Elder Michael Gowens, present day pastor of Lexington (Ky.) "Primitive Baptist Church" wrote:
"Well, that is the very same argument made by the “missionary” Baptist Throgmorton in the Throgmorton-Potter debate of July 12, 1887 . They debated the question “Who Are the Primitive Baptists?” for four days at Fulton, KY, with Elder Throgmorton claiming that the “missionaries” were holding true to the faith of their fathers, and Elder Potter claiming that the “hardshells” were the original Baptists. Both quoted extensively from history, finding ample evidence for their respective views in ancient Creeds and Confessions."
First of all, I must say that Elder Gowens mistakes the facts from the debate he mentions, particularly as it relates to the question of the use of means in salvation. The fact is, Elder Potter gave no evidence that anyone denied the use of means in the eternal salvation of sinners prior to the birth of the Hardshells in the early 19th century.
Gowens continued (emphasis mine - SG):
"Of course, both sides claimed victory after the discussion. I think that the premise of this claim is the assumption that the 1689 London Baptist Confession is the standard of orthodoxy—the “litmus test” of what our Baptist forefathers believed. That premise is arguable—in fact, it is very suspect. Elder Harold Hunt has written at length on this issue; he does a masterful job of showing that the 1689 was an attempt to construct an ecumenical document for the sake of unifying the English Baptists, but that it was unsuccessful. I believe that the use of Confessions as an instrument to promote unity tends toward credalism. Confessions can promote uniformity, but uniformity is not the same thing as “the unity of the Spirit” (Eph. 4)." (Internet article "Questions and Answers Regarding Recent Primitive Baptist Tension" - see here)
It seems from this citation that Elder Gowens agrees with the thesis of Elder Hunt's book ("The London Confession: And its Place in Baptist History" - 2007) that the authors of the London Confession were not "Primitive Baptists" (Hardshells) because they believed in Gospel means and that faith in Christ was necessary for being eternally saved. It is one of the reasons why Elder Hunt says that the authors of the old Confession were "New School" or means Baptists. Remember too that Elder Hunt said this about the brethren at Fulton - "They reaffirmed what they could accept; they explained away what they could not accept; and they looked aside, and walked past what they could not explain away."
Elder Bill Allen in an Internet article titled "Article 10 of the London Confession of 1689 Examined," (pastors the Stephenville, Texas "Primitive Baptist Church") writes (emphasis mine - SG):
"Below is just one of the problematic articles, no. 10, of the 1689 with the 3 related Fulton foootnotes. My problem with the Fulton footnotes is not that they were themselves unsound. They were quite sound, but the Fulton brethren were deceiving themselves in thinking that the 1689 was basically sound but just not properly understood....If we take the wording of the 1689, particularly in this article, for what it clearly says in plain English it can be easily seen that it is a hopeless wreck of a document that no amount of footnotes, explanations, or wishful thinking can fix...My point is that we should NOT make any endeavors to lay claim to the 1689 Confession but instead should do what the Fulton brethren did not and that is let those who believe such things have it as the Calvinists confession that it clearly is."
Allen also says:
"...this says the effectual calling is by the Word and Spirit. It is vital to the understanding of this article to discern exactly what they mean by the use of "Word". The Fulton brethren correctly insist that on the Living Word, i.e. Christ, is the source of the Effectual Call. Unfortunately, they would like us to believe that is what this article says. I contend that this is wishful thinking. They are imposing what we know to be the truth on what other men have said in an effort to white wash something that would have to otherwise rejected if taken for what it says. I contend the authors of this confession were consistent in their use "Word"." (see here)
Thus, we have added two other witnesses from current Hardshell leaders to show that they also recognize how the Fulton brethren were distorting the words of the old London Confession.
Elder Sylvester Hassell (1842-1928) wrote (emphasis mine - SG):
"A semblance of a proposition at the last session of the Kehukee Association, to change some words in the first two lines of the Fourth of our old Articles of Faith (Church History, page 699,) reading thus, “We believe that, when God made man at first, be was perfect, holy and upright, able to keep the law, but liable to fall,” was, as graphically described by one of our oldest ministers, “speedily thrown under the table among other rubbish,” by the oldest Primitive Baptist Association in the world. We want no change whatever in our old Articles of Faith; if changes are ever begun to be made, there will be no end to them, and we shall be imitating the religious societies of the world, and like them may plunge into infidelity."
