Sunday, April 28, 2013

Hardshell Sabellianism III

Elder Samuel Trott, in response to the objections of Elder John Clark, regarding charges of Arianism, wrote (emphasis mine) the following in an article titled "Son of God and Godhead" (1850):

"Now to come to the points of difference. They contend that God exists as three persons and one God, that these three persons are alike equal and alike the self-existent God, but that they exist by distinct modes of existence, that the Father exists of Himself that the Word or Son exists by the generation of the Father, being begotten of Him, and that the Holy Ghost exists as He proceeds from the Father and the Son. This I presume will be admitted to be a simple and candid representation of their views. Now to this system I conscientiously object, that it presents palpable contradictions, and that as they represent this as the revelation of God, they charge Him with these contradictions. They say that the three are alike eternal, self-existent and independent, and yet that the Father alone has an underived existence, and that the other two exist by a derived existence and depend on the existence of the other; the Son on the existence of the Father, and the Holy Ghost on the existence of the Father and the Son. Can they then be alike independent in their existence? If I say of two persons, one is the father and the other is the son, do I not distinctly convey the idea that the one existed as a person before the other, and that the latter's existing as a person is a consequence of the previous existence and action of the former; and hence while the father's existence did not depend on the previous existence of the son, the son's existence did depend on the previous existence of the father?"

Clearly this is more evidence of how many Hardshells in the 1830s through the 1850s denied the doctrine of the Trinity, that God exists in three persons.  They denied an ontological Trinity in favor of the Sabellian economic Trinity.  They also did not believe in the eternal Sonship of Christ, not connecting sonship with his divinity.  They did not understand the doctrine of Christ's sonship.  The Athanasians do not believe that the Son of God derived his divinity from the Father, but that the term "Son of God" was not in all respects the same as when men use the term "son of" so and so.  Christ is the "only" begotten Son, his Sonship being unique and unlike that of creatures.    If the sonship of Christ was in all respects the same as sonship among humans, then his sonship would not be unique.  It was this failure to connect sonship with divinity that led Trott and other Hardshells to deny that Christ was the eternal Son of God.  If he was not the eternal Son of God, then when did he first become the Son?  If the sonship of Christ was in every respect like sonship among men, then Christ must have a divine mother, for who, among men, has a father but not a mother?

Historically, many have denied Christ's eternal Sonship and advocated that Christ, The Word, became the Son of God either at his birth, his baptism (adoptionism), or at his resurrection.  Even modern Hardshells had a small squabble over this in the early 1980s as Elders Conrad Jarrell and Ben Mott began to teach that Christ became the Son of God by his incarnation.  This led to the above named elders being disfellowshipped by the Hardshells.  But, the view of Trott was that Christ became the Son of God by an act of the Father before the foundation of the world.  It was this view that led Elder John Clark and others to accuse Trott of Arianism.  Elder James Osbourn correctly noted rampant Sabellianism among the Hardshells and Clark accused Trott of Arianism.  What is the difference?  Was the charge of Clark justified?  How can one be both an Arian and a Sabellian?

When Trott said "they say," he refers to Elder Clark and the trinitarian Hardshells.  But, the question must be asked - "who was keeping to the Old Baptist faith as expressed in the London and Philadelphia confessions of faith?"  Or, "who were the real Old Baptists on this point?" 

Trott continued:

"Now when they say there are three persons in the Godhead, and of these three, as persons, one of them is the Father, and of another, He is the only begotten Son of this Father, what reason is there that the same declaration made concerning these two divine persons does not tend to convey the same idea, as to the previous existence of the one, and the subsequent and dependent existence of the other, as in the case of two men? When, therefore, they contend that the one is the Father, and the other His Son in relation to their personal existence in the Godhead, how can they, without a plain contradiction to that declaration, say in reference to the same personal existence, that they are alike eternal and independent in their existence? Is this letting God be true, but every man a liar, in charging these, and several other contradictions in this system, to God's Word? Again, I object to this system because that by making the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost three persons in the Godhead, they make them to be three distinct individuals, for what less does the term person mean, than an individual being?

Again, Trott is plain enough, as was Wilson Thompson, in his denial of the historic doctrine of the Trinity, which is what all Baptists who endorsed the London and Philadelphia Confessions of faith believed.  Trott and Thompson cannot claim to be "primitive" Baptists in their denial of the doctrine of the Trinity.  So what if the Trinity makes God into "three distinct individuals"?  Is a "person" an individual?  Recently in some debates I have had with a local Baptist church over Sabellianism, I often heard them retort with the words - "God is not three selves."  So, whether Sabellians use the term "self" or the term "individual," they are affirming that it is ridiculous to say that God is three selves, or three individuals, and that this is what is being said when one says that God is three "persons."  Yet, they say such things in spite of the fact that Jesus often referred to the Father by the word "your self" and referred to himself by the term "my self," and often in the same sentence.  That makes two selves!  God is three persons, yet he is one in essence and substance, one in nature and attributes.

