Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Spurgeon and the Down-Grade Controversy


Spurgeon and the Down-Grade Controversy


by
John F. MacArthur, Jr.


Spurgeon photo


Excerpted from Ashamed of the Gospel © 1992 by John F. MacArthur, Jr. (Wheaton: Crossway). All rights reserved. Used by permission.


[At the end of the Puritan age] by some means or other, first the ministers, 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. Natural theology frequently took the place which the great truths of the gospel ought to have held, and the sermons became more and more Christless. Corresponding results in the character and life, first of the preachers and then of the people, were only too plainly apparent.

The Sword and the Trowel [1]

In March 1887, Charles Spurgeon published the first of two articles entitled "The Down Grade" in his monthly magazine, The Sword and the Trowel. The articles were published anonymously, but the author was Robert Shindler, Spurgeon's close friend and fellow Baptist pastor. Shindler wrote the articles with input from Spurgeon, who footnoted the first article with a personal endorsement: "Earnest attention is requested for this paper. . . . We are going down hill at breakneck speed."[2]
    Tracing the state of evangelicalism from the Puritan age to his own era, Shindler noted that every revival of true evangelical faith had been followed within a generation or two by a drift away from sound doctrine, ultimately leading to wholesale apostasy. He likened this drifting from truth to a downhill slope, and thus labeled it "the down-grade."

"Down Grade" I


    In that first article, Shindler recounted the history of the major protestant denominations in England since the beginning of Puritanism's decline in 1662. He noted that in the first generation after the Puritan era, virtually every non-conformist (non-Anglican Protestant) denomination in England drifted from orthodoxy toward an ancient form of theological liberalism called Socinianism. Shindler recounted how hundreds of post-Puritan churches had abandoned sound doctrine in favor of rationalistic skepticism, Unitarianism, and other liberal beliefs. The downward slide usually began slowly, almost imperceptibly. He suggested that denominations often "got on the down-grade" when they abandoned Calvinism (which emphasizes God's sovereignty in salvation) in favor of Arminianism (which makes human will the decisive factor). Other groups embraced Arianism (which denies the full deity of Christ). Still others simply became enamored with scholarship and worldly wisdom; consequently they lost their zeal for truth.
    "The Presbyterians were the first to get on the down line," Shindler wrote. They took the route of worldly wisdom: "They paid more attention to classical attainments and other branches of learning. . . . It [was therefore] an easy step in the wrong direction to pay increased attention to academical attainments in their ministers, and less to spiritual qualifications; and to set a higher value on scholarship and oratory, than on evangelical zeal and ability to rightly divide the word of truth."[3]
    Shindler further stated:
As is usual with people on an incline, some who got on "the down grade" went further than they intended, showing that it is easier to get on than to get off, and that where there is no brake it is very difficult to stop. 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.[4]

Some who abandoned the faith did so openly, Shindler said. But many purposely concealed their skepticism and heresy, preferring to sow seeds of doubt while posing as orthodox believers. "These men deepened their own condemnation, and promoted the everlasting ruin of many of their followers by their hypocrisy and deceit; professing to be the ambassadors of Christ, and the heralds of his glorious gospel, their aim was to ignore his claims, deny him his rights, lower his character, rend the glorious vesture of his salvation, and trample his crown in the dust."[5]
    Many of those who remained true to the faith were nevertheless reluctant to fight for what they believed in. Evangelical preaching was often cold and lifeless, and even those who held to sound doctrine were careless about where they drew the line in their associations with others: "Those who were really orthodox in their sentiments were too often lax and unfaithful as to the introduction of heretical ministers into their pulpits, either as assistants or occasional preachers. In this way the Arian and Socinian heresies were introduced into the Presbyterian congregations in the city of Exeter."[6]
    Thus within only a few decades, the Puritan fervor that had so captured the soul of England gave way to dry, listless apostate teaching. Churches became lax in granting membership privileges to the unregenerate. People who were, in Shindler's words, "strangers to the work of renewing grace" nevertheless claimed to be Christians and were admitted to membership—even leadership—in the churches. These people "chose them pastors after their own hearts, men who could, and would, and did, cry 'Peace, peace,' when the only way of peace was ignored or denied."[7]
    Shindler concluded that first paper on "The Down Grade" with these words: "These facts furnish a lesson for the present times, when, as in some cases, it is all too plainly apparent men are willing to forego the old for the sake of the new. But commonly it is found in theology that that which is true is not new, and that which is new is not true."[8]

