James Swann: Charles Spurgeon, Full-Preterism, and Figurative Language
Those involved with Preterism appear to look for anything written by anybody in regard to A.D. 70 and the fall of Jerusalem (simply skim through the pages at the Preterist Archive).
Charles Spurgeon, Full-Preterism, and Figurative Language
By James Swann
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From the mouth of Charles Spurgeon…A Non-Preterist Understands the Figurative Language of The Bible.. (On the New Heavens and Earth) “Did you ever regret the absence of the burnt-offering, or the red heifer, of any one of the sacrifices and rites of the Jews? Did you ever pine for the feast of tabernacles, or the dedication? No, because, though these were like THE OLD HEAVENS AND EARTH to the Jewish believers, THEY HAVE PASSED AWAY, and WE NOW LIVE UNDER A NEW HEAVEN AND NEW EARTH, so far as the dispensation of divine teaching is concerned. The substance is come, and the shadow has gone: and we do not remember it.” (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. xxxvii, p. 354).” [http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002968153631&sk=wall#]
This quote can be found on a couple of eschatology related websites. I would take a guess this quote was taken from the Preterist Archive: C.H. Spurgeon. Those involved with Preterism appear to look for anything written by anybody in regard to A.D. 70 and the fall of Jerusalem (simply skim through the pages at the Preterist Archive). The Preterist Archive (now partial preterist) takes this quote without explaining the context. On the other hand, I would assume my full-preterist friend is highlighting Spurgeon’s use of figurative language as a polemic against dispensational theology.
So I went and looked up this sermon. The sermon is on Isaiah 65:17-19 (“Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind”). The sermon is entitled, God Rejoicing in the New Creation (no. 2211). It can be found in the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Vol. 37 beginning on page 442. Spurgeon begins:
THIS passage, like the rest of Isaiah’s closing chapters, will have completest fulfillment in the latter days when Christ shall come, when the whole company of his elect ones shall have been gathered out from the world, when the whole creation shall have been renewed, when new heavens and a new earth shall be the product of the Savior’s power, when, for ever and for ever, perfected saints of God shall behold his face, and joy and rejoice in him (p.442).
One can see that Spurgeon begins saying the New heavens and earth are future. He goes on to say:
There is to be a literal new creation, but that new creation has commenced already; and I think, therefore, that even now we ought to manifest a part of the joy. If we are called upon to be glad and rejoice in the completion of the work, let us rejoice even in the commencement of it (p. 443).
He has commenced it thus — by putting new hearts into as many as he has called by his Spirit, regenerating them, and making them to become new creatures in Christ Jesus. These the apostle tells us are a kind of firstfruits of this now creation (p.443).
Spurgeon then goes on to speak of how people should see God in the current world and rejoice in God as creator. Christians should most rejoice in their being a new creation:
The eye that can see the new nature is an eye that grace has given, and newly opened to new light. The heart that can rejoice in the new creation is a heart that is itself renewed, or else it would not comprehend spiritual things, and could not rejoice in them. I invite you, therefore, dear friends — you that see, and know, and somewhat appreciate the new creation in its beginnings — to joy, and to rejoice in it to-night. It is a delightful thing that God should make a tree, and bid it come forth in the springtide with all its budding verdure. It is a far better thing that God should take a poor thorny heart like yours and mine, and transform it till it becomes like the fir-tree or the pine-tree to his praise. (p.446).
Spurgeon continues on this theme of christians being the begining of the new creation, as people who look forward to the new creation coming in its fullness. Then comes the first quote cited:
As an instance of the expulsive power of a new delight, we all know how the memory of the old dispensation is gone from us. Brethren, did any one of you ever weep because you did not sit at the Passover? Did you ever regret the Paschal lamb? Oh, never, because you have fed on Christ! Was there ever man that knows his Lord that ever did lament that he had not the sign of the old Abrahamic covenant in his flesh? Nay, he gladly dispenses with the rites of the old covenant, since he has the fullness of their meaning in his Lord. The believer is circumcised in Christ, buried in Christ, risen in Christ, and in Christ exalted to the heavenly places. Did you ever regret the absence of the burnt-offering, or the red heifer, or any one of the sacrifices and rites of the Jews? Did you ever pine for the feast of tabernacles, or the dedication? No, because, though those were like the old heavens and earth to the Jewish believers, they have passed away, and we now live under new heavens and a new earth, so far as the dispensation of divine teaching is concerned. The substance is come, and the shadow has gone; and we do not remember it (p.448).
