James Wells was a severe antagonist of the great Charles Spurgeon, even doubting that Spurgeon had ever been born again. The Hyper Calvinists, such as among the old Strict Baptists and among today's Hardshell Baptists, look at Wells with admiration and think that he represents their doctrinal tradition of anti duty faith and anti means regeneration.
In this posting I will be citing from Wells, from his work "The Faith of God’s Elect; and a Word upon Duty Faith," being A SERMON – Preached on Sunday Morning, August 30th, 1868, by
MR. JAMES WELLS
AT THE NEW SURREY TABERNACLE, WANSEY STREET (SEE HERE). From these citations we will see that Wells, though denying duty faith, did not go to such extremes in doing so as do today's Hardshells, and see that Well's attempt to answer the affirmative arguments of those who believed in duty faith (as Spurgeon) were not sound, cogent, or scriptural.
Wrote Wells (all emphasis mine):
"...some hold that it is the duty of all men savingly to believe in Christ; and there is a piece of logic which is the stronghold of that system, and before I make a few remarks carefully upon it I am free to confess that there are difficulties on both sides of the question."
It is good that Wells at least gives the appearance of wanting to be fair in the debate over the question of duty faith. He is at least more honest than most of our neo Hyper Calvinist Hardshells for he acknowledges that "there are difficulties on both sides of the question." Today's Hardshells have become so cock sure about their anti duty faith and anti means regeneration positions that they will not make the same acknowledgment as did Wells.
"We cannot suppose that when such men as Bunyan, and many of the great Puritans of that day-the majority of them-held the doctrine of duty-faith, we cannot suppose but there must be something bearing in that way in the Scriptures in their estimation."
Notice the admission! One of the leaders of the anti duty faith side admitting that his view is not the orthodox view of his forefathers, of the great Particular Baptists leaders of the 17th century. Further, when he says "the majority of them" he should have said "nearly all of them."
"They were men of mighty minds, and yet they held that doctrine."
Again, another revealing admission by a leading 19th century Hyper Calvinist, and one which I am sure agitates the consciences and minds of men like Wells. He has admitted that the majority of the great Puritans (like Owen) and Baptists (like Bunyan, the 1689 Confession signers, etc.) believed in duty faith and now he admits that these men (with whom he disagrees) were great men. I would like for our modern Hardshells to at least agree with Wells that the denial of duty faith is not the traditional view of Particular Baptists.
"So that when we see men the reality of whose religion we cannot dispute hold a doctrine of that kind, let us handle it carefully."
Yes, indeed, let us handle it carefully (just as we should every teaching of scripture). But, it is difficult to even get today's simple minded Hardshells to "handle" it at all, and certainly not with care. How did John Gill handle it? Did not men like Brine and Wells go much further astray on this subject than their admired Gill?
"Let us see whether there may not be some difficulties on our side as well as on theirs. It is very easy to ridicule the sentiment of an
opponent; it is very easy to be sarcastic, but it is not so easy to refute."
Will you at least confess this much my Hardshell brothers? Or, will you remain so arrogant in affirming your heterodox view while denouncing the other side as being unlearned and in error on this issue?
"Infidels may ridicule the Bible, but they never have been and never will be able to refute it. Now their argument, then, is this-that if faith be not a duty, unbelief is no sin. That is a very powerful declaration, and that is the stronghold of that doctrine; and I must hold with it, because it is a piece of logic as correct as possible; no man can deny it."
I wish that we could get at least our modern Hardshells to make even this admission! But, many of them will not be so honest as Wells appears or desires to be. Did you get what he said my Hardshell brothers? "No man can deny it." Yet, this is what you all do! You will not say that "unbelief is sin."
"Therefore it comes to this, that unbelief is sin, and that there must be a sense in which it is the duty of the creature to believe; for if not, then unbelief is no sin. Well, I have always held that it is the duty of the creature to believe the word of God, that it is the duty of the creature to act according to the light that God gives; that it was the duty of the old world to listen to Noah, by which they might have escaped the flood; that it was the duty of the Ninevites to listen to Jonah, which they did, and believed, and saved their city; that it was the duty of Capernaum, the cities of Judah and Jerusalem, to believe that the Saviour was the Messiah, and to bow to him, and the cities might have remained to this day, as witness the Saviour:- If these things had been done, he said, in Sodom, they would have repented long ago, and their city would have remained to this day."
Notice that Wells, though he is going to DENY "duty faith," yet here admits that "unbelief is sin," and this being so, "it is the duty of the creature to believe." If I only had this citation by itself, I would think that Wells and Spurgeon were in agreement. I would that our modern Hardshell and Strict Baptist brothers would at least come back to the less extreme view of Wells and affirm what he wrote in the above citation.
"But then this natural belief is one thing, and the faith that God gives to his people is quite another thing. I therefore hold unbelief be sin; that is, I hold it to be sinful for a man to be an infidel; I hold it to be sinful for a man to disbelieve the Bible."
Again, in reading these words you would not think that Wells was against duty faith, It is also interesting to note how our present day Hardshells go even further than Wells and would deny what Wells wrote in the above words.