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Heidelberg Confession

1. Q. What is your only comfort in life and death? A. That I am not my own,[1] but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death,[2] to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.[3] He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil.[5] He also preserves me in such a way[6] that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head;[7] indeed, all things must work together for my salvation.[8] Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life[9] and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.[10] [1] I Cor. 6:19, 20 [2] Rom. 14:7-9. [3] I Cor. 3:23; Tit. 2:14. [4] I Pet. 1:18, 19; I John 1:7; 2:2. [5] John 8:34-36; Heb. 2:14, 15; I John 3:8. [6] John 6:39, 40; 10:27-30; II Thess. 3:3; I Pet. 1:5. [7] Matt. 10:29-31; Luke 21:16-18. [8] Rom. 8:28. [9] Rom. 8:15, 16; II Cor. 1:21, 22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13, 14. [10] Rom. 8:14. ----------------------

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Christ Jesus Has True Excellency

"But Christ Jesus has true excellency, and so great excellency, that when they come to see it they look no further, but the mind rests there. It sees a transcendent glory and an ineffable sweetness in him; it sees that till now it has been pursuing shadows, but that now it has found the substance; that before it had been seeking happiness in the stream, but that now it has found the ocean. The excellency of Christ is an object adequate to the natural cravings of the soul, and is sufficient to fill the capacity. It is an infinite excellency, such an one as the mind desires, in which it can find no bounds; and the more the mind is used to it, the more excellent it appears. Every new discovery makes this beauty appear more ravishing, and the mind sees no end; here is room enough for the mind to go deeper and deeper, and never come to the bottom. The soul is exceedingly ravished when it first looks on this beauty, and it is never weary of it. The mind never has any satiety, but Christ's excellency is always fresh and new, and tends as much to delight, after it has been seen a thousand or ten thousand years, as when it was seen the first moment."
JONATHAN EDWARDS

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

"It is the will of God."

Reform-Shire

June 2006
God's Will and Testamentby R.C. SproulTabletalk - August 1993
"It is the will of God."
How easily these words fall from the lips or flow from the pen. How difficult it is to penetrate exactly what they mean. Few concepts in theology generate more confusion than the will of God.
One problem we face is rooted in the multifaceted way in which the term will functions in biblical expressions. The Bible uses the expression "will of God" in various ways.
Augustine once remarked, "In some sense, God wills everything that happens." The immediate question raised by this comment is, In what sense?
Some distinctions made by theologians include the following:
THE DECRETIVE WILL OF GODThis is sometimes described as the sovereign efficacious will, by which God brings to pass whatever He pleases by His divine decree. An example of this may be seen in God's work of creation. When God said, "Let there be light," He issued a divine imperative. He exercised His sovereign efficacious will. It was impossible for the light not to appear. The decretive will can have no other effect, no other consequence than what God sovereignly commands.
THE PRECEPTIVE WILL OF GODThe preceptive will of God relates to the revealed commandments of God's published law. When God commands us not to steal, this "decree" does not carry with it the immediate necessity of consequence. Where it was not possible for the light to refuse to shine in creation, it is possible for us to refuse to obey this command.
We may have the power to disobey the precept. We do not have the power to disobey it with impunity. Nor can we annul it by our disregard. His law remains intact whether we obey it or disobey it.
Yet we still observe the acute difference between the light's obedience to God's creative decree and our disobedience to God's moral, preceptive decree. How do we account for this?
A common way to resolve this conundrum is by appeal to a distinction between the sovereign will of God and His permissive will.
This distinction between God's sovereign will and His permissive will is fraught with peril, and it tends to generate untold confusion.
In ordinary language the term permission suggests some sort of positive sanction. To say that God "allows" or "permits" evil does not mean that He sanctions it in the sense that He grants approval to it. It is easy to discern that God never permits sin in the sense that He sanctions it in His creatures.
What is usually meant by divine permission is that God simply lets it happen. That is, He does not directly intervene to prevent its happening. Here is where grave danger lurks. Some theologies view this drama as if God were impotent to do anything about human sin. This view makes man sovereign, not God. God is reduced to the role of spectator. This ghastly view is not merely a defective view of theism; it is unvarnished atheism.
Whatever God "permits" He sovereignly and efficaciously wills to permit. If I have a choice to sin or not sin, God also has a choice in the matter. He always has the ability and the authority to stop me from exercising my will.
In the treachery perpetrated by Joseph's brothers, it was said, "You meant it for evil; God meant it for good." God's good will was served through the bad will of Joseph's brothers. Their acts are judged together with their intentions, and they were rightly judged by God to be evil. That God brings good out of evil only underscores the power and the excellence of His sovereign decretive will.
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Reform-Shire

A Large Treasure of Divine Knowledge

"You all have by you a large treasure of divine knowledge, in that you have the Bible in your hands; therefore be not contented in possessing but little of this treasure. God hath spoken much to you in the Scripture; labor to understand as much of what he saith as you can. God hath made you all reasonable creatures; therefore let not the noble faculty of reason or understanding lie neglected. Content not yourselves with having so much knowledge as is thrown in your way, and as you receive in some sense unavoidably by the frequent inculcation of divine truth in the preaching of the word, of which you are obliged to be hearers, or as you accidentally gain in conversation; but let it be very much your business to search for it, and that with the same diligence and labor with which men are wont to dig in mines of silver and gold." JONATHAN EDWARDS

Monday, June 05, 2006

Reform-Shire

Jesus is the Truth.

