Calvinism, Hyperspirituality, & the Use of Means - Glenn Conjurske
Calvinism, Hyperspirituality, & the Use of Means
by Glenn Conjurske
The Calvinistic system is hyperspiritual throughout, making all of God, and nothing of man, who is made in his image
—-making all of the direct working of God, and nothing of the means which he has created. We do not accuse all Calvinists of the same degree of error in this, for Calvinism exists in many varying degrees, and most Calvinists are very inconsistent, holding sundry self-contradictory doctrines at the same time, for in spite of all its pride, Calvinism is a very shallow system, as much against reason as it is against Scripture. Alas, it is common enough with Calvinists to despise the “carnal reason” which would set them right, speaking their double-talk and holding their self-contradictions directly in the teeth of sound reason.
With regard to the use of means, in common with all the hyperspiritual, they often profess one thing, and practice another. This was apparent to the homespun wisdom of Peter Cartwright, who addressed them as follows: “If you so firmly believe in the decrees, why are you afraid of fire, guns, of being drowned, etc.? The truth is, there may be theoretical Calvinists, but there never was nor ever will be a practical one; they are all as fearful of dying as any Arminian on earth.” We trust our Calvinistic friends will take no offence if I
—-who was once a thorough Calvinist myself —-bring them face to face with such reason and Scripture as will force them to face some of the absurdities of their system.
Desiring to give Calvinists as much credit for sense and sincerity as we can, we grant at the outset that there is very much in the Bible which gives apparent support to their system. This is doubtless one of the primary reasons for its popularity, from the time of Augustine till the present day. Calvin did not originate the system. He got it from Luther, who got it from Augustine, and it was held by many between Augustine and Luther, including John Wycliffe (in a very moderate form) and many of the papists through the dark ages. All these of course professed to stand on Scripture, and we grant that there are many scriptures which give them an apparent footing, but as is the case with hyperspiritual doctrines in general, those scriptures are taken in an extreme or absolute sense, at the expense of sound reason and the rest of Scripture. The scriptures which seem to favor their system are exalted too high, which forces them to reduce the rest of the Scriptures too low, or hiss them out of court altogether.
I pause to illustrate my remarks by one example. The Bible says, in Ephesians 5:25, that “Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it.” Some will insist that this means he loved the church and none else, and that he gave himself for it alone. But see how this makes void both reason and other scriptures. First, reason. The same apostle who says that Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it, says in Galatians 2:20 that he “loved me, and gave himself for me.” Now if the former verse must mean “the church only,” then by parity of reason the latter must mean “me only,” which is a plain absurdity. As for Scripture, the Bible repeatedly affirms that Christ “gave himself a ransom for all,” that he “tasted death for every man,” that he is the propitiation “not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” But in order to maintain a foolishly technical and extreme interpretation of the one scripture, all the others must be watered down and explained away, to the point that their plain meaning is discarded altogether. Such is the usual method of Calvinism
—-as it is of hyperspirituality in general, and of all error of every sort.
Now as regards the use of means, it is a plain fact that God has created various means, which actually work to secure their several ends. This is warrant enough to common sense to use them. But beyond that, Scripture everywhere ordains and commands the use of means, and in general assumes and appeals to their efficacy. But in Calvinism there is an inveterate tendency to discard the use of means, or to slight and belittle them, in order that God himself may be put in their place. Where Calvinism is strong, that tendency is usually strong also. Where Calvinism is inconsistent, or “moderate,” as it is called, that tendency is usually weakened, and kept in check.
My first introduction to this tendency came in 1965. I had been converted only about a year, and was a new student at Bible school. My room-mate was a rather bigoted Calvinist
—-had been expelled from the Baptist college for preaching his Calvinism —-and of course went directly to work to make a Calvinist of me. He loved to speak against the Baptists, and wished to take me to a Reformed church, where sound doctrine was preached. I consented to go, and one Sunday morning we went to the Seventh Reformed Church, on Leonard Street in Grand Rapids. He evidently did not know the time of the meeting, and we arrived and took our seats just as the pastor was finishing his sermon. He was preaching against preaching the gospel. “You might just as well go to the cemetery,” he said, “and call upon the people to rise from their graves and stand up. They are dead! dead! and cannot respond to your preaching.”
This may have been too much even for my friend the Calvinist, for he never offered to take me to a Reformed church again. Nor was there any need, for there was Calvinism enough at the Bible school, and within a year I was as Calvinistic as anybody.
