In the last chapter I mentioned how the Hardshells would have done better to have held their own revival and protracted meetings without the errors they denounced in the Black Rock Address. But, as was shown, they went to the extreme of denouncing them altogether, even if they were conducted properly. The reason given was that they did not want to look like others, which was truly a case of "throwing the baby out with the bath water." They should have followed the example of Jesse Mercer, a leading Old Baptist at the time of the Black Rock Address, and a person once held in high esteem by many of the first Hardshells. From the "Memoirs of Jesse Mercer Memoirs of Jesse Mercer" by Charles D. Mallary (see here), we read:
"From the foregoing, it is evident that Mr. Mercer was a believer in the reality and desirableness of revivals of religion, and that he labored to encourage and promote them amongst his churches. How often and feelingly he repeated the quotation, "Lord, revive us, Lord, revive us," in his letters to pious friends, many can well remember. He probably depended more upon the stated and uniform administration of the means of grace, and less upon special and extraordinary efforts, than many of his brethren; yet upon all suitable occasions, he was ready to assist at protracted meetings, and he generally brought to them a fervent, prayerful and anxious heart. On such occasions, he never lost sight of the absolute necessity of the Spirit's influence to give efficacy to the means of grace. This sentiment seemed to be-interwoven, in the most complete, scriptural, and engaging manner, with his prayers, his exhortations and preaching. Every thing like glorying in men and measures, to the forgetfulness of human weakness, and the glory of God, his humble, holy spirit, deeply deplored and sincerely loathed. He had no fellowship for forced, unnatural, and mechanical efforts to move the sympathies, "and get up a revival." Every thing boisterous, confusing and disorderly, in the progress of religious meetings, was abhorrent from his judgment and feelings. "Let every thing be done decently and in order," was the rule which he inculcated on others, and by which his own course was habitually governed."
It must be remembered that Jesse Mercer was a five point Calvinist and a believer in missions and evangelism. But, he was not guilty of conducting revival and protracted meetings with the errors mentioned by the Black Rockers. But, the Black Rockers did not believe they could be countenanced because they gave the appearance of supporting men like Finney and the Arminians. Mercer, however, took a more mature and sound approach to the excesses of men like Finney. Mercer did not "throw out the baby with the bath water." Mercer did not go to an extreme in fighting the extremism of men like Finney. The Black Rock Hardshells would have done well to follow the lead of such men as Mercer. Mercer was the editor of the "Christian Index" at the time of the Black Rock Address and often wrote articles in response to what was being written against such things as protracted meetings, Sunday Schools, and mission organizations, in the first Hardshell periodicals. Those periodicals would often attempt a reply to what Mercer and others wrote against the Hardshell criticisms.
The author cites Mercer further:
"When men grasp the means, even of God's appointment, with a design of accomplishing the end, both shall be nothing, except it be to produce Ishmaelites—sons of the. flesh. It is one thing for men to take hold of the means, as agents, and go to work like Jehu, to show their zeal for the Lord of Hosts; and quite another thing to go forth with equal zeal, but with entire dependence on the power that moves them, like the axe, or saw, shaken by the hand of a cunning workman. I have seen, (as it appears to me,) too much leaning to the efficiency of means, (or to the sufficiency of human ability to comply,) if they were faithfully plied. Thus the success of some ministers in the conversion of sinners, more than others, has been merged into the difference of mode used in addressing them. As if, [were] the means rightly used, and sinners properly addressed, the success would necessarily follow, which to me robs God of his glory."
What Hardshell could possibly find fault with such words? They almost sound like the things the Black Rockers were saying. But, again, though Mercer agreed with many of the things that the first Hardshells were saying against the types of methods used by men such as Finney, he nevertheless did not go to the Hardshell extreme and showed rather that protracted and revival meetings could be conducted in keeping with the doctrines of sovereign grace.
Again, Mercer said:
"What we often hear of getting up and continuing revivals, seems to be too of the same sort. As if, whenever Christians will unite in, and faithfully use the means, a revival will of consequence follow; which renders the cause of the conversion of sinners, into the faithful use of the means, or holds God dependent on his people for the success of his gospel. Not but Christians ought to live always in the faithful discharge of every duty, looking to God for his reviving grace, to give effect to all their efforts. But I fear that revivals are too often gotten up in appearance only. That Satan, the better to effect his purposes, assumes the angel of light, and does wonders by the slight of men, I doubt not. When God works, Satan goes to work also. Thus it may be in revivals; a great wind, followed by earthquake and fire, may rend the mountains and break the rocks of human passions, while God may pass on only in milder forms of divine power, at which the prophets of the Lord wrap their blushing faces in the mantle of humble acknowledgment. My desire is, that in the use of the means, whether for the revival of grace, or the awakening of sinners, he that glories, may glory in the Lord." (pg. 73-75)
Again, it is for such words that Mercer was well liked and esteemed by the first Hardshells. But, Mercer did not denigrate the use of means or go into error regarding the use of means. Further, Mercer did not think it right to declare all Christians who practiced holding evangelistic meetings as in disorder.
