Sunday, February 10, 2013

Hardshell Pelagianism I

Chapter 138

Bob Ross, in his book "History and Heresies of Hardshell Baptists," chapter 6, wrote under title of "HARDSHELL DOCTRINE IS PELAGIANISM IN A 19TH CENTURY PACKAGE."  In that section Ross gives us these citations from leading Hardshell elders.

 S. T. Tolley, The Christian Baptist (June '85, page 5):

"For it is through the grace and mercy of God that one is CAPACITATED to either hear or believe the message of the gospel, and be saved by and through its influence."

Also, Tolley says:

"Accountability necessarily implies capability".  (TCB, 2/85/ p. 4)

E. D. McCutcheon, Primitive Baptist minister:

"He equips him (the sinner) with ABILITY to repent . . . He  gives  us  the ABILITY to do so . . . "(This We Believe, page 42).

Eddie Garrett, The Hardshell Baptist (March '92, page 4):

"When he Lord gives us life we then have the ABILITY to believe the gospel, even though we may not."  (see here) 

Gilbert Beebe also wrote:

"To call on dead sinners to repent and believe the gospel implies ability in them to do so." 

(Editorials –– Volume 4 pgs 41-46, in th article titled "What is the Gospel, and to Whom is it Addressed?" - see here)

There is no need to multiply citations from leading voices in the Hardshell denomination.  Such statements are oft repeated in sermons and writings by Hardshells.  I heard it often repeated when I was with the Hardshells.

Under the sub heading "The "Command Implies Ability" Theory Strips God's Word of Power" Ross wrote (some emphasis mine - SG):

"What was to develop in the Anti-Mission movement, after the 1827 Kehukee Declaration and the 1832 Black Rock Address, was the subtle use of an old philosophy known as "PELAGIANISM."  [For a study of Pelagianism, see B. B. Warfield's Two Studies in the History of Doctrine and Augustine's Anti-Pelagian Writings in the fifth volume of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers series, Eerdmans' edition].

Pelagianism held that God bestowed on man the "capacity for his will and work" and that man's capacity, or ability, "come from God alone."  This "capacity" was "implanted in us by God," according to Pelagius, a fifth century British monk after whom this school of thought is named. 

While Hardshellism is certainly not Pelagian on the matter of man's nature in relation to the effect of the Fall of Man, it has adorned the old Pelagian concept of "command implies ability" in a new garb, format, or "package."  What Pelagianism says of man in his natural state, Hardshellism merely shifts to man in a supposed "regenerated" state, before faith.

Basically, this is the same view being advocated by some today who called themselves "Reformed." They have the sinner "capacitated" with an "ability" prior to faith so as to be "enabled" to become a believer. They therefore say "regeneration precedes faith," for it is allegedly necessary for the sinner to be "alive" in order to have the "ability" to believe.

In effect, this logically denies that the power of the Word of God is suficient, in the hands of the Spirit, to resurrect the "dead" sinner, as illustrated by Ezekiel's dry bones (Ez. 37). It makes faith the act by the "regenerated" sinner's "ability" rather than the creative gift of the Holy Spirit."

I have already dealt with these issues in chapter nine, titled "Hardshell Logic on Regeneration" (see here)  and in chapter 86, titled Hardshell Proof Texts VIII" (see here).  So, in this series there will simply be an expansion on how Hardshellism and Hyper Calvinism are a kind of Pelagianism.

William Hendry Stowell, editor of the nineteenth century publication "The Eclectic Review," cites Dr. Williams, who said:

"But as the Holy Scriptures abound with calls, invitations, proposals, and inducements to sinners, in order that they may repent, believe, and obey,—with awful denunciations for their want of compliance; so they abundantly testify concerning the ignorance, hardness of heart, moral impotence, and enmity of men to God, to his law, and the light of truth, while they continue in an unregenerate state. Now the question is, are these two representations to be taken in their full extent, or is one of them to be reduced in meaning? The consistent Calvinist asserts the former; but Pelagians and Hyper Calvinists (for they occasionally concur) plead for the latter. The Pelagians prefer an attempt to reduce the doctrine of human depravity; the Hyper-Calvinists, the extent of the gospel call. Now, it is remarkable that those respectively who hold both extremes, (which here amicably meet) attempt their plan of reduction or extenuation on the very same principle, viz. That moral ability is requisite to constitute moral obligation. It is plain, from Scripture, says the Pelagian, that the gospel call is general; therefore all men must be possessed of moral ability to comply, which is incompatible with native depravity. But it is plain from Scripture, says the Hyper-Calvinist, that men in their unregcnerate state arc totally depraved; therefore the gospel call is addressed only to those who are divinely quickened to feel their need of the gospel remedy.

The consistent Calvinist rejects both these inferences, and admits the above statements in their full extent of meaning. The reasons are, because neither can be denied without doing great violence to the plain declarations of God's word; and because both may be perfectly reconciled on satisfactory principles. These principles are,—the true grounds of moral obligation,—and the difference between the rectoral and the sovereign designs of God." 

