Charles Spurgeon wasn’t one to shy away from the shock-value of things he believed or practiced. The great Victorian preacher was noteworthy for his collection of wine, and his wont for smoking large cigars. When confronted on either of these issues, his quick-witted replies were of Churchillian proportions (for his wit, see here). Even when not intending to shock, some of his actions did so anyway. For instance, he drew his Metropolitan Tabernacle out of the Baptist Union in England over liberalism, a move that surely shocked his friends in the denomination.
In light of the delight I’m sure he took in upending peoples’ sensibilities, I must admit to chuckling a little when I think of the surprise I had when I first read statements on the age of the earth in his sermons. In one called “Election,” found in the The New Park Street Pulpit 1, p. 13, he said:
“Can any man tell me when the beginning was? Years ago we thought the beginning of this world was when Adam came upon it; but we have discovered that thousands of years before that God was preparing chaotic matter to make it a fit abode for man, putting races of creatures upon it, who might die and leave behind the marks of his handiwork and marvelous skill, before he tried his hand on man.”
He surprisingly—and I use that word intentionally—makes the statement that the relationship between the creation of the earth and subsequently of man was not close, but that “we have discovered” (who is we? The scientific community of his day?) that there was a gap of thousands of years between the two. Does this mean he was a proponent of the “Ruin-Reconstruction” view of creation? This is an Old Earth Creation view, held also by Thomas Chalmers, another great Reformed theologian, that argues for a gap in time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 of billions of years. It was a means for bible-believing Christians to reconcile their reading of Genesis 1 with recent scientific discoveries. It is also surprising to read that he believed that animals “who might die,” who leave things behind–he must mean dinosaurs?–and yet who were on the earth before Adam and his fall.
Another quote of Spurgeon’s, from his sermon “The Power of the Holy Spirit,” from the same volume, p. 229, has likewise striking comment about the age of the earth:
“In the 2d verse of the first chapter of Genesis, we read, ‘And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.’ We know not how remote the period of the creation of this globe may be—certainly many millions of years before the time of Adam. Our planet has passed through various stages of existence, and different kinds of creatures have lived on its surface, all of which have been fashioned by God. But before that era came, wherein man should be its principal tenant and monarch, the Creator gave up the world to confusion. He allowed the inward fires to burst up from beneath, and melt all the solid matter, so that all kinds of substances were commingled in one vast mass of disorder.”
Here he says that the creation period of the earth was “certainly” millions of years before the time of Adam.
Both of these statements are surprising because I just assumed that Spurgeon would have held to a young earth. I haven’t read enough of his works to know what his over-all creational theology was–it would be an interesting study. But for a man who was bred on the best of Puritan and Reformed theology from childhood, who likely had a photographic memory, and was probably a genius, coupled with the fact that he was living during the period of unprecedented scientific discovery, these are startling statements indeed. I’m interested to know more about his views on this subject. I’m also interested to know what sources he read that would inform his theology.
On a related note, a quote by Arthur W. Pink, one who has had a lesser, but none-the-less significant, impact for Reformed theology like Spurgeon did, is similarly surprising to me: “Nothing is said which enables us to fix the date of their creation; nothing is revealed concerning their appearance or inhabitants; nothing is told us about the modus operandi of their Divine Architect. We do not know whether the primitive heaven and earth were created a few thousands, or many millions of years ago. We are not informed as to whether they were called into existence in a moment of time, or whether the process of their formation covered an interval of long ages” (Gleanings in Genesis, p. 13). Pink was ultra-conservative, he was well-versed in the best of Puritan and Reformed theology, and was staunchly against liberalism. To read him say that he was agnostic on the age of the earth is interesting (such a bland, and vague word!). While Pink’s quote is worth exploring, I must admit to being more intrigued over what Spurgeon had to say. Hopefully I’ll have more on here that will shed some light on the subject–let there be light!