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Spurgeon was a master preacher. Today, preachers often quote him when they wish to particularly emphasize a point.  This passage, taken nearly at random, illustrates two of his common attributes: (1) Turning abstractions into images; and (2) divide concepts into their parts and examine each in turn. (I could also discuss his expert use of rhetorical figures, but that would be too much for this already long post).

Consider this portion of a paragraph

We know that nothing can occur to us save as it is written in the secret roll of providential predestination; consequently all the trials resulting from circumstances are traceable at once to the great First Cause. Out of the golden gate of God’s ordinance the armies of trial march forth in array. No shower falls unpermitted from the threatening cloud; every drop has its order ere it hastens to the earth. Consider poverty for instance. How many are made to feel its pinching necessities. They shiver in the cold for want of raiment; they are hungry and athirst; they are houseless, friendless, despised. This is a temptation from God, but all this Christ knew—“Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but I, the Son of Man, have not where to lay my head.” When he had fasted forty days and forty nights he was an hungered, and then it was that he was tempted of the devil. Nor does the scant table and the ragged garment alone invite temptation, for all Providences are doors to trial. Even our mercies, like roses, have their thorns. Men may be drowned in seas of prosperity as well as in rivers of affliction. Our mountains are not too high, and our valleys are not too low for temptation to travel. Whither shall we flee from their presence? What wings of wind can carry us? What beams of light can bear us? Everywhere, above and beneath, we are beset and surrounded with dangers. Now, since all these are under the superintendence and direction of the great Lord of Providence, we may look upon them all as temptations which come from him. But in every one of these Christ had his part.

C. H. Spurgeon, “A Tempted Saviour—Our Best Succour,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 9 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1863), 3.

The first proposition is common place in Reformed theology: God is the sovereign over all occurrences. Here is the doctrine from Chapter V of the Westminster Confession of Faith:

I. God, the great Creator of all things, doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.

II. Although in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly, yet by the same providence he ordereth them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.

Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The Evangelical Protestant Creeds, with Translations, vol. 3 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1882), 612. Now look at what Spurgeon does with that concept:

We know that nothing can occur to us save as it is written in the secret roll of providential predestination; consequently all the trials resulting from circumstances are traceable at once to the great First Cause. Out of the golden gate of God’s ordinance the armies of trial march forth in array. No shower falls unpermitted from the threatening cloud; every drop has its order ere it hastens to the earth.

Note: it is not providence as an abstraction; it is providence as an action. Providence is written upon “a secret roll”. Like Borges’ library, the entire history of the world has been written down in a book (although this book contains no false histories).

Spurgeon takes then the second point of the chapter: God is the First Cause of all things. Notice how he takes the abstruse and abstract “First Cause” and draws it with a pencil: The First Cause is simply what God has written down.

Look further: he takes the same idea and repeats it in a new set of images. Now, rather than a book, the decrees come marching through a gate. The troubles you face are an army which God has sent marching in order. Next, it is rain rather than an army; this image he takes from Jesus:

Matthew 5:45 (ESV)
For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Spurgeon takes that rain and merely pays attention to every drop as it falls, “every drop has its order ere it hastens to the earth.

IV. The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in his providence that it extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men, and that not by a bare permission, but such as hath joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, and otherwise ordering and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to his own holy ends; yet so as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature, and not from God; who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin.

V. The most wise, righteous, and gracious God doth oftentimes leave for a season his own children to manifold temptations and the corruption of their own hearts, to chastise them for their former sins, or to discover unto them the hidden strength of corruption and deceitfulness of their hearts, that they may be humbled; and to raise them to a more close and constant dependence for their support unto1 himself, and to make them more watchful against all future occasions of sin, and for sundry other just and holy ends.

Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The Evangelical Protestant Creeds, with Translations, vol. 3 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1882), 613–614.

Look at what this becomes in Spurgeon:

Consider poverty for instance. How many are made to feel its pinching necessities. They shiver in the cold for want of raiment; they are hungry and athirst; they are houseless, friendless, despised. This is a temptation from God, but all this Christ knew—“Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but I, the Son of Man, have not where to lay my head.” When he had fasted forty days and forty nights he was an hungered, and then it was that he was tempted of the devil.

He does not slavishly follow the original; but he carries out an element of it.  He turns “manifold temptations” into “pinching necessities”. We could show how the other ideas in the Confession are found in other parts of this sermon.

Another aspect to note comes in the division: he takes the concept of trial/temptation and looks at it from parts. A trial/temptation can from poverty. Well what is poverty — a lack of money. What is the opposite? Wealth. Can wealth brings its own temptations? Yes. Have we ever met a wealthy sinner? What did abundance due to Solomon?

Look at how Spurgeon makes this point:

Even our mercies, like roses, have their thorns. Men may be drowned in seas of prosperity as well as in rivers of affliction. Our mountains are not too high, and our valleys are not too low for temptation to travel. Whither shall we flee from their presence? What wings of wind can carry us? What beams of light can bear us? Everywhere, above and beneath, we are beset and surrounded with dangers.

He uses the commonplace of roses bearing thorns. The image works because he does not belabor it. He alters, slightly, the commonplace and uses it as an intellectual anchor. Yes, good things may come with complications.

He then switches the image immediately to death by water: “Men may be drowned in seas of prosperity as well as in rivers of affliction.”  Then a new image, “Our mountains are not too high, and our valleys are not too low for temptation to travel.” We are in constant danger of temptation: the world is rife with its danger.

He then takes over an image from Psalm 139:

Psalm 139:7–10 (ESV)

7  Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8  If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9  If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10  even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.

Which he delivers as “Whither shall we flee from their presence? What wings of wind can carry us? What beams of light can bear us?” Note also that this is a “legitimate” use of the original in that it is God who sends the trials, who is the First Cause.

Now to the division into parts. This is has already been noted: poverty comes paired with wealth: temptation and trial can come from any direction