(In the article "Williams Essays" wherein Stowell cites from Dr. Williams's "Essay on the Equity of Divine Government and the Sovereignty of Divine Grace" in the Eclectic Review, 1814, pages 333-34, see here)

These two critics of Pelagianism and Hyper Calvinism state the matter very well.  The Hardshells, though at times agreeing that commands do not imply ability, and reject Pelagianism, nevertheless argue the basic premise of Pelagianism when they affirm that biblical commands to fallen sinners imply ability.  They are therefore inconsistent.  What most Hardshells do, in view of this, is to deny that there are any biblical commands to all men wherein they are commanded to believe and repent, or to be regenerated.  Thus, to overthrow Hardshell Pelagianism, one need only prove that there are universal commands in Scripture in which all men are commanded to believe and repent.  Hardshells already accept the view that no man is able to believe and repent, or come to Jesus, so to prove that they are commanded to do so, disproves their contention that such commands imply ability.  Dr. Williams was correct to state that the Scriptures uphold both ideas and are not contradictory.

Thomas Boston wrote (as cited, ironically, on a Hardshell Internet web page):

"Objection 1: If we be under an utter inability to do any good, how can God require us to do it?

Answer: God making man upright (Eccl. 7.29), gave him a power to do everything that He should require of him; this power man lost by his own fault. We were bound to serve God, and do whatever He commanded us, as being His creatures; and also, we were under the superadded tie of a covenant, for that purpose. Now, we having, by our own fault, disabled ourselves, shall God lose His right of requiring our task, because we have thrown away the strength He gave us whereby to perform it? Has the creditor no right to require payment of his money because the debtor had squandered it away, and is not able to pay him? Truly, if God can require no more of us than we are able to do, we need no more to save us from wrath, but to make ourselves unable for every duty, and to incapacitate ourselves for serving God any manner of way, as profane men frequently do. So the deeper a man is plunged in sin, he will be the more secure from wrath, for where God can require no duty of us, we do not sin in omitting it; and where there is no sin there can be no wrath. As to what may be urged by the unhumbled soul, against the putting our stock in Adam's hand, the righteousness of that dispensation was explained before. But moreover, the unrenewed man is daily throwing away the very remains of natural abilities, that rational light and strength which are to be found amongst the ruins of mankind. Nay, further, he will not believe his own utter inability to help himself; so that out of his own mouth, he must be condemned. Even those who make their natural impotency to good a covert to their sloth, do, with others, delay the work of turning to God from time to time, and, under convictions, make large promises of reformation, which afterwards they never regard, and delay their repentance to a death bed, as if they could help themselves in a moment; which shows them to be far from a due sense of their natural inability, whatever they pretend.

Now, if God can require of men the duty they are not able to do, He can in justice punish them for their not doing it, notwithstanding their inability. If He has power to exact the debt of obedience, He has also power to cast the insolvent debtor into prison, for his not paying it. Further, though unregenerate men have no gracious abilities, yet they want not natural abilities which nevertheless they will not improve. There are many things they can do, which they do not; they will not do them, and therefore their damnation will be just. Nay, all their inability to do good is voluntary; they will not come to Christ (John 5.40). They will not repent, they will die (Ezek. 18.31). So they will be justly condemned, because they will neither turn to God, nor come to Christ, but love their chains better than their liberty, and darkness rather than light (John 3.19)

Objection 2: Why do you then preach Christ to us, call us to come to Him, to believe., repent, and use the means of salvation?

Answer: Because it is your duty so to do. It is your duty to accept of Christ, as He is offered in the Gospel, to repent of your sins, and to be holy in all manner of conversation; these things are commanded you of God; and His command, not your ability, is the measure of your duty. Moreover, these calls and exhortations are the means that God is pleased to make use of, for converting His elect, and working grace in their hearts: to them, 'faith cometh by hearing' (Rom 10.17), while they are as unable to help themselves as the rest of mankind are. Upon very good grounds may we, at the command of God, who raises the dead, go to their graves, and cry in His name, 'Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light' (Eph. 5. 14)."  (pages 7-9, see here)

Elder Sylvester Hassell, in answer to the question, "Who are "the all-men-everywhere" whom Paul says in his discourse at Athens "God commands to repent?" (Acts 17:30), answered:

"The whole world of human beings, the whole human race, whom Paul says, in the next verse, God will judge by Jesus Christ. God is the same since the fall of man that He was before, and His holy law, which requires all His intelligent creatures to love and worship Him exclusively and supremely, is the standard of all creature obedience, and cannot change, even if man, by his own will and sin, has rendered himself unable to obey that law. If a man owes another a thousand dollars, and is not able to pay him a cent, he owes him just the same. Ability is not the limit of obligation. If it were, no human being would be under any obligation to God; for no human being in the present state can spiritually and perfectly fulfill any commandment of God. All men should be told, as Christ told His hearers, that "unless they repent they will perish." (Luke 13:3-5)."  (Questions and Answers-Part 10 - (Questions and Answers-Part 10 - see here)

In his book "History of the Church of God," page 339, Hassell wrote:

"It is the superficial declaration of the Roman Catholic Council of Trent that Divine commands necessarily imply human" ability—-just as though man had never fallen. Though man has fallen and become unable to obey the commandments of God, the nature and law and requirements of God are unchanged and unchangeable."

