THE HIGH ROAD OF TRUTH DOWN THE MIDDLE
Our research has repeatedly turned up information which at least suggested a historical prejudice among Protestant “Reformed” churches against religious emotion, spiritual experience, and assurance of salvation which is based on experimental knowledge of God. It is readily confessed that too much reliance upon mere “feelings” as evidence of salvation is dangerous and deceptive, especially when the ones who profess such faith demonstrate no holiness in attitude or manner of life, nor any higher love toward God and fellow-men than that common ability of the natural man. However, the habit of regarding visible fruits or works, or success due to apparent Providence, more reliable assurance than the abiding voice of God’s Holy Spirit is to embrace a deceptive error. It is also deceptive to believe that self can be a proper judge of one’s own faith and its sufficiency to meet the minimal salvation requirements of God.
The fallen human heart and mind is incapable of saving faith without the grace of immediate Divine operation to enable such faith. With this last sentence all traditional “Reformed” doctrine seems to agree. What can be done by a lost sinner toward achieving this, if anything, is much in doubt within that tradition. So is the question of certain assurance for the elect of God, especially if such assurance is based on experimental and intuitive evidence. The humble heart’s cry for such grace unto salvation is a prayer promised an answer to “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord” (Romans 10:13). As the heart strives to enter into eternal life by believing, and the doubting sinner cries “help thou mine unbelief,” God hears and helps by giving more than enough grace to believe. Thus it is that even your faith unto salvation is “not of yourselves, it is the gift of God …” (Ephesians 2:8). Paul strengthened this interpretation of his words in Ephesians 2:8 with Galatians 2:16, which literally translated say that a human being “is not justified by works of law, but through faith of Jesus Christ, even we believed inJesus Christ, that we might be justified by faith of Christ, for by works of law shall no flesh be justified.” This “justification” means “declared righteous” by God Himself. In this one verse, faith is connected with Jesus Christ three times. One time that connection is made with the same preposition used dozens of times in the New Testament text to show Jesus Christ to be the only proper object of faith for all who seek salvation, but twice more, before and after, that connection between faith and Jesus Christ is made with a genitive/ablative construction, implying that saving faith is “of” or “from” Him, that is, derived from Him rather than being a product of the human will or mind. These two literal genitive renderings of “faith of Christ” in Galatians 2:16 have been changed to “faith in Christ” in almost all modern translations, conveying the idea that Paul needlessly repeated this expression three times in rapid succession. This does not explain the obvious difference found in the Greek manuscripts, which the King James translators labored to pass on to posterity. All translations insert the definite article “the” where it is not found in the manuscripts numerous times. Readers need to see how this passage reads without these insertions, as we have given it above.
The deceitful hearts of men are no more adequate to judge when they have believed, without the aid of Divine witness, than they were able within themselves to believe unto righteousness. Any opinion of self, supposing that all of the demands of God’s word have been met, while yet void of any direct witness of acceptance with God coming from His Holy Spirit, is surely deceived.
Quotes used in previous chapters have indicated that the idea of mentally “accepting Christ,” and of counting such “acceptance” as saving faith, or perhaps more accurately, proper evidence of it, existed among “Reformed” Protestants long before it was known among Baptists.
Early “Calvinistic” reformers sometimes showed unreasonable contempt toward the Anabaptists of their day. Some of their words against them resemble too much the irrational rages of “anathemas” breathed out by the medieval Popes and their Catholic inquisitors against dissenters. Reformers also despised Anabaptist refusals to submit their unconscious babes to what they called “baptism,” and likewise their practice of shunning those whose lives and works demonstrated an attitude unchanged from worldliness and natural instincts of sin. It is probable that what they despised most about them was their opinion that the “Reformed” churches remained half Catholic, with much too little reform to be embraced in their fellowship. (Never would we claim that they were all sound churches who were labeled “Anabaptist” by those writers who held them in contempt because of their denial of the validity of what Catholics and Protestants called “baptism.” “Anabaptist” means “rebaptizer” and never did any who were so accused admit that correction of an invalid and perverted rite was “rebaptism.” Rather, they believed it was genuine baptism instead. Since it did not take a particularly spiritual mind to discern the unbiblical nature of infant sprinkling, some sects which were not orthodox apostolic churches are believed to have practiced this “anabaptism” also. It is grossly unfair to confuse genuine saints and churches of God, such as those “anabaptists” described by Thieleman Van Braght in Martyr’s Mirror, with unorthodox and radical sects. This would be comparable to confusing historical Old-Time Baptists such as we are today with Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons simply because we all practice physical immersion of adult converts in water.)
Since ancient times it has been observed that members of exalted religions who normally regard themselves as the straitest and most elite of the righteous, are unreasonably outraged when they perceive that another sect or group regards them as insufficiently holy. So it was with the Pharisees toward Jesus and his disciples. So has it been during the last fifty years with many of the various “Baptists” who embrace the new easy evangelism, when they have encountered Baptists still practicing enough of the “old paths” to require, before baptism and church membership, a credible account of a regenerating experience with God. Their anger is usually the most intense when they understand that we will not fellowship them as sister churches, thus regarding them in much the same way that they have been long accustomed to regarding others.
John Calvin, like other of the “great” reformers, apparently had a large ego which desired to regard himself as the ultimate reformer. Intolerance supplied him where reason failed him whenever he encountered those he considered heretics. Certain to be challenged by some of the many slavish disciples of this man, we offer the following evidence. In one short paragraph of his “institutes” he freely loaded opponents of his practice of infant sprinkling with these accusations: “ridiculous … void of all semblance of reason … at variance with each other … giddy contradictions … frenzied dreams … minds of men wander to and fro … substitute their dreams for the infallible word of God … mere imagination … ingenious is their cavil …quibbling distinctions.” Such a tirade would disqualify any debater in a properly moderated religious discussion. What is more, such is not Christian. It is slandering and it is railing! This he attempted to load upon others for merely objecting to his use of Old Testament circumcision to justify practicing infant sprinkling, which he mistook for “baptism.” (pages 539-540, Volume 2, INSTITUTES OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION by John Calvin) This is only one example of intolerance he exhibited with his hateful words. Such displayed arrogance frequently suggests his opinion that his interpretation of Holy Scripture was infallible. History also shows that his persecuting attitude was not limited to words only.