Trott continued:

"This, I think, at best is dividing the Godhead more than I believe the scriptural revelation of the one God will admit. But when we carry it out, that they contend that each of these persons is distinctively God, as each is a distinct individual, there must be three individuals existing by distinct modes of existence, and, of course, three Gods. Brother Clark says of the Apostles, that they were not afraid of making a plurality of gods by maintaining that the Son of God was Jehovah. Neither am I; but the Apostles never taught that the Son of God in His Godhead was a distinct person from the Father, so that his remarks are altogether out of place."

Again, this is clear Sabellianism.  Sabellians typically argue that belief in three persons as God means that one believes in three Gods (tritheism).  Yet, the Bible does use the word "Elohim" in reference to God, which is a plural.  God is Gods and God is God.  He is one and yet he is three.  John said - "three three are one."  (I John 5: 7)  Trott says that the the Son of God is the Father.  But, who was ever the father of himself?  Trott likes to make divine sonship in all respects the same as sonship among men, but has he ever met a person who was either the son or father of himself?  Trott thinks that it is ridiculous to believe in eternal sonship and yet his view is not free of such ridiculousness.  Jesus used language in regard to himself and to his Father that necessarily imply distinct persons.  For instance, he says of him and his Father - "WE will come in and dwell in him who believes."  (John 14: 23)  Can I say of myself - "we are going to the store"?  Is it not ridiculous for me to say that I am my own father?  Or, I am my own son?

Trott continued:

"When I was led to look at these inconsistencies, and contradictions in the Nicene system, I turned to an examination of the Scriptures on that head, and I found that they by no means sustained that system. I found that God has revealed Himself as three, and so as three, that distinct things are affirmed of each; but not so as three as to infringe upon the unity of God. Hence it is said, "These three are one." Hence, whenever God is spoken of He is spoken of as the one God, that is absolutely God, whether in reference to the Father, the Word or Son, or the Holy Ghost. Therefore, I conclude that each in His distinct relation is the one God, having all the fullness of the Godhead in that relation, whether as Father, as Son, or as the Holy Ghost."

So, according to Trott's modalism, God is one person.  The Father is the Son and the Son is the Holy Spirit.  The terms Father, Son, and Spirit are but three modes or roles that the one person God manifests his singular person.  But, how can one person talk to himself or send himself?  How can one person be the son or father of himself?  "One" God does not mean "one person."  That is the error of Trott and the Sabellians.  As I have shown before in my writings against Modalism (in the Gadfly blog), Jesus said that all believers will be "one" in the same way that he and his Father are "one."  (John 17: 21)  But, surely no one will say that all believers are the same person!

Trott continued:

"The views which I have advanced have been charged with Sabellianism. But any candid reader of what I have written will see the falsity of such charge. They will see that I believe just what the Scriptures say, that "There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one" I John 5:7; that is, that God exists as three, but so as three, as to be absolutely one, and therefore, not three persons or individuals."

Though Trott denies being a Sabellian, he clearly is nonetheless.  When he denies that God is three persons, he is a Sabellian.  When he says that God is one person, he is a Sabellian.  When he says that the Father is the Son and Spirit, he is a Sabellain.  When he says that the terms Father, Son, and Spirit simply denotes roles or modes of the one person God, then his is a Sabellian.  The charge that Trott, Beebe, and Thompson were Arians was not as accurate as the charge that they were Sabellians.  But, more on this shortly.

Trott continued:

"I have been charged with Arianism, so brother Clark charges me with denying the divinity of the Son of God. He says he has made it deliberately, but I must say he has made it wantonly. I cannot view it in any other light, though I presume he designed no such looseness. What I have written will, I think, show the entire incorrectness of the charge. I will, however, add that brother Clark, I think, will admit that the Word was made flesh, or became a perfect man, without in the least destroying His essential Godhead. Why then could He not exist with the life of His people, and therefore a begotten life in Him, and as personally one with Him without destroying His divinity? However, it is enough to sustain me against such a charge, that, in the same declaration of Him, in which it is said, "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men," it is also said, "The Word was with God, and the Word was God." John l:1 & 4."

The reason for Elder John Clark charging Trott with Arianism is because he says that Christ became in time, by an act of the Father, the Son of God.  To Trott, as with traditional Baptist views on the Trinity, the term "Son of God" was a term that spoke of the divinity of Christ, just as the term "son of man" spoke of the humanity of Christ.  To say that Christ was made the Son of God is equivalent, in the mind of Clark, with affirming that Christ became God, or was made God.  And, this is Arianism.  The charge is not exactly accurate, since Trott does not deny that Christ was God before he became the Son of God.  Trott believes that God existed as a one person God before he took the roles or modes of Father, Son, and Spirit.  Still, the view of Trott is in many ways like the views of Arius.  Trott was a true Sabellian, not a true Arian.

