The Quick Road Down
By Dr. Mike Murphy
As he looked at his magazine that March morning, one must wonder if he knew what the future would hold. The words that he saw printed, were not his own, but those of a valued friend. Words that rang true in his ears, and were words that needed to be read. One must also wonder if he realized how loudly these words would ring out, or how much power his endorsement of these words would hold. “Earnest attention is requested for this paper…We are going down hill at breakneck speed.”
In March, 1887, we saw published the first of two articles titled “The Down Grade”, in the well known, monthly publication of Charles Spurgeon, The Sword and the Trowel. Although published anonymously, they were actually the writings of a close friend and fellow pastor, Robert Shindler. Reverend Shindler had become alarmed by the rising problems he saw within their denomination, a disturbing pattern he had seen throughout the history of the Church. He saw that with every true evangelical revival you could soon see the beginnings of drifting, turning away from sound doctrine by those within a couple of generations. He equated this drifting away to a downhill slope, so came the title, “The Down Grade”.
Shindler declared that some ministers were “denying the proper deity of the Son of God, renouncing faith in his atoning death…” Shindler saw the coming horrors of his denomination, having seen them break from the teachings of sound doctrine. He stated, “In looking carefully over the history of the times, and the movement of the times, of which we have written briefly, this fact is apparent: that where ministers and Christian churches have held fast to the truth that the Holy Scriptures have been given by God as an authoritative and infallible rule of faith and practice, they have never wandered very seriously out of the right way. But when, on the other hand, reason has been exalted above revelation, and made the exponent of revelation, all kinds of errors and mischiefs have been the result.”
Spurgeon soon followed these two articles with three of his own. Spurgeon’s tone was one of further desperation and urgency. He saw the split forming within the denomination, as many church leaders were outraged, claiming the articles were too pessimistic. At the same time, letters began to pour in from laypeople of the churches. Many pointed out the apostasy and the compromise of Scriptures they saw within their own churches. With these responses in hand, Spurgeon wrote, “Our solemn conviction is that things are much worse in many churches than they seem to be, and are rapidly tending downward……How much farther could they go? What doctrine remains to be abandoned? What other truth to be the object of contempt? A new religion has been initiated, which is no more Christianity than chalk is cheese; and this religion, being destitute of moral honesty, palms itself off as the old faith with slight improvements, and on this plea usurps pulpits which were erected for gospel preaching.“
Spurgeon saw three major doctrinal problems that faced his denomination. He saw that the accuracy and authenticity of Scripture was being abandoned. He witnessed in the preaching of others, that atonement could be found in other ways than Christ, and that Christ was no longer needed to find salvation. As he watched these false doctrines being introduced in his denomination by many who followed Progressive Orthodoxy and the modernist movement, he warned all who read of the dangers they brought with them. “Assuredly the New Theology can do no good towards God or man; it, has no adaptation for it. If it were preached for a thousand years by all the most earnest men of the school, it would never renew a soul, nor overcome pride in a single human heart.”
As Spurgeon concluded his articles, he asked all who read them a basic question. “Are brethren who remain orthodox prepared to endorse such sentiments by remaining in union with those who hold and teach them?” Spurgeon followed, “Believers in Christ’s atonement are now in declared union with those who make light of it; believers in Holy Scripture are in confederacy with those who deny plenary inspiration; those who hold evangelical doctrine are in open alliance with those who call the fall a fable, who deny the personality of the Holy Ghost, who call justification by faith immoral, and hold that there is another probation after death….It is our solemn conviction that there should be no pretence of fellowship. Fellowship with known and vital error is participation in sin.”
It was Spurgeon’s hope and prayer that the denomination would address these issues, and return to the values and doctrine that the Lord had set for them. As the denomination assembled that October, Spurgeon figured this would be the key issue. But to Spurgeon’s dismay, the issue was never officially addressed. Church leadership decide the issue was just too divisive, deciding to just ignore the issue in hope that it would go away. This was the last straw for Spurgeon, as he soon withdrew from the denomination. Spurgeon wrote of his withdrawal to a friend, telling him, “It was incumbent upon me to leave the Union, as my private remonstrances to officials, and my repeated pointed appeals to the whole body, had been of no avail. My standpoint had become one from which, as an earnest man, I could see no other course but to withdraw.” The denomination now found itself without its’ most beloved preacher!
After the withdrawal of the denomination’s most prominent minister, the issue did anything but “go away”. With pressure mounting, the Union(the church’s board and assembly) decided to meet once again on the issue. The Union called on Spurgeon to “name names”, to identify those who were not following Scriptures, and to provide them with information on those who had sent him this information. Spurgeon, of course, refused to put specific people on trail, as his intent was to address the issue that haunted the denomination. What the public did not know, was that some of the very people that made up the Union had privately wrote Spurgeon on the issue. But now that it was about to come public, they were quietly pleading with Spurgeon to keep their names out of the mix. The very one’s that were privately agreeing with Spurgeon, were the very one’s who now sought to publicly put Spurgeon on trail.