Calvin had been schooled to be a lawyer, but had considerable religious training while he remained within the Catholic church. As he graduated from Catholicism he first embraced humanist thought and later absorbed some Protestant ideas. In the course of this latter learning he experienced what he called a “sudden conversion.” When the king of his native France decreed persecution for Protestants, Calvin fled from France to become a lifelong refugee. It was his Protestant friend of the “Reformed” sect, Gillaume Farel, who persuaded his reluctant young friend to join him in the formidable tasks of reformer and theologian in Geneva. (Farel was the same man who in 1532 helped persuade the majority of the remnants of the ancient Waldenses living in the Piedmont valleys of the Italian Alps to cast aside their ancient order and join his movement, thus conforming to his “reform” model of “church.” How persuasive this man must have been! – page 304, HISTORY OF THE BAPTISTS by Thomas Armitage)
This background of Calvin’s may account for the “Reformed” movement’s apparent bias toward mental rather than emotional evidences of spiritual things. His own acceptance of his calling to a position of great religious leader seems to have been based far more upon visible experience, providential happenings, and success, than upon any direct command from the Holy Spirit. “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.”(Romans 8:14) We hope that his conversion was sufficient, not falling short of that regeneration which endues the soul with a portion of Divine nature and love, and leaves the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide it through life. We leave that judgment to God, but his account of his own conversion seems inadequate, being barely told, and that in terms of mental persuasion.
“Step by step he approached the position of the Reformers, but slowly, for, as he says himself, in the partly autobiographic preface to his commentary on the Psalms (and it is about all that is known on the subject), he ‘was too obstinately devoted to the superstitions of popery to be easy extricated from so profound an abyss of mire.’ But, some time in 1533, ‘God by a sudden conversion subdued and brought [his] mind to a teachable frame. Having thus received some taste and knowledge of true godliness, [he] was immediately inflamed with so intense a desire to make progress therein, that although [he] did not altogether leave off other studies, [he] yet pursued them with less ardor. [He] was quite surprised to find that before a year had elapsed, all who had any desire after purer doctrine were continually coming to [him] to learn, although [he himself] was as yet but a mere novice and tyro.'” (page 354, Volume 4,THE NEW SCHAFF-HERZOGENCYCLOPEDIA OF RELIGIOUS KNOWLEDGE, “John Calvin”) He expressed this “surprise” at a phenomenon which continues to occur to thisvery day. His writing is spellbinding, and his vocal eloquence may have been also.In a time when most religious writings were very difficult to read, Calvin wrote with an ease that is as comfortable to the reader as browsing the evening newspaper.
All commentators on John Calvin’s life, including those most favorable to him, seem to agree that the above information is the most that Calvin ever made public about his “conversion” from “Catholic” to “Reformed.”Earlier in this work Daniel Cohen wasquoted as saying of D. L. Moody, ” Other religious leaders from St. Augustine to Charles G. Finney left lengthy and often tortured accounts of their spiritual transformations. If Moody ever had such a mystic experience, he never spoke of it. His conversion seems to have been a fairly simple and unemotional matter. Christianity just made sense to him.” (pages 108-109, THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD: REVIVALISM IN AMERICA by Daniel Cohen)ApparentlyJohn Calvin was not among those he mentioned from Augustine to Finney.The apostle Paul’s transforming experience from Pharisee to Christian is recounted three times in the book of Acts, twice as he told it himself and once as Luke, one of his closest companions, relayed it to us. The undeniable impression isleft that Paul, everywhere he went, prefaced his message with, “on the road to Damascus ….” He related this witness of his direct experience with Jesus as his justification before men. Transformation from Catholic scholar to Protestant reformer should rightly be expected to be as profound an experience as transformation from Jewish Pharisee to apostolicChristian.Is it logical thatCalvin, who leaned so heavily upon Paul’s writings while imagining him to be the only other quotable advocate of his “Predestination” doctrine between Augustine and Jesus, would never tell such a conversion experience regarding himself? Apostles Peter and John replied to their persecutors’ threats, “We are unable not to speak what we saw and heard.” (Acts 4:20 – literal translation) Scripture interpretation is an essential part of evangelism, but direct “witness” is no less essential. We do not think it is unreasonable to question whether he ever experienced a repentance deep enough to profoundly change his spiritual attitude, especially since the proof is abundant that he remained as intolerant as those from whose persecution he fled.
His frequent intolerance toward dissenters, even to the extreme of his consent to the burning alive of Michael Servetus, does not speak favorably for any “new creation” abiding within him. The doctrine popularly attributed to him depends more upon a supposed “unconditional election” in past eternity for its basis of salvation assurance than upon present evidence of “the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.” (Romans 8:16)
The whole Protestant reformation, whether Luther’s party, Zwingli’s party (later dominated by Calvin), or the Anglican party, were all motivated by the sense that their Catholic church must return to some “old paths.” In looking for guidance from the early “church fathers” of post-apostolic centuries, most settled on Augustine and looked no farther back in time. While some deviated somewhat from this fourth and fifth century doctor of Catholic theology, Calvin maintained an almost slavish adherence to Augustine’s ideas. It is hard to find an argument of John Calvin which Augustine did not suggest before him. Likewise, it is hard to find a modern student of “Calvinism” who argues a point that Calvin did not make somewhere in his voluminous writings. The assertion of Calvin’s close adherence to Augustine’s ideas is easily proven by only a casual inspection of his most famous work. Chapter five of Volume 1 of his Institutes of the Christian Religion contains 17 references to Augustine in about as many pages. That chapter he devotes to refuting “arguments usually alleged in support of free will.” As its contents are examined, it becomes evident that some of his opponents in this controversy may have believed in a human will barely more free to embrace the goodness of God than the human will defined by Calvin’s and Augustine’s doctrine. These two radical determinists would allow for nothing whatsoever remaining in the fallen nature of man that could provoke God toward mercy.
“… unless virtue and vice proceed from free choice, it is absurd either to punish man or reward him … taken from Aristotle, I admit that it is also used by Chrysostom and Jerome. Jerome, however, does not disguise that it was familiar to the Pelagians. He even quotes their words, ‘If grace acts in us, grace, and not we who do the work, will be crowned.’ (Hieron. in Ep. ad Ctesiphont. et Dialog. 1.)” … “in terms which seem to be borrowed from Chrysostom (Homil. 22, in Genes.) that if our will possesses not the power of choosing good or evil, all who are partakers of the same nature must be alike good or alike bad. A sentiment akin to this occurs in the work De Vocatione Gentium (Lib. iv. c. 4), usually attributed to Ambrose, in which it is argued, that no one would ever decline from faith, did not the grace of God leave us in a mutable state. It is strange that such men should have so blundered. How did it fail to occur to Chrysostom, that it is divine election which distinguishes among men? (pages 274-275, Volume 1, INSTITUTES OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION by John Calvin)
Calvin followed this amazing admission with what he supposed overrules all of the thinking of pre-Augustinian “fathers,” his interpretation of Paul’s view of such utter human depravity as totally disables the will of man.