Adiel Sherwood (1791-1879) was a leader among Georgia Baptists and an associate of Jesse Mercer. He, like Mercer, often combated the extremism of the Hardshells even answering, item by item, the "Kehukee Declaration" of 1827 in his "Strictures on the Kehukee Association." Writing about Sherwood, Jarrett Burch wrote:
"Sherwood admitted that Jesse Mercer did not appreciate the new measures, although Sherwood did. Mr. Mercer never adopted the practice of inviting unconverted persons to be prayed for, as is the custom with most ministers, in protracted meetings. He would pray and weep over those that requested it; but thought it was carrying things too far to exhort sinners and ask them up to certain seats. Such measures were not employed in his early ministry, not much by the Baptists of this State till after 1820, though they had been by the Methodists; hence he questioned the propriety, fearing that animal excitement would preponderate and spurious conversions be the result." (Adiel Sherwood: Baptist Antebellum Pioneer in Georgia By Jarrett Burch, page 59 - see here)
Again, Mercer sounds like a Hardshell. But, Mercer did not think that such things should be made a test of fellowship. The Hardshells went to an extreme by making such a practice a test of fellowship. As we have already seen, the Kehukee brethren in the 1700s practiced inviting sinners under conviction to be prayed for.
"Yet, his (Sherwood) motivation behind strengthening his denomination concerned preachers and their preaching. He wished for strong exhortations that placed a demand upon the hearer. He recalled such a concern occurring in 1823. After a meeting of the Georgia Association Mission Board, he discussed new methods of delivery with other ministers. He remembered, "After business was over, a minister's meeting was proposed, that is, that friendly criticisms should be made on the exercises, manner, faults, and defects of ea c minister...(Later) All retired up stairs except Mr. M. (Mercer); but the brethren were so much interested in the new exercises, as they all lodged in one large room, that they kept talking till a late, very late hour." The subject of exercises could have ranged from practical preaching techniques to the debatable methods of revivalist preachers. Sherwood never criticized the methods he employed. He believed in strong exhortations that demanded a response, knowing this practice could easily be mistaken as being unorthodox or Arminian, In fact, he firmly perceived that his opponents could not tell the difference. He once stated, "But we suspect that many mistake practical preaching for Arminianism, not knowing the true import of the term. Everything but absolute election is Arminianism with them." (page 60)
One should recall the words of Elder John Watson in his "Old Baptist Test" (1866) and his lament over the fact that extremism had led the Hardshells to almost entirely fail in their ministry of exhortation, both to saints and sinners. It was a good thing for these early Baptist ministers to discuss how sinners are to be exhorted and addressed. It is a good thing that they did not go to extremes as did the Hardshells. One should also recall the struggles that Elder John Leland had over the same issues discussed in the above mentioned preacher's meeting. Recall also how both Elder John Watson and Elder John Clark both spoke of how the anti means Hardshells were fond of calling those who believed in means as being "Arminians." Watson said such was a false charge and Clark said that it was actually those who denied means, and who taught a conditional time salvation view that were the real Arminians.
Burch continued, addressing the popularity of altar calls:
"In most of the narratives, individuals came forward to find "the Lord precious." They "came forward" to "desire the prayers of God's people." Sherwood did not view the practice of a sinner's walking forward at the end of a sermon as constituting an act of saving faith or repentance, but rather the sinner stepped forward to discover if God would save him or her. Hence, the audience's prayers were valuable to the meeting. Although there is no mention of an anxious seat (or bench), the front of the assembly was the anxious area. Therefore, the debatable aspect of Sherwood's form of revivalism to traditional Baptists consisted of whether or not sinners should be exhorted toward an active response within the meeting (i.e., asked to step forward for minsters to pray for them)." (page 63)
Such testimony as this from Mercer and Sherwood show that the missionary Baptists were not all Arminian and that they agreed with the Black Rockers on many of the points raised. Spurgeon never practiced calling sinners forward although he did hold private meetings with "awakened sinners." I firmly believe, however, that many conservative Baptists have used altar calls in a manner that ought not to be condemned or styled as being Arminian.
