Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Sentimental Minds

During my years spent among the Primitive Baptist denomination I became well acquainted with the mindset of the people.  I was aware of all the rules of interpretation which upheld their distinctive doctrines, and I followed them myself.  If I confronted a salvation passage, time seemed to stop as I gave it my utmost attention.  Without realizing it I would call forth the accepted premises and then apply them to the text.  If I saw action on the part of the sinner or any form of instrumentality involved in the saving that was under consideration, I immediately applied the text to those “already regenerated”, placing it in the time salvation category without hesitation.  It just had to be that way regardless of any difficulties it might create, even violation of the context.  It is sad to say that this is the same guide employed by many of those ingrained in this heresy upon approaching the Word of God.

However, after ten plus years of acquaintance, as well as remembering my own state of mind at the time, I feel there is another significant factor at play which cannot be ignored.  It is my firm conviction that not only is this system upheld by faulty hermeneutics, but by minds which have been made overly sentimental.  There exists among the people a tender regard for the eternal fate of the unevangelized heathen.   Not to be confused with the traditional missionary regard common within Christendom which yearns to see people converted to Christ for salvation (Romans 10:1; 2 Tim 2:10), the concern here is mainly for their final salvation (i.e. going to heaven), regardless of whether they ever come to hear and believe in Christ through the declared gospel.  This conviction plays a major role in upholding the anti-means paradigm, preventing some from accepting the teaching that God ordinarily calls His people to salvation through the gospel (2 Thes. 2:13-14) and that Christian profession is absolutely necessary for salvation (2 John 1:9). 

The mindset of the people has been conditioned over the years to view most of the world as the elect of God.  Unless a plan of salvation was instituted and carried out by God which would land the overwhelming majority of the human race in heaven, then it becomes difficult for them to countenance.  Little to no tolerance is given to the gospel means pattern of salvation at the get-go, as it is thought that this would mean that much more of mankind will suffer eternal damnation than their sentimental minds are willing to allow.  I know this is true from personal experience as I have heard many sermons, read apologetic works, and had several discussions in which I've gleaned what dominates the thought process.  It has been my experience that one of the first responses given upon entertaining the possibility of gospel instrumentality is not an immediate reference to some passage of scripture which pronounces yea or nay on the subject, but speculation about the fate of those who never hear the gospel.  No sooner than it is mentioned that God might…just might…begat us “with the word of truth” (James 1:18) then immediately comes forth the question of the fate of the unevangelized multitudes.  Effectual calling via the Word is denied, not on the basis that the scriptures do not teach it, but on the attractive sentimental notion that a vast host of heathens ignorant of the Christian faith are to be given a place in heaven.   I do not mind admitting that I was once guilty of doing the same thing if I might be of help to others who are guilty of similar such eisegesis.   At one time if approached with the proposition that God calls His people to salvation through the gospel, I would have dismissed it based on my sentimental conviction that 90% of the human race was God’s elect, most of which were unevangelized, and that very few were to be damned.  This would be the only way that God could be declared the victor in the salvation race.

This problem ultimately stems from the Primitive Baptists having lost the balance of truth.  So much emphasis has been placed on the message of salvation by grace without a proper balance of man’s responsibility to His maker.  Such is the case now that an awareness of human responsibility has been all but lost.  The exhortations to repent and believe are seldom if ever heard, at least within the context of eternal salvation.  This is easily explained, as the God of conditional time salvation is one who has imposed no demands upon His creatures to repent, believe, and practice holiness for salvation.  Grace, which actually secures the impartation of these blessings, does not necessarily bring these gifts to the elect child of God, so eternal life may exist apart from them.  This one-sided hyper-calvinistic presentation of God’s sovereignty (e.g. electing, redeeming, regenerating, securing) at the neglect of the human side of salvation (e.g. seeing, hearing, believing, coming, overcoming) has left the people with an incomplete, and thus erroneous, view of the God of Heaven and his ordained salvation.  True faith and repentance are being viewed as “additions” to salvation, instead of that which salvation necessarily involves (John 6:37; Romans 4:16; Acts 5:31; 17:30-31).  Their minds have been made to picture a God who has imposed no responsibility upon mankind for salvation, and commonly see salvation in cases where these evangelical graces are not present.  Whereas the average Christian demands faith in Christ as evidence of another’s prior regeneration, for instance, they are relieved of such.  If the person is an unbeliever, they can always content themselves that they may be one of the many regenerate unbelievers that are part of God’s elect.  If he shows no signs of repentance, he may be one of those who simply didn’t choose by his free will to “save himself” (based on their view of Acts 2:40).  Thus, the idolatrous heathen in some foreign country can just as easily be viewed as a new creature in Christ as the one who is actively following the Savior.

