Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Down Grade Controversy


No matter what or who you read, you will probably get C. H. Spurgeon's point-of-view only by consulting the original materials. Some authors seem to have missed some of the comments by Spurgeon, and in fact, one author told me he did not have access to the original materials, and as a result he was misled in some of his material due to relying on secondary sources.

When Iain Murray first published his book entitled, THE FORGOTTEN SPURGEON, in 1966, I was surprised to find Murray to some degree aligning himself with some of Spurgeon's own contemporary critics who falsely alleged that Spurgeon was making "Calvinism" an issue in the Down Grade Controversy. (I pointed out Murray's strange presentation in a review published in The Christian Pilgrim, May 1967, page 13).

Spurgeon himself denounced this allegation more than once. He wrote:

"We care far more for the central evangelical truths than we do for Calvinism as a system," -- and --

"The present struggle is not a debate upon the question of Calvinism or Arminianism, but of the truth of God versus the inventions of men. All who believe the gospel should unite against that 'modern thought' which is its deadly enemy" (The Sword & The Trowel magazine, April 1887, pages 195, 196) -- and --

"Certain antagonists have tried to represent the Down Grade controversy as a revival of the old feud between Calvinists and Arminians. It is nothing of the kind. Many evangelical Arminians are as earnestly on our side as men can be." (S&T, December 1887, page 642).

[NOTE: Since first emailing and posting this article on February 10, I have received the following response from a Pastor in Springfield, Missouri on February 17, 2010]:
I only have one letter on the Down Grade and it is dated Feb. 17, 1888 and is addressed to: "Dear & Venerable Friend," -- of whom I do not know who that friend was, but it bears out what you had in your last e-mail in which you show where Iain Murray missed it. The letter I have has the following in it:

"...... They try to make out that I fight for Calvinism. Indeed I do not deny my peculiar doctrines, but I have no war with an Evangelical Arminian nor indeed is this the question at all. There is an underlying gospel, common to all true churches, & this is assailed by Evolutionists, Post-mortem Salvationists, Restorationists & the whole school of the New Theology - which is no theology at all. Unbelief is in the very air, & all churches will yet have to deal with it though I believe yours to be leastof all affected by it........"

I am not sure what Spurgeon meant by 'Post-mortem Salvationists' and even 'Restorationists' since in our country the 'Restorationists' would probably have reference to the Campbellites. Please send the two copies of the Down Grade book with invoice.
[End of email from the Missouri Pastor].

The very first article on the Down Grade cited the Pedobaptist (Baby Sprinklers) Presbyterians (Calvinists) as the "first" to start on the down grade. It appears that Spurgeon traced the "root of the matter" in the Down Grade to the practice of the Pedobaptists who baptized babies and added them to the church as "regenerate" members. This conclusion would not appeal to Iain Murray since he is an advocate of of the Pedobaptist system.

[Note: Dr. R. Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, has a review of the continued downgradism of the Presbyterians. See this link: Vanishing Christianity — A Lesson from the Presbyterians. Dr. Mohler summarizes the state of this Pedobaptist body: "This is a church (Presbyterian Church U.S.A.) that has lost its confidence in the Gospel in terms of the clear biblical claim that salvation comes only through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ." While Dr. Mohler has stated the case very well, he does not discuss what Spurgeon pointed out as the root of Presbyterian downgradism -- namely, pedobaptist "infantology.")

In The Sword and The Trowel magazine for March 1887, pages 123 and 126, we read:

>>The Presbyterians [i. e. "Calvinists"] were the first to get on the down line. . . . The principal cause of the quicker descent on "the down grade" among the Presbyterians than among other Nonconformists, may be traced, not so much to their more scholarly ministry, nor altogether to their renunciation of Puritan habits, but to their rule of admitting to the privileges of Church membership. Of course their children received the rite of baptism, according to their views of baptism, in infancy. They were thereby received — so the ministers taught, and so the people believed — into covenant with God, and had a right to the Lord's table, without any other qualification than a moral life.

Spurgeon had spoken against Pedobaptism (Baby Sprinkling) for years before the Down Grade arrived in its fullness. He did not advocate the adding of unregenerate infants to the church roll upon the Pedobaptist assumption that the infants born of believers are "covenant children" and experience "regeneration" early in life, perhaps even before they are actually born into the world.

For example, Pedobaptist (Presbyterian) R. C. Sproul, a popular current minister, has an item on the web in which he says, "It is possible that God gave me new life within the womb, and over time I came into a deeper understanding of the faith He gave me."

Spurgeon denounced such an idea that one is possibly born again prior to birth. He said:

Where did the errors of the church of Rome come from? Were they all born in a day? No, they came by slow degrees. It happened thus:—I will trace but one error, against which as a denomination we always bear our protest, and I only take that as a specimen of the whole.