Trott continued:

"Again he appears to think there is nothing in the Scriptures to warrant the idea of Christ's being anything else than God and man. Strange! Does brother Clark harbor the idea that God in His word has carelessly used descriptive and distinctive names and terms, where there are no distinctions designed? Is not the Lord Jesus Christ in the Scriptures declared to be God and Jehovah, and the Son of God, and man? Are not these three distinctive names, and is there nothing distinctive intended by them? Does not the name Jehovah imply absolute, independent, and self-existence? Does not the term Son, as used among men, and generally in the Scriptures, distinctively imply a begotten, and therefore dependent existence? And does not the term, man, imply a fleshly existence? Was He not a Son before He was made of a woman and made under the law? I cannot believe that our Lord is revealed to be what He is not. Why then are these three distinctive terms so often used of our Lord if He does not possess the three distinct existences thereby designated? Can brother Clark answer these enquiries so as to make them harmonize with the truth of Scripture declarations and yet so as to deny His distinct existence as the Son of God? In John 1st, as already noticed, we have the three natures, "The Word was God;" again, "In Him was life;" again, "The Word was made flesh," verse 1,4 & 14. In Isa. 9:6, we have A child born and a Son given, are not these distinct? And again, His names are The Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace. Are not these names descriptive? I presume brother Clark could not say that the name Everlasting Father being given to the child born and the son given implies He is distinctively the Father in the Godhead."

Trott says that Christ was God before he was the Son of God.  That is, he was the one person God before he manifested himself in the role or mode as the Son of God.  Also, even though he says that Christ was the Son of God before his virgin birth (a denial of incarnational sonship), yet he does not believe that Christ has eternally been the Son of God.  So, when does Trott believe that Christ became the Son of God?  He believed that there was an instance before the world began when Christ was begotten or made the Son of God.  It was this view that made Elder Clark associate the views of Trott and of the Signs of the Times periodical with Arianism. 

The idea of Trott that Christ had "three natures" is most ridiculous. 

Further, the argument that Christ being called "everlasting father" (Isa. 9: 6) proves that he is the Father has been answered by Trinitarians just as has been the argument made from the words of Jesus where he says "he who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14: 9) and where he says "I and my Father are one."  These verses do not prove that the Son is the Father.  How can one be the father of himself?  How can one be the son of himself?

Trott continued:

"Brother Clark will probably shuffle these queries off by saying the subject of God's existence is a mystery. True it is a mystery, but does this imply that we should, by our constructions put upon God's word, involve it in contradictions? There is a material difference between mystery and contradictions. It is nowhere written, great are the contradictions of godliness. Contradictions in his system I have already pointed out, the above hint therefore will be sufficient. I have thus presented my views as contrasted with the popular system, by which it will be seen that I, in common with the advocates of that system, hold that God exists as three, and that these three are one, and so one, that either of the three is, in His distinct relation, the one God. They hold that there are three persons in the Godhead. I deny that, but say that the Son is a proper and distinct person from the Father and the Holy Ghost, in relation to His sonship; but that He does not exist in His sonship separate from His Godhead, any more than He does as man, so that in His distinct personality He is God, Son of God, and Man. They hold that His sonship relates to His Godhead, so that He is no otherwise God than as He is begotten of the Father; I deny this as contradictory to His being equal with the Father, and to His being the independent and self-existent God; and in distinction, I hold that His sonship consists in His being begotten of the Father as the Head of His church and life of His people and that they thus, in their spiritual life, were begotten in Him and proceed from Him, and that He is the "first born among many brethren" Rom.8:29."

It is ironic that Trott should decry contradictions in the Trinitarian scheme and yet contradict himself when he says that there are not three persons in the Godhead and yet says that the Son is a distinct person from the Father and Holy Ghost.  Trott denies that the sonship of Christ "relates to His Godhead."  Yet, in affirming this he is against the Old Baptist faith.  He certainly rejects the clear teaching of Dr. Gill on this matter, and Dr. Gill reflected the traditional Old Baptist faith.  Further, Trott holds that God begat himself!  But, in the realm of men, who ever begat himself?  Does Trott not frequently point to human begetting as being all the same as divine begetting? 

Trott continued:

"And now brethren, is there anything heretical, anything anti-scriptural in those points wherein I differ from you, anything contradictory to the Son of God's being absolutely the Jehovah, whilst He is the Son of God, and Man, possessing these existences distinct from His Godhead, yet inseparable from it, and personally one with it; any diminishing of His capacity to act as the one Mediator between God and men? If there is, then clear yourselves from the heresy by separating from me. But beware how you encourage splits among us, when that from which you would separate is sustained by the word of God. I am willing to join issue with brother Clark in an appeal to the saints of the most high God, which it is that denies that the Son of God is the Jehovah, he who says He is begotten of the Father as God, or I in contending that He is unbegotten, unproduced in His Godhead; and whether I any more diminish His essential Godhead by contending that He exists as the life of His people as well as man in His personal union with His Godhead, that he does in admitting that He exists as proper man in like union with His Godhead. Whilst having joined in this appeal to the saints, I would not forestall their decision, but wish them to consider and speak candidly if they are disposed to do so, and say which more denies the idea of absolute self-existence, he who contends that it is an unbegotten, underived existence, for this is the point; I would beg indulgence to lengthen this communication by stating what I believe to be the actual difference between me and brother Clark and other brethren whom I could name, and that reduced to the shortest span. It is simply this, that I believe that Christ actually existed from before the foundation of the world, in union with His Godhead as the Head and life of His people, and they deny His so existing, and therefore in effect, deny His actual existence as the Christ and Mediator until He was born of Mary. Also, we differ in the reference of His sonship, they referring it to His Godhead and I referring it to His existence as Head and life of His people. This is the amount on this subject; it, to be sure, extends itself to the subject of regeneration as to what constitutes that. Whether this be a sufficient ground for a split I leave them to judge for themselves. My opinion and my feelings are that it is no cause for a split or for hard feelings; but as I do not wish to intrude upon their fellowship after what brother Clark has developed by crowding myself upon their churches, or associations, I shall stand aloof, till invited."  (see here)

These views of Trott are radical and a mixture of Sabellianism and Arianism.  It is good that modern Hardshells have rid themselves of these errors.  However, it is to be noted that they come from this stock and is a monkey wrench in their Landmarker views of link chain succession. 

