There is no conflict between serving a sovereign God and presenting the gospel to all:
My purpose here is not to see yet another theological war breaking out, but to simply make a basic point: one can have a high view of the sovereignty of God – once can be a keen Calvinist – and yet have a passion for lost souls and a burning desire to present the gospel to everyone. And that is exactly what we find in the life and ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
The great English preacher and Baptist pastor (1834-1892), was just as passionate to reach the lost as he was to defend classic Calvinist beliefs. Yet some will claim that one cancels out the other. Not at all says Spurgeon. It is Hyper-Calvinism, not Calvinism, that lessens the impulse for evangelism and a love of the lost.
And like most of those in the Reformed camp, Spurgeon fought Hyper-Calvinism tooth and nail. Four brief quotes from Iain Murray’s 1995 volume (see details below) give a bit of background explanation on all this:
Spurgeon believed that historic evangelicalism differed from Hyper-Calvinism over the persons to whom the promises of the gospel are to be preached. Hyper-Calvinism views gospel preaching solely as a means for the ingathering of God’s elect….
Spurgeon rejected the placing of such a restriction upon the invitation of the gospel. The gospel is ‘good news’ which God would have proclaimed throughout the world and to ‘every creature.’ Its message is not simply a statement of facts. It also contains clear, unrestricted general promises, such as, ‘He that believeth on him is not condemned,’ (John 3:18); ‘Whoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved,’ (Rom.10:13); ‘Whoever will, let him take the water of life freely,’ (Rev.22:17). So the preacher has not done his work when he has spoken of Christ and proclaimed the historic facts of salvation. From there he must go on to urge reception of Christ upon all men. (pp. 69-70)
He asserted, as strongly as it has ever been asserted, that the will of God is omnipotent both in the provision and in the application of every part of salvation. . . . But his response to the Hyper-Calvinist argument was to assert another equally biblical truth, namely, that man is wholly responsible for his own sin. God is not the author. Those who hear the gospel and reject the Saviour will not be able to plead that sovereignty prevented them from exercizing the obedience of faith. None will be able to claim that God excluded them. No, it is on account of sin alone. Including the sins of unbelief, that unrepentant sinners will finally be condemned and lost for ever.
Asked to explain such a mystery, Spurgeon constantly replied that it was not his business to do so. His duty was to deal with the whole range of scriptural truth and to declare it in its true proportions. To limit the message to such truths as we can see to be consistent with each other is to exercize a liberty to which we have no right. The great error of Hyper-Calvinism is to neglect one side of the Word of God because it does not know how to explain both that the will of God is effective and sovereign in all things and that man is free and responsible for his actions.” (pp. 81-82)
Spurgeon regarded an emphasis on man’s free-agency as absolutely essential to true evangelism. Because Scripture teaches that conversion is the work of God, Hyper-Calvinism fears to appeal to human action lest it interferes with God. But Scripture also presents conversion as the work of man and recognizes no inconsistency in calling upon men to be reconciled to God. Because it does not recognize this, Hyper-Calvinism fails to tell the unconverted that it is their fault alone if they remain unsaved under the gospel and that their damnation will be their own work. Not only is faith in Christ a duty, but as Spurgeon often showed from Scripture, a refusal to believe on Christ will be found at last to be a greater offence than the iniquities of Sodom and Gomorrah. (pp. 84-85)
It was Spurgeon’s own persuasion of the love of Christ for the souls of men that lies at the heart of his weekly evangelistic preaching in London for thirty-seven years. He had no hesitation in concluding sermons with such words as, ‘Cast yourself upon the Saviour’s love, and you shall go down to your house justified’. (p. 96)
Spurgeon’s love for the lost and passion to evangelise
But the best way to make the case that a passion for souls is not incompatible with belief in a sovereign God – at least for Spurgeon – is simply to offer a number of key quotes from him. No one reading what Spurgeon said about the lost could ever accuse him of not having a broken heart for them, and wanting to do all he could to reach them.
