Sunday, March 31, 2013

Hardshell Sabellianism

Recently under a posting titled "Wilson Thompson's Heresies" I showed how Thompson was a Sabellian, denying the historic doctrine of the Trinity, that God is a trinity of persons.  This false doctrine apparently was widespread among the first Hardshells in the 1830s as the following citations from the Christian Doctrinal Advocate and Spiritual Monitor demonstrate.  In the first citation there is a letter from George Ambrose from Ohio to Daniel Jewett, editor of the Monitor, followed by letters to Ambrose and Elder John M. Watson of Tennessee from Elder Osbourn.  It is evident that many churches in Ohio, particularly in the Miami Association, held to Sabellianism and the other errors of Wilson Thompson.  In Ohio today there are few Hardshell churches, but in the 1830s there were many.  What happened to them?  What was the cause of their decline?  Was it not their false teachings?

From Br. George Ambrose, Darbyville Ohio

Brother Jcwett,—I have lately received a communication from Elder Osbourn of Baltimore, and herewith enclose it to you; that if you deem it worthy of publicity, you may give it a place in the Advocate and Monitor.

When he was in this State, last summer was a year, I had the pleasure of a personal acquaintance with brother Osbourn, and esteem him an able minister of the New Testament. He delivered the introductory sermon at the opening of the Mad River Association, from 1 Chron. 26; 27. "Out of the spoils won in battles did they dedicate to maintain the house of the Lord," to a very attentive audience. I have several Books written by him and must say that I am pleased with his writings. His works will be more generally admired by the Baptists when he is no more, than they are at this day; so I think it will likely be.

I would brother Osbourn had used some milder terms, when speaking of those Ohio Baptists, whom he terms Sabellian Heresiarchs as you will see in his communication. Those brethren do not oppose the doctrine of the Trinity, as Br. Osbourn thinks they do. They advocate that doctrine, but oppose what they call the Tripersonal scheme; and they are worthy, zealous, exemplary christians, as much so as any within my acquaintance, for with some of them I am acquainted pretty well; so that I am not prepared to part with them as he is, on the ground of real christianity, for I think we may differ thus much and still be christians "But, examine the communication, and dispose of it as your wisdom may direct. I remain yours truly in the love of the truth, and in the patience of the saints. George Ambrose."  (pg. 47-48)

When Ambrose says that the "Ohio Baptists" do not deny the doctrine of the Trinity, he is being an artful dodger, as many Sabellians.  They say they believe in an "economical Trinity," that the one person God manifests himself in three roles, offices, or modes.  Yet, they constantly ridicule the idea of "the Trinity," that is, in the historic teaching of God in three persons. 

From Eld. James Osbourn to Br Geo. Ambrose.

Dearly beloved, grace be with thee. -Your affectionate epistle, dated the fifth inst. came safe to hand; and also the one directed to me in Glasgow Kentucky 1 got safe, when I was there in Nov. last; and for them both I here present to you my sincere thanks.

But still I want Elder Ambrose to give all lawful dilligence to live in the enjoyment of an abode so honorable and so safe.—And will you not take my advice in this thing? Brother Eld. Williams of whom you speak, is a choice man in my estimation; and so likewise is Eld. Peters, whose name you mention. But as to your Sabellian heresiarchs, and those who dance after their pipe, I pity, but have no fellowship with them in the gospel; for in my view of divine teaching and of pure Christianity, those men cannot be men of grace who can and do, (as a writing which I have received since I saw you, amply proves,) laugh to scorn, and speak disdainfully of the holy Trinity, and sarcastically treat the glorious doctrine of three Persons in One God, as did old Sabellius before them. And if indeed, you yourself are in the Sabellian heresy, let me know it if you please, and I will drop all correspondence, and connection, and fellowship with you on the ground of real Christianity. But I hope better things of you although I thus write; but I have said these things that you might distinctly know and understand, that in a religious point of view, I have no wish or desire to know any man after the flesh; and also that I estimate the truth and honor of God, far above the friendship, and high esteem, and good will, of all the religionists in the world. Write soon—write often—write largely—write without reserve—write experimentally—write the truth—write in love—and write about Christ. I am yours affectionately,
Baltimore, Jan. 1839. James Osbourn." (Advocate and Monitor, Volumes 3-4 By Daniel E. Jewett, pages 40-51

In a published letter to Elder John M. Watson of West Tennessee, Elder Osbourn wrote:

Your second suggestion to me is truly un important one ;—The greivousness (sic) of the office-work of the third adorable person in the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, being so very generally neglected in the administration of the word. This awful defect is as true as it is heart-rending. But sir, you speak of the third person in the Trinity, and right enough too by the rule of God's word and in the judgment of those who fear the Lord and love his truth. But you sir, have an abundance of people, in your Great West who laugh to scorn the idea of the Holy Spirit being a Person; and so indeed did old Sabellius of the third century and his followers; and so likewise did old Noetius, a philosopher of Ephesus, and his followers; and also the Mahomedans, and Swedenborgians, and Socinians, and Unitarians, and even the Deists, Laugh to scorn the Personality of the Spirit. And it is no wonder that such men should neglect the office-work of a Person they. have no faith in, and be silent about a work they know nothing of. But for men who profess to be interested in the Personality, and Godhead, and office-work of Jehovah the Spirit, to neglect this all important and highly interesting point in theology, when laboring in the pulpit, is a very painful consideration; and yet I know, and am sure, that this is the case among us to an alarming degree."  (pages 53-59 - January 1939 - see here)

Woburn, Mass., March 1839. James Osbourn

Osbourn was convinced that those Hardshells who were Sabellians were not saved.  One wonders what today's Hardshells want to do with these facts?  Will they continue to call Wilson Thompson one of their great leaders in spite of his heresies?


Kevin Fralick said...

Bro. Stephen, this is history of which I was completely inaware.

Kevin Fralick said...


Stephen Garrett said...

Dear Brother Kevin:

It is a fact that most nearly all Hardshells do not really know their true history. I will be posting some additional materials on how many of the first Hardshells were not only Sabellians, but Arians also. They not only held unorthodox views on the Trinity, which are out of line with the accepted Baptist confessions, but held other weird views similar to Daniel Parker's "two seedism." The doctrine of the preexistence of the elect, or eternal vital union, was held to by a large segment of the first Hardshells. They also held strange views on the change denoted by the term "regeneration." But, on this, I will post more later.

Thanks for the comment.


Stephen Garrett