From the context, Spurgeon’s “figurative language” is simply describing the Old Testament rituals and practices that looked forward to Christ. Since Christ has come, he’s begun to usher in the new heavens and earth, beginning this work in the hearts of believers. He continues:
Now, I want you to feel just the same with regard to all your former life as you now feel towards that old dispensation. The world is dead to you, and you to the world. Carnal customs and attractions are for you abolished, even as the ancient sacrifices are abolished. What were your sins? They are blotted out: the depths have covered them: you shall see them again no more for ever. Seek not after them as though you had a lingering esteem for them. Let them not come to mind, except to excite you to repentance. What were your pleasures when you lived in sin? Forget them. They were very vapid, deceptive, destructive evils. You have a higher pleasure now which enchants your soul. What have been the sorrows of your past life, especially your sorrows while coming to Christ? You need not remember them; but, like the woman who remembereth no more her travail for the joy that a man is born into the world, so your birth into the new creation causes you to forget all the sufferings of your spirit in coming there. “Old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new!” I would to God that the joy of the new creation would so fill us right up to the brim that we should not imaging any other joy. This puts out all other joy as the sun hides all the stars. Let all go; let all go: rolled up as the heavens and the earth are to be, like vestures all outworn, let all of my past life be laid aside. Now put I on my new dress of sparkling joy and delight in the new things, for has not Christ made all things new to me? A new song is in my mouth, even praise to him for evermore; a new law is in my heart; and a new service engages all my powers (pp. 448-449).
michael loomis said…
To my mind the crux of the matter here is this: Mr. Spurgeon agreed (at least to some degree) that the NH&E was a new DISPENSATION and not the destruction and re-creation of the material universe…
“…these were like THE OLD HEAVENS AND EARTH to the Jewish believers, THEY HAVE PASSED AWAY, and WE NOW LIVE UNDER A NEW HEAVEN AND NEW EARTH, so far as the dispensation of divine teaching is concerned.”
Even if Mr S. DID believe in the creation of a yet future UTOPIAN UNIVERSE, Full Preterists often make use of this quote simply because it lends a modicum of legitimacy and credibility to understanding the New Covenant as THE NH&E. – Again, whether or not Mr. S. viewed this New Covenant Era as the ONLY NH&E is another story.
When the New H&E are viewed AS the New Covenant replacing the Old Covenant (i.e. Christianity replacing Judaism) Jesus’ words can then be easily understood to be referencing Israel passing from one covenant relationship with God into another – rather than a future destruction of the cosmos.
Notice that Jesus’ words are clearly in the context of the soon to be outmoded Mosaic Economy (after all – that is what He came to fulfill and exchange)…
(Mat 5:17 NASB) “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.
(Mat 5:18 NASB) “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished.
(Mat 5:19 NASB) “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
(Mat 24:35 NASB) “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away.
James Swan said…
To my mind the crux of the matter here is this: Mr. Spurgeon agreed (at least to some degree) that the NH&E was a new DISPENSATION and not the destruction and re-creation of the material universe..
Frank and Michael Loomis:
I only have a minute at the moment, so I’ll begin with this sentence. Do you have any proof that Spurgeon did not believe in “the destruction and re-creation of the material universe”?
Hope you are well, Frank. Denise and I think of you often.
Todd Dennis said…
I really enjoyed your article, but need to clear up one important thing: PreteristArchive.com’s native theology is Idealist in orientation.. not partial preterist. That status has been unchanged since 2006. Thanks!
By the way, I posted Spurgeon’s comment with full context in 1997, along with his entire book. Despite claims to the contrary (remember Bob Ross?), it was never presented as a fully preterist quote. TD
James Swan said…
Thanks. My apologies for assuming you were partial-preterist in orientation, on some level.
The blog entry was provoked by the my friend on Facebook. I simply cited P.A. because I think that’s where he got the quote in question. He cited 2 quotes from Spurgeon identical to that which you posted on the webpage of yours I linked to.
…and by the way, I’ve visited P.A. off and on for many years, and have found much useful information.