Appealing to the Minds of Unregenerate Sinners
Gilbert Beebe wrote:
“Thou believest there is one God; thou doest well, the devils also believe and tremble” - James ii. 19. That devils are susceptible of that kind of conviction that compels them to yield to the force of truth, and believe that of which they are rationally convinced by testimony, is a sufficient demonstration that intelligent beings without spiritual life are capable of conviction, and may be led to believe that there is a God, a heaven and a hell, because they are unable to resist the testimony presented to their minds that such is the case. And because unregenerate men, and even children, are capable of such convictions, many have attempted to prove that genuine faith is a fruit of the natural mind, and a condition of life and salvation. Upon this false conclusion, all the machinery of the present age is brought to bear upon the intellectual powers of men, in order to bring them to believe certain things in regard to God and a future state. From their cradles to their tombs they are taught religion as they are taught earthly things, in the same natural and systematic manner that they are instructed in the arts and sciences of this world. The modern religious inventions, such as infant, Sabbath and theological schools, &c., are all based upon the same false and deceptive theory, and the general motto with arminians is Moral suasion. While we admit that natural men possess intellectual powers of mind sufficient to draw correct and legitimate conclusions from all given principles in nature, and to believe all such things as are, supported by such testimony as they deem sufficient, yet we contend, and by the eternal truth of heaven we prove, that their belief or disbelief in this manner can never change their nature, make one hair white or black, nor bring them one step towards God, holiness or heaven." ("MORAL SUASION OR NATURAL CONVICTION, VS. THE FAITH OF THE GOSPEL," 1843 - see here)
The issue to be addressed concerns the role that "moral suasion" plays in conversion. Doubtless there are those, like the Campbellites, who believed that the preaching of the word is in itself sufficient to transform the soul. But, Hardshells who have embraced the "Spirit alone" view have gone to the other extreme and denied that the preaching of the word, with its persuasive appeals, plays any role at all. The truth, as the Scriptures and the writings of our Baptist forefathers taught, is that it is by both the Spirit and the word that men are regenerated and converted. But, more on this shortly.
He also wrote:
"From this Scripture and its connection, as well as from all other parts of the Scriptures, we are clearly taught that no external evidence presented to the natural intellect of man, can possibly make men savingly acquainted with our Lord Jesus Christ, as the Son of God, and the only Savior of lost, helpless sinners." ("John 5: 40," 1855 - see here)
Had Beebe added the word "alone" to his above remarks he would have been stating a truth. Had he said "no external evidence alone presented to the natural intellect," he would have stated a truth. The great Calvinist teachers of old all taught that there was a power separate and apart from the word that was necessary, a physical energy (non moral) of the Spirit was also necessary. But, again, more on this later. From the above words of Beebe, one can see how Beebe tends to view the natural depravity and inability of man to not be strictly moral, but also physical. This issue was addressed and refuted in the previous series "Hardshell Pelagianism."
Beebe also wrote,
"If these Jews, with all the testimony which was presented to their natural understanding, were still destitute of saving faith in him, how preposterous that Gentile sinners, with more limited opportunities, should become more savingly acquainted with him, as the true God, and eternal Life, without a special revelation of him to them as such, by the Father. “No man knoweth the Son but the Father, and he to whom the Father will reveal him.”" (ibid)
Beebe is affirming that one must have spiritual understanding before he can savingly hear and believe the Gospel. He fails to see how the Lord uses the preaching of the Gospel to change the natural understanding of men and to give spiritual understanding. It is absurd to think of man having a spiritual understanding without knowledge of truth and its propositions. If one follows the logic of Beebe then he must confess that it is a foolish act to preach the Gospel or to attempt to persuade those sinners who are yet unregenerate. Yet, clearly, as has been shown in this book, Christ often preached the Gospel to those who were unregenerate, even using arguments in his appeals. Was Christ not doing what Beebe condemns? Further, it is clearly taught in Scripture that the way the Father and Son are "revealed" is by the preaching of the word. Does not Paul write - "how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?" And, "how shall they hear without a preacher?"
"We are aware that many are taught that sinners, in a state of unregeneracy, are only deficient in their inclination, and that if by moral suasion their natural minds could be convinced by argument, or otherwise, that it would be to their interest to come to Christ, their wills would yield, and there would be no other impediment in their way. Allowing this theory to be true, there would be no need of a Christ to save a sinner at all. Every intelligent being knows that the human will of man is accessible to the power of man; and if nothing more were required than a change of will, the selfishness of man may be successfully appealed to by the eloquence of revivalists, and their carnal will enlisted to be happy here and hereafter, and if this were all the difficulty, the work would then be done. But this idea conflicts not only with the Scriptures, but also with the experience of every quickened sinner." (ibid)
Clearly Beebe is arguing based upon the assumption that man's inability is not strictly moral and that a change of will is not sufficient to change the moral nature of a man. But, this theory has already been shown to be false. Again, no sound Old Baptist or Calvinist affirms that the word can by itself change the sinful will and disposition of a sinner. But, the fact that the Bible is filled with addresses to the unregenerate, and that such addresses make use of arguments and persuasive appeals, destroys the reasoning of Beebe.