“From this (Romans 9:15) they infer, that there is something in will and endeavor, which though weak in themselves, still, being mercifully aided by God, are not without some measure of success. But if they would attend in sober earnest to the subject there handled by Paul, they would not so rashly pervert its meaning. I am aware they can quote Origen and Jerome on support of this exposition.” (page 289). Confident that he could overrule all such theologians with an interpretation of Romans 9 unique to himself and Augustine, Calvin concluded, “If these words are understood to mean that the will or endeavor are not sufficient, because unequal to such a task, the apostle has not used them very appropriately. We must therefore abandon this absurd mode of arguing …” (page 289).
Calvin thus established as fact our assertion that Catholic “fathers” prior to Augustine’s influence (including Origen, Jerome, Chrysostom, and Ambrose) tended more toward the ideas of the Pelagians than toward the determinism of Augustine. The fact that most Catholics reverted back to the free will tendencies of Pelagianism after Augustine’s death, provoked the resurrection of his determinism along with other Augustinian arguments, to support the reformers’ war against Catholic heresies. While the reformers all rejected post-Augustinian innovations of Catholicism (purgatory, worship of Mary, prayer to saints, five extra sacraments, etc. etc.), they jealously kept “infant baptism,” persecution of dissenting Christians, etc., which Augustine taught in contrast to Jesus and his apostles. One major doctrine of Augustine had generally been rejected by most Catholic churchmen for most of a thousand years. It appears that the Calvinistic “Reformed Churches” made it the centerpiece of their new order. That was his Determinism, which they called “Predestination.” Even Calvin himself suggested that it was somewhat novel in Augustine’s teaching when he wrote, “But Ambrose, Origen, and Jerome (he could have added others!) were of opinion, that God dispenses his grace among men according to the use which he foresees that each will make of it. It may be added, that Augustine was for some time of this opinion; but after he had made greater progress in the knowledge of Scripture, he not only retracted it as evidently false, but powerfully confuted it. … Nay even after the retractation, glancing at the Pelagians who still persisted in that error, he says, ‘who does not wonder that the Apostle (Paul) failed to make this most acute observation? For after stating a most startling proposition concerning those who were not yet born, and afterward putting the question to himself by way of objection, “What then? Is there unrighteousness with God?”, he had an opportunity for answering, that God foresaw the merits of both, he does not say so, but has recourse to the justice and mercy of God?’ ” (page 220, Volume 2, Calvin’s Institutes …) That Augustine ever became firmly convinced of the “Pelagian” doctrines which dominated Catholic thought prior to his Catholic career is questionable. His determinism smacks too much of that line of thought which existed among some of his former associates as he first halted between Catholicism and Paganism, then embraced Manicheanism, then neo-Platonism, on his journey to finally settling in Catholicism. He seems to have had great difficulty embracing the orthodox doctrine of the Most High God condescending enough to become a man through the womb of a virgin woman. He confessed to great “confusions of mind” whilestruggling to believe that doctrine. (page 106, THE CONFESSIONS OF ST. AUGUSTINE) Having arrived at Catholic fellowship through his final submission to that belief, he may have for a time entertained the prevalent notions of his contemporary mentors in that faith. Apparently, the hold “determinism” had on him would never allow him to comprehend such condescension of the Most High God as would allow man to have even a tiny part in the process of his own salvation. Augustine later obtained such political power as enabled him to get poor Pelagius condemned as a “heretic” for holding the errors that most Catholics prior to Augustine embraced. Julian of Eclanum was among those bishops banished from Italy by the emperors edict against the Pelagian “heresy,” obtained largely by the efforts of Augustine and his party. He soon became Augustine’s most articulate and effective opponent. Writing from exile in the East “Julian would tell men that ‘the helm of reason has been wrenched from the Church, so that the opinions of the mob can sail ahead of all flags flying’; that the supporters of the Africans in Italy were the innocent (or timorous) fellow-travellers of the Manichees, and that Augustine, in ‘bellowing’ the doctrine of original sin in all its fantastic and disgusting ramifications, was merely recalling from memory the teachings he had imbibed from Mani.” (page 384, AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO by Peter Brown) In answering Augustine he wrote, “you have come so far from religious feeling, from civilized thinking, so far, indeed, from mere common sense, in that you think that your Lord God is capable of committing a crime against justice such as is hardly conceivable even among the barbarians … It would be better by far to take our necks away from beneath the yoke of religious belief, than to wander abandoned by all sense of justice, though such disastrous, such odious opinions. The punishment of others for the sins of their fathers, the condemnation of helpless babies, the passing of sentence on men who had been unable to act otherwise; the whole Christian revelation was a measured and authoritative declaration against such iniquities, such corrupt dealings.” (pages 391-392, Brown) On the following page Julian again accused Augustine of mixing Manichean determinism with his Catholic “christianity.” While we despise the excessive freedom of man’s will preached by the Pelagians, which is again prevalent in modern times among multitudes deceived by the doctrines of Alexander Campbell, D. L. Moody, and others, Julian’s suggestion regarding the ultimate source of Augustine’s excessive determinism is irresistible. That determinism which first formulated “unconditional election” as the one and only aid to a totally disabled will of man had pagan roots.
Calvin departed from Augustine only where he was forced to by his situation. He could not, as Augustine, place salvation wholly within the Roman Catholic church from which he had become a “heretic.” He was compelled, instead, to invent (or borrow) a novel idea of an invisible universal church, consisting of all of God’s predestined elect known only to Himself, preserved for centuries within the bowels of her whom he had come to recognize as a spiritual harlot. He also departed from Augustine’s idea that unbaptized babies were lost in Hell because they had not been initiated into the one true Catholic church. Salvation rather depended solely on God’s unconditional election in past eternity of certain human souls, with or without baptism or visible church membership. If dying babies perished eternally, it would be for lack of election, but not for lack of baptism. Still he defended infant “baptism” on other grounds. It is easy to see that Calvin left Augustine’s counsel only where necessity demanded it.
In Calvin’s quote from Augustine at the top of page 293, note that the word (foreseen) “merit” surfaces in his criticism of dissenters from his deterministic doctrine. Foreseen “merit” is not necessarily equal to foreseen “use” of God’s dispensed “grace.” Neither man could ever discern this difference.