As for the sinners being dead, this is but one example among a myriad of the extreme and technical manner of interpretation upon which Calvinism is based. It must press this single word “dead” to the ultimate of its possible meaning, while a thousand other scriptures, in which God appeals to man as though he were very much alive
—-possessed of all the faculties of reason, emotion, and will —-are made to mean nothing at all. “Come now, let us reason together” —-”Turn ye, turn ye, for why will ye die?” —-these and a thousand scriptures like them must mean nothing at all, in order that this one word “dead” may mean everything which may be extracted from it. It must mean “as dead as an inanimate object,” and we must be continually presented with either the extreme hypocrisy or the extreme folly of the omniscient God addressing these inanimate objects as though they were living beings. We know, of course, that the salvage crews and damage control teams of Calvinism have invented numerous auxiliary doctrines to sustain the reputation of God and Calvin, such as that “regeneration is the first act of God upon the soul of man” —-a dogma held even by Spurgeon. By means of this shift God is exempted from commanding and reasoning with inanimate objects, but the shift itself stands as directly against the Bible as the doctrine which it aims to salvage.
But we pass on. The distrust of means is one of the reasons for the opposition to revival, evangelism, and missions which persistently cleaves to Calvinism, in spite of the endeavors of many good men to thrust it out. One of the most memorable incidents of such opposition occurred when William Carey first attempted to enlist the sympathies of his Calvinistic Baptist denomination for the evangelization of the heathen. “At a meeting of ministers held about this time at Northampton, Mr. Ryland, senior, called on the young men around him to propose some topic for discussion, on which Mr. Carey rose and proposed for consideration, ‘The duty of Christians to attempt the spread of the Gospel among heathen nations.’ The venerable divine received the proposal with astonishment, and, springing on his feet, denounced the proposition with a frown, and thundered out, ‘Young man, sit down. When God pleases to convert the heathen, He will do it without your aid or mine.”’ He will do it, that is, without the use of any of those means which he has ordained.
The Calvinists of the Old School strongly opposed “the anxious seat” employed by Charles G. Finney. Of this Finney’s biographer says, “The opposition to the anxious seat arose largely from its theological significance, since the Old School Calvinists were not willing to admit that the human will possessed that self-determining power implied in these urgent appeals to immediate submission. In their view, there was little natural connection between the means used for the persuasion of men and their conversion. According to their theory, conversion could only follow regeneration, and that was a mysterious process wrought directly by God on the hearts of the elect.”
This view of the Calvinistic opposition to evangelism is confirmed by statements from the Calvinists themselves. Jacob Knapp, a Calvinistic Baptist, writes, “About this time, 1833, the practice of holding protracted meetings began to enter in amongst the Baptist churches. These were of rare occurrence, and generally looked upon with distrust and opposition. There prevailed among Baptists, views of the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit in the conversion of men, which led to a practical denial of the necessity of all human agency in bringing sinners to consider the claims of the gospel. The theology of that day was, that God evinced his sovereignty independently of means, rather than through them; that human agencies were interferences with the divine purposes, and that all experiences that might result from the use of means were to be rejected as ‘man-made’ conversions.”
Knapp and some few others labored for years under much obloquy among the Baptists of America, where no means for the conversion of sinners were allowed as legitimate, and even prayer was regarded as an unwarranted assumption of the divine prerogative. “They were startled from their lethargy only by their hostility to the encroachments of these new measures. They became active, not to save souls, and elevate society, but to oppose those who had set themselves to promote ‘every good word and work.”’
Now in truth these Calvinists ought to have had as much objection to the natural means which God himself employs to persuade and convert sinners, as to the measures of Jacob Knapp and Charles G. Finney, but they managed to find a way to sustain the reputation of God, while they blackened that of Finney. They cannot have been ignorant of the fact that God himself reasons with sinners, commands them, endeavors to move them with fear, pleads with them, even weeps over them, but they quite generally hold that there is no actual connection between the means used and the end to be gained. There is no efficacy in the means. This is “common grace,” and not so much as intended to convert its recipients. The end is to be gained solely by the direct and immediate working of God himself. If asked, Why then should we use the means? some will reply that we ought not to use them. We ought not to preach the gospel, or invite sinners to come to Christ, nor to use any means to persuade them. Others
—-to make a bad matter worse —-will answer that we are to use the means because God prescribes them, though both he and we know very well that there is no actual connection between the means and the end —-no more than there was between Elisha’s salt and the healing of the waters of Jericho, no more than there was between the stick of wood and the swimming of the iron, no more than there was between the spittle and clay and the restoration of the blind man’s sight. All the means which we use to convert sinners are just an empty show. All our impassioned pleading, all our tears, all our strong arguments, all our appeals to men’s best interests —-and all of God’s appeals and tears and arguments —-are a mere empty show, clouds without rain, wells without water, powder without shot, fired away into the ranks of the enemy as so many empty blanks, unable to do the least execution, or to slay man, mouse, or mosquito. All the actual accomplishment is to be secured by the secret, sovereign, and inscrutable working of God himself, and that working is no way dependent upon the means.
