Thus far in this series of chapters I have shown how Hardshells have imbibed the Pelagian idea that biblical commands imply ability to obey the commands. I have shown that such an idea has led many of them to affirm that Gospel commands are limited to those who are already spiritually alive or regenerated. I have shown how they have not spoken as a unified voice on this issue however. Elder Hassell affirmed that the command to "repent" and to "seek" God, so as to "find him," as Paul preached in Acts chapter seventeen to the Athenian pagans, was to "all men," just as the text affirms. Very few Hardshells today would agree with Hassell, however, because they believe the Pelagian idea that a Gospel command implies ability to obey. Most Hardshells limit Gospel commands to those already regenerated because, as Elder Beebe asserted, such commands imply ability. In those chapters under the series "Addresses to the Lost," it was clearly shown that Gospel commands are directed towards all men. I have shown how many Hardshells, especially since the start of the twentieth century, have been in error on the nature of man's inability, believing that man's inability is not strictly moral, but physical, affirming that man could not obey the Lord even if the will was directed to do so; And, it is this error that has led many of them to believe that regeneration gives a physical ability and involves a change in the substance or essence of the soul.
John Gill wrote:
"It is raised a spiritual body: not as to substance, but as to its quality; it will not be changed into a spirit; our Lord's risen body, to which ours will be conformed, was not a spirit, but, as before, consisted of flesh and bones: but the body will then be subject to the spirit and soul of man; it will be employed in spiritual service, for which it will be abundantly fitted and assisted by the Spirit of God; and it will be delighted with spiritual objects; it will be like the angels, those excellent spirits; it will live as spirits do, without natural helps and means, as meat, drink, clothes, sleep, and, as they, will never die..." (Commentary upon I Corinthians chapter 15)
This citation is important because Elder Sarrels argued that the soul undergoes a physical change in substance in the same manner in which the body will undergo a physical change in the resurrection. But, here, Gill denies that a physical change in substance occurs to the body in the resurrection.
Gill also wrote:
"and afterwards that which is spiritual; yea, even Christ's animal, or natural body, was before his spiritual one; his body taken from the virgin, and formed in her womb, and in which he lived here on earth, was an animal body, as before observed; and upon his resurrection, it commenced a spiritual one; being the same in substance as the former, only different in qualities; and just so it is, and will be, with the bodies of the saints'; which is the apostle's design and view, in observing this order; the natural body is first, and then the spiritual; it is first a natural body, as generated and nourished, as weak and dying, and it is afterwards a spiritual one, when raised from the dead." (Ibid)
Again, just as Gill believed about the change that occurs to the soul in regeneration, so he also believes about the change to the body in the resurrection. Neither the soul nor the body undergoes any change in substance. Thus, the argument of Sarrels that there is a change in the substance of soul and body is not reflective of what the Old Baptists taught on the subject.
Gill also wrote:
"This image also lies in the freedom of the will, and the power of it. As God is a free agent, so is man; and as the freedom of the divine will does not lie in an indifference and indetermination to good and evil, but is only to that which is good; so was the will of man in his state of integrity: as likewise the will of the good angels and glorified saints. And man had a power to obey the will of God, and do his commands; and as he had not only a positive law given him to abstain from the forbidden fruit, as a trial of his obedience; so he had the moral law written on his heart, as the rule of his obedience, and had power and ability to keep it; for as it was required of him to love the Lord his God with all his heart, and soul, and strength; so he could, if he would, have performed the same; and such strength and ability were due unto him, from the laws of creation; for if God required of him obedience to his holy law, it was but fit and right that he should give him a conformity of nature and will to it, and power to obey it; though, he was not obliged to give him grace and strength to persevere, nor to render him impeccable and immutable; wherefore, leaving him to the mutability of his will, he sinned, and fell from his former estate, which on that account is called "vanity" (Ps. 39:5)." (A BODY OF DOCTRINAL DIVINITY Book 3—Chapter 3 OF THE CREATION OF MAN, 4b2c)
This is important because Sarrels and other Hardshells have erroneously argued that God's making man a "natural" person made him incapable to doing what is "spiritual." Yet, as has been previously shown, the law of God is "spiritual" (Rom. 7: 14) and therefore obedience to it would be spiritual. It seems that the view of Sarrels and other Hardshells who teach that man has no natural ability to do spiritual acts, either now or originally, are teaching that God commands men to do what they have never had the ability to do, the very proposition that some of them find repugnant.
In an 1842 Circular Letter of the South Carolina Primitive Baptist Association (see here), the writers addressed these issues and wrote the following.
"WHAT ARE WE TO UNDERSTAND by being born again?"
"It surely cannot mean, a mere external reformation from gross immortality; nor a change from one system of religion to another; nor even from heathen idolatry to the Christian faith; nor in submission to the ordinance of Baptism; nor yet in firm persuasion that we are the children of God; zealously doing the work of our heavenly Father. The memorable instance of Simon Magus and Saul of Tarsus illustrates these remarks; the former believed historically, but the latter by the power of the word and spirit of God, working on the dark powers of the soul and diffusing life divine. Then the expression born again, and all other [parallel] phrases found in the word of God, are too strong and distinct to admit of any consistent meaning, less than a radical change in the disposition of the soul."