Concerning the eternal Sonship of Christ, Dr. John Gill wrote:

"X. When the Reformation began in the sixteenth century, and spread throughout many nations in Europe, great evangelical light broke forth among the Reformers; and Satan fearing his kingdom would greatly suffer hereby, went to his old game again, which he had played with so much success in the first ages of Christianity, namely, to stir up an opposition to the doctrine of the Trinity, and the person of Christ...but the contrary has been maintained by all sound divines and evangelical churches, from the Reformation to the present time, as appears by their writings and harmony of confessions: so that upon the whole it is clear, that the church of God has been in the possession of this doctrine of the eternal generation and Sonship of Christ, from the beginning of Christianity to the present age, almost eighteen hundred years; nor has there been any one man who professed to hold the doctrine of the Trinity, or of the three distinct divine persons in the unity of the divine essence, that ever opposed it, till the latter end of the seventeenth century: if any such person in this course of time can be named, let him be named: none but the followers of Simon Magus, Cerinthus, Ebion, Carpocrates, the Gnosticks, etc. in the two first centuries, and then by the Sabellians, Samosatenians, Arians, Photinians, Mahometans, Socinians, and more lately by the Remonstrants, such as are Antitrinitarians."

"Now since it appears that all the sound and orthodox writers have unanimously declared for the eternal generation and Sonship of Christ in all ages, and that those only of an unsound mind and judgment, and corrupt in other things as well as this, and many of them men of impure lives and vile principles, have declared against it, such must be guilty of great temerity and rashness to join in an opposition with the one against the other; and to oppose a doctrine the Church of God has always held, and especially being what the scriptures abundantly bear testimony unto, and is a matter of such moment and importance, being a fundamental doctrine of the Christian religion, and indeed what distinguishes it from all other religions, from those of Pagans, Jews and Mahometans, who all believe in God, and generally in one God, but none of them believe in the Son of God: that is peculiar to the Christian religion."  ("Dissertation Concerning The Eternal Sonship of Christ, Shewing By Whom It Has Been Denied And Opposed, and By Whom Asserted And Defended In All Ages Of Christianity" -  see here)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Letter from James True to Elder Silas Durand

March 31, 1898.

Elder S. H. Durand—Dear Brother:—It is in my mind to write a few words to you. Malachi said, “Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another; and the Lord hearkened, and heard; and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his Do I fear the Lord with a filial fear ? or is it a trained, selfish fear ? This is the first and all important question with me. A poet has said,

”Do I love the Lord or no ? Am I His, or am I not?”

Sometimes when looking into the deep recesses of my heart, to try to find evidences of love, I am made to tremble at what I there see. One has recorded the case thus: “Perfect love casteth out all fear.” This beiug true, the question comes up to me, Can you love ! you have many fears. How can I harmonize these things! I am at last made to say, in one sense I have no fear, I rejoice in the glorious sovereignty of God, and do love with all my heart to trust him for life and salvation. When I say this, I do not simply mean eternal life, but salvation in all its bearings. I know of but one salvation, and of but one Savior. If there is any sort of salvation depending upon anything whatever left in, or for me to do, to obtain it, I have long since learned that it is a failure, and that I shall never attain unto it. With Paul I have to cry out, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death !“I feel the force of the words, “The heart of man is desperately wicked, who can know it!“

I did not commence writing this to pour into your ears my sorrowing complaints, but it seems true, “From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.”Also, we read, “The heart knoweth his own bitterness.” Can you not give me some of your joys ? Yes, the thought comes up in answer, I have this day been partaking of some of them, in reading over your continued articles on the “city that John saw coming down from heaven.” If I know what I do love, it is to contemplate these glorious things, and hear the name of my blessed Lord glorified and honored. When I read some of the philosophizing about man’s accountability, and capability of keeping God’s holy law, it makes me restless, and a desire to hear the plain, simple gospel of Christ preached, or written about in its purity, without trying to harmonize it with man’s will, comes up, and I must say, “Who art thou O man that repliest against God ?” Truly is man accountable for all his sins, and a just and holy God will, and does, so judge him, and that without making God the author of sin, as some are trying to create the impression, though so false, that you and others are teaching.

I am much pleased with the course pursued of late, as well as at all former times, by the editors of the Signs Of The Times. Surely perilous times are upon us, and it behooves all the faithful in Christ Jesus to “hold fast the form of sound words.” The theories of “man’s free moral agency,” and “conditional time salvation,” is with other new, yet old, Arminian notions, being now thrust upon the Baptists in many places, with the claim of its being Old Baptist doctrine. May the Lord in mercy remember his Zion, and cause his people to beware of such teachings. Is it the time that false teachers shall rise up among ourselves, having itching ears !If so, let us beware of them, and heed Paul’s command, “Bid them not God speed.” Again he says, “Now I have written unto you, not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, • • • with such an one no not to eat.“

Remember us in your petitions at the throne of grace, and write a word when you feel so inclined.