True, most Calvinists will not state the matter so plainly
—-for double-talk is generally their favorite tongue —-but that this is no caricature of Calvinism may be demonstrated with ease enough.
A New England Calvinist speaks much on this theme in a sermon on the death of George Whitefield. “Means tending to produce any end or effect,” he says,”have such tendency by a law or constitution of nature: but this is only a certain way or method in which God works. This law has no power or agency of its own, and is nothing but the continued, immediate efficiency of God, according to the constitution he has been pleased to establish. So that however natural the connection between means and effect may be, yet this nature is nothing but the immediate efficiency of the God of nature.” Translated into a little plainer English, the law or constitution of anything is only the uniform method in which God has determined to use it. It has nothing to do with any intrinsic properties of the thing itself. There is thus no actual connection between the means used and the effect produced, so that of itself a swinging bat is no more likely to send a ball through the air than the fluttering wing of a butterfly, a magnet is no more likely to pick up steel than a sugar cube, and an earnest gospel sermon no more likely to convert a sinner than a dance or a card party. Any seeming natural connection here is “nothing but the immediate efficiency of the God of nature.” “A due attention to this,” the preacher continues, “may be of great use to shew, how means become effectual, either in the natural or moral world.”
Further, “Nothing but the power of Christ opened the eyes of the man born blind, and the clay he put on them was only a sign or symbol of that power; and as it was a sovereign appointment of the Lord of nature in that particular case, so it had as natural a tendency to produce the cure, as any other more common means have to produce their ordinary effects: And the reason we do not see the connection between the means and end in the cure of the blind man by putting clay on his eyes, is, that God rarely connects these things together, yea never did in any instance but this, that we know of: for after all, it is the immediate energy of God which connects means and end together in every case, i. e. the means have no self-efficiency to the end, either in the natural or moral world.” Here is just the same again. There is no “self-efficiency” in the means, that is, no intrinsic properties in them which will naturally produce any particular effects. This is “nothing but the continued, immediate efficiency of God,” nothing but his own “immediate energy,” his own direct working.
The whole physical and moral universe, then, is only an empty masquerade. Fire is no more hot than ice. It is not the fire which burns, but the immediate working of God. The sword is not sharp
—-no more so than a fur coat. It is not the sword which cuts, but the immediate working of God. There is no more heat in the sun than in the moon. It is not the sun which warms the earth, but only the immediate working of God. “Immediate,” by the way, means “without medium,” that is, “without means.” The force of gravity does not lie in the earth or the moon at all. It is “nothing but the immediate efficiency of God.” When Cain undertook to slay his brother, it was nothing in his heavy fist, nor in his hard club, which did the execution. It was “nothing but the immediate efficiency of God.” When Samson tied his foxes tail to tail, with firebrands between them, and set fire to the Philistines’ fields, it was nothing in the nature of the foxes or the fire which set the fields ablaze. It was “nothing but the immediate efficiency of God.” When David’s heart was taken away by the sight of the bathing Bath-sheba, it was nothing in the face or form of the woman which carried off his heart, nay, “nothing but the immediate energy of God.” Let him deny it who can, while he holds that “the means have no self-efficiency to the end, either in the natural or moral world,” that “it is the immediate energy of God which connects means and end together in every case,” and that “A due attention to this may be of great use to shew, how means become effectual, either in the natural or moral world.” The sword cuts both ways. Those who bend all their energies to make God all, and his creatures nothing, forget that there is evil in the world. If all means were actually intrinsically ineffectual, God alone making them efficacious by his own direct working, then the devil and the wicked could do nothing —-unless the immediate energy of God himself should make the means effectual in their hands to the accomplishment of their ends. Thus God is made to be the actual perpetrator of every sin ever committed. The sword, I say, cuts both ways, and we decry that shallow reasoning —-typical of both Calvinism and hyperspirituality —-which wields the sword always in the same direction, oblivious to the fact that it has another edge. What’s good for the goose must be good for the gander, and if no means are intrinsically suited to turn men from sin, no more can we believe that any means are intrinsically suited to turn him to it. Let him confute this who can. The Westminster Confession informs us that “Unto this catholick visible church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints in this life, to the end of the world; and doth by his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise, make them effectual” —-but it neglects to tell us who makes the means effectual in the devil’s hands, to accomplish his ends.