The Union accused Spurgeon of breaching Jesus’ command in Matthew 18:15-20, not going first to those he had a grievance with. Spurgeon wrote of this to his wife. “What a farce about my seeing these brethren, privately, according to Matthew 18:15! Why, I saw the Secretary and the president again and again; and then I printed my plaint, and only left the Union when nothing could be done.” He also wrote to the president of the Union, saying, “I have followed out our Lord’s mind as to private remonstrances by seeing Presidents and Secretary on former occasions, and I have written my remonstrances again and again without avail. I had no course but to withdraw. Surely, no sane person thinks that I should have made a tour to deal with the individual errorists. I have no jurisdiction over them, and should have been regarded as offensively intrusive if I had gone to them; and justly so. My question is with the Union, and with that alone. I have dealt with it all along.”
Spurgeon soon realized, that by raising the Matthew 18 issue, the Union had chose not to address Spurgeon’s main concerns. They had set a course to avoid the issue at the heart of Spurgeon’s writings. So on January 13, 1888, the Union passed a “vote of censure” against Charles Spurgeon, betraying the beloved preacher once last time.
Although attempts were made to reconcile, the damage had been done. The “Down Grade Controversy” troubled Spurgeon until his death four years later. He watched as many pastors and past students turned against him, siding with the ideas of the modernist. Although many within his own denomination had betrayed him, his words took notice by many the world over. Spurgeon was the first Evangelical with worldwide influence to take on the dangers of the modernist movement, and the realistic threat of the ‘Down Grade”. Robert Shindler, the original author of “The Down Grade”, would later write of Spurgeon. “Since then time has revealed much; and following months and years will, no doubt, make more and more evident how needful was the protest which fidelity to God and to the gospel would not allow him to withhold. The Lord graciously purge His Church of all false doctrine, all false teachers, and all who are traitors in the camp of Israel! And may the Spirit from on high be poured out upon all flesh, that all the ends of the earth may see, and own, and rejoice in, the salvation of our God!“
Spurgeon’s denomination would never be the same. And in the years since, the ideas of modernism have spread throughout much of Europe. Today, the Church in England and much of Europe are but a shell of their former selves. Without the truth of the Scriptures present from the pulpits, we have watched as the people have abandoned the pews of the churches throughout Europe, even to this day. And the destruction from this has not been content to stay within the walls of the churches in Europe, as it has found its way in recent years to the shores of the churches in this nation.
As we read the words of Spurgeon and Shindler, a Bible verse quickly comes to mind. “That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun.”, Ecclesiastes 1:9. From this verse we have developed the familiar phrase, “history repeats itself”. Words we all have heard, but words that we rarely take to heart. Words that the Church in America, has sadly forgotten today.
Sadly, we daily watch as forms of modernism has found its’ way into the Church in America. Although this false teaching has disguised itself with many mask, and often tried to change its’ name, the voice with which it speaks forever remains the same. It shakes its’ head. rejecting the very nature of God, and humanizing the life of Jesus. It turns up its’ nose at the thought that salvation can only be found in Christ, but proclaims that salvation can be achieved by the hand of each man. It shouts with a loud voice that God does not know the future, that the future can only be seen in the heart of mankind. It closes its’ eyes at the inerrancy of the Scriptures, claiming it as nothing more than the moral writings of flawed men. And if you listen very closely as it speaks, you will still hear the hiss. The same voice that proclaimed to Eve ‘you will be like God”.
This voice, once heard by Spurgeon, speaks again today. It legislates from the assemblies of many of our denominations. It frequently teaches in the classrooms of our seminaries. And it proclaims its’ false truth from the pulpits of many of our churches. Those who recognize the true identity behind its’ mask, are once again being drowned out. Being silenced as the voice continues to speak louder. And as we see the smile forming from the edges of the mask, we watch in horror as many of our denominations pledge their allegiance to the voice.
As I watch the actions of these denominations today, the words of Spurgeon once again come to mind. And a verse that I am sure that he read many times, echoes in our thoughts. 2 Corinthians 6:17: “Come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord. “And do not touch what is unclean.” It is time that many who are in these denominations read those words, and followed its’ command. It is time they got out of these denominations, and returned to churches that are teaching the Truth of God’s Word!
We watch today as these churches rapidly roll down the hill. Out of control, building speed as they go. Recklessly destroying all that come in its’ path. This hill is steep, and a fire rages at the bottom of the hill. Now is the time for all to hear the warnings that are being yelled from atop that hill. Letting all know, it is time to move and get out of its’ path. Do not let it destroy you or drag you with it into the fires that lie ahead. And as we dive off this path for cover, may the Church again hear and take to heart the words of Reverend Shindler. “The Lord graciously purge His Church of all false doctrine, all false teachers, and all who are traitors in the camp of Israel! And may the Spirit from on high be poured out upon all flesh, that all the ends of the earth may see, and own, and rejoice in, the salvation of our God! “
Praying each of you do not find yourself moving down this hill!