Yours tremblingly,


NOTE: I disagree with True if he is saying that man is not a free moral agent. It could be, though, that he is equating the term with free-will which is part of the theory of conditional time salvation (KF).

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Elder Barton's Lament

Belief in conditional time salvation comes with a consequence. The hermeneutic of reducing apparent conditional passages to concern only temporal affairs has the tendency of changing one’s focus upon heaven to the present-time world in which we live. It was such that long-deceased Elder Thomas Barton lamented, saying “before his death that he was afraid His ministering brethren would not leave him any heaven to go to” (”New Theories”, Sylvester Hassell, 1892).

This is so unfortunate. Much comfort is to be derived from those conditional passages which speak of the Lord’s people attaining to some blessing to be fully realized in the state of glorification, all of which is promptly robbed when it is continuously harped that the only reason to meet the requirements of repentance and faith, coming to Christ, walking the straight and narrow, is to have a better life “while we live here below”.

I for one see how the lamentation of Elder Barton could be easily shared by his descendants today.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

What I Was Never Told

Today as I write this I must say that I have a better view of Baptist history than I once did. In fact, if I’m being honest I would have to say that at one time I had NO view of Baptist history. I did not study it, but merely accepted what I was told as a young member within the Primitive Baptist church. Instead of being encouraged to study the history of this order I chose to join, I was immediately introduced to the idea of church succession, a convenient way to make sweeping generalizations about the past. The beliefs and practices could be “traced back to Jerusalem”, so I was told, going through many of the dark age groups (e.g. Anabaptists, Lollards, Donatists, Waldenses, etc.).

What’s that old saying again? If I only knew then what I know now.

It is one of my great fears that I am not by myself, and that many others have had the veil of Landmarkism pulled down over their eyes, both obscuring their understanding of Baptist history and discouraging any attempt to honestly research it. The following are some things I was never told.

I was never told that the split at Black Rock in 1832 regarded ONLY missionary methods, and not theology.

I was never told that there was another division in 1891, probably more significant in that did involve theology (i.e. Means vs. Anti-Means, Perseverance vs. Preservation).

I was never told that there was such a work called The Old Baptist Test by Elder John Watson.

I was never told that there was such a work called A Concise History of the Ketocton Association by Elder William Fristoe.

I was never told there was an evangelical work called The Primitive Preacher by Elder Gregg Thompson, in which he called on men to repent and believe in Christ.

I was never told that the first generation anti-missionaries were “Means” Baptists or a sort, holding to a three-stage process of coming to be saved.

I was never told that the Kehukee Association Articles of Faith stated that all the elect would be “converted” and that they would “persevere”.

I was never told that the Kehukee Association were “absoluters”, condoning Elder Gilbert Beebe’s periodical The Signs of the Times.

I was never told that absolute predestination was the original position and that conditionalism was the new.

I was never told that there was anyone other than “Fullerites” who believed in gospel means towards the end of the 18th century.

I was never told that Elder John Leland prayed for the salvation of the lost.

I was never told that conditional time salvation was a new doctrine, having developed towards the end of the 19th century.

I was never told that the Philadelphia and London Confession of Faith were the recognized beliefs of the founding fathers of the denomination.

I was never told that the Fulton confession of Faith had a chapter entitled “The Perseverance of the Saints”.

I was never told that the question of "Who are the Primitive Baptists?" was a matter of debate.

Without a doubt, I was at fault for not doing the research for myself. Nevertheless, it’s only fair that these facts be told the church members, and especially newly-ordained elders. One of the ways this can be accomplished is through their publications. Unfortunately, I am convinced that such information is being intentionally withheld from the people. I still have quite a few works in which sweeping claims are made for church succession, but the above facts are scarcely, if ever, mentioned. I do wish to give credit to the Absoluter faction, however, who I have found to be very vocal in presenting history, and more accurate in their presentation of the facts.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Hardshell Sabellianism II

In the previous posting evidence was presented that showed that many first generation Hardshells in the 1830s denied the doctrine of the Trinity, that there are three persons in the Godhead, and held to Sabellianism, believing that the terms Father, Son (Word), and Holy Spirit were not personal terms, but terms that designate offices, roles, or modes in which the one person God operates towards his creation.  I have shown that this was the view of Elder Wilson Thompson and many in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky, places where Thompson had influence.  It was shown how it was a common view of the Miami Association in Ohio, an old and leading association.  In this posting we will offer further evidence regarding how the debate over the Trinity was a heated issue among the first Hardshells.

