Elder Samuel Trott, early Hardshell leader, in his continued defense of his Sabellian views, and in answer to the charges of Elder John Clark's charge of Arianism, wrote the following in a Signs of the Times article titled "CALM REPLY TO A COMMUNICATION OF ELD. JOHN CLARK WRITTEN ORIGINALLY FOR THE "SIGNS" BUT PUBLISHED IN THE "PRIMITIVE BAPTIST," APRIL 30, 1853, WITH THAT COMMUNICATION INSERTED." (1854) (see here)
"Again, on page 114, Elder C., though he names no one in this letter, yet he evidently refers to those named in the accompanying communication, says:
"I have preached and written against their doctrine concerning the Son of God, and charged that it is Arianism – and I here repeat it."
In the foregoing paragraph, he speaks of being in readiness to prove upon us the sentiments with which he charges us: yes, just as he proved me an Arian, in the specimen I gave of his manner of proving it, on a preceding page...But we will come to the charge which Elder Clark boasts of having made against us. I entreat Elder C., and any others who unite with him in these charges, to follow me in the inquiry as to the truth of this charge, with candor. As to what Arius actually believed, I know not; but in speaking of Arianism, I speak of it as described by those who wrote of it. Elder C., and others with him, generally, will, I presume, admit that Athanasians, and Tri-personalists, generally, hold that the Son no otherwise exists as God, than as he is the Son of God, or than as he was begotten of the Father; that in his Godhead, therefore, as well as a person in the Godhead he was begotten of the Father; whilst they hold that he is of the same substance coequal and coeternal with the Father. They will, also, I think, admit that Arius occupied exactly the same starting ground with the other party, viz: that the Son no otherwise existed than as he was the Son of God, or begotten of the Father. But here they split in their conclusions from this common position. Arius drew the conclusion, that as the Son only existed in his Sonship, he, from the nature of that relation to the Father, and from the fact that his existence was a begotten existence, must necessarily be posterior in his individual existence to the Father who begat him, and hence was not coequal and coeternal with the Father. I must confess, if I had not the Scriptures for my guide, but had to take the same leading position which Athansius and Arius both occupied in the forming an opinion of the being of the Son of God, that I must take Arius' side of the question, as being far more consistent than the other. But I, and those with me, do not occupy the same original position with them, at all: hence, I have offered to prove, if any of those accusers would meet me in arguments on the point, that they are far more assimilated to Arianism than we are: but they have never consented to meet me on that point. The position which we occupy, and the ground on which we stand, is, that what God has revealed of himself in the Scriptures, we are safe in receiving as truth; what He has not revealed, it is presumption in mortals, and would be in angels, to attempt to inquire into; that God has revealed himself as three, as the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and that these three are one; that they are so three, that there are points of distinction by which they are severally declared in the Scripture; and so one, that to us there is but one God. Hence, when either of the three is spoken of as God, we understand it to be that one God in all his fullness of attributes and glory."
Is the view of Clark and other Trinitarians who affirm the eternal sonship of Christ more akin to the views of the heretic Arius or is the view of Trott more akin to them? Trott thinks that those who affirm that Christ always existed as the Son of God in the Godhead is similar to Arianism because both affirm that Christ no otherwise existed except as the Son of God. But, the likeness is only slight, for Arius did not believe that the sonship of Christ was eternal, just as the Fatherhood of God. On the other hand, Arius and the view of Trott are much more alike in that they both affirm that the sonship of Christ is not eternal, but denotes a creation. The difference is that Arius did not believe Christ existed in any sense prior to his becoming the Son of God while Trott believes that Christ existed as God before he became the Son of God. The view of Trott is similar to those who say Christ was the eternal Word, or God, before his incarnational sonship via the virgin. But, Trott can say that Christ was God before he became the Son of God because he believes that God is one person, the sonship only being a mode in which the one person God reveals himself.
"Hence our conclusion is, that if God exists absolutely independent of any one, or of any act by which he is brought into existence, then each of the three must alike so exist as God: and as we find it not declared in the Scriptures that God exists as three distinct persons, or that one of these persons was begotten of the other, and that the third is breathed into existence, we reject the whole, as fabulous. Again: we find the Son of God declared in the Scriptures, and all those characteristics, or attributes of Sonship, so ascribed to him, that we feel bound to believe that he is actually the Son of God, the only begotten of the Father. We further find this Son of God so identified with the Word, that we believe that the Son is the Word, in all his fullness of the Godhead. Hence, as we believe the Godhead cannot be changed from its absolutely independent self-existence, so as truly to sustain the relation and characteristics of Sonship, we believe the Word has that in himself, and has had from the beginning, which enables him fully to sustain this relation of Sonship, and of being begotten of the Father, without diminishing, or changing the attributes of his essential Godhead, or ceasing to be the one God. In reference to what his characteristics of Sonship consist in, I shall have to speak more fully in another place. But I have more summed up, in as definite and clear words I can, my belief of God, as existing in Trinity, for I do believe in a Trinity, but not in tripersonality; and in the Son of God, as being in his person, truly, both God and the Son of God."
Trott confesses that he denies the historic doctrine of the Trinity, that God is three persons, and favors the Sabellian economic or modalistic Trinity. In doing so, he goes against the Old Baptist confessions and can hardly claim to be an Old Baptist.