As the Canons of Dordrect (1619) made clear in condemning as heretics the followers of Jacob Arminius years after Calvin and Arminius were both dead, absolutely nothing foreseen in the creature has ever affected God’s election. Arminius, a Calvinistic scholar of the Reformed Church, had dared to essentially ask, “what about sin?” Without foreseen sin in the creature there existed no need to elect anyone in order to save them, or even to predestine a Savior to redeem anyone. Again politics prevailed to silence dissent within that limited realm and for a limited time. Pelagianism is truly an error which embraces merit in the creature as a cause of salvation, but many of those condemned by the Synod of Dordrect were not nearly that extreme except perhaps in the minds of their persecutors.
We would never insinuate that Calvin’s influence did no good for the world. On the contrary, much in western thought was influenced by his ideas, but had they not been moderated by the ideas of the “Anabaptists” he so passionately hated, the blessed outcome of America and Western Europe would never have been what it was. In addition, the Wesleyan transformation of the Anglican reformation, fed initially by a people of partial Waldensian descent, was at least as instrumental in these enlightening blessings, if not more so, than the spiritual descendants of the Calvinistic reformation.
This has been a lengthy digression, but the spirit of all of these proceedings has hopefully been exposed. What interest have spiritual descendants of chronically persecuted but Providentially preserved “churches of the Living God” in such philosophical disputes as occurred centuries and millenniums ago between erring and probably unregenerate theologians of Reformed and Roman Catholic dogmas? They would have none, except for the way history has been misinterpreted to the minds of most people. These notions are repeatedly dragged into our realm by well meaning people who, not knowing their primitive origins, think they may be important. They serve only to distract from the spiritual simplicity which is in Christ.
Protestant historians Samuel Morland (1658), Peter Allix (1692), George Faber (1838), and others, wrote with great sympathy for the persecuted Waldenses of the Piedmont region of Italy. During the years that the Catholic powers attempted to exterminate them (mid 1600’s), and for many years thereafter, there seemed to exist among the reformers a popular effort to tie their reformation to this ancient sect, claiming them as evidence of “Protestant” churches existing successively through all past ages. Catholic writers denied their claim, arguing that the Waldenses had joined Guillaume Farel’s reform movement after its beginnings by adopting the Reformed Church’s peculiar Presbyterian order, rather than being ancestors of it. Only through a remote and indirect route could their case for this antiquity have any validity. It appears that pre-reformation protestants such as John Wycliffe and John Huss, and many of their followers, owed much to the influence of Waldensian evangelists who were earlier scattered throughout the darkened dominions of medieval Catholicism. The successes of Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and others would have been less likely had not these forerunners left their influence remaining among some of the people. All who easily accept as fact Catholic accusations of unorthodoxy among the ancient Waldenses ought to consider other of these same accusers’ utterly ludicrous and unbelievable tales regarding these same good people. Murderous crusades of extermination which were waged against the Waldensian sects from the thirteenth century onward might have outraged the illiterate and superstitious populace had certain Catholic apologists not falsely but successfully accused them of the most infamous heresies. There remain a few scant records revealing the fundamental beliefs of the Waldenses to be Biblical. These apparently had some fellowship with their brethren in France who were so outrageously charged with heresy under the name of Albigenses, who left no records surviving the flames of persecution which might have vindicated them. Men of wisdom know that no fellowship between them would have been possible had these people been such heretics as their persecutors claimed. It is also a known fact of history that some Catholic lords risked their reputations, their property, and their very lives, for conscience’s sake, in defending these good subjects of theirs against the Pope’s crusaders.
It may be that Protestant scholars soon learned that a people and their churches had been thriving in the hidden recesses of Europe who had a much better claim to Waldensian heritage than themselves, and who in fact remained much more like that ancient order than themselves. These were the hated “Anabaptists,” found scattered from Austria through Holland, who were recently becoming more visible to the world. Anabaptist refugees contributed much to “Baptist” influences which later produced churches in England and other parts of the British Isles. Surely it cannot be denied that these Anabaptists and early Baptists were sticklers for true regeneration of the human spirit and the conversion it makes in human lives. Unlike their Waldensian predecessors, these peoples have left behind much documented evidence of these beliefs in their ancient confessions. Waldensian documents are few, but enough are available for discernment of remarkable similarity. Protestant agreement with the necessity of such a regenerating experience and the manner in which it can properly be ascertained, and its relevance to baptism and church membership is ill-defined and contradictory. While election and salvation according to Calvinistic doctrine rests solely upon God’s predestination, which may or may not be revealed to the chosen one, these folks based Christianity upon the actual sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in spiritual regeneration and its effects on one’s life. This they believed to be a distinct spiritual experience, sensed internally by each chosen one, and sensed by others from the change of mind and heart in attitude, outlook, and objectives. It seems that a reluctance to acknowledge great value in experimental religion and its spiritual experiences has been perpetually maintained among Protestant Reformed churches, sometimes lessening, and sometimes increasing in intensity and emphasis, depending upon the surrounding religious influences. Reformed evangelism has always been modified by the Augustinian determinism, which is usually called “predestination” or “election” by its advocates. It was well, and no doubt providential, that they held some of this view alongside otherwise dangerous tendencies to be too philosophical and legalistic, and to hold assurance of salvation to be too much a matter of mental discernment. As long as all salvation was thought to be predetermined, good logic dictated that men should simply wait for God to regenerate and to reveal His choices. Thus were the advocates of mental legalistic religion kept from becoming zealous and malignant deceivers by a moderating conviction that they must wait for God to regenerate souls. But alas! Again and again, in the course of history, men arose from among the Calvinists whose study of the Bible caused them to throw off this deterministic restraint while retaining other prejudices, such as favoring mental and providential evidences and fearing and distrusting spiritual experience.
Alexander Campbell was the epitome of such a man. Reared in the straitness of legalistic Presbyterian Scotland, Campbell became an admirer of Robert Sandeman, of whom George Whitefield is quoted as having remarked, “He is an Ishmaelite; his hand is against every man, and every man’s hand ought to be against him.” (page 613, Volume 1, A HISTORY OF KENTUCKY BAPTISTS by J. H. Spencer) Whereas Sandeman remained a Calvinist of sorts, who also opposed religious experience as if it were mysticism, and called even faith a “work,” Campbell embraced the Pelagian concept of free-will while retaining the vehement Cinemania prejudice against direct revelations from the Holy Spirit. It must be noted here that the common habit of calling the doctrine of the “free will” of man “Arminian” is not altogether being fair to Jacob (“James” in English) Arminius and his followers, and is somewhat misleading regarding the truth of history. Most “Arminians,” from Arminius to John Wesley, did not teach an altogether “free” will in man. They believed that the human will is so bound by the nature of sin that man is helpless to effectually embrace God’s remedy in Christ until he is enabled to do so by special grace from God. It took Alexander Campbell to return to the approximate “free will” position of the Pelagians, a popular view among Catholics before Augustine opposed him in the fourth century. Free will seems to have been the prevailing “Catholic” view as the movement developed from the second century onward, until Augustine’s deterministic “election” doctrine opposed it. Catholicism largely ignored Augustine’s deterministic doctrines soon after his death, but it appears that the “Reformers,” in their quest to reclaim the true Catholic heritage, resurrected the only distinct argument of father Augustine which the Papal priests had rejected.