Calvinists, we know, commonly take refuge in the doctrine of the depravity of man, supposing no means required to turn men to evil, and none effectual to turn them from it. And the doctrine of the inefficiency of means gains an appearance of reason when we speak of turning depraved men to God and to good, but it fails to explain who made the means effectual to tempt Eve from her rectitude, nor how the devil won the allegiance of the holy angels. Unless we impute their fall to “the immediate energy of God,” it must have been the means themselves which were effectual, when there was no depravity at all in those who were tempted.
But more. On this plan miracles are nothing. If everything is a miracle
—-an effect wrought by the direct power of God, without any efficacious means —-then nothing is a miracle, and the very term “miracle” is rendered nugatory and deceptive. It is equally miraculous for the iron to sink as to swim. Both are effected by the immediate working of God, irrespective of any intrinsic properties in the iron, the water, or the gravitational pull of the earth. It was no more miracle for Peter to walk on the water than to walk on the land. On this plan science is nothing. There are no distinctive properties resident in anything which God has created. Chemists, pharmacists, detectives, scientists of every description, are all deceived. Supposing they have found such properties resident in the things which they study, they have in reality discovered no such thing, but only the decree of God, to use that substance in that manner while he pleases.
But more. On this plan wisdom is nothing. Wisdom consists precisely of understanding the various properties of all that God has created
—-physical, mental, moral, and spiritual —-so that we know what means are effectual to accomplish our ends. The poor man “by his wisdom delivered the city.” (Eccl. 9:15). He understood and prescribed the means which would be effectual to that end, but such wisdom becomes the merest non-entity, if no means are actually effectual for anything, and all is done by the mere choice and immediate working of God.
Such is the consummate folly of hyperspirituality, when it attempts to make all of God, and nothing of his creatures
—-and such is the way of Calvinism. While it endeavors to make all of God, and nothing of his creatures, it in fact makes nothing of his wisdom, nothing of the display of his glory in the starry heavens, nothing of the most marvellous instincts native to the teeming life of earth, nothing of the wondrous properties which lie in the physical elements —-and nothing of those which lie in the soul and spirit of man, though man is made in the image of God.
We of course know that all Calvinists do not carry things so far. They may not allow such folly in the physical realm, but they preach the very same doctrine in the moral and spiritual realm. Some of them are as afraid of persuasive preaching as they are of poison
—-afraid of the poison because they believe it is effectual, and afraid of the preaching because they believe it is not —-and believe it presumptuous besides, as taking the work of God out of his hands.
Bennet Tyler, another New England Calvinist, and a prominent man in his day, writes, “We see from facts, that at one time, the preaching of the gospel has little or no effect. Few or none are awakened and renewed. At another time, these same truths, which have been heard year after year with no apparent effect, are clothed with power, arrest the attention of numbers, and are the means of producing a wonderful change in their feelings and sentiments; so that many now cordially embrace those truths, which a few weeks before, they bitterly opposed and denied; and now take pleasure in prayer, reading the Scriptures, serious conversation, and the other duties of religion, which but a short time since, they perhaps ridiculed and despised, or at least neglected and considered as very tedious and irksome. Such facts fully evince, that the power which produces these remarkable effects, is not of man, nor in the gospel itself, but of God.”
We think “such facts fully evince” no such things. This is very short-sighted reasoning. “Such facts” would “fully evince” such things only if all the factors remained exactly equal, with the exception of the immediate and invisible working of God. When did George Whitefield ever preach the gospel without effect? Was there not something in the man which made his preaching effectual? Alas, I have heard Calvinists deny it, and affirm that the only reason Whitefield’s preaching was so effectual was that God had chosen so to use it, irrespective of anything suitable or efficacious in the preaching itself! And Tyler informs us that there is no power even in the Gospel to convert sinners. That is to say, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” has no natural or constitutional tendency to draw a man. “He that loveth his life shall lose it” has no intrinsic power to awaken a man. “He that doeth sin is of the devil” has no intrinsic power to convict a man. It is all the immediate working of God. The word of God is not living and powerful. It does not pierce to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit. All this is only the direct and immediate working of God.
