In my many years of research into the history of that group that today calls itself "Primitive Baptists," I have discovered many things about the evolution in doctrine that occurred within this denomination. Today's Hardshells generally do not know that there has been any change in doctrine over the past 181 years since the Black Rock Address (1832). They unknowingly believe that what they believe today is exactly what the first Hardshells believed in the early 19th century.
When I was a young Hardshell preacher, and just beginning to be schooled by the veteran Hardshells about their history, I was told many things that I later found out to be false. This is also true concerning the numerous Hardshell histories that I had begun to read.
The first falsehood I was told was that the division among the Baptists that occurred in 1832, as a primary result of the "Black Rock Address," was because the Baptists at that time began to believe things that were new, things that Particular Baptists had not believed before, and that this forced those who supposedly adhered to the old views to declare non-fellowship with them, which created two groups, styled "Missionary" and "Primitive" Baptists.
Another falsehood that I was told is that all the Baptists were united in their beliefs, and that they all were anti missionary and all believed in Spirit alone or immediate regeneration or regeneration apart from faith via the Gospel.
Another falsehood that I was told was that missionary organizations, theological schools, and special religious education for the young, were all new things among the Old Baptists.
Another falsehood that I was told was that the division, or separation of the Hardshells from the general Baptist family, was doctrinal, over the issue of the means question (in regeneration) and over the extent of the atonement (over "Fullerism").
A few years ago I was shocked to find out that one of the more popular views among the first Hardshells of the early 19th century was the view that saw the new birth as being exactly like natural/physical birth, and that as physical birth has stages, so does spiritual birth. There is first the implantation of the seed, the origin of the child, then there was the time of growth in the womb, and then finally the birth of the child from the womb. This view I have learned is still the teaching of the old Regular Baptists and some Presbyterians, and was also the teaching of A.W. Pink. In chapter 52 under the title "Beebe-Trott Model" and chapter 57 under the title "The Original Paradigm" I documented how this view was an accepted view among many of the first generation Hardshells.
This view sees "regeneration" as corresponding to the implantation of the seed, the time in growth in the womb as corresponding to the time when a regenerated soul is under conviction of sin, yet in darkness, without Gospel hope, without conversion to Christ. Finally, there was the "birth," corresponding to the time when the soul is "delivered" from the womb of conviction and darkness and brought forth into the light of the Gospel, when the soul believes in Christ and is converted.
This view was promoted by elders Gilbert Beebe and Samuel Trott, mainly in only one of the four Hardshell periodicals of the 1830s, in the "Signs of the Times." A few writers in the other three Hardshell periodicals of the 1830s also promoted this view. Elder William Conrad of Kentucky held this view and he was a close associate of Elder Wilson Thompson who also seems to have held this view. Thompson was a close associate of Beebe and Trott and frequent writer to the Signs of the Times periodical. Further, in chapter 50 under the title "From Law to Grace?" I showed how this seemed to be the view of Thompson. This view of things was put forth well into the 1850s.
This view of regeneration and the new birth led some Hardshells of the 1830s to reason regeneration was immediate, apart from faith via the Gospel, while the new birth was mediate, through faith via the Gospel. Knowing this about the first Hardshells is important. Just because a writer of the 1830-1860 period may have affirmed that regeneration was immediate, does not mean that he denied that the new birth was likewise immediate, nor does it mean that he denied that one had to be converted as well as regenerated to be finally saved in heaven. In fact, as I have shown in my book "The Hardshell Baptist Cult," the oldest articles of faith of the Hardshell churches all say that they believe that all the elect will be "regenerated AND converted."
In the other periodicals, especially that of "The Primitive Baptist," however, this view does not appear to be generally promoted, the writers in this periodical generally making no distinction between regeneration and conversion, and affirming that regeneration was accomplished through the means of the Gospel. Elder John Watson, who helped put out and write for the "Old Baptist Banner" seemed to believe as did the writers in the "Primitive Baptist" periodical. Further, the writers in "The Christian Doctrinal Advocate and Spiritual Monitor" also seemed to identify conversion with regeneration.
These historical discoveries led me to do further research into exactly how and when the Hardshell denomination took on its present doctrinal stand, when it comepletely denied that regeneration or the new birth was accomplished by the Gospel, and denied that faith in Christ was necessary to be finally saved in heaven.
Around 1890 there was a watershed event dealing with this question of means in regeneration and the new birth. The Mt. Carmel Old School or Regular Baptist church (Luray, Virginia) divided over this question along with the issue of having bible classes and Sunday Schools. This division occurred at the time of Elder John Clark's death who lived in the area and who was editor (since its beginning in 1852 or 1854) of the Hardshell periodical "Zion's Advocate." He lived in Luray. He was a major leader among the Hardshells, and outspoken opponent of Beebe and Trott, who he opposed for holding to Sabellianism, Arianism, and to the eternal children doctrine of Daniel Parker, as well as some of their other errors.
