In an article titled "More on The Wisdom of the "Heathen", J. H. Oliphant, Hardshell preacher and apologist, and moderator of the infamous "Fulton Convention" or "Fulton Confession," and published in "The Primitive Monitor" for November, 1907, wrote in defence of the new hybrid view of the late 19th century Hardshells that affirmed that many of the pious heathen were already "born again," and that the Gospel or word of God was therefore not necessary for being eternally saved. The time of this article (1907) is important, as well as is the person to whom Oliphant is responding (Elder W. T. Pence). (see here)
Oliphant begins (emphasis mine):
"I received a clipping from a recent number of Elder Pence's paper, in which he criticizes an article from me in a recent number of the Primitive Baptist. I will write concerning the matter again...Many have held, as Elder Pence, seems to hold, that there can be no salvation where there is no bible. I think the Missionaries usually make this plea."
The idea that there are heathen who have been born again, saved, and justified, although they have no faith in the Hebrew God or in Christ and his atonement, is a novel view, one that was not believed by Baptists until the "rise of the Hardshells" in the 19th century. For instance, the London Confession is clear on this point, denying that any are saved who die without Gospel knowledge and faith. Dr. Gill also, in his Body of Divinity, affirms the same. Further, it was not even the view of the first generation of Hardshells, being a novelty of second and third generation Hardshells.
Besides being novel, it is also entirely heterodox, against the plain teachings of the Scriptures, as Elder Pence was asserting.
When Olipant denies that there can be any salvation apart from the Bible, he is really asserting that salvation exists where there is no knowledge of the Bible's revelation concerning God and Christ. This idea is so clearly against the Scriptures that one wonders how and why this novel idea gained a following. Does Oliphant have any Scriptures that affirm the salvation of heathen who die without faith in the God of the Bible and of his way of salvation through Christ? No, he does not, as we shall see.
Today's Hardshells have also been challenged to give the Scriptural proof for their novel idea, and to explain how they interpret the numerous verses that teach the absolute necessity of Christian enlightened (experience revelation) for faith and salvation. All Oliphant and the Hardshells can do is to offer inferences and logical deductions in proof of their hybrid teaching. They can give no clear cut, straight forward, passages which assert their proposition, so they rely on their own human reasonings, as I have often pointed out before. (For instance, see here)
"Paul said, "In him we live and move and have our being," and then showed that their own poets had said as much, "For we are also his offspring." Paul quoted from the heathen words of instruction for Christianity. Paul spoke of their inscription "To the unknown God, whom therefore ye ignorantly worship." He recognized a spirit of devotion among them, something commendable, and quoted from their author words of wisdom. There are some texts that indicate that heathen nations are interested in salvation. "In thee shall all the families of the earth be blest." And all the nations of the earth shall be blest in him." "And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blest." Here is a blessing for "all the nations" and "all the families of the earth." But how can this be if "seven tenths of the nation are swept away without one ray of light among them?" "For thou wast slain and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred and tongue and people under heaven." How could this be if the work on grace is wholly excluded from seven-tenths of the nations of the earth? or if it be restricted to those who have bible advantages?"
John saw a great multitude that no man can number "of all kindreds and people and tongues who stood before the throne and before the lamb clothed in white robes," etc."
Such statements as this better agree with the idea that God's method of salvation is not limited to human efforts, especially when we remembered that only about one fourth of the race has ever been favored with Bible advantages."
Notice how none of the passages cited and alluded to assert prima facie the proposition of Oliphant. None of those verses affirm that anyone who dies without faith is saved. Oliphant thinks that making faith necessary for salvation is inconsistent with wholesale heathen damnation. He is relying on his own presuppositions and logical deductions rather than upon the plain express statements of Scripture. Ironically, though he relies upon logical deduction to sustain his doctrine, his logic is seriously flawed. His analysis is a good example of eisegesis rather than exegesis. He brings propositions and premises into the discussion without first proving their source in Scripture.
Notice how Oliphant says "but how can this be?" and how such and such a fact "better agrees with" another supposed fact. Is he not "leaning upon his own understanding," a thing forbidden in Scripture? (Prov. 3: 5) No fundamental doctrine of Scripture is to be based upon mere inferences and deductions, but upon the clearest and plainest statements of Scripture. Oliphant not only shows his hermeneutical flaws in this way, but he also shows it by the fact that he allows his presuppositions to control his handling of the word of God. In other words, if a passage of Scripture seems to teach contrary to the Hardshell premise that says "God uses no human means in the eternal salvation of sinners," then that verse will then be twisted in such a way as to harmonize with their premise.
Oliphant offers this syllogistic logic to prove the salvation of heathen idolaters.
1. The pagans had a "spirit of devotion," or were devout and religious.
2. A "spirit of devotion" is evidence of regeneration.
3. The pagans were regenerated.
Of course, what is wrong with this logic is the fact that premise #2 is false. Jesus certainly did not believe that such was an evidence of salvation, but of damnation. Likewise, the apostles did not view heathen religious devotion as proof of regeneration. By this logic the Hardshells would have all, except atheists, to be regenerated and heirs of eternal life. Is this not quasi universalism?
