The Hardshells condemned the use of tracts, and of tract organizations, in their denunciations in the "Black Rock Address." Having considered their objections to revival and protracted meetings, we will now consider their objections to the use of tracts. They wrote:
"We commence with the Tract Societies. These claim to be extensively useful. Tracts claim their thousands converted. They claim the prerogative of carrying the news of salvation into holes and corners, where the gospel would otherwise never come; of going as on the wings of the wind, carrying salvation in their train; and they claim each to contain gospel enough, should it go where the Bible has never come, to lead a soul to the knowledge of Christ. The nature and extent of these and the like claims, made in favor of tracts by their advocates, constitute a good reason why we should reject them. These claims represent tracts as possessing in these respects a superiority over the Bible, and over the institution of the gospel ministry, which is charging the great I Am with a deficiency of wisdom. Yea, they charge God with folly; for why has he given us the extensive revelation contained in the Bible, and given the Holy Spirit to take the things of Christ and show them to us, if a little tract of four pages can lead a soul to the knowledge of Christ?"
When the Black Rockers referred to what tract distributors were claiming, in the time period of 1832, it would have been good for them to have substantiated those claims. It is doubtful that tract publishers were claiming all that they are charged with by the Black Rock Address. I don't think that any Christian tract publisher claimed that his tracts contained a sufficient amount of Gospel information to lead someone who was totally ignorant of the Christian religion, such as many of the heathen, especially in the times of the Address, to a saving knowledge of the Gospel. Many tracts then, as now, are designed to reach lost people who already have some knowledge of the facts of the Gospel. Passing out Gospel tracts in America, for example, where there is already some basic general knowledge of the Christian religion, are designed to waken sinners to their lost condition, and to point them to Christ, and advise them to seek the Lord.
But, it is interesting to me how hypocritical the Hardshells have been on this point. What can we say about their own periodicals? Immediately after the Black Rock Address the signers of it created "The Signs of the Times" religious magazine. The same condemnation that the Black Rockers made against tracts and pamphlets could legitimately be leveled against their own publications. Were those publications not designed to convert Arminians and Mission Baptists to hardshellism? It is also interesting how Joshua Lawrence, like many other of his fellow Hardshells, "continued to write pointed tracts targeted at an audience very distrustful of the mission societies and the other benevolent organizations." (James R. Mathis in "Making of the Primitive Baptists" - pg. 92 - see here) Further, I suppose that I have over a hundred small pamphlets or tracts that Hardshells have published on various subjects. It has become another way for them to disseminate their beliefs. Why can they do it but not allow others the freedom to do so? When others do it, they cry that such is an unwarranted "institute," but when they do it, it is no "instituted means."
Further, it seems as though the Black Rockers are condemning distribution of tracts because they do not contain enough information to convert someone. But, I doubt that any Christian tract publisher has ever claimed that his tracts had a superiority over the Bible or Gospel preaching. The Address speaks of tracts of "four pages," thinking that such would be insufficient to lead a soul to Christ. I wonder: if those four page tracts simply contained one of the sermons of Christ, would the Hardshells then condemn them? Are they saying that any one individual sermon given by Christ, which likely would fit into the parameters of "four pages," is insufficient to lead a soul to Christ? Apparently they do based upon the criterion they are using. Further, the Black Rock itself could possibly be only four pages in length! Did they not distribute it? Why is that okay but not tracts directed to the lost?
It is interesting that the Hardshells think that it takes the whole Bible to convert a sinner and yet condemn Bible distribution! But, more on that later. Suppose a Christian distributor simply passed out copies of the Gospel of John. Would that be sufficient to convert a sinner?
I have read numerous accounts by Hardshells of their experiences in being converted. In many of them they have testified that it was a result of one particular verse of Scripture that the Holy Spirit brought to their hearts with conviction. Yet, according to the reasoning given by the Black Rockers against tracts, such experiences should be condemned.
The Address continued:
"But let us consider the more rational claims presented by others in favor of tracts, as that they constitute a convenient way of disseminating religious instruction among the more indigent and thoughtless classes of society. Admitting the propriety of this claim, could it be kept separated from other pretensions, still can we submit to the distribution of tracts becoming an order of our churches or our associations, without countenancing the prevalent idea that tracts have become an instituted means approved of God for the conversion of sinners, and hence that the distribution of them is a religious act, and on a footing with supporting the gospel ministry?"
This Hardshell logic, were it followed fully, would lead us to quit having church services! Or to quit preaching the Gospel altogether. The Black Rockers said that they could not practice tract distribution because some abused it, as though the abuse of a thing made the thing itself a bad thing. But, do not some abuse church services? Was this not the case with the church at Corinth? Did not Paul say to them - "ye come together not for the better, but for the worse"? (I Cor. 11: 17) Did Paul tell them to quit meeting together? The Black Rockers say that, despite the fact, which they admit, that good has come from tract distribution, they still will not "countenance" tract publishing and distribution because it will give some the impression that the Hardshells support the abuses. But, again, such logic if followed in other areas would lead them to discard everything they do, because all has been abused at some point by some group.