But the fact is, Scripture itself accounts for the different effects of the gospel, and never suggests that they lie in any difference in God’s working. It is the soil which accounts for the difference. The soil is the heart of man. The good seed brings forth its fruit when it is sown in the good soil. “And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold.” (Luke 8:8). The good ground is not the immediate, inscrutable working of God, but “a good and honest heart,” as we are told a few verses later. Tyler’s dictum assumes that hearts which were not good and honest one year could not be so the next year either, overlooking all the natural tendencies of afflictions and many other providential dispensations to soften hard hearts
—-overlooking the plain command of God to “Break up your fallow ground,” (Jer. 4:3), and so make good and honest hearts of bad ones. All must be the direct and immediate power of God —-given at one time, and withheld at another, according to no principle but his own inscrutable will —-while all the faculties of him who is made in the image of God, and all the intrinsic vigor of the living and powerful word of God itself, are a mere cipher. God must be all, and the means which he has ordained nothing.
We do not, however, accuse all Calvinists of holding such notions as these. We only contend that Calvinism itself has an inveterate tendency in that direction, and that many Calvinists have clung to that tendency with more or less consistency in theory, though they have generally manifested a great deal of inconsistency in reducing their theory to practice. Yet many have practiced their theories at least in a measure, and to this we may trace most of the Calvinistic opposition to revivals and revival measures, to evangelists, to missions, and to any kind of aggressive evangelism.
But it will be said that the Bible supports such doctrines. The Bible says, in I Corinthians 3:6 & 7, “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” He that planteth, then, is nothing. He that watereth is nothing. God is all, who alone giveth the increase. Here is a plain scripture, which unequivocally asserts the very doctrine which I have been opposing in this article.
But hold. If Paul actually believed him that planteth to be literally and technically nothing, a mere cipher, why did he continue to plant? Were you engaged to bail out the sea with a bucket, would you not cease when you came to perceive that your labor availed nothing? Such tests as this are employed to determine the sanity of men. Was Paul insane? Why did he labor, while he believed that his labor was nothing? Nay, why did he say, “In Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel,” if he knew that he was literally nothing, and his preaching a mere cipher? The fact is, we know that there are numerous apparently absolute statements in the Bible, both negative and positive, which yet cannot be taken in an absolute sense. “All” can rarely be pressed to mean every single one, nor can “none” always be pressed to mean not one. “All seek their own things,” says Paul, “and not the things of Christ Jesus,” yet the same chapter names three exceptions, in Epaphroditus, Timothy, and Paul himself. “There is none that seeketh after God.” No? Not Cornelius? Calvinists themselves, though they will be sure to insist that numerically “none” means exactly none, will be forced to qualify this statement with some “except” or “until,” to reconcile it with acknowledged facts. Such statements are general, though couched in absolute language. “All things are possible to him that believeth.” Can he then blot the sun from the heavens, create another world, convert the world that now is, remove the curse from the earth? No, but “all things” in some narrower sphere, which the Bible leaves to our own sense to define. “All things are lawful.” What? Adultery? Murder? Lying? Thieving? No, not all things universally, but all things of a certain sort. The absolute language must be qualified by common sense, by the context, or by other considerations.
The fact is, it is rare that any combination of words has only one possible meaning. This is usually true even of apparently absolute statements, according to the common usage of language. Every sentence has a range of possible meaning, above which it cannot be legitimately exalted, and below which it cannot be legitimately reduced. Its actual meaning usually lies somewhere between those extremes, and it is the province of true interpretation to determine this, by common sense, by the nature of the case, and by the rest of Scripture. But it is the way of Calvinism always to exalt certain scriptures to the utmost limit of their possible meaning, which obliges it to reduce other scriptures much below their lowest legitimate meaning. Such interpretation is false on its face.
