Elder Sonny Pyles, a leading apologist for the "Primitive Baptists," preached a sermon on "Justification" (part one), wherein he made several statements that I wish to examine. I have previously written against the heresy of Pyles (see here).
About the salvation of Paul on the Damascus road, Pyles said:
"Paul was not a child of God from his mother's womb...that is not Old Baptist doctrine."
Now, I certainly do agree with brother Pyles that Saul (who became Paul) was not regenerated while he was in his mother's womb, as some of today's Hardshells teach (including my dad, Elder Eddie K. Garrett, Sr.), but was not regenerated until the Lord appeared to him on the Damascus road. It is true that none of the first Hardshells took this view, at least none that I am aware, and would have considered calling Saul regenerated while he was a Christ rejecter and persecuter of Christians an absurdity. But, one wonders how such a view ever came about? Is it not a natural result of their heretical views on the nature and means of regeneration? In fact, many Hardshells today will tell you that they believe that most of the elect are born again while they are infants, or even before they are naturally born.
Is it possible to be regenerated and believe and do as Saul did before his meeting with the Lord on the Damascus road? People who teach that Paul was regenerated while in his mother's womb (perhaps like John the Baptist) of course totally reject any idea of perseverance for those who have been regenerated. Obviously so. This, however, is what is difficult for Hardshells like Sonny to accept. It certainly would not have been accepted by the Hardshell founding fathers who believed in perseverance and who believed that the truly regenerated would never be a Christ rejecter and murderer of Christians.
Sonny also said:
"Paul is an example of direct regeneration without the Gospel."
I have in various writings written against this interpretation of Paul's conversion/regeneration. I do agree that Paul's conversion is a "pattern" of how all the elect are called and quickened. (See I Tim. 1: 15-17) I have shown how Paul's regeneration was not anything like Hardshell regeneration. Here is how they differ.
1. Paul was both regenerated and converted at the same time
2. Paul cognitively and savingly knew and believed in Jesus in his regeneration experience
3. Paul was made a believer in the Gospel in his regeneration
4. Paul heard the Gospel from the mouth of Jesus who said - "I am Jesus"
5. Paul became a willing servant of Jesus in his regeneration, being made free from sin when he obeyed the word of the Lord
6. Repentance and actual turning away from sin and to Christ occurred in his regeneration
7. The Lord's speaking to Saul was not on the subconscious level. Paul knew, in his regeneration, who was speaking to him.
These reasons militate against the Hardshell understanding of the nature and causes of regeneration. So, do they not have any real argument in the case of Paul? Yes, they do have one. They argue that Jesus did not speak to Paul through a medium, through communicators of the word. So, since there was no preacher present, and supposedly no Gospel knowledge previously possessed by Saul, therefore preachers and Gospel knowledge are not necessary to be regenerated. That is their reasoning. What can we say about it?
About no preachers being present with Paul when the Lord regenerated him, such a fact does not prove them to be unnecessary. It is not the view of those who believe that the Spirit regenerates by means of the preached word that regeneration only occurs in the presence of preachers or while they are hearing the preaching. Many have heard the Gospel by preachers, left the church house, and gotten by themselves, reflected on what they heard, and then came to faith and spiritual life. The preacher was the means, yes, but that did not require the preacher to be present when the seed of the Gospel actually germinated. So, this argument is really no argument at all. Further, if this fact is insisted upon by men like Pyles, then by their own argument about Paul being a pattern, then he would have to say that no one was ever born again in the presence of a Gospel messenger. Absurd. Reductio ad absurdum.
Further, though the Lord spoke to Saul directly on the Damascus road, this was not the first time the Lord spoke to him. Did not Paul write in Hebrews that God had in time past spoken to his people "by the prophets"? (Heb. 1: 1,2) When Saul read the Scriptures, was the Lord not speaking to him? Is this not further proven by the fact that the Lord said to Saul - "it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks"? Was it not the pricks of the word of God that he had been taught and which was in his conscience goading him?
Further, did Paul not know the Gospel message he was opposing? Did he not hear preachers like Stephen? Yes, yes, which all disproves the Hardshell contention that there was no Gospel present in Saul's regeneration/conversion. The seed of the word was in Saul's heart and mind, but had not yet been understood or believed. It was a seed that had not yet germinated.
So, was Paul's regeneration a Hardshell regeneration? No. Does Paul's regeneration exclude the use of means? No. Does Paul's regeneration exclude his coming to evangelical faith? No.