"But I do not hold it to be sinful for a man not to have saving faith. When I come to saving faith, I come into another region altogether. In the first case, man’s duty, there I am in the region of human responsibility. Man is a voluntary agent, and is responsible for his acts. I do not hold the atheistical doctrine of irresponsibility. All men are responsible, and there will be at the last great day a greater condemnation for the persecutors and enemies of the Lord than for others."
Wells attempts to harmonize his affirmation of some kind of duty faith on the one hand with his denial of another kind of non duty faith on the other hand. He does what John Brine did, and so too Dr. Gill in some cases. What these biblical expositors did was to make the "two kinds of" argument that has characterized the Hardshell Hyper Calvinists in their writings and hermeneutics. There are two kinds of faith, two kinds of repentance, two kinds of salvation, two kinds of conversion, etc. Wells gives us two kinds of "unbelief" and two kinds of "belief" (or faith).
Wells says that the kind of belief or faith required of all men is "natural faith" (whatever that means) but not "saving faith." But, he does not give any clear definition and distinction between the two. Is it that the belief God requires of all men lacks something? What is it? The heart? The object of belief?
"Thus, then, it is the duty of man to receive his Creator; here is his responsibility; and he is responsible in proportion as he has not done so, and will be favored with a less condemnation in proportion as he has done so."
Wells speaks of "the duty of man to receive his Creator." Why would God require men to receive him in any other way than as he is revealed in Scripture? Would not his duty to receive his Creator mean that he should do so with a full heart? With joy and honesty of soul? Would it not include believing in Christ the Son of God and receiving his teachings, heeding his warnings, and taking his advice?
If one only had the above words alone, outside of their context, one could cite Wells as a believer in duty faith, but if he reads the whole, he will see that Wells is writing against duty faith. It would be good if our modern Hardshells who favor Wells over Spurgeon would at least come back to the less extreme view of Wells and at least confess what he said in the words just cited.
But, after saying the above things, Wells asks rhetorically - "But what has this to do with saving faith? Why, just nothing at all."
The faith or belief that God requires of his creatures is not such as will save them? Where did he get that idea? Let us hear him explain.
"I will now just name three things that hinder me from receiving the doctrine that it is the
duty of all men savingly to believe in Christ. First, it is a doctrine which whether those that believe it or not, rests the eternal salvation of man upon the creature, and takes it out of the hand of the Lord. Any principle that you hold that will not bear carrying out must be wrong. Now, then, let us try this question. It is my duty savingly to believe in Christ; consequently it is my duty to be regenerated; therefore it is my duty to be loved with an everlasting love; it is my duty to be chosen to salvation; it is my duty to be interested in Christ; it is my duty to have all my sin pardoned, and my soul eternally saved."
Wells falsely reasons that whatever is necessary for salvation cannot be a duty. Further, he gives no Scripture that affirms his thesis or premise. Of course, there are abundant scripture to show that his proposition is false, as I shall show (as many others have before me). He then states that such a view would "rest the eternal salvation of man upon the creature" and would "take it out of the hand of the Lord." But, as he has already admitted, such was not the belief of Well's Baptist forefathers or of the great Puritan writers. They did not believe that faith being a duty made it a non essential to salvation. They believed that saving faith could be, and actually is, both a duty and a sovereign gift of God's grace and that such a view did not entail the assumed consequences of Well's Hyper Calvinist reasoning.
Further, in these words, Wells charges his opponents with believing more than they do when he says that all fallen sinners are duty bound to believe that they are chosen to salvation, or that Christ died in their stead, etc. He is wrong to think that the Scriptures do not command all fallen men to seek God and his favor and forgiveness, or to become holy through regeneration. The following scriptures show that the objection of Wells is itself what is contrary to Scripture.
"Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the LORD your God." (Lev. 20: 7)
"Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded." (James 4: 8)
"...yet such exhortations are not in vain, since they may be useful to convince men of their pollution, who are pure in their own eyes, as these hypocritical, nominal professors, might be; and to bring them to a sense of their inability to cleanse themselves ("awaken" them - SG), and of the necessity of being cleansed elsewhere; and to lead them to inquire after the proper means of cleansing, and so to the fountain of Christ's blood, which only cleanses from all sin."
"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also." (Matt. 23: 25-26)
"Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?" (Eze. 18: 31)
"Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings." (Jer. 4:4)
"Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord." (Acts 3:19)
"And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation." (Acts 2:40)
"Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light." (Eph. 5: 14)
The question is this - does God call or invite all men to look to him for salvation from their sins? And, if he does, then is it not the duty of all men to accept that invitation?
Another question is this - if men are commanded to believe that Christ is the Savior of the world, and to believe all that he has revealed, does that not include believing the promises that Christ attached to his declarations of what is man's duty to believe?
Are there not teachings from Christ about the nature of the Gospel's invitations to men and of the promises attached to them, about the blessings and curses attached to either reception or rejection of those invitations?
"The third and last, and not the least objection I have to that doctrine is this, that I can find it nowhere in the Scriptures."
Perhaps he missed seeing the above Scriptures?