The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
Charles Spurgeon died in the south of France on 31st January, 1892.
This week I want to dedicate my article to his life and legacy and I think the best way of doing so would be to share about a theme that burned in Spurgeon’s heart throughout the whole of his public ministry, namely, the Gospel of the blessed Son of God.
It’s nigh on impossible to read a sermon of Spurgeon’s without coming across some kind of reference to the Good News of Christ.
Today, then, I will resume a sermon preached by our beloved Charles preached on 19th July 1857 at the Music Hall of the Royal Surrey Gardens simply called: “Substitution”. In this message, Spurgeon lays out the fundamental components of the biblical Gospel.
“For He has made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Spurgeon alludes to 2 Corinthians 5:21 as containing “the great philosophy of salvation”. In this text, the Lord reveals how He can be just and the justifier of the ungodly. Before speaking about the grand work of Christ’s substitution explained in the text, Spurgeon first talks about the three people named in the passage, viz., God the Father, God the Son and man.
#1: GOD THE FATHER
Spurgeon begins by attacking the false deities conjured up by human whims declaring that God is very different to the way many people suppose Him to be. To speak correctly about the God of the Gospel, three chief attributes must be plainly explained, these being His sovereignty, His righteousness or justice, and His grace.
#1.1: The sovereignty of God
God is God. That means that God cannot be controlled by anybody and that He has absolute power and authority to do exactly whatsoever He pleases. God is sovereign over all of His creatures and all of their actions. Spurgeon’s God, therefore, is no soft deity but an infinite, changeless being.
He is God worthy to be adored and who is infinitely superior to anything found in creation. “This is the God of the Bible, this is the God whom we adore; no weak, pusillanimous god, who is controlled by the will of men, who cannot steer the bark of providence; but a God unalterable, infinite, unerring. This is the God we worship”.
#1.2: The righteousness/ justice of God
This sovereign God, this God who in God in the fullest sense of the word, hates sin with a perfect hatred. In this sub-point of the sermon, Spurgeon comes back to assault man-made deities which are the fruit of human sentimentalism. “Some of you worship a god who does not punish sin; but who is weakly merciful and so mercilessly weak, that He passes by transgression and iniquity, and never enacts a punishment.
You believe in a god, who, if mans sins, does not demand punishment for his offense. You think that a few good works of your own will pacify Him, that He is so weak a ruler, that a few good words uttered before Him in prayer will win sufficient merit to reverse the sentence, if, indeed, you think He ever passes a sentence at all”. And what did Spurgeon conclude? “Your god is no God”. That simple!
The pretty little ‘god’ of the nineteenth century was not the God of Scripture. The Bible testifies of a holy, just, severe God who punishes transgressors for their wicked deeds. The sinner, then, is in a deplorable situation.
#1.3: The grace of God
The wonderful thing about the Gospel, however, is that this sovereign and most righteous God is also a loving God. Love and grace work as synonyms in Spurgeon’s mind. “As I live, says the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezekiel 33:11).
Without the doctrine of the love of God, the coming of the Son of God into the world simply makes no sense. It is through the Son that God carries out His work of salvation on the behalf of fallen humanity. So then, who is this Son?
#2: GOD THE SON
Spurgeon clarifies that the Son of God is the only God-man. Both one hundred per cent man and one hundred per cent divine! According to the text of 2 Corinthians 5:21 this God-man knew no sin. He saw it in others, but He himself did not know it by experience. It was something completely foreign to Him.
The glorious Son of God never committed a single sin in word, deed, thought or attitude. He was altogether holy, perfect, impeccable, immaculate and faultless.
The third person mentioned in 2 Corinthians 5:21 is man i.e. humankind. Man is, first and foremost, a sinner, a rebel and one who has disobeyed God’s Law. In sum, he is the complete opposite to God’s perfect Son. Every man and woman is a sinner from birth.
Not only are they inheritors of Adam’s original sin as his offspring but they have also committed innumerable acts of transgressions all by themselves. They are thus doubly worthy of condemnation. “Ah! You are the man, a born rebel; born into the world a sinner, you add to your native guilt your own transgressions”.
It is in the light of this terrible predicament that Spurgeon goes on to explain the great work of substitution that the Gospel announces.
#4: SUBSTITION EXPLAINED
If we recap on what we have seen so far, we have established three bedrock truths:
This is very bad news for any man or woman.
God has taken note of man’s every sin. “God, the Judge, has sin his sin, and recorded all his iniquities; so that there would be no hope of escaping. The prisoner is sure to be found guilty. How can he escape? Is there a flaw in the indictment? No! It is drawn up by infinite wisdom, and dictated by eternal justice; and there is no hope there”.
So what hope is there for ungodly humankind? The answer that Spurgeon gives this desperate soul-searching question has to do with the heartbeat of the Gospel message. He replies, “My justice says ‘smite’, but my love stays my hand and says, ‘spare, spare the sinner!’ Oh, sinner! My heart has devised it. My Son, the pure and perfect shall stand in your stead, and be accounted guilty, and you, the guilty one, shall stand in my Son’s stead and be accounted righteous!”
Marvel of marvels! What astoundingly glorious news! The Son of God suffers the punishment that God’s enemies deserve. The Father treats the Son as if He were a sinner and He treats the sinner as if he/ she were the precious, irreplaceable Christ.
Now God can justify sinners and still be righteous because He punished His Son in the stead of the sinner. Perhaps the most astonishing news of all is that Jesus did it willingly. Sinners can be saved from coming wrath through the work of the Son of God.
Spurgeon joyfully proclaims: “An eternal covenant was formed between the Father and the Son; wherein the Son did stipulate to suffer for His elect; and the Father on His part, did covenant to justify them through the Son. Oh, wondrous covenant, you are the source of all the streams of atoning love!”
If Christ has taken the sinner’s place, then he/ she who believes upon Christ is eternally free. God’s righteous wrath can no longer strike them! In Christ, sinners receive the pure favour, grace and overflowing love of the Father.
The Englishman wrapped up his sermon saying: “Oh! Justice, where are you? This man has been a sinner, a rebel, why not smite him to the dust for his impertinent presumption in thus challenging the justice of God? ‘Nay’, says Justice, ‘he has been a sinner, but I do not look upon him in that light now; I have punished Christ instead of him; that sinner is no sinner now –he is perfect’. How? Perfect? ‘Perfect, because Christ was perfect, and I look upon him as if he were Christ’.”
If you look upon Christ with the eyes of faith, repenting of your sin, you will be considered ‘perfect’ before the holy demands of God’s righteousness.
And that’s Good News. That’s exceedingly Good News. That’s the Gospel; that’s God’s Gospel; that’s Spurgeon’s Gospel.
Thank you for Charles Spurgeon, Lord.
And thank you, thank you, thank you for the Gospel!