Protracted or Revival Meetings
In beginning this series of chapters on the debate over the practice of church support of missions and missionaries, it is good to begin with the question of the methods used by evangelists and missionaries in addressing and persuading sinners regarding their being induced to be converted. The previous chapters titled "Addresses to the Lost" and "Hardshells and the Great Commission" should be reviewed by the reader in preparation for this issue.
In the "Black Rock Address" of 1832, which is the magna carta for the birth of the "Old School" or "Primitive" Baptist denomination, Hardshells spoke their mind on this issue under the heading "Protracted Meetings." They wrote:
"We now pass to the last item which we think it necessary particularly to notice, viz.: four days or protracted meetings. Before stating our objections to these, however, we would observe that we consider the example worthy to be imitated which the apostles set of embracing every opportunity consistently with propriety for preaching the gospel wherever they met with an assembly, whether in a Jew's synagogue on the seventh day, or in a Christian assembly on the first day of the week; and the exhortation to be instant in season and out of season, we would gladly accept. Therefore, whenever circumstances call a congregation together from day to day, as at an association or the like we would embrace the opportunity of preaching the gospel to them from time to time, so often as they shall come together; but to the principles and plans of protracted meetings, distinguishingly so called, we do decidedly object."
In the early 19th century there was a growth in revival meetings among the various denominations. These were generally special meetings that lasted several days and one of the purposes of these meetings was to preach the Gospel to the general public with the hope and expectation that sinners would be saved. There is no doubt that many of these revival campaigns went to the kind of extremes that the Black Rockers described. But, as in many cases, fighting an extreme led the Black Rock Hardshells to go to an opposite extreme.
One of the extremes that the Hardshells went to was their opposition to holding any protracted meetings. I have in my library a debate over this very issue that occurred years later. The topic became a hot issue in the early twentieth century because many Hardshell churches in the Mid-West were holding meetings for more than three days (and as some Hardshells do today) and some Southern Hardshells saw this as a departure from the old Baptist faith and practice. Elder W. A. Chastain of Springfield, Illinois defended having meetings for more than three days and Elder G. W. Stewart of Georgia opposed them. The debate was published in 1916 and titled "Discussion on the Worship of God."
Another extreme was in time manifested when many Hardshells began to deny that God used any persuasion via words and arguments to bring the unregenerate into a regenerate or converted state. In fact, many believed that the Gospel was not to be addressed to any man who was not already saved. Elder Gilbert Beebe wrote in the "Signs of the Times" in 1846 these words:
"...the gospel of God our Savior makes no address whatever to dead sinners; it addresses the living, the quickened, and them exclusively...But in their preaching they thus addressed the saints" (Article titled "Means" - see here)
This false idea I have shown to be both against Scripture and the teachings of the Old Baptists of prior centuries in my series on the Great Commission and on Addresses to the Lost.
The great Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, battled such Hyper Calvinism in his day and said the following in his sermon "The Warrant of Faith" (1863):
"In our own day certain preachers assure us that a man must he regenerated before we may bid him believe in Jesus Christ; some degree of a work of grace in the heart being, in their judgment, the only warrant to believe. This also is false. It takes away a gospel for sinners and offers us a gospel for saints. It is anything but a ministry of free grace...If I am to preach faith in Christ to a man who is regenerated, then the man, being regenerated, is saved already, and it is an unnecessary and ridiculous thing for me to preach Christ to him, and bid him to believe in order to be saved when he is saved already, being regenerate."
In time the Hardshells became even more Antinomian and quit exhorting lost sinners altogether, as Elder John Watson bore witness to in his book "The Old Baptist Test." The first generation of Hardshells did, however, generally call upon sinners to repent and believe, but in time this practice was completely abandoned and many even decried the practice. The Black Rock Address spoke about being ready to preach the Gospel to those already converted, but were not so ready to preach the Gospel to sinners.
The citation above, from the Address, speaks of imitating the example of the apostles in preaching the Gospel. But, the apostles did not limit their preaching to saints, but preached to all, to sinners. They also preached the Gospel daily in a protracted manner.
The Address also contained these words relative to protracted and revival meetings.
