How Grace Triumphs
As Spurgeon saw it, the new birth of a Christian has to be a work of pure divine grace: the sinful human heart is impotent, unwilling, and wholly unworthy. In fact, he declared, God’s work of new creation is even more glorious than his original work of creation. After all, more than having to create out of nothing, in regenerating hearts God must overturn that which is overtly hostile to himself. Therefore, Spurgeon said, “I believe the Eternal might sooner forgive the sin of ascribing the creation of the heavens and the earth to an idol, than that of ascribing the works of grace to the efforts of the flesh, or to anyone but himself.”1
This provided him with great pastoral comfort as he worked amid all the mass degradation of working-class London. It meant that he was not left supposing that there are some more able and some so dehumanized as to be beyond hope. Rather, because regeneration is a matter of God’s grace and not human worthiness, “there is no indifference so callous, no ignorance so blind, no iniquity so base, no conscience so seared as not to be made to yield, when God wills it, before the might of His strength.”2 When the Father sends his Spirit to open blind eyes to the glories of Christ and to melt proud hearts, then hearts will indeed be won, and hatred for God turned to love. The means God uses are his own Word and truth. As such, the
sermons that are most likely to convert people seem to me to be those that are full of truth, truth about the fall, truth about the law, truth about human nature, and its alienation from God, truth about Jesus Christ, truth about the Holy Spirit, truth about the Everlasting Father, truth about the new birth, truth about obedience to God, and how we learn it, and all such great verities.3
Yet, while God uses his truth, his final object is not the head but the heart. Through his Word he enlightens minds in order that hearts might be healed and won to himself. Preachers, therefore, must avoid vacuousness in their preaching, and they must avoid heartless intellectualism. The object of all true preaching, after all, is the heart, and preaching has failed “unless it makes men tremble, makes them sad, and then anon brings them to Christ, and causes them to rejoice. Sermons are to be heard in thousands, and yet how little comes of them all, because the heart is not aimed at, or else the archers miss the mark.”4
In particular, God uses the truth of Christ crucified to draw all people to himself (John 12:32). At the very beginning of his ministry in London, Spurgeon described his own experience of regeneration through the message of the cross. He pictured himself, a few years earlier, as a slave to his sinful passions, like Byron’s hapless character Mazeppa, “bound on the wild horse of my lust, bound hand and foot, incapable of resistance.”5 Locked up “in the strong old castle of my sins,” he said, he resisted all preachers who came to the gate of his heart and pleaded with him. Then at last came one
with loving countenance; his hands were marked with scars, where nails were driven, and his feet had nail-prints too; he lifted up his cross, using it as a hammer; at the first blow the gate of my prejudice shook; at the second it trembled more; at the third down it fell, and in he came; and he said, “Arise, and stand upon thy feet, for I have loved thee with an everlasting love.”6
The cross—that deepest revelation of the glory of God—is the great weapon that breaks down the heart’s defenses. Where the good news of Christ crucified is passed over, preaching must lack the power of God to save sinners. The cross is the essential revelation used by the Spirit to humble and transform us. When the Spirit opens our eyes to appreciate the cross, then “that which was sweet becomes bitter; that which was bright becomes dim.”7
The very first effect of regeneration is that the sinner comes to Christ.8 After all, it is not simply that the Spirit has healed the heart so that it loves as it was meant to; the sinner has been breathed upon by the Spirit, and the life which the Spirit gives is none other than the life of Christ.9 The Father’s own love for Christ has been awakened, and God’s own divine and holy tastes have been implanted. God’s very life has come into the human soul, and so the sinner must now believe, and love, and long for holiness and the spread of God’s glory.10
- C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1855–1917) vol. 44:565.
- C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography, Compiled from His Diary, Letters, and Records, by His Wife and His Private Secretary, 1856–1878, vol. 3., 3:3.
- Spurgeon, The Soul Winner, 90–91.
- The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, 27:530.
- C. H. Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit Sermons, (London:Passmore & Alabaster, 1855–1860) vol.1:57.
- The New Park Street Pulpit Sermons, 1:58.
- The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, 17:378.
- The New Park Street Pulpit Sermons, 4:137. For all that Spurgeon esteemed that moment of conversion, he did not want believers putting their trust in the event. One person complains to me, “Sir, I cannot tell exactly when I was converted, and this causes me great anxiety.” Dear friend, this is a needless fear. Turn your enquiries in another direction,—Are you alive unto God by faith? Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God? Are you resting and trusting in him? “Yes,” say you, “with all my heart.” Well, never mind about when you were converted; the fact is before you, and its date is a small matter. (MTP, 27:662)
- C. H. Spurgeon, The Sword and Trowel: (London: Passmore & Alabaster,1865–1891)116.
- C. H. Spurgeon, Memories of Stambourne (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1891), 137
This article is adapted from Spurgeon on the Christian Life: Alive in Christ by Michael Reeves.