Actually, though the Bible teaches the elect "few," and the reprobate "many," the Hardshells reverse this and say that the "few" are the reprobate and the "many" are the elect.
Oliphant also offers this syllogism:
1. The pagans believed that humans were created by divinity or divinities.
2. Believing this is proof of regeneration.
3. The pagans who believed this are regenerated.
Again, where is Oliphant's Scriptural support for premise (presupposition) #2? Just because Paul cites a heathen writer to show agreement on a theological point does not equate with his affirming the salvation of the one being cited. That idea is ludicrous.
The idea that the Athenian polytheists were already born again before they heard the Gospel is a view that late 19th century Hardshells adopted to uphold their idea of "regenerated heathen." Oliphant argues that since the heathen were religious, believed in divine beings, and in some things in common with Hebrews and Christians, therefore they must be born again. But, no where in Scripture are such things put forth as evidence of salvation.
In my book I cited from Hardshell apologist Sarrels who, like Oliphant, attempted to find evidences of regeneration in the heathen. He thought that any good person was regenerated since "goodness" is a fruit of the Spirit. (Gal. 5: 22) The person will not have any faith, for "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10: 17), but according to Oliphant, Cayce, Sarrels, Waters, Dalton, Daily, and other late 19th century Hardshell leaders, faith is not essential to salvation. In fact, Elder Waters uttered the new Hardshell banner in 1890 with these words - "Every regenerate child of Adam is saved eternally, faith or no faith." Though this is what is now believed by today's Hardshells, it is not the teaching of the Old Baptists nor of the Scriptures, but is an invention of men, that which helps identify them as a cult.
Because Paul cites some things from the heathen writers, therefore he must have viewed them as regenerated and saved? That is very poor reasoning. Paul and the Biblical writers also cite from Satan and demons. According to the reasoning of Oliphant, that must mean that they are regenerated children of God!
"There was no Bible, not even the ten commandments or the golden rule, for the first fifteen hundred years of the world, and yet we read of men and women that knew God, the true God, and the right worship. Josephus tells us that Abraham argued from the vastness of creation and the beauty and order of it that there is but one God. Tillotson argued, I think rightly, that we learn of the being of God from the works of his hands, and "There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard." Jacob and all the Patriarchs had lived and died before the first line of the Bible was written. Enoch had walked with God; Noah had built the ark, and Abel had made acceptable sacrifice to God without the aid of the Bible. All these are referred to in the New Testament as the true servants of God. Though Abraham was surrounded with error in the midst of the Chaldees yet he knew the true God and obeyed him and became the father of the faithful in all ages, and all this without a Bible or a preacher. Job lived before Abraham in the land of Uz, supposed to be Arabia. He knew the true God and the true worship with none of the advantages Elder Pence seems to think indispensable to the knowledge and worship of God."
First of all, we notice again how Oliphant, in typical Hardshell fashion, tries to slip in a proposition that he assumes to be true, with the supposition that it will be accepted without questioning. But, those "skilled in the word of righteousness" will not be so accepting. Oliphant's false premise says that there "was no Bible," no word of God, "for the first fifteen hundred years of the world." That is a gross falsehood. The word of God, yea, even the Gospel, was in existence during those fifteen hundred years.
Oliphant affirms that the ancient believers, such as Abel, Enoch, Noah, and the Patriarchs, "knew God, the true God, and the right worship" and yet had no word of God! Is that not preposterous?
It is true that the first part of the Bible was formally written by Moses, but to assume that what Moses wrote was entirely new revelation is an error. Oliphant admits that what Moses believed is what Abraham believed. Further, what Abraham believed was what the first family believed, what the first prophets taught. Luke says that "His holy prophets...have been since the world began." (Luke 1: 70) Did the ancient antediluvian believers not have any word of God? Did they not have the promise of the Redeemer who would be wounded by the serpent's seed and would crush the head of the serpent? Does not ancient Mazzaroth show that the ancients had great knowledge of the true nature of God and of the coming Messiah?
Does Oliphant not know that oral revelation was in existence before Moses wrote the Pentateuch? That the word of God existed in the minds of men and communicated orally?
Does Oliphant not know that there was revelation before it was written down? Does he not know that when it is said that Abel had "faith," that this presupposes knowledge of the truth believed?
We are told by Jude that Enoch, "the seventh from Adam," prophesied of the coming of the Lord. Did he not get this knowledge by the word of God? The truth is, the ancients had the gist of the Bible existent in their hearts and understandings.
Oliphant thinks that the fact that a vast host is finally redeemed is logically inconsistent with the idea that only those who hear the word of God are saved. But, again, why base one's doctrine on such imagined reasonings rather than upon what is clearly stated in Scripture? Those of us who believe that God saves through the means of the word and revelation of God have no problem seeing men of all nations in heaven.
