers, THEY HAVE PASSED AWAY, and WE NOW LIVE UNDER A NEW HEAVEN AND NEW EARTH, so far as the dispensation of divine teaching is concerned."

Even if Mr S. DID believe in the creation of a yet future UTOPIAN UNIVERSE, Full Preterists often make use of this quote simply because it lends a modicum of legitimacy and credibility to understanding the New Covenant as THE NH&E. - Again, whether or not Mr. S. viewed this New Covenant Era as the ONLY NH&E is another story.

When the New H&E are viewed AS the New Covenant replacing the Old Covenant (i.e. Christianity replacing Judaism) Jesus' words can then be easily understood to be referencing Israel passing from one covenant relationship with God into another - rather than a future destruction of the cosmos.

Notice that Jesus' words are clearly in the context of the soon to be outmoded Mosaic Economy (after all - that is what He came to fulfill and exchange)...

(Mat 5:17 NASB) "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.

(Mat 5:18 NASB) "For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished.

(Mat 5:19 NASB) "Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

(Mat 24:35 NASB) "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away.

frank speer

michael loomis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James Swan said...

To my mind the crux of the matter here is this: Mr. Spurgeon agreed (at least to some degree) that the NH&E was a new DISPENSATION and not the destruction and re-creation of the material universe..

Frank and Michael Loomis:

I only have a minute at the moment, so I'll begin with this sentence. Do you have any proof that Spurgeon did not believe in "the destruction and re-creation of the material universe"?

Hope you are well, Frank. Denise and I think of you often.

Regards, JS