Sunday, October 2, 2011

Wilson Thompson - Law To Grace

Elder Wilson Thompson (1788-1866) was one of the founding fathers of hardshellism. Today's "Primitive Baptists" universally recognize him as one of their leaders at the time of the secession of the Hardshells from the main body of Baptists in the early nineteenth century.

From testimony given by Thompson late in his life he testified that he did not believe that God used his word or gospel in the "regeneration" of the elect. Hardshells cite this to prove that he was "one of them." But, this testimony of Thompson does not necessarily imply that he denied that the gospel was necessary for being "born again" or "converted." I suspect that Thompson agreed with the view of Gilbert Beebe, Samuel Trott, and William Conrad, who made a distinction between "regeneration" and being "born again." These brethren believed that spiritual "birth" was like physical birth, which had three distinct "stages" or "manifestations" to it. First, there was "conception," or the "implanting" of the divine "seed." This part of the work was called "regeneration" and was accomplished apart from the means of the preached word.

The second stage of spiritual rebirth was analogous to being in the womb, where the growth of the fetus takes place. The old Hardshells, like many of the old "Regular Baptists," believed that the womb state corresponded to the state of the "regenerated," "quickened," or "awakened" sinner being "under conviction." Thus, they viewed conviction of sin as an evidence of "regeneration." They believed that this time period was gloomy, when the soul began to seek salvation. They thought that it was a universal experience of souls, in this state, to first begin to seek to reform themselves on Arminian principles, when they sought salvation by the law, or by their own works. They believed that all who were in this condition would, in time, however, be delivered from these efforts at saving themselves, come to understand and believe the gospel, and receive joy and peace and a hope of salvation. This conversion experience was viewed as the "birth," the new birth, and was accomplished through faith in the gospel. In short, the whole experience was described as "going from law to grace," or "going from Mt. Sinai to Mt. Zion."

Not only do I believe that Thompson held this same view because of his close fellowship with Beebe, Trott, and Conrad, but from what he says in his autobiography. The second chapter of this book is titled "From Law To Grace--and Baptism." Anyone who reads this chapter, knowing all this, cannot help but believe that Thompson believed in this three stage model of regeneration and the new birth.

Thus, he could say, as he did later in life, that he did not believe that "regeneration" was by means of the gospel and faith, but this does not mean that he denied that one had to hear and believe the gospel to be spiritually reborn. Further, I have never read anything where Thompson denied that all the elect would be converted, or "born again" in this manner, or that all would come to believe in Jesus via the gospel.

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