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Yellow Stripes for the Elect


by Jason Smathers on March 7, 2010

I went on a hunt for the famous Spurgeon quote about preaching only to the elect if God would have marked them with yellow stripes. I was certain I read this in a primary source, but to my dismay, I was mistaken. After a little Googling, I learned Dan Phillips had undertaken this same exercise and come to the same conclusion some time ago. Phil Johnson chimed in also, stating that Spurgeon would never have used an illustration of pulling up shirts and looking upon the naked skin for a stripe. Phil Johnson concludes this racy pulpit talk is an invention of the 20th century. The evidence agrees.

J. Vernon McGee seems to be the earliest account of the yellow stripe story:
“Now God knows who the elect are. I don’t. Someone came to Spurgeon one time and said, “Mr Spurgeon, if I believed as you do, I would not preach like you do. You say you believe that there are the elect, and yet you preach as if everybody can be saved.” Spurgeon’s answer was, “They can all be saved. If God had put a yellow streak up and down the backs of the elect, I’d go up and down the streets lifting up shirt tails to find out who had the yellow streak up and down his back. Then I’d give that person the gospel. But God didn’t do that. He told me to preach the gospel to every creature and that whosoever will may come.” That is our marching order, and as far as I am concerned, until God gives me the roll call of the elect, I am going to preach the “whosoever will” gospel. That is the gospel we are to preach today.”

Thru The Bible with J. Vernon McGee.

Spurgeon does give an illustration similar to this by paraphrasing Rowland Hill. However, Spurgeon credits Rowland Hill as challenging men to chalk up the backs of the elect so he can preach to them. Following are three examples of this illustration from Spurgeon.
Sermon 2954, The Big Gates Wide Open, Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington,

My text, however, cuts the ground from under your feet, if you seek to act thus, for it tells you this, which is all you need to know, that all who are God’s chosen ones may be known by this mark, that they come to Christ as he said, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me.” So that those who come to Christ are God’s chosen people, and those who live and die without coming to Christ are not God’s people. If you come to Christ and trust in him, you are one of those whom the Father gave to his Son. If you refuse to come to Christ,β€”it matters not what excuse you may make,β€” your blood will be upon your own head. You will perish if you do not come to Christ; and if you do not come to, him, it will be because you were not one of his sheep, neither did the Father give you to Christ. Rowland Hill, when he was asked to preach only to the elect, said that he would do so if somebody would chalk them on the back. That cannot be done; but God does, in process of time, mark them all, not on the back, but on the heart. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life, and his faith proves that he was chosen of God to that life; but he that believeth not on thee Son, if he persists in that unbelief, will assuredly perish, for there shall be no deviation from this divine declaration, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” That is the matter with which we have to deal; may God help us, like prudent man, to deal with it, earnestly!

Sermon 2843, The Seed By The Wayside, Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington 9/13/1888:
I remember Rowland Hill’s reply, when somebody said that he ought to preach only to the elect. “Very well,” he said, “next Sunday morning, chalk them all on the back; and when you have done that, I will preach to them.” But the chalking of them on the back is the difficulty, we cannot do that; and, as we cannot do that, the best way is for us to leave our God to carry out the purposes of his distinguishing grace in his own effectual way, and not attempt to do what we certainly can never accomplish. There, scatter a handful of seed “by the way side.” Even if the birds of the air do devour it, there is plenty more where that came from, and it would be a pity for us to leave any portion unsown because we were miserly and niggardly with our Master’s seed.
Sermon 215, His Name-The Counsellor, Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens 9/26/1858:

“Now,” says one, “Sir, I want to know one thing, and if I knew that, I would not care what happened. I want to know whether God from all eternity ordained me to be saved.” Well, friend, I will tell you how to find that out, and you may find it out to a certainty. “Nay,” says one, “but how can I know that? You cannot read the book of fate; that is impossible.” I have heard of some divine, of a very hyper school indeed, who said, “Ah! blessed be the Lord, there are some of God’s dear people here; I can tell them by the very look of their faces. I know that they are among God’s elect.” He was not half so discreet as Rowland Hill, who when he was advised to preach to none but the elect, said, “He would certainly do so if some one would chalk them all on the back first.” That was never attempted by anybody, so Rowland Hill went on preaching the gospel to every creature, as I desire to do. But you may find out whether you are among his chosen ones. “How?” says one. Why, Christ is the angel of the covenant, and you can find it out by looking to him. Many people want to know their election before they look to Christ. Beloved you cannot know your election, except as you see it in Christ. If you want to know your election, thus shall you assure your hearts before God.-Do you feel yourself this morning to be a lost, guilty sinner? go straightway to the cross of Christ, and tell Christ that, and tell him that you have read in the Bible, “That him that cometh unto him he will in no wise cast out.” Tell him that he has said, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners of whom you are chief.” Look to Christ and believe on him, and you shall make proof of your election directly, for so surely as thou believest thou art elect. If thou wilt give thyself wholly up to Christ and trust him, then thou art one of God’s chosen ones; but if you stop and say, “I want to know first whether I am elect,” that is impossible. If there be something covered up, and I say, “Now, before you can see this you must lift the veil;” and you say, “Nay, but I want to see right through that veil,” you cannot. Lift the veil first and you shall see. Go to Christ guilty, just as you are. Leave all curious inquiry about thy election alone. Go straight away to Christ, just as you are, black, naked, penniless and poor, and say,

“Nothing in my hands I bring,

Simply to thy cross I cling,”

and you shall know your election. The assurance of the Holy Spirit shall be given to you, so that you shall be able to say, “I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him.” Now do notice this. Christ was at the everlasting council: he can tell you whether you were chosen or not, but you cannot find that out anyhow else. You go and put your trust in him, and I know what the answer will be. His answer will be-“I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore in lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” There will be no doubt about his having chosen you, when you shall feel no doubt about having chosen him.

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