The word "mere" is important to notice in the above words. It shows that the first Hardshells were not denying that being "born again" involved "eternal reformation from gross immorality," or of being converted to the Christian faith, but simply affirmed that being "born again" included more than this. Yet, it is to be remembered how today's Hardshells exclude conversion from what it means to be "born again." These first Hardshells however included conversion. They did not believe that Simon Magus was truly born again nor that Paul was born again prior to his conversion experience on the Damascus road. In fact, these first Hardshells affirmed that Paul's being "born again" included his being made a believer in Jesus. They aslso affirmed that being "born again" was by "the word and spirit of God," just as the old London Confession affirmed but which is denied by today's Hardshells. They also affirm that the new birth was "a radical change in the disposition," not in the substance, "of the soul."
The circular continues:
"We say a change or renewal in the disposition of the soul, because no new facilities are imparted to man in the new birth, none were lost by the fall and none are given in regeneration; the carnal mind or disposition of sinful man is enmity against God, and in the new birth a spiritual mind or disposition is given to man under the power and influence of the spirit of God, in which the powers and faculties of the soul receive a new and spiritual direction; the moral image of God was defaced in man by his apostasy. This image is restored in the new birth, by the word and spirit of God."
Clearly these first Hardshells denied that the substance of the soul was changed in the new birth, affirming that "no new faculties are imparted to man in the new birth," affirming that "none were lost by the fall and none are given in regeneration." This is contrary to the Hardshells cited in previous chapters, such as Elder Sarrels. Sarrels denied that the new birth was simply a giving of a new and spiritual direction to the soul. Also, again, these first Hardshells affirmed that the new birth was "by the word and spirit of God."
The circular continues:
"This change or renewal is radical. It reaches to the thoughts and dispositions; the aims and ends of the new born soul are to glorify God, in the gift of his grace and spirit. All this is effected by the same mighty power and energy of God, which first gave life and form to man; and which alone can rectify and restore that part of man, which was lost and disordered. Hence those who were the children of wrath, have now become the children of God by the blood of the covenant, and adopted heirs of Christ into the grace of life, and are said to be born again, or translated from darkness to light, and from the power of sin and Satan into the kingdom of Christ."
Again, the authors of the circular deny that the new birth or regeneration changes the substance of the soul, but rather define it in terms of what is called conversion. They had no qualms calling the new birth a rectification and restoration, a truth denied by Sarrels and the other modern Hardshells previously cited.
The circular continued:
"For it is the office of the spirit to illuminate the dark faculties of the soul, and to give it that faith which works by love and purifies the heart. And so wonderfully develops itself in the new born soul, that it shows it all the beauty and graces of Jesus, and enables the creature to receive the Saviour as their prophet, priest, and king. This is to be born again. There the regenerated soul is said to be God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained, that we should walk in them. As such old things are done away, behold all things become new."
Notice again how the first Hardshells defined what it meant to be "born again." It involved being illuminated in the Christian faith, of having faith in Christ. It involves receiving Christ. Rather than giving new faculties to the soul, it rather illuminates the existing dark faculties of the soul.
The circular continued:
"But again, how or what is the effect on the sinner’s heart? When wrought to a knowledge of sin, the dead soul is quickened and made alive to feel and see its lost and ruined state, and to feel the condemning power of God’s holy law and the justice of God in damning or banishing it from his presence forever. And thus the soul or sinner is brought to mourn on account of his sin, and to dread the terrors of God’s wrath, while God by his spirit sends his word into the hearts as a sharp two-edged sword, piercing or dividing asunder of soul and spirit; that spirit which defaced the glorious image of God, and put enmity between God and the sinner. And now he is brought to a knowledge of his sin by the power of the law, the sinner is now converted, convinced, and convicted, and sees himself a just monument of God’s wrath, while the thunders of Mount Sinai rolls against the guilty soul, and it is the schoolmaster, the Law, that takes the sinner and brings him to Christ."
Though I would disagree with the idea that mere conviction of sin is a result of being born again (see previous chapters on "Hardshells and Conviction"), nevertheless they did not limit their definition of what it means to be "born again" to mere conviction of sin but affirmed that it included being "converted" and being brought to Christ.
The circular continued:
"And here, brethren, is the last blow the ax or the Law gives the sinner, it fells him and lays him at the foot of the cross, where that glorious fountain runs down. There is the time and place that Jesus comes with pardon, and applies his atoning blood. And now the sinner is enabled to look up to Jesus by faith, and see the streaming blood; this is the time of agonizing with soul, there the time of godly sorrow, that worketh repentance, unto salvation, not to be repented of. And then is the time that Jesus applies the water by the word and sanctifying graces of his spirit; and there it is that the soul is regenerated and born again."
When does Jesus apply his atoning blood, according to this first Primitive Baptist periodical? When Jesus comes to the convicted soul "with pardon." It is a description of Gospel conversion when Jesus applies his atoning blood by "the water by the word." It is when the soul is thus converted to Jesus that the soul "is regenerated and born again."
The circular continued:
"Jesus is formed in the soul, the hope of glory. Then it is mercy and truth meet together in the soul; then it is that righteousness and peace kiss each other in the soul; and then the sinner is justified and reconciled to God through the faith of Christ, and the soul filled with that joy that is unspeakable and full of glory: then it is that a new song is put into the mouth, even praise to God."
When is the soul justified and reconciled to God? When is Jesus "formed in the soul" as the "hope of glory"? Is it not when the sinner comes to faith in Christ?
Today's Hardshells who make the new birth to be a change in the soul substance without a conversion to Christ are not even in agreement with their own founding fathers. When they make man's inability to be natural and physical, they are in disagreement with the great Calvinist authors and with their own leading founding fathers.