A Warning for Lent from Charles Spurgeon

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Lent is here and more Protestants are participating. I am not a fan nor partaker Lenten activities. Fasting and other forms of self-denial for this season remind me too much of Roman Catholic piety. As a Protestant, I feel as though I am pointing fellow Evangelicals to Rome if I suggest some sort of Lenten practice. Though I am always curious what fellow Baptist Charles Spurgeon said about Lent.

While Spurgeon was no fan or Roman Catholicism, he curiously did not say much (that I have found) explicitly about Lent. He did not call Lent a superstitious observance as did John Calvin, but the topic does show up in passing in a few sermons. Maybe Spurgeon listed Lent under the topic of Popery that he so despised – I don’t know.

Yet, in one sermon where Spurgeon addresses doing things for God’s glory vs. self glory, he mentions Lent. He has just finished challenging teachers and preachers on whether they are carrying out their duties in the church because of custom or Christ. He then goes on to give the warning below. Not only does Spurgeon mention Lent, but his warning seems wise for those choosing to participate in Lenten practice (emphasis mine).

I shall not detain you longer upon this point when I have said another word. Though this is a Protestant land it is beyond all question that there are some Popish enough to perform great religious acts by way of merit! What a goodly row of almshouses was erected by that miserly old grinder of the poor as an atonement for his hoarding propensities! What a splendid donation to that hospital! A very proper thing, indeed , but the person who left it never gave a farthing to a beggar in his life! And he would not have given it now, only he could not take it with him, and so he has left it as an atonement for sin! Sometimes persons think that the doing of some outrageous religious act will take them to Heaven; frequenting Church prayers twice a day, fasting during Lent, decorating the altar with needlework, putting stained glass in the window, giving a new organ or such like. At the suggestion of their priest they do many such things, and thus they go on working like blind asses at a mill, from morning to night, and make as much real progress. Do I address any such persons here? I do not find fault with you for what you do, but I do find fault with you for why you are doing it! If you dream that you are saving yourselves, remember that your ac ts are selfish acts, and that there is nothing good in them. They may be good things in themselves, but as they are done not unto God, but evidently with a view to your own welfare, they are done to yourselves, and He will not, therefore, accept them. Let there be never such splendid deeds of alms- giving, never such marvelous mortifications of the flesh, never such devout attendance at daily prayer—they avail nothing before God—when they proceed from a self-righteous he art. Away with them! Away with them all! They are dross and dung before the Most High, if you bring them to Him with a view of purchasing salvation. No, you must have done with these, and trust in Jesus only. When a man can say, “I am saved. Christ is mine”—then he can serve God acceptably, and his deeds shall be received through Christ Jesus.1

Here I blog…

Mark

Possibly you even dream that you must pine all through Lent and not expect joy till you reach Easter! What folly is all this! ~ Charles Spurgeon

  1. Charles Spurgeon. “God or Self – Which?” Volume 8, no. 438, 1862.
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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Darrin March 7, 2014 at 7:38 pm

Yes, piety is an awful thing, Mark. Actually, Calvin only condemned any outward-only observances, but took no issue with the realities. New thing for Protestants? Lutherans and Anglicans have always observed it: in fact is has been in the latter’s Book of Common Prayer for centuries. New for SBC, sure. And in true Baptist style you manipulate quotes and history to match your predetermined prejudices.

2 Mark Lamprecht March 8, 2014 at 11:07 am

Darrin, thanks for your encouraging assertions. If you’ll note, I mentioned Roman Catholic piety not just piety. I’m not sure Lent is a new thing for Protestants, but they are certainly more vocal about it in recent years. So it is my observation that more Protestants are participating.

I am not sure what quote I manipulated nor why you bring up the SBC. There are a few Southern Baptist folks who do not have a problem with Lent while there are both Baptists and Presbyterians who, like myself, will not participate. In fact, I’ve come across several Presbyterians writing against Lent this past week. Also, This post was a caution about Lent not an outright condemnation.

And what did that great Southern Baptist preacher of the past Martyn Lloyd-Jones say about Lent? 😉

Lent, of course, is a relic of Roman Catholicism. One can easily understand it in such an organization – it gives power to the priest, and so on – but there is, I repeat, no evidence whatsoever in favour of it in the New Testament, and it simply leads to this show of wisdom and human will power. It is people adding their works to the grace of God, and this is essentially Roman Catholic teaching. Well, my friends, let us get rid of this, let us not waste our time with it. We are to be led by the Spirit always.

I appreciate this post from Mere Orthodoxy not participating in Lenten Fasting.

3 Darrin March 24, 2014 at 1:32 pm

You’re welcome. Likewise your emphasis is greatly encouraging to Protestants who observe the spiritual intent of the season, by your denouncing what they do for the glory of God and their own sanctification. I’m familiar with historically Reformed voices condemning the meritorious aspect of Lent, but you fail to observe that it is not observed in that way by all. Some are opposed to any holidays on the church calendar; others pick and choose. Shall I condemn those who rejoice at Easter as well? I mention the SBC (and please don’t associate Jones with it, even in jest), because I have of late seen that approach repeated in several arenas by Baptists, even those who claim to be Reformed.

4 Mark Lamprecht March 24, 2014 at 2:38 pm

Darrin, too bad, I thought the Lloyd-Jones as a Baptist joke was funny. (And I will use it again if warranted.) 🙂

Anyway, are you saying Lloyd-Jones accepted Lent celebration in some form? Are you insinuating that one only claims to be Reformed is they choose not to participate in Lent?

5 Darrin March 24, 2014 at 4:22 pm

Do as you want with Jones. It’s your blog. Interesting that his doctrinal stance was much more solid than the modern SBC.
You shouldn’t have insinuated that I connected claims to be Reformed with Lent. I was not insinuating anything. I was openly stating that many Baptists claim to be Reformed; fewer have much of an idea what that means.

6 Mark Lamprecht March 24, 2014 at 9:18 pm

Sorry, I did not fully grasp your comment, especially at the, “even those who claim to be Reformed” point. I did not mean to assign a view to you that you did not offer. I agree that many Baptists (and others?) do not know what it means to be Reformed. I know it is more than 5 points of soteriology.

7 Darrin March 24, 2014 at 10:54 pm

No problem. As an aside, sadly, I find that even in relation to the five points, I meet people (mostly from my old SBC church), who say things like they “lean that way [toward Calvinism]”, or even like the concept of being Reformed, but then when they speak about the will and such, they seem to have some Wesleyan notions mixed in. And when I (and probably others) write something that is “mainstream” Reformed soteriology, these take issue with it. So for example, I don’t think they always see that man is truly depraved, God is truly sovereign in salvation, etc. So the fields are certainly ripe for good teaching.

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