Unfortunately, I was required to read this book, A Pastor’s Sketches, in my evangelism class at Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY. The book is dangerous. A poor example of evangelism, a pastor who mistakes Calvinism for the gospel, and is out of touch with biblical spirituality. It concerns me that this book is required reading at Southern.
Spencer thinks we should be suspicious of someone’s coming to Christ in the midst of strong affections, for “when the affections take the lead, they will be very apt to monopolize the whole soul—judgment and conscience will be overpowered, or flung into the background” (175). He calls this kind of phenomenon “fanaticism” (175). Spencer believes that “the most clear perception of truth, the deepest conviction, is seldom accompanied by any great excitement of the sensibilities” (175). 9) It does not seem to be a good idea to Spencer, to present the doctrine of predestination at the outset to a sinner who still needs to learn repentance and faith (239).
Spencer here more than anywhere else demonstrates that he is out of touch with biblical spirituality. This brief post is not the place for a lengthy discussion of emotions and their role in the Christian life (I do a little of that here), but I will mention a few things in passing.
Part of conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit that causes the sinner to not only know they are sinful, but to feel contrition for their sin. This feeling I believe to be necessary for true conversion. When someone comes to Christ, it is not merely because they have understood doctrines, but it is because the Holy Spirit has wrought within them genuine affections for the person of Christ. They ought to be overwhelmed with affection for the Savior, having seen Him for who He truly is for the first time. How can such a vision not be attended with great excitement of the spirit of a man? Also, joy is an essential aspect in conversion (Matthew 13:44). Thus, we should expect strong affections to arise during conversion, and for the conversion of sinners to be accompanied by a “great excitement of the sensibilities.” Conversion affects the whole person, not just the mind. In fact, Spencer seems to be unconsciously aware of this reality, as he tells us he considers it part of his responsibility to impress truths, not merely on the mind, but on the “feelings” (52).