Thus it is clear that Hassell understood the basic premise of Pelagianism and rejected it.  Hassell also admits that all men are commanded to repent, which pits him against what most Hardshells believe.  Hassell admits that that "all men should be told, as Christ told His hearers, that unless they repent they will perish."  Hassell then would reject the views expressed by men such as Beebe who said that "To call on dead sinners to repent and believe the gospel implies ability in them to do so." Yet, after saying this, however, notice how Hassell seems to forget what he has just said and says: 

"The gospel addresses of the Scriptures are addressed, we believe, to gospel characters—to those persons who have spiritual life, hearing, needs and appetites. These limitations are either directly expressed or implied by the circumstances. Even the letter of the word, where there is any fullness of narration, and the dictates of common sense teach this important fact."

But, he admits that the command to repent, to change one's mind about Christ, is addressed to all men, in the previous citations, and yet here he denies that such "addresses" are to be made to all men.  This is a glaring contradiction.  When was Hassell right?  When he admitted that the Gospel calls and commands all men to repent or perish, or when he says that such commands are limited to "gospel characters," to those who were already saved and born again?  Surely he was right in the former and wrong in the latter.

Hassell continued:

"Inspired men could, far better than we, read the hearts of those whom they addressed; and they addressed hearers of different characters, and therefore used sometimes the imperative and sometimes the indicative mood. God's under-shepherds are directed, not to create, but to tend the flock. I cannot conceive what benefit can be supposed by a believer in sovereign and efficacious grace to be derived from universally and untruthfully extending the comforting spiritual addresses of the gospel to those declared in the Scriptures to be dead in trespasses and sins—Christ expressly forbids that pearls should be cast before swine (Matt. vii. 6)."

When Hassell says that inspired men "addressed hearers of different charcters," does he not mean saved and lost characters?  So again he admits that the Gospel does address all men and yet he contradcts himself in the same breath.   Hassell thinks that to "address" all men in the Gospel is an example of "universally and untruthfully extending the comforting spiritual addresses of the gospel to those declared to be dead in tresspasses and sins."  But, he is confusing matters.  He admits that all men should be addressed as sinners and be told to repent or perish.  Yet, he thinks that this kind of address is to be equated with telling men that they are saved.  Certainly only believers are addressed with such words of comfort.  That is not the issue.  The issue is, does the Gospel address sinners with warnings about their lost condition and with exhortations about how they might be saved? 

About the argument that it is casting pearls before swine to preach the Gospel to the unregenerated, I have already dealt with this weak argument in my series "Addresses to the Lost."  But, notice that Hassell again contradicts himself.  He admits that all men are to be addressed with the exhortation to repent or perish.  Was Paul casting pearl before swine when he commanded all men everywhere to repent?  Was Jesus casting pearl before swine when he preached to the lost?

Hassell continued:

"Unless the Spirit of God first come and impart Divine life and light to the hearer, such addresses will be forever and totally vain. The imperative mood has no more power than the indicative mood, in the mouth of a preacher, to awaken the dead to life. No language or labor of man, and no fact in creation or providence, independently of the Divine Spirit, has the slightest efficacy to take away the sinner's heart of stone and give him a heart of flesh. I do not deny that the minister may at times have a Divine persuasion that some of his hearers are spiritually alive, and that he may not then properly address them in the imperative mood."

If one substitutes the word "attends" for the words "first come and impart Divine life and light to the hearer" in the above highlighted words of Hassell, he would be stating a truth.  "Unless the Spirit of God attends, such addresses will be forever and totally vain."  If one must first be saved before he can be called upon to repent or believe, then why did Paul call upon all men to repent in Acts 17, as Hassell admits?  Certainly no preacing "independently of the Divine Spirit" will have "the slightest efficacy to take away the sinner's heart and give him a heart of flesh."  But, the question is, cannot the preaching of the Gospel when attended by the power of the Sprit not do so?  The Old Baptists who wrote the first and second London Confessions believed that it was by God's word and Spirit that regeneration was effected.

As was said earlier, one either has to deny that the Scriptures command all men to repent and believe the Gospel or give up the Pelagian idea that a command implies ability.  Which did Hassell do?  Did he not speak out of both sides of his mouth? 

In future chapters in this series we will see how the Bible clearly shows that the Gospel is addressed to all men, a fact that Hassell was some times willing to admit.

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