Elder Jesse Cox, from Williamson County, Tennessee, a recognized first generation leader among Hardshells, wrote to the Christian Doctrinal Advocate and Spiritual Monitor, after Elder Osbourn and others had previously written on the subject, and said:

"1 am truly glad to hear from Bro. Osbourn through the medium of your paper, and am sorry to see the opposition that seems to be raised against him on account of his doctrine, and especially that coming from the state of Ohio. 1 cannot but believe that some mistake, or misuuderstanding has taken place; for we heard him preach frequently, and conversed with him often; and we heard nothing but what we fully believe, especially upon the Holy Trinity, and the work and office of the Holy Spirit. But Bro. Osbourn has written and published a letter in the Advocate, that would go to represent that all the Baptists in the Great Valley of the Mississippi hold the Sabellian heresy. That a great many in some parts of Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio hold it, there is no doubt; but in this part of Tennessee, we as a denomination do not. And among the ministry I know of none; and I believe that Bro. Osbourn would say we do not. In a word, we believe, that there Are Three That Bear Record in Heaven, The Father, The Word, And The Holy Ghost, And That These Three Are One. Not three in office, but three in person, One in Three, and Three in One—one in will,—one in wisdom, one in power, perfectly united together by the same divine principle. like, for instance, the sun that illuminates our world; there is the body, the heat, and the light completely united in one, and yet three; and deprive it of one of these properties, and it would cease to be what it is. But I leave this important subject for more able heads than mine. May the God t»f all grace comfort and support you. Dec. 1839. Yours, in gospel bonds, Jesse Cox."  (pg. 153 of Vols. 3-4 of the Christian Doctrinal Advocate and Spiritual Monitor - see here)

Thus, there were those among the "Old School" or "Primitive" Baptists who objected to the Sabellian views of Thompson and the Miami Association.  Elder Cox affirms that the Sabellian heresy was "great" in "some parts of" the three states mentioned.  But, as we shall see, it was more widespread than this.  Further, it is to be noted how Elder Osbourn was a verbal leader in the opposition to the Sabellian heresy while Elder Thompson and deacon Saunders (of my hometown of Hamilton, Ohio and who was the clerk of the Miami Association) were leaders of the Sabellian heresy.  We shall also see how Elder John Clark, later editor of Zion's Advocate (began in the early 1850s to oppose the heresies promoted by the "Signs of the Times" periodical, edited by Elder Gilbert Beebe), also became a leader in the opposition to the Hardshells who advocated the Sabellian heresy.  We shall also see how Elder Samuel Trott, a first generation leader of the "Old School" party, and frequent writer for the Signs of the Times, also became a defender of the Sabellian heresy and how the controversy over the doctrine of the Trinity not only involved charges of Sabellianism against Beebe, Trott, and Thompson, but also charges of Arianism. 

In the Monitor and Advocate, we read the following from Elder Samuel Williams, of Franklin, Ohio, the town where my dad pastors a church named "Thompson Memorial Primitive Baptist Church," in memorial to the Thompson preachers, Wilson, Grigg, R.W., and J.H. Thompson.  Elder Williams wrote:

"1 heard no hissing, nor any other improper noise by any person, whilst brother Osbourn was preaching, whilst he was on the stand or at the Miami Association; although, I was on the stand, from the beginning to end of his discourse. I was with Br. O. at the Mad River Association, but heard nothing said about the difference between him and Br. Saunders: for I think he had not then received the letter from Br. S., and if he had, 1 knew nothing of it. Sometime after we returned from the association. (1 cannot recollect how long) Br. O. read to us the letter he had received from Br. S. I then informed him, that 1 knew that his preaching was not received at the Miami Association by every body; for I saw one preaching brother shake his head by way of disapprobation whilst he (O.) was preaching. After some conversation about the letter, I informed him, that W. Thompson had written two books against the doctrine of three persons in the Godhead, and in favor of the preexistence of the human soul of Christ: and that 1 believed, that the majority of the Baptists belonging to the Miami Association agreed with W. Thompson on those subjects. In our further conversation relative to the difference between him and Br. Saunders: Br. O. remarked, that he thought it would work for the good of the Church, for he thought it probable that he should some time in future, write his views on the Trinity, and have them printed—I told him I hoped that be would do so: and asked him to, if he could find opportunity."  (pg. 219)

Elder Samuel Trott responded to the charges made by Elder Osbourn regarding Old Schoolers being Sabellians.  In a Signs of the Times posting titled "AN INQUIRY #1," Trott wrote:

"BROTHER BEEBE: - In the DOCTRINAL ADVOCATE for June 1839, there is a letter from Elder James Osbourn to the Editor, containing some remarks which I wish to bring to the notice of our Western Old School Brethren.

I think there must be some mistake in this matter. But mistake or not, the thing has gone out, through what is recognized as an Old School periodical (Christian Doctrinal Advocate - SG), as an indiscriminate charge against our Western brethren, for the New School party to rejoice in. If the above charge is true, I do not blame Elder Osbourn for pronouncing it blasphemy. Not that I am disposed to consider it blasphemous to deny that the Three, the Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost are in any sense three Gods, or that they are three distinct persons, or that they blaspheme who dissent from the Nicene Creed, or from my creed concerning the divine Three, in which the One God has revealed himself, providing that either of the Three is not degraded."

Trott, speaking for a large segment of "Old School" Baptists, says that he does not believe that "the Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost" are "three distinct persons," and that the statement of the Nicene council was not true.