Again, the Black Rockers speak of "instituted means." By this they decry tracts because they cannot find anything in the Scriptures that specifically mentions them. Again, this is bad logic, and if followed in other areas, would lead the Hardshells to abandon their having periodicals, and pamphlets, radio preaching, associations, etc. It is the error of "patternism," and similar to what some call the "regulative principle" in worship. Surely all that we do should be based upon Scripture and its principles, but to think that something must be specifically mentioned to be accepted is an absurdity. The Hardshells themselves do not follow such a policy, being inconsistent. But, I will have more to say on these points in the conclusion of this series.
The Address continued:
"If we were to admit that tracts have occasionally been made instrumental by the Holy Ghost for imparting instruction or comfort to inquiring minds, it would by no means imply that tracts are an instituted means of salvation, to speak after the manner of the popular religionists, nor that they should be placed on a footing with the Bible and the preached gospel, in respect to imparting the knowledge of salvation."
This is nothing but gobbledygook, pure nonsense. No Christian in his right mind can abide by such sentiments. The Hardshells found it difficult to admit that any good ever came from any tract, and so they continually say "IF we admit." Again, the Hardshells show how hypocritical and inconsistent they are. Are not many of their periodicals nothing but tracts? Some small, and some large? Are these not designed to be instrumental in imparting instruction and for comforting inquiring minds? They then once again condemn tracts becoming an "instituted means." The Baptists who were involved in tract publishing and distribution never intended to force such a practice on churches! Also, it is to be disbelieved when the Hardshells accuse tract publishers as placing their tracts on a footing with the Bible! The Black Rock Address is full of such false accusations and misrepresentations.
The Address continued:
"Again, we readily admit the propriety of an individual's publishing and distributing, or of several individuals uniting to publish and distribute what they wish circulated, whether in the form of tracts, or otherwise; but still we cannot admit the propriety of uniting with or upon the plans of existing Tract Societies, even laying aside the idea of their being attempted to be palmed upon us as religious institutions. Because that upon the plan of these societies, those who unite with them pay their money for publishing and distributing they know not what, under the name of religious truth; and what is worse, they submit to have sent into their families weekly or monthly, and to circulate among their neighbors, anything and everything for religious reading, which the agent or publishing committee may see fit to publish. They thus become accustomed to receive everything as good which comes under the name of religion, whether it be according to the word of God or not; and are trained to the habit of letting others judge for them in matters of religion, and are therefore fast preparing to become the dupes of priestcraft. Can any conscientious follower of the Lamb submit to such plans? If others can, we cannot."
The Hardshells were in a tough spot in condemning tracts. It was hard for them to deny that some good had been accomplished by them. It was also hard for them to deny that it was the right of Christians to publish and distribute tracts and pamphlets on religious subjects. Such a blanket condemnation would also condemn their own efforts at distributing printed materials. So, the real objections are narrowed down to two. The first is that it is wrong because it gives the appearance of being in agreement with Arminians, and second, that the tract publishers and distributors claim that many have been converted by them. The first of these objections has been abundantly shown to be an extreme, and a criterion that the Hardshells do not follow in every respect. Why don't they quit having church services since others abuse them? The second objection also is an extreme and one that has been fully disproved. Have the Hardshells not put out numerous periodicals and pamphlets for the purpose of converting others to hardshellism? Was the Black Rock Address not a kind of tract intended to convert others?
In all this Hardshells show themselves to be nitpickers and do-nothings. Any Christian in his right mind will view such objections to tract publishing as made by "straight jackets," a term that has been applied to Hardshells. They will see them as weirdos and as an extremist cult.
Debate over the means of the means
The Gospel and the word of God are the appointed means of salvation. This the Bible abundantly states and is also what the oldest Old Baptist confessions affirm. It is also what the first generation of Hardshells acknowledged. So, the debate is really over the means of the appointed means. In other words, is tract publishing and distribution a legitimate means of the means? Is it a means of disseminating the word of God? Who can deny that it is? If it is not a means of making the Gospel available, then why have the Hardshells themselves produced printed materials as means of conveying the word of God? The debate over Sunday Schools, theological schools, and protracted meetings, and such like, are all debates concerning the means of the means.
Jesus said - "What I tell you in private, that proclaim from the roof tops." (Matt. 10: 27) And, Paul said - "I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some." (I Cor. 9: 22) These words justify the use of all available means to spread the word of God. Had the radio or printing press been available in the days of Paul, I doubt that he would have refused to make use of them.