Among the early Christians, it was the practice to baptize those who believed in Christ Jesus, by immersing them in the water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Well, the first wrong doctrine that started up, was the idea that perhaps there was some efficacy in the water.

Next it followed that when a man was dying who had never been baptized he would perhaps profess faith in Christ, and ask that he might be baptized; but as he was dying they could not lift him from his bed, they therefore adopted sprinkling as being an easier method by which they might satisfy the conscience by the application of water.

That done, there was but a step to the taking of little children into the church—children, unconscious infants, who were received as being members of Christ's body; and thus infant sprinkling was adopted.

The error came in by slow degrees—not all at once. It would have been too glaring for the church to receive, if it had shown its head at one time with all its horns upon it. But it entered slowly and gradually, till it came to be inducted into the church.

I do not know, an error which causes the damnation of more souls than that at the present-time. There are thousands of people who firmly believe that they shall go to heaven because they were sprinkled in infancy, have been confirmed, and have taken the Sacrament. Sacramental efficacy and baptismal regeneration, all spring from the first error of infant baptism.

Had they kept to the Scripture, had the church always required faith before baptism, that error could not have sprung up. It must have died before the light of the truth, it could not have breathed, it could not have had a foothold in the Christian church.But one error must lead to another—you never need doubt that. If you tamper with one truth of Scripture, he that tempts you to meddle with one, will tempt you to tamper with another, and there will be no end to it, till, at last, you will want a new Bible, a new Testament, and a new God. There is no telling where you will end when you have begun.>> -- New Park Street Pulpit, Sermon #307, page 168.

Some imagine that faith comes by hereditary descent, and they act upon the supposition. Hence, in certain churches, birthright membership is thought to be a proper practice, and the child of a Christian is thought to be a Christian.

In some other churches, though the theory would not be stated in so many words, yet it is practically accepted, and children of pious parents are regarded as scarcely needing conversion. The text is forgotten which saith that the heirs of salvation are born, "not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, but of God."

The typical covenant secured outward privileges to the children born after the flesh, but under the covenant of grace the blessing is secured to the spiritual and not to the natural seed. "He who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise." (Galatians 4:23). That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and nothing more: the new-born nature is not transmissible from father to son like a natural temperament or a cast of countenance.

I know the answer will be that "the promise is to us and to our children," but it will be well for the objector to reply to himself by completing the quotation—"even to as many as the Lord your God shall call."

The fact is, that nothing spiritual is inherited by carnal generation. Our children, even if we are far advanced in grace, will still be "shapen in iniquity." No matter how high the sainthood of the professing Christian, his child (when capable of understanding) must for himself become a personal believer in Jesus.

It appears to be thought possible to infuse grace by sacraments. There are persons yet alive who teach that a babe may be regenerated by certain aqueous processes, and be thereby placed in "a state of salvation." But is not faith a perpetual concomitant of regeneration? and what is that regeneration worth which leaves a person an unbeliever, and, consequently, "condemned already, because he hath not believed on the Son of God?"

Rest assured, that as faith does not come by descent, neither can it be produced by any rite which recognizes that descent: it comes in one way, and in one way only in every case, and that is, by the hearing of the word. To every person, whoever he may be, though nursed in the bosom of the church, and introduced to that church by the most solemn ritual, we are bound to say, you must hear as well as others, and you must believe as the result of that hearing as well as others, or else you will remain short of saving grace.

Faith is not a mystery juggled into us by the postures, genuflexions, and mumblings of priests. We have heard a great deal about sacramental efficacy, but I think a man must have extraordinary hardihood who would say that either baptism, or the so-called Eucharist, are the sure creators of faith; yet see I not what saving service these forms can render to unbelieving men if they leave them in an unbelieving condition, and, consequently, in a state of condemnation.

Seeing that without faith it is impossible to please God, the grace supposed to be conveyed by the mere participation in sacraments is of small value, it cannot give the cardinal requisite for acceptance before God. Faith cannot be washed into us by immersion, nor sprinkled upon us in christening; it is not to be poured into us from a chalice, nor generated in us by a consecrated piece of bread. There is no magic about it; it comes by hearing the word of God, and by that way only. >> -- Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Sermon #1031, page 39.


We expect delivery of the book on the Down Grade Controversy this month (February, 2010). It will sell fo $8.99 plus $3 for shipping. Order from:

Pilgrim Publications, Box 66, Pasadena, TX 77501
Phone: (713) 477-4261. Fax: (713) 477-7561
Credit Card Orders accepted by phone, mail, or fax.

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