C. H. Spurgeon and the Modern Church: Lessons for Today from the ‘Downgrade’ Controversy (1985) by R. J. Sheehan
I’ve read many biographies of Charles Haddon Spurgeon and I love this man of God. His faith, zeal and tenacity are admirable (not to mention his genius and productivity in one lifetime). He was respected among the Independents, converted under the Methodists and ministered primary among the Baptists. He holds Calvinistic beliefs, committed evangelical and nonconformist. He loved the Lord Jesus Christ and the Scriptures to the core. He was the leading preacher of the 9th century and one of the greatest preachers of all time… in my opinion.
In summary, let me explain the background of this controversy: During the last 8th to 9th century, England and the world was in fluxed by modernism – “the age of reason” – that penetrated into theological institutions and churches. Human reason was put primary at the heart of Christian theology. The historicity of Christianity slowly being attached and denied. Mysterious doctrines such as the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus Christ, and supernatural events in the Scripture were dismissed as irrational. Errors were treated lightly and the fundamentals of the faith were doubly questioned. Thus, it was called the ‘Downgrade’ Controversy. At the end of this book, I concluded that modernism, rationalism and scepticism were the three major “ism” behind Satan’s evil schemes that weaken and paralyse the church during that time (How about now?).
While unorthodoxy, religious tolerance and doctrinal compromises were occurred rampantly in many churches, and when most evangelicals remained cowardly silent or at best raised feeble objections, Spurgeon led a courageous attack on the new heretic. At the time when humanism dominates all the major denominations (especially in the Baptist Union, where he first warned the leaders), it is necessary for Spurgeon to stand firm in the faith and defend the truth. He became the “prophetic voice” of his generation while many ministers kept quiet in the name of ‘unity’. I believe that love and truth must come together. Without love, truth is cold; without truth, love is empty. Love and truth are essentials to true unity in Christ. Spurgeon believes this too.
At the heart of the controversy, Spurgeon called on the preachers – most are practical to all of us Christians today to take heed – to: #1 Have as their chief end the glorying of God; #2 Have an intense desire to build up the church; #3 Be better men; #4 Get clearer views of what they believe; #5 Have more faith; #6 Have more love for souls; #7 Have a more thorough spirit of self-sacrifice; #8 Go over the fundamental truths with their hearers very carefully; #9 Labour distinctly for the immediate salvation of their hearers; #10 Inculcate with all their might the practice of holiness; #11 Be careful about the admission of members into the church; #12 Separate entirely from those likely to cause spiritual injury; #13 Bind themselves together more closely; #14 Remember that past bad times have been followed by good times; and #15 Make the most of prayer.
In the end, Spurgeon fight with all of his God-given strength and seem ‘losing’ the battle. He was misunderstood and rejected even by his own brother. He continued to preach and write about the ‘Downgrade’ but he did so as a man with few real supporters. He died with little success (not as preacher of God’s Word but as defender of this controversy). But for me, his boldness and firmness are forever become my inspirations to do the same. In my mind – oh, in God’s opinion – he won the battle! “I have raised my protest in the only complete way by coming forth,” Spurgeon writes, “and I shall be content to abide alone with the day when the Lord shall judge the secrets of all hearts.”
Even if you stand alone, fight!
THINK BIG. START SMALL. GO DEEP.