Alexander Campbell was the first of many to spring from “reformed” religion to embrace “free will” and become a deceiver by combining mental acceptance of Christianity with Sandeman’s extreme prejudice against direct Spiritual experience. Walter Scott, another former Presbyterian, also became a comrade in Campbell’s Pelagian “restoration movement.” Barton Stone was a third former Presbyterian joining their movement, along with many of his followers. His embrace of mental religion appears to have been less extreme. These were soon identified by Baptist scholars as “Pelagians” and “Sandemanians.” (page. 612, Volume 1, Spencer) Exposure soon brought an end to their short-lived but rampant subversion of many Baptist churches. About the time Campbell was being exposed, another Presbyterian evangelist embraced some notions of “free will,” whose warm embrace of religious emotion made him more appealing to many of the revival wing of “reformed” protestants. The Presbyterian denomination never recovered from the influence of Charles Finney’s new “revivalism.” They never regained their former emphasis on waiting for a deterministic God to regenerate lost men.
Many Baptists were not soon changed by Finney’s influence, as were many Presbyterians. They were indeed moderating the Calvinism toward which they had drifted since the English Particular Baptists arose in England in the middle 1600’s. As Wesleyan Methodists also proved abundantly, this drift toward Arminian doctrine did in no way lessen their patience in waiting for God to actually convert the soul. Throughout the 1800’s, almost every preacher identified with either the Baptist or Methodist denomination was swift and fiery in his uncompromising demand for a “change of heart” wrought by the Holy Spirit of God. They were equally as strong in their insistence upon conscious awareness and vivid remembrance of this soul-changing experience. Both were almost as adamant in insisting that the fruits of this sanctifying conversion be evident in a convert’s future walk, although they employed different disciplinary measures in their attempts to enforce such demands.
In 1832, an aged John Leland was obviously commenting on the modern novelties the Finney revival had introduced into popular use. He wrote, “I shall only remark, that, ‘I have not so learned Christ – I do not understand the scriptures in that light – it is not the voice of my beloved,’ – it sounds like the voice of a stranger and I dare not follow it.” (page 668, “The Mosaic Dispensation,” THE WRITINGSOF THE LATE ELDER JOHN LELAND) Iain Murray, a modern advocate of Calvinism who condemns all “invitation systems” equally, quoted Leland’s comments at greater length on page 320 of his book, REVIVAL AND REVIVALISM. Murray seemed to infer that departure from Calvinism was the source of Finney’s error and Leland’s cause of worry. David Benedict reported that Leland thought “two grains of Arminianism with three of Calvinism, would make a tolerably good compound.” (page 144, FIFTY YEARS AMONG THE BAPTISTS by David Benedict) He also held such Baptist preachers as Arminian John Waller in high esteem. It seems unlikely he was expressing such harshness against Finney’s “revival” preaching because of its “Arminian” drift. It is obvious that Finney’s urgency, tending toward omitting the real operations of the Holy Spirit, and thus all experimental knowledge of God, was Leland’s greatest concern. While Leland professed to believe Calvinism’s “five points” he was ever loving and tolerant toward “Arminians” who preached a gospel by which souls were truly regenerated. Murray’s book, before mentioned, is well written, and confirms very much of the research included in this book. His goal seemed to be a return to Calvinism, while ours is a return to experimental knowledge of God.
Lyman Beecher, a prominent Calvinistic preacher and theologian of Finney’s day, after promising he would oppose Finney, later turned and embraced him. History has witnessed other such apparently inconsistent behavior among “Calvinists.” A similar phenomenon at a later date was Calvinistic Baptist Charles Spurgeon’s tolerance toward the world’s greatest apostle of modern free-will deception, D. L. Moody, at a time when many English Calvinists were shunning him. Former Presbyterians outnumbered all others in supplying leaders for the radical and lunatic fringes spun off from the extravagant and radical elements of the second “great awakening.” It should not be forgotten that evangelist D. L. Moody achieved his first fame in Great Britain, where he was especially well received in traditionally Presbyterian Scotland despite the strong free will emphasis of his evangelism.
The apparent evangelistic success of D. L. Moody between the 1870’s and 1900 succeeded in gaining the favorable attention of some Baptists. No deceptive evangelism had done this before on any considerable scale. Moody was less “Methodist” in appearance than Finney, valuing and employing emotion much less, but he was more tolerant toward emotion and spiritual experience than Alexander Campbell had been. Whereas Campbell and his followers often ridiculed the “Christian experiences” of Baptists and Methodists with their usual attendant emotions, Moody seemed to regard them as acceptable, but not essential. By this stance he was more able to satisfy both sides at once, especially among people whose fantasies wished for his numerical successes to be real, and his wealth and popularity to be compatible with true conversion to Christ. This factor of a worldly love creeping in among Baptists, and how it produced a delusion which allowed many to be deceived by Moodyism, is dealt with in the next chapter. “The lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life,” which things are “of the world” (1st John 2:16), had been abhorred and shunned for centuries by Baptists. They were still feared by all Baptists in the days of Campbell and Finney. As the twentieth century approached, mass evangelism began to take over American evangelical religion and “revivalism” soon became the norm. Billy Sunday soon became the star performer of this interdenominational movement. Thousands of preachers began to mimic the Moody and Sunday methods and doctrine. Within two generations most of the churches fully accepted this change.