Elder Clark's writings are generally not available on the Internet today as are the old issues of the Hardshell periodicals of the 1830s and 1840s. Hopefully they will be reviewed by me sometime in the future. However, it is clear to me that Elder Clark believed that regeneration was accomplished by the means of the Gospel. He was a frequent writer to the "Primitive Baptist" and never wrote to that periodical to disagree with their oft advocating the means view. Further, I have presented evidence that Elder Clark affirmed the Gospel means position in the very first issue of "Zion's Advocate." However, I have seen some Hardshell web pages where Clark is cited as supposedly affirming that means were not used in regeneration. Now, something is amiss here. Did Clark contradict himself? Or, did he believe in the three stage model of the new birth, as Beebe, Trott, Conrad, and Thompson, and therefore advocated that initital regeneration was apart from means, but that the birth, or complete regeneration, was by means? Or, as I suspect, the citations that these Hardshells give wherein Clark supposedly denied the use of means have the infamous Hardshell ellipsis, of which I have written about in a previous post (see here). I therefore suspect that the omissions in these citations are intended to cover up the real views of Clark on this issue.
It must be remembered that Elder Burnam, who was advocating the means view, and who was one of the leaders involved in the split in the Mt. Carmel church, and one of the persons testifying in the Mt. Carmel church trial that happened many years later concerning this division, was an associate editor with Clark on "Zion's Advocate." It seems unlikely that Clark would have him on his editorial staff if he disagreed with Burnam regarding means. Further, Burnam testified in the trial that he had proof from writings in the Advocate that showed that Clark believed in means. This was denied, however, by those on the other side, men like Elders Dalton and Waters. Dalton became editor of the Advocate when Clark died. Further, Elder Clark was a close friend to elders Watson and Osbourn who clearly taught regeneration by the means of the Gospel.
In the trial Elder Burnam said:
"It was left to the last quarter of the 19th century to give birth among the Old Order of Baptists to the notion of regeneration without faith, or that it is not necessary that one should exercise repentance, faith, or any spiritual gift, in order to be saved, a heresy than which none more pernicious was ever put forth by any professing to be followers of Christ."
Is Burnam saying that the no means view of regeneration/new birth was not promoted at all prior to the last quarter of the 19th century? Surely this change in doctrine did not occur in a vacuum or instantly, but probably had its advocates prior to this time. I was anxious to find out, to discover the causes of this evolution in doctrine.
There is little doubt in my mind that it was in the time period mentioned by Burnam when the anti means faction became the majority view and this led to a formal division between those who still held to the old view, the means view, and those who grabbed hold of the new anti means view.
It is clear that it was the overwhelming majority view of the Hardshells up to the time period mentioned by Burnam that all the elect would be converted, via evangelical faith. It is true that some Hardshells prior to this time were advocating that initial regeneration was immediate, without means, but nevertheless held that conversion was necessary for final salvation and was accomphished by evangelical faith. I suspect that it was the teaching that initial regeneration was immediate that led later Hardshells to deny a distinction between regeneration and conversion and to believe that conversion was not necessary to be born again or finally saved.
It must be remembered that the debate over mission organizations, Sunday Schools, theological schools, tract organizations, protracted meetings, etc., all came down to the question of the condition of the heathen who have no knowledge of the Gospel. How can they be saved if they do not hear the Gospel? This question was a problem for the first generation of Hardshells to deal with as they tried to give a defense for their opposition to mission operations. At first, they did not generally argue that they could be saved whether they ever heard the Gospel, but simply attacked the methods being advocated to bring the Gospel to the heathen. But, after a period of time, their arguments wore thin, and it became apparent to many of them that they would have to come up with a better apology in their fight against missionary operations. This they later decided to do by denying that anyone had to have evangelical faith, or to hear the Gospel, to be regeneration, born again, or finally saved.
In middle Tennessee Dr. R.B.C. Howell put out a paper called "The Baptist" (which was later taken over by Dr. J.R. Graves and who later called it "The Tennessee Baptist"). In this periodical Howell fought against Daniel Parker and his followers, who were strong in his area, and against his neighbor, John Watson. (Note: Watson also battled against the Parkerite faction of the newly formed Hardshell denomination) In Howell's paper, in the 1830s, Howell mentions how the Parkerite Hardshells were responding to the case of the heathen, and of their need to take the Gospel to them. Howell says that they were saying that they would be saved because they were ignorant of the Gospel, and since they never heard it, it was not necessary for them to hear it. If one heard the Gospel, reasoned the Parkerites, then of course they would have to believe it to be finally saved. Howell argued that such reasoning amounts to the heathen being saved by their ignorance, would force one to believe in wholesale heathen salvation, and that it would be better not to preach the Gospel to them at all.
Thus, it seems that the first ones to assert salvation apart from hearing the Gospel were the small Parkerite faction. This is substantiated also by elders John Watson and Hosea Preslar. Watson indicates that this novel view began with some among the followers of Parker, and Preslar, in his book "Thoughts on Divine Providence," as I have cited before, and who moved to middle Tennessee from North Carolina, in the time in question, also intimates that the anti means view as a peculiar view of the Parkerites.