His belief in the sovereignty of God did NOT take away one iota of his passion for the lost, and his overwhelming conviction that we must preach the gospel to one and all, far and wide. What I present here is only a tiny fraction of all that he said on these issues, but they give you a good feel for his heart and mind on this:
“Lost! Lost! Lost! Better a whole world on fire than a soul lost! Better every star quenched and the skies a wreck than a single soul to be lost!”
“How can I see souls damned, without emotion? How can I hear Christ’s name blasphemed, without a shudder? How can I think of the multitudes who prefer ruin to salvation, without a pang?”
“Consider how precious a soul must be, when both God and the devil are after it.”
“When preaching and private talk are not available, you need to have a tract ready….Get good striking tracts or none at all. But a touching gospel tract may be the seed of eternal life. Therefore, do not go out without your tracts.”
“I would sooner bring one sinner to Jesus Christ than unravel all the mysteries of the divine Word, for salvation is the one thing we are to live for.”
“Do you want arguments for soul winning? Look up to Heaven, and ask yourself how sinners can ever reach those harps of gold and learn their everlasting song unless they have someone to tell them of Jesus, who is mighty to save. But the best argument of all is to be found in the wounds of Jesus. You want to honor Him, you desire to put many crowns upon His head, and this you can best do by winning souls for Him. These are the spoils that He covets, these are the trophies for which He fights, these are the jewels that shall be His best adornment.”
“Have you no wish for others to be saved? Then you’re not saved yourself, be sure of that!”
“I have endeavored to speak as a dying individual to dying individuals.”
“I remember, when I have preached at different times in the country, and sometimes here, that my whole soul has agonized over men, every nerve of my body has been strained and I could have wept my very being out of my eyes and carried my whole frame away in a flood of tears, if I could but win souls.”
“I will not believe that thou hast tasted of the honey of the gospel if thou can eat it all to thyself.”
“You were not saved that you might go to heaven alone; you were saved that you might take others there with you.”
“You have never truly found Jesus if you do not tell others about him.”
“If there existed only one man or woman who did not love the Savior, and if that person lived among the wilds of Siberia, and if it were necessary that all the millions of believers on the face of the earth should journey there, and every one of them plead with him to come to Jesus before he could be converted, it would be well worth all the zeal, labor, and expense. If we had to preach to thousands year after year, and never rescued but one soul, that one soul would be full reward for all our labor, for a soul is of countless price.”
“If there were wanted two apostles to be added to the number of the twelve, I do not believe that there could be found two men more fit to be so added than George Whitfield and John Wesley.”
“If there be any one point in which the Christian church ought to keep its fervor at a white heat, it is concerning missions. If there be anything about which we cannot tolerate lukewarmness, it is the matter of sending the gospel to a dying world.”
“God save us from living in comfort while sinners are sinking into hell!”
“Every Christian is either a missionary or an impostor.”
“To be a soul winner is the happiest thing in the world. And with every soul you bring to Jesus Christ, you seem to get a new heaven here upon earth.”
“The greatest missionaries that have ever lived have believed in God’s choice of them; and instead of this doctrine leading to inaction, it has ever been an irresistible motive power, and it will be so again. . . . . Was Whitefield a man who cared nothing for the salvation of the people? He who flew like a seraph throughout England and America unceasingly proclaiming the grace of God, was he selfish? Yet he was distinctly a free-grace preacher. Did Jonathan Edwards have no concern for the souls of others? Oh, how he wept and cried, and warned them of the wrath to come! Time would fail me to tell of the lovers of men who have been lovers of this truth.”
“If you really long to save men’s souls, you must tell them a great deal of disagreeable truth.”
“If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our bodies. And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.”
As mentioned, I seek no theological fights here. If you hate Calvinism and Calvinists, fine, but do not come here with your rage and hostility. My point in this piece was simple: loving the lost and loving God and his sovereignty most certainly can go together.
For further reading
One must first and foremost go to Spurgeon on this, via his numerous sermons and books. But here I want to mention three works by two authors for those who want to explore all this further:
Iain Murray, The Forgotten Spurgeon. Banner of Truth, 1966, 2009.
Iain Murray, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism. Banner of Truth, 1995, 2002.
Stephen McCaskell, ed., Spurgeon’s Calvinism. Free Grace Press, 2020.