Very old churches, whose practice and doctrine had never changed, except for a welcome decrease of determinism (usually called “predestination”), were conscience bound to separate from the mainstreams of popular religion, all of which had fallen like an avalanche into this grace-denying “free will” apostasy. After the separation, the question of where to go for fellowship often seemed to present a dilemma for them and their sister churches. Regrouping was done on a small and local scale. Too often, desire for fellowship other than God’s led these small groups into radical errors as bad as those from which they had fled. Rediscovery of each other by these small remnants has been slow, often hindered by paranoid fears and confusing local customs with essential doctrines. Much ignorance of factual history has made it difficult for preachers and churches to discern between customs which may be compromised and those which may not. This scene has an allegory in the many fictions which describe the aftermath of a global nuclear war with surviving remnants of humanity struggling to reconnect the networks of civilization. Spiritually, a catastrophe of this nature and magnitude is what has happened, with the difference that we have a Divine All-Powerful Guide who wills our success. We can have that success IF we will re-learn the art of simply following God, an ability which we and our fathers lost in our lust to enjoy the world. We must remember that our crafty adversary knows our potential, and that he is always standing before each of our tattered remnants to hand us a solution which is false. Like Joshua the priest in that “despised” “day of small things” (Zechariah 4:10) in Israel, when they first returned from captivity in Babylon, our tattered rags and inferior temples look unimpressive even to ourselves. But, God knows our potential in His hands, and so does Satan. Satan was “standing at his (Joshua’s) right hand to resist him.” (Zechariah 3:1-3) He does the same with us.
The claim that “all Baptists were once Calvinists,” is one of the falsehoods which is alluring some Baptists in their earnest search for the “old paths.” The Philadelphia Confession of Faith, the oldest in America, and others modeled after it, are cited as evidence of our departure from a supposed deterministic stance on grace, to which, they suggest, if we would return, we would experience a return to spiritual prosperity. This confession was a near copy of the second confession of the London Particular Baptists, which was modeled after the Calvinistic Westminster Confession of the 1646 Church of England, more than after the first London Particular Baptist confession. This increased emphasis, expressed by the Particular Baptists between their first and second confessions, certainly suggests an increase among them of the determinism of Calvin and his “Reformed” churches. Nearly all of the American Baptists who comprised the early churches of Philadelphia Association were derived from British Particular Baptist stock. Calvinism was not as real or universal, at least over any lengthy period of time, as these documents suggest. Baptists have rarely held the minds of their people to human creeds or confessions. They have traditionally left the purged consciences of their people at liberty to discern from the Holy Bible what the Spirit who inspired it would reveal. Thus, as American historian David Benedict testified, there were “many” among “Associated Baptists” in his “early day” to whom the term “Calvinist” was “not agreeable” who “submitted to it for distinction sake.” (pages 138-139, FIFTY YEARS AMONG THE BAPTISTS by David Benedict) His early days were the first years of the nineteenth century and of the second “great awakening.” Three happenings – the extensive great awakening revivals, the dominant influence of Separate Baptists in uniting with Regular Baptists, and the amazing success of the Arminian Methodists in obtaining true conversions – all contributed to modify these successors of staunch Calvinistic Baptist stock. Separate Baptists originated as products of the first great awakening in its earliest years. They were derived from converted New England Puritan stock with Rhode Island Baptist baptism. Bypassing the Baptists of the middle colonies, some of them settled in western North Carolina from where a great extension of the first great awakening filled Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia with Baptist churches shortly before the American Revolution. Being professing Calvinists also, but generally not holding written creeds in much favor, they tended to be more tolerant of dissenters from Calvinism’s “five points.” As before quoted, David Benedict reported that John Leland, who was perhaps Virginia’s best Baptist spokesman from the Revolutionary War until after the 1791 ratification of the Bill of Rights, (himself a professed Calvinist) thought “two grains of Arminianism, with three of Calvinism, would make a tolerably good compound.” Kentucky Baptist historian J. H. Spencer told us that the first six preachers in Kentucky were all Baptists. That was 1780. (page 18, Volume 1, Spencer) The same writer wrote, “Of the first twenty-five Baptist preachers that settled in Kentucky, twenty are known to have been Separate Baptists in Virginia and North Carolina; of the other five, only Joseph Barnett is known to have been a Regular Baptist. Yet, after they settled in Kentucky, eighteen of the twenty-five subscribed to the Philadelphia Confession of Faith, and identified themselves as Regular Baptists.” (page 107, Volume1, Spencer) In 1785, as the first Kentucky Baptist Associations were about to be formed, an attempt to hold churches to strict adherence to the Philadelphia Confession resulted in failure of an effort to unite Regular and Separate Baptists, and a fifteen year “state of confusion,” which “doubtless did much to stir up strife among the brethren, and retard the progress of religion.” (pages 108-109, Volume 1, Spencer) As early as 1769 a plea for union had been received by the Separate Baptists of North Carolina and Virginia from the Ketocton Regular Baptist Association of Virginia, asking, “If we are all Christians, all Baptists – all New Lights – why are we divided?”The Separate Baptists rejected their proposal for union by a “small majority.” (pages 67-68, HISTORY OF THE BAPTISTS IN VIRGINIA by Robert Baylor Semple) These two groups of Baptists in Virginia were finally able to unite in 1787 with this understanding: “To prevent the confession of faith from usurping a tyrannical power over the conscience of any, we do not mean that every person is bound to strict observance of everything therein contained; yet that it holds forth the essential truths of the gospel, and that the doctrine of salvation by Christ and free, unmerited grace alone ought to be believed by every Christian and maintained by every minister of the Gospel. Upon these terms we are united: and desire hereafter that the names Regular and Separate be buried in oblivion, and that, from henceforth, we shall be known by the name of the United Baptist Churches of Christ in Virginia.” (page 101, Semple) These stated terms were necessary to persuade the Separate Baptists to agree to submit to the Calvinistic confession, if only “for distinction’s sake.” The Separate Baptists confessed that only a minority “within their communion” comprised the “many who were professed Arminians,” of whom the Regular Baptists had complained. (page 100, Semple) Keep in mind the fact that Mr. Semple was a Calvinist who from time to time was not hesitant to show his bias against “Arminian” views. Kentucky Baptists were unable to achieve such a union until 1801, after the beginnings of the second “great awakening” revival had “softened the hearts of God’s people,” so that “they found it easy to bury their differences.” (page 148, Spencer)
Calvinistic writer and apologist Iain Murray did us a favor in supplying much documentation which confirms many of the most important points of this work. Most of our research and manuscript were complete before we became aware of his work. His conclusions regarding the falseness and destructiveness of the revivalism Charles Finney and his successors brought to the world seem much in accord with ours. It therefore seems fitting to add some commendation and comments regarding his books. It is true that the “invitation system” of modern mass evangelism is a “free will” error. That most of “revivalism’s” converts are deceived, rather than truly converted, is also a true assessment. We also agree with his conclusion that much unholy emotion often attended and followed the “great awakening” revivals in America, especially the last wave beginning in 1800.