"The principle of these meetings we cannot fellowship. Regeneration, we believe, is exclusively the work of the Holy Ghost, performed by his divine power, at his own sovereign pleasure, according to the provisions of the everlasting covenant; but these meetings are got up either for the purpose of inducing the Holy Spirit to regenerate multitudes who would otherwise not be converted, or to convert them themselves by the machinery of these meetings, or rather to bring them into their churches by means of exciting their animal feelings, without any regard to their being born again. Whichever of these may be considered the true ground upon which these meetings are founded, we are at a loss to know how any person who has known what it is to be born again can countenance them."
It is evident from these words that there was even then the tendency to deny that God uses the preaching of the Gospel to produce regeneration. But, as Brother Ross and I have pointed out (with many other historians), the first Hardshells did not generally object to the preaching of the Gospel being a means in regeneration or new birth, but to methods of preaching the Gospel and how to present the Gospel to the unregenerate. It was methodology that was the chief objection. But, as we shall shortly see, the Address seems to uphold the means position. What is being objected to is the kind of evangelical meetings then being held, the high pressure tactics of getting sinners to make a confession by going forward in a meeting, to "altar calls." In further explanation of these objections, the Address adds these words:
"The plans of these meetings are equally as objectionable; for, in the first place, all doctrinal preaching, or in other words, all illustrations of God's plan of salvation, are excluded professedly from these meetings. Hence they would make believers of their converts without presenting any fixed truths to their minds to believe. Whereas God has chosen his people to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the TRUTH. - 2 Thess. ii.13."
It is clear from these words that the Black Rocker Hardshells, like many today, were decrying what some call "easy believism." They were denouncing the idea that men can become believers in Christ or in the Gospel without sufficient presentation of the doctrinal truth relative to the plan of salvation in Christ. These don't deny that preaching the Gospel is a means in saving the elect, but simply deny that calling upon men to believe in God or in Christ, without any central doctrines of the Gospel, is not sufficient to produce that faith which is unto salvation. The truth of the Gospel with its "fixed truths" must be presented before saving faith can be produced. As will be shown later on, however, it was not long before the first Hardshells would "throw out the baby with the bath water" in decrying against the revival and evangelistic methods of Arminians. The above extract from the Address shows that the first Hardshells believed that the elect were chosen to salvation via belief of the truth, the Gospel truth.
The Black Rockers said - "these meetings are got up either for the purpose of inducing the Holy Spirit to regenerate multitudes who would otherwise not be converted, or to convert them themselves by the machinery of these meetings."
One wonders if the Black Rockers would consider Elder John Leland, who they call one of their own, as guilty of what they charge in the above words? In chapter 49 ("Elder Leland's Preaching") I cited from the words of Leland where he prayed for the salvation of sinners and preached with the aim of being an instrument in their salvation. Recall how he said "I knew what it was to travail in birth for the conversion of sinners. The words of Rachel to Jacob were the words of my heart to God: "Give me children or else I die."
He also said "there was not a day but what I had the spirit of prayer, and a travail for souls."
He also said - "The following winter, I sunk into great distress of mind. It has always been a question with me of great importance, to know how to address a congregation of sinners, as such, in gospel style. And this winter it attacked my mind with great force. Neither Gill, Hopkins, Fuller nor Wesley, could remove my difficulties. My fears were, that I did not preach right, which was the cause why I was so barren in myself and useless to others. This burden lay heavy upon me a long time. At length, at an evenings meeting at a school house in Cheshire, my heart waxed a little warm with holy zeal, and I gave my spirit vent to the youth and school children, regardless of all authors and systems, which had a good effect."
He also wrote:
"The Gillite mode of addressing sinners, seemed a little different from the New Testament mode. The Hopkinsian method appeared as if it took all the wisdom of God to devise a way for an honorable pretence to damn men. Dr. Fuller only cast snother bundle of straw on the fire. So that the great query which has agitated my mind for more than thirty years, 'How is a congregation of sinners to be addressed?' at the time I am speaking of, fell with such distress upon my mind, that I could hardly contain myself. But in the midst of my difficulties, I had a meeting at a school house; in the time of service my soul got into the trade winds, and without consulting Gill, Hopkins, Fuller, or Wesley, without comparing our translation with the Septuagint, Chaldee, or the King of Spain's Bible, I addressed the scholars and young people in a way I never can without God helps me. The spirit of the Lord fell upon them. Very soon after this, five of them came forward and confessed Christ."