John Owen, who was widely read by the those Old Baptists who wrote the London Confessions, addressed this topic. He wrote:
"I shall, therefore, in general, refer the whole work of the Spirit of God with respect unto the regeneration of sinners unto two heads:— First, That which is preparatory for it; and, secondly, That which is effective of it. That which is preparatory for it is the conviction of sin; this is the work of the Holy Spirit, John xvi. 8. And this also may be distinctly referred unto three heads:— 1. A discovery of the true nature of sin by the ministry of the law, Rom. vii. 7. 2. An application of that discovery made in the mind or understanding unto the conscience of the sinner. 3. The excitation of affections suitable unto that discovery and application, Acts ii. 37. But these things, so far as they belong unto our present design, have been before insisted on. Our principal inquiry at present is after the work itself, or the nature and manner of the working of the Spirit of God in and on the souls of men in their regeneration; and this must be both negatively and positively declared:—
FIRST, The work of the Spirit of God in the regeneration of sinners, or the quickening of them who are dead in trespasses and sins, or in their first saving conversion to God, doth not consist in a moral suasion only. By suasion we intend such a persuasion as may or may not be effectual; so absolutely we call that only persuasion whereby a man is actually persuaded."
Owen is talking about the experience of being regenerated, which he equates with being converted. He speaks of what is preparatory to it. He speaks of conviction of sin as being preparatory to it. In affirming that conviction of sin is preparatory to regeneration, he denies the modern Hardshell notion that conviction of sin is an evidence of a prior regeneration. I dealt with this issue in chapters 54 and 55. He also correctly says that regeneration "doth not consist in a moral suasion ONLY." Owen, like our Old Baptist forefathers, did not completely exclude moral persausion from effecting regeneration, as did Beebe. Rather, he saw that the Holy Spirit makes use of preaching, with its persausive arguments, to bring about conviction and faith.
"Concerning this we must consider,—
Now, concerning this whole work I affirm these two things :—
1. That the Holy Spirit doth make use of it in the regeneration or conversion of all that are adult, and that either immediately in and by the preaching of it, or by some other application of light and truth unto the mind derived from the word; for by the reasons, motives, and persuasive arguments which the word affords are our minds affected, and our souls wrought upon in our conversion unto God, whence it becomes our reasonable obedience. And there are none ordinarily converted, but they are able to give some account by what considerations they were prevailed on thereunto. But,—
2. We say that the whole work, or the whole of the work of the Holy Ghost in our conversion, doth not consist herein; but there is a real physical work, whereby he infuseth a gracious principle of spiritual life into all that are effectually converted and really regenerated, and without which there is no deliverance from the state of sin and death which we have described; which, among others, may be proved by the ensuing arguments." (CHAPTER V. "THE NATURE, CAUSES, AND MEANS OF REGENERATION," see here)
Again, Owen insists that moral persuasion alone will not affect regeneration. He says, just like our Old Baptist forefathers, that "there is a real physical (or non moral - SG) work" involved. I insist that this has always been the Old Baptist position. If one goes back and reads the debates our Baptist forefathers had with Alexander Campbell, who promoted the idea that the word alone was sufficient, and that moral persuasion alone was sufficient, he will see how they argued just as did Owen.
Charles Finney, adopting Pelagian ideas, insisted that regeneration was effected solely by the moral persuasion inherent in Gospel addresses to sinners, and denied that there was needed any additional power of the Spirit. In his Systematic Theology he wrote:
"That this change is effected through the truth presented by the Holy Spirit, or by a Divine moral persuasion...The Divine moral suasion theory regards regeneration as being induced alone by a moral influence."
"Since the advocates of this theory admit that the Bible teaches that regeneration is induced by a divine moral suasion, the point of debate is simply, whether the Bible teaches that there is also a physical influence exerted by the Holy Spirit, in exciting the constitutional susceptibilities." (pg. 422 - see here)
There was nothing wrong for the Black Rock Hardshells to object to the evangelistic methods of Finney and others, but it was wrong for them to declare non fellowship for all Baptists who held any kind of evangelistic, revival, or protracted meetings. They went to an extreme themselves in doing so. Some Hardshells have since realized this and so do have protracted meetings.
The debate over evangelistic methods has continued into our day. Many continue to go to extremes on the issue of "altar calls." The same issues raised by those, like the Black Rockers, and others in the days of Finney, are still debated. The chief issue concerns the making of false converts, or shallow ground hearers. But, we will look at these issues in the next posting.