We must depart from Mr. Murray in a number of his conclusions. He seemed to think that all altar calls are a bad trend leading to deception. This notion appeared in his book entitled, THE INVITATION SYSTEM, and was repeated in his REVIVAL AND REVIVALISM. In the latter work, he also attempted to blame the origins of “revivalism” on “Arminians.” We have shown this to be untrue. What he calls “revivalism” came with all of its early major apostles directly from the ranks of his honored “Reformed” movement, either Presbyterian or Puritan Congregational. Each time one of these renegades married Calvinistic bias against experimental evidence to a new embrace of “free will” evangelism, deceptive “revivalism” was the immediate result. The most famous “Arminians” of that era were the Wesleyan Methodists. Their founder had been converted to experimental knowledge of God in his “Aldersgate experience.” He had begun a heart-burdened search for such assurance of salvation under the guidance of Moravian Brethren preachers. After his “conversion,” in the thirteenth year of his Anglican ministry, John Wesley studied briefly in Germany under this same guidance. Returning to England, he embarked upon a lifelong quest to marry this newfound spiritual “holiness” of heart to the Church of England. In this he failed, but not without converting large numbers of Anglican people, thus producing an incompatible element within the ranks of Anglican churches. Remnants of this element later became “Methodist Churches.” These Wesleyans prospered much in America during and after the war for independence from Great Britain. Experimental knowledge was the centerpiece of their religion for a century and a half thereafter, and was not weakened much until the “revivalism” spawned by rejects from Calvinism was imported into their ranks. It is but a short line back to the common ground they hold with Baptists. Moravian Brethren churches were a revival of pre-reformation protestantism championed by John Huss, which in turn had been partly a product of ancient Waldensian influence. English Baptists had inherited the sceptre of Dutch Anabaptists, (see BAPTIST PERPETUITY by W. A. Jarrell, and BAPTIST CONFES-SIONS OF FAITH by W. L. Lumpkin) who in turn had previously inherited it from the Waldensian kingdom. (see MARTYR’S MIRROR by Thieleman J. Van Braght)
Traditional Baptists, whether called Calvinistic or Arminian, were really neither. They were experimentalists, whether called “General,” “Particular,” “Regular,” “Separate,” or “United.” Perhaps the closest any of this denomination in its early years came to denying or diminishing this characteristic experimentalism was under the influence of intense Protestant Calvinism. It is well known that some of the earliest staunch Calvinistic Baptists, such as the noted John Bunyan, were strong advocates of experimental knowledge. However, many of the early Particular Baptists of England seemed to regard themselves as little more than Independent Calvinistic Protestants who had embraced adult immersion, no longer regarding infant sprinkling as “baptism.” Previous attachment to Calvinism with all its abiding love for determinism, and contempt for what they loved to call “Arminianism,” made them loathe to consider any descent from the notoriously “Arminian” Anabaptists of Holland. This bias seems to have hidden from them an obvious link to the past which many of their American descendants, having thrown off Calvinistic bias, were glad to reclaim. The claim that “all Baptists were once Calvinists” is not true, while a counter-claim that “all Baptists were once Arminian,” would be closer to the facts of an earlier period. So far as records indicate, before the 1630’s, a single Baptist church embracing Calvin’s determinism did not exist. Yet for many years before this date there were Baptist churches which embraced general atonement doctrine already in England and many more Dutch Baptists (or Anabaptists) dwelling just beyond the English channel. It appears that before the 1630’s all Baptists were Arminian rather than Calvinistic, if indeed it is ever proper to label Baptists with either of these Protestant labels. This infamous controversy was confined within “Reformed” Protestant ranks in its early years. Arminius himself was a Calvinist theologian in the Dutch Reformed Church whose study changed his convictions enough that he could no longer honestly defend “Calvinism” in all the deterministic strength which had become customary. It was among the followers of both men, after the death of Arminius and long after Calvin’s decease, that controversy produced the formulation of “five points” describing each system. Most Baptists of the last 150 years would find it difficult to embrace all five points of either system..
While focusing upon a period in America following the beginnings of the first great awakening, we will use the life, experience and testimony of Archibald Alexander as a case in point of a perpetual Calvinistic bias against assurance based on an experimental evidence. His grandfather had been converted during the “Great Awakening in Pennsylvania thirty years earlier” than his birth in 1772. His conversion occurred about the time of the Whitefield revival. Theodore Frelinghuysen’s revival among Dutch Reformed churches, the Tennant brothers’ Presbyterian revival, and Jonathan Edwards’ Revival among New England Puritans, had all preceded Whitefield’s conversion and ministry in America. The Presbyterian denomination in America was for a while bitterly divided over the genuineness and value of these “awakenings.” Soon they recovered their unity by regressing into their “Old Side” characteristic of less-than-spiritual manners. It was unfortunate for Archibald that “experimental religion had not been preserved in the family line.” His later testimony concerning his upbringing among the Presbyterians of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia would say, “My only notion of religion was that it consisted in becoming better. I had never heard of any conversion among Presbyterians.”
In 1789, at the age of 17, he moved to Spotsylvania County, Virginia where he fell under the influences of both Regular and Separate Baptists. Both were zealously maintaining the practice of strongly emphasizing experimental religion. There the words of a common millwright deeply convicted his heart of his deficiency. The man first asked the young teacher whether he believed in the necessity of being “born again.” Alexander later testified, “I knew not what to say, for I had for some time been puzzled about the new birth. I answered in the affirmative. He then asked whether I had experienced the new birth. I hesitated, and said, ‘not that I knew of.’ ‘Ah,’ said he, ‘if you had ever experienced this change, you would know something about it!’ Here the conversation ended; but it led me to think more seriously whether there were any such change. It seemed to be in the Bible; but I thought there must be some method of explaining it away; for among the Presbyterians I had never heard of anyone who had experienced the new birth, nor could I recollect ever to have heard it mentioned.”
Alexander’s continued search led him to other personal witnesses, religious writings, and personal secret prayer which finally got him his needed answer from God. He wrote, “I laid down the book, rose hastily, and went out with a full heart, and hastened to my place of retirement. No sooner had I reached the spot than I dropped upon my knees, and attempted to pour out my feelings in prayer; but I had not continued many minutes in this exercise before I was overwhelmed with a flood of joy.”
“The ‘utter aversion to what was spiritual,’ which had marked his days until now, was at an end. The true way of acceptance with God, and other truths, ‘now appeared as if written with a sunbeam.'” (pages 92-95, REVIVAL AND REVIVALISM by Iain Murray)
Alexander became a champion of a second resurgence of experimental knowledge among American Presbyterians, and it is said that he continued so until he died. Be this so, their perpetual tendency to gravitate toward the unspiritual appears to show itself again in his protest against John Wesley’s intimation that he was unconverted until his Aldersgate experience, related in another Chapter of this book. Wesley ought to know when and where he was born again, as surely also as did Alexander. Here his Calvinism apparently dulled his logic with its all-or-none version of God’s grace. Clearly Wesley was neither penitent nor holy before his Aldersgate experience. Like the ancient Jews Paul lamented, he sincerely had a “zeal for god, but not according to knowledge.” He simply never knew God until then.