"...in no other human document, have I seen that truth so fully and correctly presented, without excrescence and without mutilation, (Rev. xxii. 18, 19,) as in the old London Baptist Confession of Faith. It sets forth what I and the great majority of Primitive Baptists of the United States believe to be “the apostles’ doctrine;” and, like the apostolic churches, it is only by “continuing steadfastly in this doctrine,” that we can continue also “in fellowship, and in, breaking of bread, and in prayer. “—Acts ii. 42. I could not, in conscientiousness and faithfulness, receive or retain, as a member of my own Church, any person who believed this doctrine, as set forth in our Articles of Faith, to be a lie." ("'The Old Paths' Again" - The Gospel Messenger--June 1890 - see here)
It is to be noted that Elder Hassell wrote these words in 1890, ten years before the Fulton Convention, and that Elder Hassell was not in favor of changing any of the accepted confessions of the Hardshells. But, when the Fulton Confession came out, here is what Elder Hassell wrote:
"In the 18th century the Particular or Predestinarian Baptists of the United States re-affirmed and adopted these same Articles of Faith. In the 19th century all the Primitive Baptist churches of the United States either already had or adopted, substantially, though in a shorter form, these same Articles of Faith; and in the closing year of that century, 1900, the General Meetings of Primitive Baptists at Oakland City, Ind., and Fulton, Ky., unanimously re-affirmed and re-adopted the old London Baptist Confession of Faith. In 1850 Elder Burwell Temple, editor of The Primitive Baptist, the oldest Southern Primitive Baptist periodical, republished at Raleigh, N. C., in pamphlet form, bound in sheep-skin, the London Baptist Confession of Faith. My father, Elder C. B. Hassell, who began the Church History, collected the very oldest editions of the London Confession that he could obtain, and incorporated the full original text, with all the Scripture citations, in our Church History. Thus the London Baptist Confession of Faith is the most fully and widely authorized statement of what Primitive Baptists believe the Scriptures to teach in regard to spiritual and eternal truths. Our fathers were neither fools nor hypocrites; and spiritually we are neither wiser nor better than they were; indeed past and present facts prove that we are their inferiors in spiritual matters."
"There are occasional expressions in the London Confession and also in the Fulton Foot-notes that are not acceptable to all Primitive Baptists; but the general substance of doctrine in both the Confession and the Footnotes is the faith of the great body of the Primitive Baptists of the United States, as it was the faith of their fathers in this country and in England..." ("The London Baptist Confession of Faith With Fulton Foot-Notes" - see here)
Though Hassell had great reluctance to changing the accepted articles of faith in 1890, yet he does not criticize the work of the Fulton brethren who drastically changed the meaning of the London Confession. One must wonder why? Did Elder Hassell believe that the Fulton brethren were accurately interpreting the old Confession or did he believe they were misinterpreting it? I suspect that Hassell knew full well that they had misinterpreted the old Confession but chose not to say anything.
Elder David Montgomery, present day pastor and author of a leading Hardshell web page with lots of old articles from leading men of the past within their denomination, writes this about Hassell and the Fulton Convention.
"Below is pretty convincing proof as to why Elder Hassell did not attend the Fulton Convention as both his corresponding editors of the Gospel Messenger were very opposed to it. Their opposition was so strong that it became the official position of the "The Gospel Mesenger." It is important to note that Elder Hassell did write a very favorable article on the results of the Convention after it convened. When I get to heaven (by the Lord’s grace) I intend to query Brother Hassell about all this. Too many questions, too little information." (see here)
Perhaps Elder Hassell did not attend because he foreknew what would come of it and that he had already gone on record as being against altering the old confessions.
The Web page of Aberdeen Primitive Baptist church says:
"Our doctrines and our practices, we believe, are well grounded in the Word of God which is our final authority for our Faith and Practice. No human document is perfect, yet we are in basic agreement with both the London Confession of Faith of 1644 and of 1689."
On the same Web page they say:
"We do not believe that the Gospel is a means of regeneration, but that it is the means of conversion for the quickened soul." (see here)
The Hardshells say "we are in basic agreement" with the London Confessions, which is typical language of many Hardshells who continue to affirm their acceptance of the London Confession that their forefathers accepted. Others use similar language, saying that present Hardshell views are "substantially the same" as those of the London Confession. This language is meant to convey the idea that they are the successors of the old London churches of the 17th century yet without giving credence to those parts of it that they reject, particularly the parts dealing with the divine decrees and the use of means in effectual calling. This is nothing but a deception meant to fool the simple minded.