"Jesus is the Truth. We believe in Him, —not merely in His words. He Himself is Doctor and Doctrine, Revealer and Revelation, the Illuminator and the Light of Men. He is exalted in every word of truth, because He is its sum and substance. He sits above the gospel, like a prince on His own throne. Doctrine is most precious when we see it distilling from His lips and embodied in His person. Sermons [and songs] are valuable in proportion as they speak of Him and point to Him. A Christ-less gospel is no gospel and a Christ-less discourse is the cause of merriment to devils." C.H. SPURGEON

Thursday, June 01, 2006

What God Requires, Christ Provides - Part 1

What God Requires,Christ Provides
by John Piper, with Justin Taylor

If justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Gal. 2:21) "For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, 'Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them'...Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us." (Gal. 3:10, 13)
Historically, Protestants have believed that the Bible teaches that our salvation depends on what Christ has accomplished for our pardon and our perfection. We accept by faith his substitution for us in two senses: in his final suffering and death, he was condemned and cursed so that we may be pardoned (see Gal. 3:13; Rom. 8:3); and in his whole life of righteousness culminating in his death, he learned obedience so that we may be saved (see Heb. 5:8-9). His death crowns his atoning sufferings that propitiate God's wrath against us (see Rom. 3:24-25; 5:6-9), but it also crowns his life of perfect righteousness -- God's righteousness -- that is then imputed to us who believe (see 2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 3:21-22; 4:6, 11; 5:18-19).
God provided in Christ what God demanded from us in the law. But today this good news that Christ is not only our pardon but also our perfection is under serious attack. Here I hope to show not only that the doctrine of the imputation of Christ's righteousness is biblical but why we should defend it.
The Problem of the Law
Three times in Galatians 2:16, Paul tells us that no one can be justified -- no one can be made right with God -- by "works of the law." In context, this phrase refers most naturally to deeds done to obey Moses' law. (Note the parallels between "the Book of the Law" and "works of the law" in Gal. 3:10, and between "the law" in Rom. 3:19, 20 and "works of the law" in Rom. 3:20. In both Gal. 3:10 and Rom. 3:19-20, the term "law" refers to the Mosaic law; so the phrase "works of the law" naturally picks up that meaning.)
In its narrow, short-term design, the law that God gave to the Israelites through Moses demanded perfect obedience of the Pentateuch's more than 600 commandments in order for the Israelites to receive eternal life (see Lev. 18:5; Deut. 32:45-47; Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:10, 12). In this way, it upheld an absolute standard of childlike, humble, God-reliant, God-exalting perfect obedience that is in fact due from all of us -- and thus provided the moral backdrop without which the Pentateuch's sin-atoning provisions (and ultimately Christ's sacrifice) would be unintelligible.
Yet the Israelites were uniformly sinful and hostile to God (see Exod. 33:1-3; Acts 7:51). They did not -- and indeed could not (see Rom. 8:7) -- submit to him. Consequently, the law's effect on sinful Israel, when she was confronted with its hundreds of commandments, was awareness of latent sin (see Rom. 7:7), increased sin through deliberate violation of God's holy, righteous, and good commandment (see Rom. 7:12-13), and the multiplication of transgressions (see Rom. 5:20; 4:15). All of this was part of God's design for the law: "[The law] was added for the sake of transgressions" (Gal. 3:19); "The law came in so that the transgression would increase" (Rom. 5:20). The law cannot give life (see Gal. 3:21); rather it kills by multiplying sin (see Rom. 7:5, 8-13).
The law's deadly design and effects are sufficient to warrant Paul's statement in Galatians 3:12 -- "The law is not of faith" -- especially in view of what he says eleven verses later: "Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law . . . . But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian" (vv. 23, 25). This does not mean that there was no faith before Christ (see Rom. 4) but, rather, that there was no faith explicitly in Christ before Christ came. The law's function, in the long view, is to prepare God's people for Christ's work, even as its short-term function is to imprison its recipients in sin (see Gal. 3:22-23). The narrow, short-term aim of the law is to kill those who come in contact with it because it is primarily "commandments" (see Rom. 13:8-9; Eph. 2:15) that require perfect obedience but that cannot themselves produce this obedience independently of the Spirit who "gives life" (2 Cor. 3:6).