The "Gillite mode" was to preach the Gospel without appeals to the unconverted, while believing that it would convict and convert without such appeals. Leland rejected that method. He did not like the method of early nineteenth century Arminian evangelists in using high pressure tactics. But, he had no qualms about earnestly appealing to sinners.
Leland also said:
"I conclude that the eternal purposes of God and the freedom of the human will are both truths, and it is a matter of fact that the preaching that has been most blessed of God and most profitable to men is the doctrine of sovereign grace in the salvation of souls, mixed with a little of what is called Arminianism." (as cited here)
Doubtless Leland believed in pleading with sinners and is the type of preaching that had a little mixture of Arminianism in it. Such is the type of preaching done by the Baptists who wrote the 1689 Confession.
In Burkett & Read’s History of the Kehukee Association it is stated on page 139 that in 1794, a special day was appointed to pray God for a revival of religion, and on page 145, that "it was the custom of ministers of that date to invite penitents to come forward and keel down to be prayed for, just as we do in our revival meetings now."
Further, Beebe and the historically aware Hardshells admit that their forefathers often held prayer meetings, and that these prayer meetings often lasted several days. Were those Old Baptists guilty of trying to get the Holy Spirit to do something he did not want to do? Beebe's argument in opposition to protracted meetings will also condemn prayer altogether! Is it not our purpose in prayer to "induce" the Holy Spirit?
The Address continued:
"Secondly. The leaders of these meetings fix standards by which to decide of persons' repentance and desire of salvation, which the word of God nowhere warrants, such as rising off their seats, coming to anxious seats, or going to a certain place, &c. Whereas the New Testament has given us a standard from which we have no right to depart, viz: that of bringing forth fruits meet for repentance."
This is no doubt a misrepresentation of the majority of preachers who held revival and evangelistic meetings in the early nineteenth century. It is probably not the case that those who held such meetings would disagree with the idea that the bearing of fruit was the sure proof of conversion. It is also probable that those who conducted such evangelistic services would deny the charge of Beebe, and would agree that some of those who respond to altar calls and go forward in a service were not sincere and were therefore not truly converted. I doubt that any of these revival ministers would assure people that they were saved because they simply "went forward." I am sure that they not only prayed for those who went forward, as even the old Kehukee brethren did, and as Hardshell Wilson Thompson did, but that they also counseled them about how they can be saved, and told them the same thing that the apostle Paul told the Philippian jailer - "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved."
The Address continued:
"Thirdly. They lead the People to depend on mediators other than the Lord Jesus Christ to obtain peace for them, by offering themselves as intercessors for them with God; whereas the Scriptures acknowledge but the one God and one Mediator."
This is a distortion of the role of "soul winners" (Prov. 11: 30) and of "they that turn many to righteousness" (Dan. 12: 3). Surely they do not put themselves into the place of Christ who is "the one mediator between God and man." (I Tim. 2: 5) But, Beebe fails to understand that Christians share in the mediatorial work of Christ. Are Christians not intercessors? (I Tim. 2: 1) Yes, Christ is the great high priest, but every believer is also a priest. (I Peter 2: 9) Notice this verse of Scripture:
"That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost." (Rom. 15: 16)
John Gill, in his Commentary, made these comments:
"that the offering up of the Gentiles; not the offering the Gentiles offered up, their prayers, praises, or good works, though these are acceptable to God through Christ; but the Gentiles themselves, by the offering up of whom is meant their conversion; which was the end of the apostle's ministering the Gospel among them, and in which he was the happy instrument. The allusion is to the priests slaying and offering up sacrifices under the law. The apostle was a priest in a figurative and improper sense; the sacrifices he offered up were not slain beasts, but men, the Gentiles, cut to the heart by the sword of the Spirit, the ministry of the Gospel; whose inside being laid open to them, and they brought to a sense of their lost condition, and need of Christ, were, through the power of divine grace attending the word, made willing to offer, or give up themselves to the Lord, to be saved by him, and him only: this the apostle, as an instrument, was concerned in..."
Thus, for Beebe to deny that Christians function as priests and mediators, under Christ the great high priest and mediator, is a falsehood.
In the next chapter, we will continue our review of the condemnation that the Black Rock Hardshells gave concerning protracted and revival meetings, and then go on to consider their views regarding missions, Sunday Schools, theological schools, etc.