All of this is done in an attempt to get as many people into glory as possible.  Elder Thomas Mann nailed it in 2002 when he stated in his sermon “Re-thinking Conditional Time Salvation” that the doctrine portrays a God whose only real concern is “populating heaven”.

Despite it being an error, this makes the Hardshell doctrine appear very attractive.  It’s very appealing to the carnal mind to say that most everyone in the world is saved.  It sounds good to say that God’s grace is so amazing that it actually overlooks unbelief and ungodliness, and welcomes sinners into heaven despite these shortcomings.   It’s the cause for much joy to feel that there will be a vast multitude of souls in heaven who spent the whole of their lives ignorant of Christ, or were engaged in false religions, but will be made partakers of the eternal inheritance nevertheless.  I recall a funeral in which an elder remarked that he knew he was part of the true church of Christ simply because his doctrine was the only one which would get the unrepentant, unbelieving deceased individual in heaven.

It can be easily seen how one could be lured into such a system as this, as it naturally lends itself to sentimental minds.  To be delivered from it is tougher still, especially when one has been ingrained in this way of thinking for so long.

This is actually what makes my task and others who would like to see them delivered from their erroneous view of salvation so difficult.  It is not only a matter of exegeting the scriptures which will convince them of their error.  In many cases, it is being able to overcome a sentimental mind which will not tolerate the possibility that either all or most of those who have died without true faith in Christ are eternally doomed (John 3:36). 

When dealing with emotions, we realize that we’re dealing with something very delicate.  Nevertheless, we have to remember that the scriptures are the source of authority, and not what agrees with our feelings.  Tough it may be to accept the words of the Psalmist:

Pour out thy wrath upon the heathen that have not known thee, and upon the kingdoms that have not called upon thy name” (Ps.79:6).

Or that of Paul:

"And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:  Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power" (2 Thes. 1:7-9).

Yet we still submit to it.

It's very important to remember that there are places in the Bible which are very challenging to our sentiments.  Noah and his house alone entered the ark (Gen. 7:1).  Few as well were found righteous in Sodom (Gen. 18; 2 Peter 2:6-7).  Paul relates that there were seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal (Romans 11:4-5).  In comparison to how many who did?  Moses writes to the chosen nation that “The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people” (Deut. 7:7).  And even Jesus himself declared “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.  Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:21-23).

If based on our emotions we say that God becomes a failure where there is a minority of the elect, then He has failed many times, for the God of the Bible is one who deals with a “remnant according to the election of grace” (Rom. 11:5).

We are reminded of the words of the great Puritan John Owen (emphasis mine):
Assigning to God any thing by him not assumed is a making to ourselves, a deifying of our own imaginations” (The Death of Death in the Death of Christ).
God is not glorified when we welcome as part of the divine family the very ones He has denied. He is not honored when we attempt to broaden the scope of salvation beyond what He himself has set.  In such a case, it becomes our duty to submit to the teachings of the scripture and say along with our Baptist forefathers that God is to be praised in reprobation just as He is in salvation.  To pine for the salvation of those whom God hath expressly condemned is simply a salve to our sentiments.


Ryan Poe said...


I'm sure many Primitive Baptists, especially of the radical conditionalist stripe, are overly sentimental. But let's not paint with a broad brush.

The quasi-universalism of some PBs is, I think, dying out. Most of the ministers I personally know strongly affirm Christian responsibility, and believe the elect will have faith in Christ as God. The belief that a child of God can willfully remain in bondage to sin after immediate, Holy Spirit regeneration is - very thankfully - becoming less and less common.

As a PB, also of Alabama, I'm fully confident the kind of rancid sentimentalism you describe will be rare among our ranks within a couple of generations.

Kevin Fralick said...


Thanks for your comment. My charge in this posting is a general one, based on my affiliation with the people for several years. If you will read some of my other postings, you will see that I have made a distinction between those who adopt such a position from those who do not.

I hope that what you write is so, yet leave some questions unaswered. One thing to be asked, Ryan, is how the elect acquire the faith which you correctly say they will have. Is it according to how Jesus taught in John 17:20 or Paul in Eph 1:13, Romans 10:14? It's certainly great as well that responsibility is being taught, but is it being presented within an eternal or temporal context? That's the key. And what of immediate regeneration? Other Calvinistic and/or Reformed theologians say the same thing, but are using a very strict theological definition of the word, referring to the initial act of the Spirit upon the soul. True biblical regeneration is not complete until the sinner has closed with Christ as presented in the gospel, not just having his will enabled.