If it be asked why God would make general statements, and use apparently absolute terms, we can only say that we all do so, and that the holy men of God who wrote these things spoke in the same language as the rest of the human race. “The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him.” (John 12:19). This is the common speech of humanity, though it was not strictly or literally true that they accomplished nothing, nor that the world was gone after him. That speech which must confine itself to general terms to make general statements is fastidious, tame, and insipid. Forceful speech uses strong language, though it is not intended to be pressed to the full extent of its possible meaning. If any man can find a better explanation than this, we will be glad to hear it. Meanwhile I only repeat, If Paul had actually believed all his labor to be exactly nothing, would he not have ceased to labor? No sane man continues to labor if he knows that his labor is either hopeless or needless, and by this theory Paul’s was both.
But Scripture seems to support these notions in another way. It presents to us numerous examples of means used, which evidently have no connection at all with the end to be gained. Such are the salt used to heal the waters of Jericho, the clay and spittle used to restore the blind man’s sight, the wood which caused the iron to swim, the smiting of the rock to bring forth water in the wilderness, the serpent of brass for the healing of the Israelites, the waters of Jordan to cure the leprosy of Naaman, the anointing with oil to heal the sick, the shadow of Peter, the handkerchiefs of Paul, the hem of Christ’s garment, the bones of Elisha, and many such like things. Why were all these means used or prescribed, when we know very well they contained nothing in themselves to accomplish the desired ends
—-when we know very well that the end depended solely upon the immediate power of God, and that the means contributed nothing at all to the effect?
And what if I say, I know not? I do not pretend to know everything. The reader will observe that the first word in the question is “why,” and I do not pretend to answer “why” questions concerning God. I have a thousand of such questions to ask when I see his face, but I cannot pretend to answer them now. “Now I know in part
—-but then face to face.”
Yet though I know but in part, still that part may be worth something. I observe, first, therefore, that in every case where means are used which have no actual connection with the end sought, the end secured is in fact a miracle. We grant
—-we contend —-that those means contributed nothing to those miracles. We grant that there were no intrinsic properties in the means employed, which could contribute anything at all to secure those miraculous effects. But we deny that the miraculous is the rule of the ordinary. Elisha healed the waters of Jericho miraculously by casting in salt, but we absolutely deny that any man shall reap a harvest of grain naturally by sowing salt in his field. The miracles of Scripture are granted in response to natural means which have nothing to do with the desired end, yet the same Scriptures continually exhort us to the use of means which naturally contribute to the desired ends, in both the physical and the spiritual realms, for miracles are not to be expected where the ordinary means in our hands will suffice.
As for those natural means which were used to work miracles, we may as well ask why God prescribed any means at all, as to ask why he prescribed those particular means which he did, for in fact one natural agency is as unfit as the next to work a miracle. Yet even here we may offer some suggestions, for while our ignorance is great, it may not be absolute. Some of the means thus used were types of spiritual things. Such were the brasen serpent, and Moses’ smiting of the rock to bring forth the water. Others of them were tests of the obedience of those who sought the benefit. Such were the waters of Jordan to Naaman the Syrian. Others were undoubtedly to place the divine stamp of approval upon the man through whom the miracles were wrought. Such were Peter’s shadow, Paul’s handkerchiefs, Elisha’s bones, and the hem of the garment of Christ, “a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs.” (Acts 2:22). A fourth reason for the use of such means may have been precisely to emphasize the fact that those operations were miraculous, for every man could plainly see that there was no connection between the means and the end. But what have these miraculous cases to do with the myriad of ordinary cases, in which every man can just as plainly see that there is a real connection between the means and the end?
Mistaken piety, we know, is accustomed to speak of everything spiritual as though it were a miracle, but such speech is unscriptural. The conversion of a sinner in particular is spoken of in glowing terms as the greatest of miracles. Such talk may be pious, and well meant, but it is certainly unscriptural. The Bible never applies the terms “miracles,” “signs,” or “wonders,” to any such spiritual operations, which are secured by spiritual means, any more than it does to physical operations, which are secured by physical means. The very meaning of the word “miracle” must be altered to admit of such an application. The conversion of a sinner is no miracle, but a simple spiritual operation, secured by ordinary spiritual means. “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth.” “The entrance of thy word giveth light,” and “The engrafted word … is able to save your souls.” And beyond that, “the word of his grace … is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.” These are all spiritual operations, secured by spiritual means, and are not properly miraculous, for those means actually secure those ends. The Bible never speaks of any of them as miraculous. We believe these things are wrought by God. We believe also they are wrought by means. As to the precise relationship between the means and the power of God, we would rather confess our ignorance than speak dogmatically, but it will nothing aid our understanding to so broaden the meaning of “miracle” as to make a miracle of everything which God does. If everything is a miracle, the term is meaningless.