"I will now pass to notice the idea of creatureship as applied to Christ in the Scriptures, in distinction from his being made flesh. It will, I presume, be admitted that in God's Son being made of a woman, the idea of creatureship is ascribed to him in person, and that without derogating from his Godhead or making him a "created God;" strange, then, that such a general alarm should be produced at the idea of creatureship being applied to him, as he is the life of his people. But surely, if men inspired of God have, without reserve, in giving their testimony of Jesus, attached this idea to him, I think I need not be afraid to do it, though opposed by friends and foes. But I have never represented that as the Son he is inferior to the Father because God created him, as Elder C. has stated. I have based his subordination to the Father upon his relation as Son, as well as upon the testimony of Scripture, showing that he sustained such inferior relation. Elder C. admits that we have such expressions as these: "The beginning of the creation of God," – "The first born of every creature," to sustain our views; but he appears not to admit them to be Scripture. They, however, will be found Rev. 3:14, and Col. 1:15. How is Christ The beginning of the creation of God, according to the proper import of the words, if he was not in some sense the first of God's creating? And how the first born of every creature, if not in some sense a creature?"
It is easy to see how Elder Clark would charge Elder Trott with Arianism based upon Trott's remarks upon Rev. 3: 14 and Col. 1: 15. They are the same views that Arius and his followers took upon the passages and the same views modern Arians also take upon them, such as "Jehovah's Witnesses." Of course, these passages do not teach that the Son of God was begotten in time or created. These passages speak of Christ being, besides the eikon (image) of God the Father, but as being the "prōtotokos" (firstborn) of every creature and the "archē" (beginning) of God's creation. These terms do not denote origin but rank. They do not denote being first made but first in rank. Christ, the Son of God is "prōtotokos" because he is the rightful heir of all things. Not only were all things created by him but "for him." He is "the heir of all things." (Heb. 1: 2) Further, if Christ being "the beginning" ("archē") means that he had a beginning in time, then his being "the ending" or "the last" (Rev. 1: 8, 11; 21: 6; 22: 13) means that Christ will have an end, will one day be no more. Also, as Elder Clark argued, Paul explains what he means by saying that Christ is the "prōtotokos" by saying "for by him were all things created." If the view of Arius or Trott were true, Paul should have said "for God created him first."
"How Christ is the begotten Son of God, may, I conceive, be illustrated by his second begetting as the Son of God; for there are evidently two begettings spoken of in the Scripture to him. John says, speaking of the Word being made flesh, "We beheld (not shall behold,) his glory, the glory as of the only begotten Son of the Father, &c." And at the baptism of Jesus, and in his transfiguration on the mount, the voice from heaven was, "This is (not shall be,) my beloved Son, &c." Thus he was declared to be already the begotten Son of God. But the begetting of which I speak as a second begetting, was an after event to these. It is named in Psalms 2:7, "Thou art my Son this day have I begotten thee." This was spoken prophetically, and therefore though spoken in the present tense, had a future reference. So an inspired Apostle applied it (Acts 13:33,) when he said, "God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again, as it is also written in the second Psalm, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee." The apostle makes this begetting to be the same with his being "The first begotten of the dead." Rev. 1:5."
Christ did not have multiple "begettings." He has always been the Son of God, eternally the only begotten of the Father. The begetting from the womb of the virgin and his being begotten from the dead did not make him the Son of God but only revealed him to be such.
"Thus it appears to me that the terms only begotten Son of God are according to their proper import, strictly descriptive of that relation which Christ as Mediator sustains to God. But as this exaltation of Christ was a being glorified with that glory which he as Son had with the Father before the world was, (See John, 17:1-5,) we may conclude that his relation as Son was the same before the world was."
Though Trott affirms that Christ was the Son of God before his incarnation and prior to his being begotten via the virgin and from the dead, yet he does not believe that the Son of God is eternally the Son of the Father. Again, the views of Trott are a mixing of Arianism and Sabellianism.
"But still, this life being in the Word imparted to him a distinct and compound personality, as has been noticed. This complex person could not as noticed, be in the station of a servant under the law, without being made under it, in an additional nature, neither could he in his complex person, though in that person he was God, sustain the relation of the absolute God, but was exactly adapted to sustain the relation of a Son, and was therefore set up, and brought forth in the everlasting covenant as the Son of God; and the same mighty power of God was manifested in thus bringing him forth as the Son of God and Head of his church and people, and they in him in that Life which was embraced in his distinct personality, as was manifested in raising Christ from the dead. See Eph., 1:19,20."
Here Trott seems to affirm that Christ was the eternal Son of God, but not so in actuality but only in the mind and purpose of God, or theoretically. Trott is affirming that there would be no Son of God without creation or redemption.
"Again, the manhood of Christ was made of the seed of the woman; but we are not warranted to believe that the life was made of any created substance. The account we have is, that the new man, which must be the life, or Christ, in us, was After God created in righteousness and true holiness. From the testimony of Scripture, I conclude that the Word as the Son, occupied the same exalted station at the right hand of the Father, having the immediate government in his own hands, before the foundation of the world as after his exaltation from the dead. Hence the glory which he now has is the same that he had with the Father before the world was; and the Word was with God. Hence it is declared, that "All things were made by him, and without him was not any thing made that was made."
But these relative terms by no means imply that God did not exist antecedent to his being a Father; yea, the very relation implies that the Father had an existence independent of his paternity.
So of the Son, when we take into consideration the character given of him in the Scriptures, we must believe that he existed as God independently of his Sonship."
In these words Trott denies the eternal relation of God as Father and Son, affirming that God was once neither Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. It is because of creation and redemption that God takes on the existences as such. This is Sabellianism, or the affirmation of a modalistic or economic trinity.
In closing it must be understood that these views of Trott were widespread among the first generation Hardshells and it was not till many years later, when the views of Clark prevailed. One must wonder how Hardshells will deal with the fact that their ancestors held such views. What does this do to their Landmarker views about church succession?