A Calvinistic Preacher’s Dilemma: How Do I Address Sinners?

John 6:44; Mark 1:15
       No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.
       Repent ye, and believe the Gospel.

JOHN LELAND (1754-1841): It has always been a question with me of great importance, to know how to address a congregation of sinners, as such, in gospel style.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES (1899-1981): Balance is all-important.

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): Take any doctrine, and preach upon it exclusively, and you distort it.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: There is nothing so dangerous as to exaggerate a part of truth into the whole of truth…If you were asked to give the difference, or to define the difference, between a Calvinist and a hyper-Calvinist how would you do it? It is a question that is worth asking for this reason: I know large numbers of people who when they use the term “hyper” Calvinist generally mean Calvinist. In other words, they do not know what a hyper-Calvinist is.

JOHN L. GIRARDEAU (1825-1898): The Calvinist contends that God gives the sinner power to believe.

C. H. SPURGEON: We think that ultra-Calvinism, which goes vastly beyond the teaching of Christ, or the enlightened ministry of Calvin could warrant, gets some of its support from a wrong view of God. To the ultra-Calvinist His absolute sovereignty is delightfully conspicuous. He is awe-stricken with the great and glorious attributes of the Most High. His omnipotence appalls him, and His sovereignty astonishes him, and he at once submits as by a stern necessity to the will of God. He, however, too much forgets that God is love. He does not make prominent enough the benevolent character of the Divine Being…As to weeping over sinners as Christ wept over Jerusalem; as to venturing to invite them to Christ as the Lord did when He stretched out His hands all the day long; as to lamenting with Jeremiah over a perishing people, [Hyper-Calvinists] had no sympathy with such emotions, and feared they savoured of Arminianism.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: Let me tell you what a hyper-Calvinist is. A hyper-Calvinist is one who says that the offer of salvation is only made to the redeemed, and that no preacher of the Gospel should preach Christ and offer salvation to all―A hyper-Calvinist regards a man who offers salvation or who proclaims salvation to all as a dangerous person. For what it is worth, there is a society in London that has described me as a dangerous Arminian, because I preach Christ to all and offer salvation to all.

VERNON J. CHARLESWORTH (1839-1915): Rowland Hill was as severely blamed by the high doctrinalists for not preaching to the elect only, as he was by the Arminians for preaching too much Calvinism. When someone complained that he did not preach to the elect only, he said, “I don’t know them, or I would preach to them. Have the goodness to mark them with a bit of chalk, and then I’ll talk to them.”

JOHN LELAND: At the close of 1806, I got amazingly distressed on account of my preaching, fearing that my barrenness in the ministry was owing to improper addresses. The [Arminian] Methodists were amazingly successful and zealous, and the addresses of their ministers were general and undaunted. I visited them—I conversed with them; they were all for heaven, and assured they were in the way; but their zeal and confidence appeared to me like the mighty wind and fire in Elijah’s vision, and I could not discover that any with whom I conversed had any knowledge of themselves, of the law of God, or of the way of pardon. The John Gill [Hyper-Calvinist] mode of addressing sinners, seemed a little different from the New Testament mode.

JOHN DUNCAN (1796-1870): Hyper-Calvinism is all house and no door; [free-will] Arminianism is all door and no house.

C. H. SPURGEON: We are often in the dark, puzzled about difficulties, but do you know half the difficulties in the Bible spring from a cold state of mind: but when the heart gets right, the head seems to get right too, in a great measure. I remember a person puzzling himself fearfully with the passage in Scripture about Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. He and went looked at John Gill about it, he went to Thomas Scott about it, and he went to Matthew Henry about it; and these good divines all puzzled him as much as they could, but they did not seem to clear up the matter. The good man could not understand how Jesus Christ could say as He did, “How oft would I have gathered thee, but thou wouldst not!” One day he received more grace, and got a love for souls, and then the old skin of narrow mindedness which had been large enough for him once began to crack and break, and he went to the passage then, and said, “I can understand it now; I do not know how it is consistent with such and such doctrine, but it is very consistent with what I feel in my heart.” And I feel just the same. I used to be puzzled by that passage where Paul says he could wish himself accursed from God from his brethren’s sake. Why, I have often felt the same, and now understand how a man can say in the exuberance of love to others, that he would be willing to perish himself if he could save them.

JOHN LELAND: In the midst of my difficulties, I had a meeting at a school house; and in the time of that service my soul got into the trade winds, and without consulting Gill or Wesley, and without comparing our translation with the Septuagint, Chaldee, or the King of Spain’s Bible, I addressed the scholars and young people in a way I never can without God helps me. The Spirit of the Lord fell upon them―four of the school children and a young man besides, came forward for baptism in a few weeks, who dated the beginnings of their religious impressions at that meeting.

JOHN NEWTON (1725-1807): My thoughts concerning a scriptural and consistent manner of addressing the consciences of unawakened sinners [are these]: The examples of our Lord Christ, and his authorized ministers―the Apostles―are both our rule and our warrant. The Lord Jesus was the great preacher of free grace, “who spake as never man spake;” and His ministry, while it provided relief for the weary and heavy laden, was eminently designed to stain the pride of all human glory. He knew what was in man, and declared, that “none could come unto him, unless drawn and taught of God.” And yet He often speaks to sinners in terms which, if they were not known to be His, might perhaps be censured as inconsistent and legal―John 6:27; Luke 13:24-27; John 12:35. It appears, both from the context and the tenor of these passages, that they were immediately spoken, not to His disciples, but to the multitude. The Apostles copied from their Lord: they taught that we have no sufficiency of ourselves, even to think a good thought; and that it is not of him that willeth, or of him that runneth, but of God, who sheweth mercy; yet they plainly called upon sinners to repent, and to turn from their vanities to the living God; Acts 3:19; 14:15; 17:30.

JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564): We hold, then, that God wills not the death of a sinner, since He calls all equally to repentance, and promises Himself prepared to receive them if they only seriously repent. If any one should object―“then there is no election of God, by which He has predestinated a fixed number to salvation,” the answer is at hand, Ezekiel 18:23: Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God: and not that he should return from his ways, and live? The prophet does not here speak of God’s secret counsel, but only re-calls miserable men from despair, that they may apprehend the hope of pardon, and repent and embrace the offered salvation.

JOHN LELAND: So―the great query which has agitated my mind for more than thirty years is, “How is a congregation of sinners to be addressed?”

GEORGE WHITEFIELD (1714-1770): Since we know not who are elect―we preach to all.

C. H. SPURGEON: Drive at your hearers as if they could will, and leave it to God to enable them.


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