What you seem to be arguing for in your comment is a form of non-evangelical conversion common to the elect, which some PBs argue for. However, it needs to be understood that faith and repentance are presented in the Bible as evangelical virtues. If this truth will be accepted, then they will be much closer to the truth.

I pray that this happens.


Ryan Poe said...


Perhaps I should clarify what I meant by "immediate, Holy Spirit regeneration." I meant the initial process by which the Holy Spirit enters our hearts (1 Cor. 6:19), opens our ears (Acts 7:51), and imbues us with his gifts - including the gift of basic faith (Gal. 5:22-24), whereby we cry "Abba, Father" (Gal. 4:6).

All of God's children will experience this work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts (Rom. 5:5), which will then respond to the preached word, or "evangelical" conversion. In other words, the preached gospel brings "to light" our initial faith (1 Tim. 1:10). This is what is meant by "believe" in John 17:20 and Rom. 10:14.

This conversion then "seals us," as Eph. 1:13 says. This is not in an eternal sense, for we are sealed by God's foreknowledge, which precedes faith, according to 2 Tim. 2:19. Rather, we are sealed in the sense that we have assurance of our inheritance, which is the role of the Spirit (Eph. 1:14, John 15:26).

You're right that I don't think all of God's children will necessarily experience evangelical conversion, although I think that's the regular way God works.

Children who die in infancy, for instance, may never hear the word preached by men. The same goes for those who are both deaf and blind, or mentally incapacitated. But regeneration can be "complete" even in such cases because regeneration isn't a work of man, but of the almighty God.

Kevin Fralick said...

Dear Ryan,

Based on your response, I know that as a PB your position is much closer to the London Confession than much of your brethren want to get. This is good. You say that you believe that God ordinarily converts those whom he regenerates, and yet teaching this very thing is what got me ostracized from this order! Interesting, isn’t it?

Ryan, the first chapter of Ephesians treats of things of an eternal nature. Just because foreknowledge preceeds in order of time the reception of evangelical faith does not mean that such faith does not follow. God’s foreknowledge also preceeds what you would refer to as “seed faith”, doesn’t it? Why do you not say then that this is optional too, as opposed to saying that all of God’s children will experience it? Based on such reasoning, I could just as easily argue that sinners need not be born again, justified, or sanctified, because God’s foreknowledge preceeds it! But what do we read in the divine record? Those whom God foreknew he does in fact call (Romans 8:30).

In the mind and purpose of God, the elect were saved (or sealed) before the world began, but they are not actually saved until they actually receive Christ in time.

The definition of regeneration is crucial when it is discussed. You have adopted a narrow view of it (and I have no quarrel with those who do so) and claim that it is a work of God. Correct. The problem though is how you view what I refer to as complete regeneration; those cases where God does convert whom he regenerates. I detect in your last statement the premise that if instrumentality is involved, then this conversion becomes either a work of man, or a joint work between God and man. Since you have stated correctly that this is the normal way God does it, you’re forced to accept the position that in most cases salvation is not entirely a work of God! It’s a work of God only in those cases where a person is regenerated but not converted!

The only way around this is to come to understand that when God works, it is His work, whether he works through means or not.


Ryan Poe said...


I disagree that I'm "forced" by my reasoning to accept "that in most cases salvation is not entirely a work of God." My position is that we are saved only by God, and that we hear and follow Christ as a result (John 10:27). One of the ways we "hear" Christ is through evangelical means, but that's certainly not the only way, and certainly not the means to salvation.

My point with regard to Ephesians 1:13 was that we are eternally sealed by God, which means Paul is talking about a different kind of sealing in Ephesians. If God has already sealed us in him in eternity, a second sealing of our eternal salvation at the time of faith would be redundant. Any discussion about foreknowledge is besides the point.

Along those lines, you say we are "actually saved" when we receive Christ in time. I agree with the implication that basic faith - the faith we receive after God softens our hearts - is part of our eternal salvation. If God chooses us, he will call us.

However, I disagree that evangelical faith seals salvation, if that's what you're arguing. God seals us in eternity, and regenerates and gives us the Holy Spirit in time. That's our great salvation, and it elicits a response from us. But let's keep the horse in front of the cart: Our response – especially in evangelical conversion – is the evidence, not the cause, of our salvation.

By the way, when I referenced 1 Tim. 1:10 in an earlier post, I meant 2 Tim. 1:10.