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Spurgeon and the keeping of the law

August 29, 2012

In my preparations to preach through Psalm 119, I have been reading much from Spurgeon’s Treasury of David. His commentary on the Psalms is phenomenal, and in my opinion should serve as a model for other commentators. In reading Spurgeon’s comments about the first eight verses I was struck by something noticeably absent.

In the first eight verses of Psalm 119, David begins with the blessings of obedience to the Word of God. He then expresses his own desire to keep the Word, summing it up with verse 8, “I will keep thy statutes, O forsake me not utterly.” As Spurgeon comments on these eight verses, he stresses the necessity of careful, diligent obedience to the commands of God. He makes comments like, “A man may have a thousand virtues, and yet a single failing may cover him with shame.”, “If no one else is ashamed of me, I shall be ashamed of myself if I do iniquity.”, “The wise course is to be satisfied with the rules of Holy Scriptures, and to strive to keep them all, in all places, towards all men, and in all respects.” “God’s precepts require careful obedience.”, “God’s precepts require zealous obedience.” and “Life, to the outward observer at any rate, lies much in doing, and he who in his doings never swerves from equity, both towards God and man, has hit upon the way of perfection, and we may be sure that his heart is right.”

Spurgeon’s comments are filled with what many today would consider, if it came from the mouth of a modern preacher, a legalistic or self righteous approach to righteousness. Only once in that section does Spurgeon refer to our standing and position in Christ. Otherwise, there is no reference to what is becoming popularly called the indicatives of Christ. Spurgeon spends his entire time discussing the imperatives to keep the law! One in our contemporary age of American Christianity would be tempted to ask how Spurgeon could make such a terrible blunder. That one would be far better off if he asked why Spurgeon only discussed the commands.  Let me offer two reasons. First, Spurgeon only discussed the commands because that’s what the passage discusses. Spurgeon, in his commentary, does not feel compelled to interject a discussion of our position in Christ where such discussion is not found in the Bible. Secondly, Spurgeon only discussed the commands because he, and many other Godly men from previous eras, had no fear of accusations of legalism when exhorting believers to obey the commands of God. Spurgeon didn’t feel obligated to rail against self rigtheousness or phariseeism when giving these commands. He well understood that the commands of God are to be preached. They are to be commanded by preachers for believers to obey.

What’s the point? Currently, many operate under the mistaken notion that proclaiming the commands of God apart from clear instruction on how the gospel makes us able to obey the command is legalistic or self righteous. Currently, many evangelicals and fundamentalists are insisting that commands proclaimed by themselves are undermining true spiritual growth. That is simply not true. This contemporary trend is not based on solid Biblical or historical evidence. The New Testament writers repeatedly offered command after command without a direct connection to the gospel or our position in Christ (for example, 1 Corinthians and Jude). The great, deceased preachers proclaimed the commands of God without constant recourse to the cross or the believers inability apart from Christ. Yes, we must preach Christ, and we must preach the believers position in Christ. Yet, the proclaiming of New Testament commands as obligations that the believer must give careful diligence to obey is not inappropriate or detrimental, it is necessary and profitable.

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