"Before Sherwood's theology of means can be studied, an analysis of the historiography of the Primitive Baptist movement would be helpful in exploring the precise nature of the opposition he encountered." (ibid)
This is exactly what we have been doing in this series. We have looked at the objections of the Hardshells and their choice to declare all Baptists who held protracted meetings as being in disorder and cut off from the church of Christ. Clearly, such men as Sherwood and Mercer met the Hardshells on their objections and actions of declaring non fellowship.
"Noticing the (Kehukee - SG) declaration as an attempt of antimission Baptists to disassociate themselves from the missionary cause and lead others in this direction, Sherwood wrote against their point of view with the tract, "Strictures of the Kehukee Association." Printed originally for the Federal Union, a local paper in Milledgeville, Georgia, the tract was reprinted by the Biblical Recorder and the Religious Herald, the denominational newspapers of North Carolina and Virginia."
In these "strictures" Sherwood responded to the objections of the Hardshells, even agreeing, as did Mercer, with many of the things that they said. However, he saw their declaration of non fellowship as an unjustifiable act, manifesting arrogance and making too much out of it, believing that there was a better way to combat the errors of Arminian revivalists that by declaring non fellowship with orderly Baptist brethren.
Sherwood wrote his strictures under the name of Nehemiah. Wrote Burch:
"As Nehemiah (the rebuilder of Jerusalem's Wall), Sherwood attacked the logic of Kehukee's declaration. In ten strictures, he revealed the absurdity of the contentions of Kehukee. Nine strictures functioned as a review of each charge, while the last summarized the missionary view of such proceedings. He opened the strictures with his frustration over the circulation of the "Declaration and Circular" (the Kehukee Declaration and the previous letter by Lawrence caused these strictures). These documents had circulated from North Carolina to "us, ignorant Georgians," "battering our wretched condition" and "enlightening our ignorance."
These strictures are not yet available on the Internet but can be read probably through obtaining the book by the inter library loan program. But, not only Sherwood, but many others fully answered the fallacies in the Kehukee Address and in the first Hardshell periodicals.
"Sherwood first tackled the term society used in the Declaration. The Kehukee Association defined a society as an organization such as missionary, tract, and Bible societies as well as theological seminaries. Opposition to an extra-biblical organization came from a strict "Thus saith the Lord" that dictate "every step they take, for every sentiment they adopt, and every measure they recommend." The Kehukee Assocation held to an inconsistent position; they disliked societies, but the association itself functioned as a society (an entity not specified in Scripture). Nehemiah stated, "Now our Georgia Bibles know nothing about 'Reformed Associations.'" Why would Kehukee oppose societies when it utilized associations with a "meeting on a stated day, a clerk and book for their churches, etc?" (pg. 72)
This is a powerful rebuttal to the Hardshell denigration of a religious "society." The same thing can be said in regard to the Hardshell denigration of the word "convention." When the various state Baptist conventions were being formed in the early 19th century, the Hardshells began to vehemently protest. Of course, in all this they were hypocrites. As Sherwood pointed out, associations can be defined as societies. Also, the "Primitive Baptist" periodical of the 1830s had its "agents" for its promotion. Was not this a society? Further, Hardshells have had numerous societies formed through the years. Elder Bradley and other Hardshells formed the "Old School Hymnal Company" and sells hymnals to many Hardshell churches. Is this not a society? One of the objections that the Hardshells made against mission, tract, and other kinds of Baptist societies was that they had presidents, secretaries, treasurers, etc. But, as Sherwood noted, their associations had officers. Further, the Hardshells have held their own conventions. In fact, the Black Rock Address was made after there was a call that went out to all the Baptist churches for a "convention" to address their complaints. The creation of the infamous Fulton Confession was made as the result of what is called "The Fulton Convention" of Hardshells.
Sherwood mentions the Hardshell argument that such societies were not mentioned specifically in scripture. Bob Ross refers to this as "patternism," a characteristic of both the Campbellites and the Hardshells. Do they find their beloved associations specifically mentioned in scripture? Where do they find mention of church clerks? Where do they find hymnal companies and periodical organizations? Where do they find radio preaching?
In concluding this section on protracted meetings, a number of points should be made summarily. First, that the Hardshells went way overboard in their reaction to the kind of protracted meetings being held by Methodists, Finney, and some evangelistic minded Baptists. Second, they were acting arrogantly to make this issue a test of fellowship and use it to divide Baptists. Third, there was a better way to combat such errors than that of declaring non fellowship, and Mercer was a good example of such. Fourth, it must be insanity for the Hardshells to neglect doing good because other groups that they despised were doing them. Fifth, it is also insanity to think that there is anything wrong with having meetings that last for more than three days.
In the remainder of this series of chapters we will look at the other things condemned in the Black Rock Address.