Meanwhile, there is nothing hyperspiritual in the Bible. It constantly exhorts us to the use of means, both natural and spiritual. We are exhorted to labor
—-to plow and plant and water and reap —-as much so in the spiritual realm as in the natural. We are exhorted to preach, to exhort, to teach, to persuade, to reason, to weep —-and are all these things an empty show, mere hypocritical play-acting, the merest busy-work, which has no real connection with the end which we seek, and nothing in itself calculated to promote that end? Does God send men to sweep the street that it might rain, or to milk the cows that the sun might shine, “if God be pleased to add his blessing to the means”? Let him believe it who can.
We believe in the divine influence working with the means, or through the means, but of what exactly that influence consists, or of how exactly it is related to the means employed, we can only profess our ignorance. We only know that we dare not affirm that it consists of any magical or supernatural working by which the means are made effectual. We believe the means were made effectual when God created them, that they therefore are effectual in themselves, as they now exist, and that there is therefore no need to make them effectual in any other sense. Those who affirm the contrary must then answer this question: Who makes them effectual in the hands of the wicked, for the accomplishment of the purposes of the devil and all his hosts? Is it the work of God to do the work of the devil?
We believe in the divine influence working with the means, or through the means, but not instead of the means. We believe in the unction of the Holy Ghost
—-and feel it very keenly if we lack it in our preaching or writing. Yet that divine influence is as the oil to the wheels of the cart —-the wheels themselves, if you please —-but it is not the cart, nor is it any substitute for the cart. God works by his word. God’s method, in general, is a man, and the unction of the Holy Ghost is no substitute for his word, nor for a holy man of God. A man’s mind, his reason, his doctrine, his fervency, his tears, his emotions —-these are the tools of the Holy Ghost. These are the means which actually accomplish the work of the Lord. We are indeed “workers together with God.” “Curse ye Meroz, said the angel of the LORD, curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof; because they came not to the help of the LORD, to the help of the LORD against the mighty.” (Judges 5:23). Yet if there is no “effectual grace” —-no “effectual calling” —-but by “the immediate efficiency of God” himself, what does he want with help? The fact is, these hyperspiritual theorists are generally ready to curse those who do come to the help of the Almighty. From this propensity arose all the Calvinistic opposition to the “new measures” in Finney’s day. From this has come repeated Calvinistic denunciations of revivals as the work of the devil. From this arose all the Calvinistic opposition, in Scotland, to the work of D. L. Moody. From this arises all the opposition in the present day, on the part of men like Ian Murray, to what they reproachfully call “the invitation system” and “revivalism.” From this source came Lewis Sperry Chafer’s book True Evangelism, aptly labelled by John R. Rice as “A Hurtful, Unscriptural Attack on Evangelism and Evangelists.” According to Chafer evangelists are one of the “False Forces in Evangelism.” His subtitle, “Winning Souls by Prayer,” betrays his distrust of all means but the direct working of God. This is the hyperspirituality of Calvinism.
And here lies the great evil of these hyperspiritual doctrines. They make all those things which lie within our own power to be indifferent, unnecessary, or impertinent. They thus promote indifference, lukewarmness, apathy. They thrust out zeal and fervency head and shoulders. They teach us that dead orthodoxy is as likely to accomplish the work of God as spiritual fervency
—-that the preaching of John Gill was as likely to convert sinners as that of George Whitefield —-that the only difference in their effects lay in the inscrutable choice of the Almighty to “add his blessing” to the one more than to the other. Thus do the hyperspiritual notions of Calvinism —-if consistently acted upon —-dry up true religion from its very roots. “The system of theology,” says C. H. Spurgeon, “with which many identify his [John Gill’s] name has chilled many churches to the very soul, for it has led them to omit the free invitations of the gospel, and to deny that it is the duty of sinners to believe in Jesus.” Spurgeon excuses Gill from the blame for this, with what justice I do not now inquire. I only affirm that the “system of theology” of which he speaks was consistent Calvinism —-Calvinism practicing what it preached —-and that it chilled those churches to the very soul by rejecting as unnecessary, unprofitable, ineffectual, or impertinent, those means which the wisdom of God has both created and commanded.