"After Moses' time centuries passed with but a small part of the Bible written as we now have it. Christ was known in it only in types and shadows. Forty centuries went by, and all that train of nations had been swept away before a line of the New Testament was written. Yet we see a succession of the true worshippers from Abel to the coming of Christ. "All thy children shall be taught of God," and God found a way to teach and make himself and his will known to the children of men in the various nations of earth throughout all those centuries."
So, what is Oliphant saying? He is not denying that the ancient believers, before the written Bible, had been taught divine truth, but he denies that this divine teaching was by means of indirect communication. His argument, if valid, rather than proving that men were saved apart from faith in divine revelation, would prove merely that they were saved by God directly speaking the word to ancient believers and not by prophets or communicators of the word. It seems to me that such a view ignores the plain facts of history as revealed in Scripture, which affirm that sufficient revelation has existed from the beginning to bring men to know God and his way of salvation through a mediator.
Oliphant actually contradicts himself. In one breath, he wants to say that there was no Bible, or no revelation of religious or theological truth, prior to Moses, and yet in another breath asserts that people prior to Moses knew religious truth. If his point is to prove that men are saved who knew not God, he has miserably failed.
Oliphant wants us to believe that the manner in which God teaches all his children is by direct revelation, making all God's people into mystics, into prophets and apostles.
Also, consider that all the examples Oliphant offers of people who were supposedly "heathen," and who were nevertheless in favor with God, and born of his Spirit, were in fact, by his own admission, not "heathen" by definition, for they believed in the one true God and were "true worshippers."
Oliphant says that "God found a way to teach and make himself known" in those times before we had a formal written revelation. But, does he believe that those who have experienced this revelation are still by definition heathen, pagans, and polytheists? According to Oliphant, God can make himself known in regeneration and enlightenment in some "way" and manner, but this "way" cannot possibly be by means of prophets and communicaters of the word.
"How much of the Bible is indispensable to salvation? Twenty-five hundred years went by before one line of it was written, and near three thousand years were gone before one half the Old Testament was written, and four thousand years were gone before one line of the New Testament was written. These are all important facts as I see the subject. God's mercy was applied to multitudes before a line of the Bible was written. The redeemed shall come from every kindred tongue, and nation under heaven--a multitude that no man can number of all the families of the earth."
Oliphant gives the same rhetorical response as other Hardshells when he queries - "how much of the Bible is indispensable to salvation"? His purpose in asking this question is so that he can whittle down the amount of truth necessary to be believed in order to be classified as regenerate. He wants to whittle it down so as to exclude knowing the one true God, and so as to include polytheists.
Oliphant then says:
"Abraham knew of Christ and all the ancient worthies saw Christ by faith."
But, according to Paul, one must first hear the word about Christ in order to believe in him. (Rom. 10: 14-17) Also, this shows that there was revelation about Christ before Moses penned the first Scriptures.
"When the gentiles, which have no law, do by nature the things contained in the law, it shows the work of the law written in their hearts.” Paul believed there were Gentiles that had the work of the law written in their hearts, which is the new covenant of grace. Rom. ii. 8, 9 teach the same."
Romans 2: 8-9 does not teach that the heathen, while in heathendom, are regenerated. This is a novel interpretation of this passage. This passage was seized upon because it was judged as being one passage that at least comes close to asserting the regeneration of heathen and polytheists. I have previously destroyed this interpretation (see here) Notice that the passage does not say "which show the work of GRACE (or salvation) written in their hearts," but the "work of the LAW." Paul is not affirming that the heathen have a regenerated nature, but a moral nature, a conscience.
"When Peter went to the house of Cornelius he said, “I perceive of a truth that God is no respecter of persons, but in every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness is accepted with him.” Peter learned that God’s mercy was operative in “every nation.” “He that feareth him and worketh righteousness;” such people are in every nation and “are accepted with him.”
Cornelius was not saved apart from hearing and believing the Gospel. He heard and he believed. To argue that he was saved before he became a believer is to affirm that men can be regenerate while unbelievers. But, the Scriptures know nothing of regenerated unbelievers.
Further, since "without faith it is impossible to please God" (Heb. 11: 6), how can Oliphant affirm that heathen people were pleasing God (working righteousness) apart from faith? Further, how can one "fear" him whom he knows nothing about?
"If all the good and pure is in Christendom it is little enough. But I am persuaded that a little of the good is in other nations. There are some who fear God and work righteousness, and they are accepted with him. There are some who “call upon the name of the Lord,” and there is a promise to them, Acts x. 1-4, also Acts ii. 21-3; Joel ii. 2. These have ever been my views. They are scriptural, as I understand the Bible."
So, like Sarrels, Oliphant argues that since heathen people do good things, therefore they must be born again! Oh wonderful logic!
Also, Oliphant again identifies the heathen, the ones who have not heard the Gospel or read a Bible, as people who "fear God and work righteousness," and who are "accepted with him." They even "call upon the Lord" though they do not know the Lord and continue to believe in false gods! Anyone who is not blinded by Hyper Calvinism and cult thinking can see how perverted is such reasoning and handling of the word of God.