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Sunday, August 8, 2010

History a Warning to the Episcopalian Diocese of Sydney (Part 3)

Herewith, the final instalment of the article "The Decline of Evangelicalism in Nineteenth-Century England" by R. J. Sheehan in Issue 278, November 1986, of "The Banner of Truth". Reference notations continue in sequence from the previous blogs:


With hindsight, it is possible to see that the conservative evangelicals made two major mistakes in their opposition to the higher critical movement. Firstly, they paid so much attention to declaring their opposition to it, especially in the earlier part of the nineteenth century, that, 'the orthodox attacks on the critics. . . were one of the chief means by which a knowledge of higher criticism was disseminated in England'.20

Closely related was the second mistake. The conservatives did not take the higher critics seriously enough. 'In 1880 it was still possible for orthodox Bible scholars in England to consider higher criticism as the temporary form taken by infidelity and Germany and confidently to predict the scholarly victory of tradition'.21 C. H. Spurgeon dismissed the teachings of Julius Wellhausen as, 'calculated only to befool those who are ignorant',22 as late as 1887!

The consequence of this under-estimation of the higher critical movement, until it was too late to reverse the trends, was that some of the opposition to the higher critics rose little above anti-German rhetoric and little real attempt was made to answer the critics at a theological level. W. B. Glover recognized the lack amongst the English conservatives of an equivalent to the Princeton theologians to defend their cause.23 The conservative attack was led by comparatively untrained pastors and in the eyes of many, as in the eighteenth-century Deist controversy, 'more attention was paid to learning, scholarship and oratory than to godliness, orthodoxy and evangelical zeal'.24 So the higher critics won the day.


The less conservative evangelical leaders must bear the weight of the blame for the victory of higher criticism. It is clear that many of them put more value on maintaining unity and harmony than on the truth. They sold their heritage for a reputation of big-heartedness. C. H. Spurgeon warned them to no avail. 'On all hands we hear cries for unity in this and unity in that... It is easy to cry, "A confederacy" but that union which is not based on the truth of God is rather a conspiracy than a communion'.25

Many of the evangelicals showed a sad lack of discernment. They saw an acceptance of higher criticism as a means to further their scholarly reputations. In this way the Baptist John Clifford won an accolade for his, 'broad interpretation of Evangelicalism, his appreciation of the work of Biblical scholarship, his resolute opposition to blind conservatism, his repudiation of the antagonism between Religion and Science so often proclaimed by some in our church'.26 However, he was also responsible for opposing the stand of C. H. Spurgeon and enabling the higher critical takeover of the Baptist Denomination. Men praised him for his modernity but history condemns it as compromise.

In fact, while full weight must be given to the failure of many to see the real danger of higher criticism and its detrimental effects on evangelicalism, it must sadly be said that a charge of cowardice has to be levelled against many of the evangelicals of the nineteenth century. The nineteenth century saw three groups within the evangelical churches: the conservative evangelicals: the higher critics, and 'a great mixed multitude who from various causes decline to be ranked with either of them'.27 It was this 'mixed multitude' who would not side with either the old
evangelical view of Scripture or with the new view of Scripture, who held the key to the decline. They would not discipline error and so they were overwhelmed by it. The consequence of their indecision and cowardice was that whereas, 'The early nineteenth century saw a quickening of religious life all over Europe . . . when the nineteenth century closed Christianity was at a low ebb'.28

Most nineteenth-century evangelicals had a view of love to others that meant the abandonment of or compromise on truth. But as C. H. Spurgeon correctly observed, 'To part with truth to show charity is to betray our Lord with a kiss'.29


1. That 'The first step astray is a want of adequate faith in the divine inspiration of the sacred Scriptures . . . 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 seriously out of the 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'.30 Our doctrine of scripture is, therefore, not a matter of minor importance.

2. That Calvinists have historically left the doctrine of Scripture le[a]st of all of those who have departed from it. Therefore, Calvinism is an important safeguard against heresy.

3. That the basis of unity cannot be merely a shared spiritual experience or shared evangelistic zeal. A man who is converted and is a means of conversion to others can be more dangerous to the health of the churches than an outright heretic if he mixes his zeal for the gospel with defective views of Scripture and half-heartedness about other major doctrines.

4. That a false sense of Christian love can lead people to a total lack of discernment in which they treat wolves like sheep and maintain alliances with those who are enemies of the gospel. This is to the inevitable detriment of the churches.

5. That worldliness and looseness are inevitably companions of theological disinterest and looseness

6. That evangelicals have to take their opposition seriously at a theological level and not merely respond by abuse. The absence of a theological answer to the higher critics gave the evangelicals the appearance of theological ignorance.

7. That the ministers often become corrupt before the people. 'As a general rule laymen were slower in accepting higher criticism than the ministers'.31 Even as late as the 1890's, 'there remained large numbers of laymen and some ministers who never accepted the new criticism even in principle'. 32 But, with the pulpits of their churches hijacked, the people were left to rot, with blind guides leading them to nowhere worth going.

8. That the dismal history of English evangelicals from 1900 to 1950 cannot be understood apart from this background of nineteenth-century compromise and failure. The present, comparatively healthier state of evangelicalism is closely connected to the 'revival' of Calvinism. All the present gains, however, could be rapidly lost if the lessons of the past are not remembered

Thus ends R.J. Sheehan's helpful insight of the decline of evangelicalism in England in the nineteenth century. In the next instalment of "History a Warning to the Episcopalian Church of Sydney" I will attempt to observe the state of things today.

Sam Drucker

20. Glover op. cit. p4L
21. ibid p. 36. 22.
22. Spurgeon, C. H. The Sword and Trowel, August 1887, p 430.
23. Glover op. cit. pp 219-221.
24. Summary of Shindler, R. The Sword and Trowel, March 1887, p 122.
25. Spurgeon, C. H. The Sword and Trowel, April 1887, pp 195-196.
26. Blomfeld, W. E. cited in Underwood, A. C. A History of English Baptists, 1947, Kingsgate Press, p 226.
27. Spurgeon, C. H. The Sword and Trowel, December 1888, p 619.
28. Glover op. cit. .p 11.
29. Spurgeon, C. H. The Sword and Trowel, February 1887, p 91.
30. Shindler, R. The Sword and Trowel, April 1887, p 170.
31. Glover op. cit. p 199.
32. ibid. p 217.


John said...

"Therefore, Calvinism is an important safeguard against heresy."

Is it? Obviously the writer was unaware of men like the Jensen clan and their fawning fans who purport to be dye-in-the-wool Calvinists yet surrender Scripture to human reasoning regarding origins. Here's a clear case of Calvinism not being able to aid SAD from heresy. One only has to read a small sample of the foolish, pagan tripe coming forth from men like Katay, Badley, Woodhouse and our old mate who believes God shot gamma rays from a far distant galaxy to alter the genetic makeup of life here to carry out his plan to understand the SADs are way past being recognised as biblical evangelicals. Read the almost daily narcissistic puerile nonsense from Cheng's pen (Cheng=God designed the koala pouch incompetently). All these scripturally lobotimised men would have it that they are part of the Elect, yet their heresy reaches the ears of heaven and heaven is far from happy with their devilish, tortured beliefs.

sam drucker said...


There is more to come so I commend a little patience.

Sam Drucker