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.

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