Trott continues:

"But when we consider that Father, is one of the names by which God has been pleased to declare himself, as expressive of a relation which, he, the Father sustains in the economy of salvation, as he is declared to be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and Christ says to his disciples, “I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God;” I say when we consider these things, we must conclude that no person having a becoming reverence for God, whatever may be his views of the doctrine of the Trinity, can trifle with or make sport of this name and relation in which God has revealed himself. Neither can we conceive that any such person would either deridingly or considerately speak of him as a tool of whom Christ thus speaks, “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of Truth, &c.” John 14:16,17. And again, “But the Comforter which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, &c.” I hope therefore that some of our Old School Brethren of the West will set this matter right; if it is a wrong charge which Elder Osbourn has made, that they will clear it up; or if any do hold in contempt the names and relations, Father & Holy Ghost, I say not, as declared in the Athanasian Creed, but as declared in the Scriptures; I desire that they may be made manifest; and be no longer recognized as of us. If this charge had come from our avowed enemies it might well be passed unnoticed; but coming from the quarter it has, I do think it calls for some attention."  (1839 in the Signs of the Times, see here)

This is clearly classic Sabellianism!  To Trott, Father, Son (Word), and Holy Spirit do not denote three persons who are God, but are only "names" of the one person God, just as I have three names, Stephen, Michael, and Garrett.  He also says that the terms Father, Son, and Spirit are simply terms "expressive of a relation which, he, the Father sustains in the economy of salvation," thus he believes, as do the Sabellians, in an economic trinity.  It is classic modalism.  Not only does Trott declare the Nicene creed to be false in relation to God being three persons, but also against the Athanasian creed. 

It is interesting, however, that the Black Rock Address, which created the Old School denomination, had attached to it the articles of faith of the Baptist church at Black Rock and which was signed b y the fourteen names who signed the Black Rock Address.  In these articles of faith, first published on March 28, 1828, we read this from Article 1.

We believe that there is one self-existing God, the Great Jehovah, who consists of a trinity of persons, Father, Son and Holy Ghost.   (see here)

Thus, Elders Trott, Beebe, and Thompson do not believe the articles that were attached to the Black Rock Address and believed by the church at Black Rock.

Further, let us notice the Circular Letter of the Delaware River Baptist Association, addressed to the several Churches of which it is composed, send Greetings: (1836)  (see here)

"On the vain hypothesis that the Three spoken of, in the holy Volume, are to be understood, not of persons but as characteristic distinctions expressive of different official operations of the Deity; what conceptions are we to form of the prayers and various solemn appeals of the Son of God to His divine Father? As Matt. 11:25,26; 27:46; Luke 23:34; John 11:41; 17:1, &c.? Must we be driven to the absurdity that He addressed those solemn appeals to Himself? And that His Father was identically Himself under another name, differing in nothing except official characteristics?"

Further, let us notice the "Declaration of the Faith and Practice of the Church of Christ, in Carter-Lane, Southwark, under the Pastoral Care of Dr. John Gill, Read and assented to, at the Admission of Members."  (see here)

"II. We believe, That there is but one (Deut. 6:4; 1 Cor. 8:6; 1 Tim. 2:5; Jer. 10:10) only living and true God: that there are (1 John 5:7; Matthew 28:19) three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, who are equal in nature, power, and glory; and that the Son ((John 10:30; Phil. 2:6; Rom. 9:5; 1 John 5:20) and the Holy Ghost (Acts 5:3, 4; 1 Cor. 3:16, 17; 2 Cor. 3:17, 18) are as truly and properly God as the Father. These three divine persons are distinguished from each other, by peculiar relative properties: The distinguishing character and relative property of the first person is begetting; he has begotten a Son of the same nature with him, and who is the express image of his person; (Ps. 2:7; Heb. 1:3) and therefore is with great propriety called the Father: The distinguishing character and relative property of the second person is that he is begotten; and he is called the only begotten of the Father, and his own proper Son; (John 1:14; Rom. 8:3, 32) not a Son by creation, as angels and men are, nor by adoption, as saints are, nor by office, as civil magistrates; but by nature, by the Father's eternal generation (Ps. 2:7) of him in the divine nature; and therefore he is truly called the Son: The distinguishing character and relative property of the third person is to be breathed by the Father and the Son, and to proceed from both, (Job 33:4; Ps. 33:6; John 15:26 and 20:26 and 20:22; Gal. 4:6) and is very Properly called the Spirit, or breath of both. These three distinct divine persons, we profess to reverence, serve, and worship as the one true God. (1 John 5:7; Matthew 4:10)"

Thus, the Sabellian Hardshells are against the Old Baptist faith.  Not only Dr. Gill, but the London and Philadelphia confessions uphold the doctrine of the Trinity of persons.  This the Sabellian Hardshells of the Miami Association were forced to admit, and to decry the old confessions.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Conditionalism Charged As Being Arminian

Conditional Time Salvation is Arminianism. Once one understands the system well, this is something that he will see. See it easily. This seems to be a common experience of those who have renounced this late 19th century invention, most notably those today who are being charged as being part of the “liberal” movement. One of the most notable examples of this was the experience shared by Elder Thomas Mann in his 2002 sermon Re-thinking Conditional Time Salvation, in which he ably exposed many of the flaws of the modern heresy.

He stated:

"One of the objections that I had to the doctrine when I first began to see this years ago was that it becomes an Arminian system applied to time."

"What I found though years ago...I remember hearing men stand up and preach 'Salvation in heaven is all of grace!' And I love that, that's exactly right. Can't do a thing to earn it. But then they would turn and say 'But if you wanna be blessed in time, you've gotta work for it."

