From The Baptist Evangel. Pastor Jack Warren, editor.

Links to the two Down Grade Articles are at the end of this page.

Spurgeon and the Down Grade

Lewis Drummond's 1992 biography of Charles Spurgeon is called: Spurgeon Prince of Preachers. The 895 page treatise on the London pastor includes some well-known facts as well as some little-known facts. One such fact is the woeful controversy involving Spurgeon and the Baptist Union. It was sparked in 1887 when Spurgeon printed a series of articles which were critical of liberal theology. The controversy would end after Spurgeon withdrew from the Baptist Union, an organization that he had helped build. He would live five more years in virtual isolation and pass away in 1892 at age 57.

In 1854, Spurgeon went to the New Park Street Baptist Church in London as a supply preacher for six months and never left. He pastored the church for the next 38 years—the rest of his life. It was renamed Metropolitan Tabernacle in 1861 when the church moved to a new location.

The "Down Grade", as Spurgeon called it, was a controversy that developed over several years and erupted in 1887 in Spurgeon's paper, The Sword and the Trowel. He said he feared that the Baptist Union (same as an association or a fellowship in this country) was on a down grade of liberal theology. He said the Parliament had expelled Puritanism from the Church of England in the Act of Uniformity in 1662 and replaced its Calvinistic doctrine with Arminianism giving rise to independent Baptists. Spurgeon's first article (March 1887) said that every single independent Baptist church was established on Calvinistic doctrine but this changed as several books were written to counter the Antinomianism of Tobias Crisp, an eminent preacher. The books frightened a large number of Baptists and put them on the "down grade," Spurgeon contended. We would call it an over-correction.

Spurgeon's second article (April 1887) said: "Arminianism, which is only Pelagianism under another name, had, to a large extent, eaten out the life of the Church of England, and Arianism followed to further and complete destruction."

In the third article (June 1887) Spurgeon said: "By some means or other, first the ministers, and then the Churches, got on `the down grade,' and in some cases the descent was rapid, and in all, very disastrous. In proportion as the ministers seceded from the old Puritan godliness of life, and the old Calvinistic form of doctrine, they commonly became less earnest and less simple in their preaching, more speculative and less spiritual in the matter of their discourses, and dwelt more on the moral teachings of the New Testament, than on the great central truths of revelation."

The article did not attack the independent Baptists, but warned that the same thing could happen to them. To leave Calvinistic doctrine was to enter on a slippery slope into apostasy and disaster. He said: "Those who turned from Calvinism may not have dreamed of denying the proper deity of the Son of God, renouncing faith in his atoning death and justifying righteousness, and denouncing the doctrine of human depravity, the need of Divine renewal, and the necessity for the Holy Spirit's gracious work, in order that men might become new creatures, but dreaming or not dreaming, this result became a reality."

Liberalism at Harvard University and Andover Seminary, a Baptist institution, was used as an example of what had happened in America when one gets on that slippery slope. Both of those schools were instituted for the purpose of training ministers but had fallen into doctrinal error. The reaction to these articles was not very radical at first. Spurgeon wrote more articles in
August, September and October, 1887, in which he said: "The Atonement is scouted, the inspiration of scripture is derided, the Holy Spirit is degraded into an influence, the punishment of sin is turned into a fiction, and the resurrection into a myth, and yet these enemies of our faith expect us to call them brethren and maintain a confederacy with them."

Spurgeon hoped the Baptist Union, meeting that year, would address his concerns set forth in the six articles. He was disappointed. The Union totally ignored his concerns. Some of the young men used the occasion as a joke about an old man's senility. Few followed Spurgeon's warnings. He withdrew from the Baptist Union in a letter dated October 28, 1887.

The congregation of the Metropolitan Tabernacle passed a resolution with the following wording: "...the church worshipping at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in annual meeting assembled, desires to express its hearty sympathy with its beloved pastor, C.H. Spurgeon in the testimony for truth he has recently borne by his articles upon `The Down Grade,' endorses his action in withdrawing from the Baptist Union (follows him in the course he has taken) and pledges itself to support him by believing prayer and devoted service in his earnest contention for the faith once for all declined to all the saints."

This caused a furor in the Baptist community all over the world. The press reveled in it. Charges and counter-charges were thrown around. A delegation of Baptist ministers attempted to meet with Spurgeon, but he would not see them because of declining health. He eventually met with the council the next year. He would not reconsider his resignation and pressed the Baptist Union to adopt a statement of faith, which would have removed any doubt about its theological position, but its members refused. The union wanted Spurgeon to produce evidence of his accusations that men in the association had departed
from the faith. Spurgeon refused. The association passed two resolutions: the first one accepted Spurgeon's resignation and the second one became known as the "Vote of Censure." Only five members voted against the measures.

In the February 1888 Sword and Trowel, Spurgeon gave his defense. He gave no reason for keeping silent about the identity of those he believed to have departed from the faith and argued that the association had no means by which to expel them if he identified them. It was later learned that those names had been supplied to Spurgeon by the secretary of the association who had sworn him to secrecy.

The entire controversy left Spurgeon with few friends and failing health. The great preacher never recanted his Calvinistic convictions. Someone said that God's servants are not called to win every battle, but they are called to stand firmly on the truth. Such a man was Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

Spurgeon's last sermon was delivered to the Pastor's College on April 21, 1891. His text was John 16:14: "He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you" and called it "He Shall Glorify Me."

Spurgeon's last words: "If you wear the livery of Christ, you will find Him so meek and lowly of heart that you will find rest unto your souls. He is the most magnanimous of captains. There never was His like among the choicest of princes. He is always to be found in the thickest part of the battle. When the wind blows cold He always takes the bleak side of the hill. The heaviest end of the cross lies ever on His shoulders. If he bids us carry a burden, He carries it also. If there is anything that is gracious, generous, kind, and tender, yea, lavish and superabundant in love, you always find it in Him. His service is life, peace, joy. Oh, that you would enter on it at once! God help you to enlist under the banner of Jesus Christ!"¨

(From The Baptist Evangel. Pastor Jack Warren, editor. 228 Belmont, Saginaw, TX 76179.)

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