Elder David Bartley, a minister of the Absoluter faction, writing about the Fulton Confession in 1901 had these remarks to offer (emphasis mine - SG).
"So now, let us kindly consider this question of disturbance and compare the points at issue with the London Confession, which all claim to accept upon those points of difference. But why, then, the need or utility of the Fulton Convention? Why the address, the foot-notes and the appendix added to the good old Confession, which had been good enough for the Old Baptist people through the centuries, until this late upheaval? The plea for all this additional supplementary work of the recent convention has been stated in print frequently, and is thus given in the general address: “Language through the lapse of many years undergoes variations in applications and meanings, whereby certain clauses become more or less obscure in meaning. Wherever, in the opinion of this assembly, the meaning of a section was not apparent, foot-notes were added to bring out the meaning.” But if such a change of meaning and obscurity of language is true of one section of the old Confession, it is also true of every section, and just as true of the whole Bible, which is older than the London Confession. In all candor, then, why were the foot-notes confined to a few sections, and these the very places which treat of the doctrines involved in this new issue! This is very strange indeed, if the old Confession has really become doubtful and dark in meaning because of its age! If this is a valid cause for calling a convention of Baptists, why not bring out in easy and plain words the meaning of the entire Confession, so that all the Baptists may now understand and unite upon its meaning? Then, if the plea is a real and valid one, why not also get up a Baptist Convention to “bring out the more or less obscure meaning “of the ancient Bible!"
These remarks of Elder Bartley are very damaging to the work of the Fulton brethren and unmask the real intentions of the Convention. He shows that their stated purpose, which was to make plain those portions of the Confession which were too vaguely worded, or too ambiguous, containing too much archaic language, was all pretense! Why did they avoid explaining most of the sections? One says it is because they agreed with those sections! Yet, the same kind of language was used in those sections as in the others that were given footnotes! It is all too obvious to all, except to the simple minded cultists, that these brethren did not believe the sections which they footnoted.
In Elder Bartley's review of the Fulton Convention he objects to their reading their novel view of "time salvation" into the old London Confession, a doctrinal novelty that the old London brethren knew nothing about. Elder Bartley said:
"It should not be wondered at, therefore, that the introduction and pressure of these new issues among the Old Baptists met with opposition from many of them, whose hearts are established in the sacred belief of salvation by grace only, and in the unlimited sovereignty of God, just as declared in the London Confession; for the inevitable consequence of this innovation upon the gospel of the grace of God, by the new gospel (?) of conditional salvation in time, and of this recent war against God’s decree of all things, as held through the ages past, and solemnly set forth in the good old Confession, was confusion and division among the local churches, where these new issues sprung up and were urged. It was this opposition to sovereignty and grace that led to the disturbance and, in some local churches, the breaking of fellowship, all of which is lamentable and gives us all sorrow. The responsibility rests upon the new doctrines."
"In conclusion, there is one alleviating and consoling fact in all this new and strange movement among Baptists; that is, the so-called “National Convention” was nothing more than a voluntary individual meeting, without any authority or jurisdiction whatever to decide upon any point of doctrine or fellowship, so none of the churches of the saints are bound by it; and the good old doctrine of the London Confession relative to the unlimited decree and universal providence of God and salvation by his sovereign grace only, remains unshaken, true and sacred as before, not in the least curtailed, modified or “explained away.” And this doctrine of our forefathers and of the apostles of the Lord will stand immovable as a bulwark of God’s eternal truth long after this new movement against it shall have passed away, and the people “saved by the Lord” shall on and on down through the coming ages, till the Lord shall come and bring all his saints with him, ever abide steadfastly in the unlimited sovereignty of God and the gospel of salvation by his grace." ("Review of Fulton Convention Work" - Crawfordsville, Ind., Aug. 22, 1901. Signs Of The Times, Volume 69, No. 18. SEPTEMBER 15, 1901 - see here)
Elder Bartley is simply another witness that the purpose of the Fulton brethren was to "explain away" the clear meaning of the Confession in what it said about predestination and salvation.