"The problem that I remember having, this collision of thoughts in my brain years ago, probably fifteen years ago. I was thinking why is it we have made time salvation Arminian?"

"What it came to be was heaven is by grace but your blessings in time are by your works."

"Well, that kind of helps us get at the doctrine a little bit. An Arminian system applied to time."

I can relate to the minister’s experience, as I saw the exact same thing.

The earliest charge I personally have found, however, was that of Elder John Clark in 1875. Though not directed at time salvation itself, it charges the assumption (i.e. command implies ability) made in the mind of those who opposed gospel preaching to the lost, which would eventually become part of the conditional framework when it developed a short while later.

Clark wrote:

"To preach to men upon the ground that they have power to do what is commanded, or to refuse to preach to them because they have not the power, shows that the confidence is in the flesh and not in God; that they depend upon the will of the flesh and not upon the power God, and that is the very essence, double refined, of Arminianism" (John Clark, What To Preach and How To Preach,Zion's Advocate--August 1875).

Writing around the turn of the 20th century, Elder David Bartley gave a more direct charge against conditionalism itself. This makes sense seeing that the system was now gaining ground within the Primitive Baptist denomination.

He wrote:

"Any conditional salvation is necessarily of works, and entitled to a reward, therefore all conditional salvation is legal, yea and nay, and most uncertain. There is no grace at all in any conditional salvation, because the grace of God is free, unconditional, never sold and never bought. "Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt." "And if by grace, then is it no more of works." All conditional salvation calls for works to obtain it, for something must be done. So grace is entirely excluded from the yea and nay doctrine of conditional salvations. The teachers of conditional salvation have not yet presumed to say the grace of God is conditional, and so all conditionalism is a denial of salvation by grace.

Conditional Baptists, however, seem to think that they take away the objectionable feature of Arminianism or conditional salvation, by confining it to time, and so they qualify this legal doctrine of salvation by works by inserting the word "time" between the two words, conditional salvation, and make it read, "Conditional time salvation"; that is to say, salvation in time is conditional. If so, then salvation in time is not by grace, nor of The Lord"
(David Bartley, 1905).

Elder F.A. Chick, editor of the Signs of the Times, a periodical advocating absolutism correctly charges it with being on par with Arminianism as well:

"So, it may be, that those brethren who use the term ‘time salvation’, so much, and make such a broad distinction between it, and what they call ‘eternal salvation’, may not hold such conclusions which we draw from the sentiment. Some things which have been said concerning it, have sounded to us like the Arminian idea of conditionalism..." (F.A. Chick, Signs of the Times, 1899)

Elder Silas Durand, in a letter J.H. Oliphant, took notice also of a new sound coming from those who were now advocating this doctrine:

"To me it is a new and strange thing to find Old Baptists claiming praise for works of obedience, and insisting that the favor of God is conditional, depending upon their will and choice, and therefore uncertain, and that when it comes to them it comes as a reward for their obedience. I have heard that kind of talk all my life from Arminians, but never before from Old Baptists" (Silas Durand, Letter to J.H.Oliphant, October 6, 1899).

Focusing on its actual origin in his series ”Hardshells and Predestination”, fellow contributor Stephen penned down exactly what happened when the Conditionalist faction divorced conversion from regeneration and turned into an optional supplement for God’s elect:

"The 'Conditionalist' faction took an Arminian approach to the experience of 'conversion' and called it by a new name, by the term 'time salvation,' or 'conditional time salvation'."(Stephen Garrett, Hardshells and Predestination I, 2011)

And lastly, I discovered an observation from an outside source who understands their history well:

"The emphasis of the old Primitives upon the Absolute Sovereignty of God was also most commendable. Unfortunately, most of the contemporary Primitives have wavered from the faith of their early representatives in this area. Most modern Primitives (an oxymoron par exellence!) are "conditionalists" and deny God's Absolute Predestination of all things. They are, in reality, much more Arminian than are most Sovereign Grace Baptist" (

It is my hope that others would come to see that what these men state is exactly right. Changing the scope of a text from ‘eternity’ to ‘time’ does nothing to relieve it of its Arminian features. If it is assumed that any apparent conditions or necessities seen in scripture give countenance to salvation by works, making the blessing promised or judgment threatened one of a temporal nature does nothing to change this. It remains a ‘works’ system; only one which is applied to time. It is whether the requirement is obtained by free-will or provided by God which determines its Arminian or Calvinistic coloring.

The student of scripture who wants to give all glory to God should seek to establish the truth that salvation is always of the Lord, whether in time or eternity. It is a compromise with, not a denial of, Arminianism to place all passages in scripture which give hint of conditions under the umbrella of a “second” works-based salvation, for one is still guilty of teaching that very Arminianism he seeks to avoid! This is the sad trap which the Conditionalist faction of the Primitive Baptists find themselves. The answer to their dilemna lies in coming to the recognition that there are certain requirements for eternal salvation, and that each of them are provided by God who “hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3), including those things wrought through instrumentality. Until this is realized however, and it continues to be said that there is a salvation which the sinner must obtain for himself, all charges of Arminianism upon conditionalism are spot on.