When giving credit, Mr. Murray is lavish in praising the influence of churchmen who, while favoring the great awakening revivals, were very restrained regarding respect for spiritual experience, especially its accompanying emotion. His consistent disrespect for the Kentucky revival in the second awakening is disheartening, while undue praise he gives for both conduct and results in New England during the same period is unjustified in the light of history. Perhaps his apparent bias arose from his awareness of the ill fortune of his favorites, the Presbyterians, on the Kentucky scene at that time. Perhaps this near “maelstrom of confusion,” from which he admits “it is said Kentucky Baptists largely escaped,” “while the unity of the Methodists seems to have been largely unaffected,” but by which “Presbyterians were virtually shattered by divisions,” (page 170, REVIVAL AND REVIVALISM) would not be so nearly regarded as a “maelstrom of confusion” by an unbiased researcher carefully balancing all the facts. Baptist Kentucky became a gateway to the West. Kentucky religion spread westward, southward, and northward in the process of subduing the nation’s West. Today Kentucky churches, while sharing the devastation of a great falling away, have many more people faring better spiritually than most other regions of the earth. At a risk of appearing boastful, this writer would challenge all of New England, so honored by the praise of Mr. Murray for their superior conduct in early revivals, to show but a portion of as many religious congregations largely maintaining a regenerated member- ship, as could Kentucky at this point in time. We would sincerely hope that such a challenge might be successfully answered. It would be our delight (as no doubt mutually theirs) to discover such a people heretofore hidden from our view! The same pages of his book prove by his own report that Presbyterians comprised most of the ringleaders and many of the followers in these excesses he deplores and the fanatical heresies they precipitated. Perhaps the fact that most of the first Presbyterians in Kentucky were reported to be unconverted church members (in the opinion of “Father (David) Rice,” their earliest preacher in the region), contributed to their instability in the latter stages of the excitement. Their congregations must have consisted of mostly “babes in Christ,” newly converted to the spiritual life by the great awakening. Such a people would tend to be carnal and unstable by reason of immaturity, seeing that most of them were unregenerated a very short time before.
The question must be asked: “If Baptists already held the right evangelistic message regarding the essence of regeneration, why did the Holy Spirit in both great awakenings seem to fall first upon congregations of Presbyterians and Puritans?” I answer simply, that He fell first upon those who needed it the most, and last upon those who needed it least. In order to make America a Christian nation and a blessing to the whole world, the whole society needed to be persuaded of certain ideas customarily foreign to most. A regenerated and Spirit-filled population was much more able to heartily embrace Baptist ideas of freedom, equality, and individual fellowship with God, than a nation of formal religionists (no matter how puritan they were) could ever have been.
It is an uncontested fact that the sect which ultimately gained the most from the first “great awakening” was the “Baptist” denomination. Methodists shared with them somewhat equally in the gains of the second. The language of the Holy Spirit is the same as that of Baptist tradition, preserved despite millenniums of almost continual persecution. Nothing ever proved this compatibility like the making of Christian America in the great awakening revivals.
Mr. Murray also made an astonishing statement when he wrote, “the duration of the first Great Awakening extended through three to five years at most.” (page 118, REVIVAL AND REVIVALISM) We would wonder what he thought that religious excitement should be called which reverberated about throughout these colonies and states during all of their formative years between 1720 and 1790, ebbing out in the 1790’s before beginning anew a few years later to accomplish another twenty or so years of astounding conquest. Perhaps the Tennant, Edwards, and Whitefield excitements among Calvinistic Protestants were all he considered important, but only these together spanned most of a quarter century. Following these years, from 1755 to 1790, the Baptists conquered Virginia and the rest of the South, putting their indelible stamp upon a new nation in the process. Except for a brief lull in the 1790’s, the Baptist revival never really stopped on the local level, until worldliness entered and brought that delusion which enabled these age-old champions of experimental religion to be deceived by the new “revivalism” coming into fashion. The marvelous rise of the brethren who were spiritually most akin to them, known as Methodists, began about 1776, and also widely prevailed until they rivaled Baptists in number. In the latter part of the next century, similar delusion to what Baptist churches experienced also began leading them away from their fundamental of the Aldersgate type of experience of their founder.
The case against “reformed” Protestants has been sufficiently proved. They were, in fact, the primary channel through which the great modern “free-will” heresy infected American religion and gained vast popularity through “revivalism.” Since that time this great deception has worked the greatest worldwide apostasy among Christians since the second century. In its course it has already overthrown and destroyed all but a remnant of those churches who were once champions of experimental knowledge of God.
All the advantages of historical hindsight reveal no discernible inferiority in the effectiveness of either five point “system” toward genuine conversion of souls and improvement of human lives and societies. Charles Haddon Spurgeon confessed to believe five-point Calvinism. In his sermon, “A Defense of Calvinism,” from Chapter 13 of his biography, he made some less than favorable remarks regarding the “Arminian” system. After having called John Wesley “the modern prince of Arminians,” he added, “If there were wanted two apostles to be added to the number of the twelve, I do not believe that there could be found two men more fit to be added than George Whitefield and John Wesley.” At the end of the same sermon, he added, “a lying doctrine will soon beget a lying practice. A man cannot have an erroneous belief without by-and-by having an erroneous life. I believe the one thing naturally begets the other. Of all men, those have the most disinterested piety, the sublimest reverence, the most ardent devotion, who believe that they are saved by grace, without works, through faith, and that not of themselves, it is the gift of God. Christians should take heed, and see that it always is so, lest by any means Christ should be crucified afresh, and put to an open shame.” Is there a contradiction here? Many people could wholly endorse salvation “by grace, through faith, and that not of themselves, it is the gift of God,” whiledenying two or three of the Calvinism’s five points, thereby inviting accusations of Arminianism from every devout believer in unconditional election. It appears that Wesley disagreed in some degree with ALL five points of the Calvinistic system. Still he believed in the necessity of a new birth experience which is a definite work of God’s grace.
Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield openly acknowledged a Calvinistic creed, and the Wesley brothers no less openly endorsed an Arminian creed. Shubael Stearns and his Baptist brethren took the high road down the middle with God. Thus they surpassed all others, shaping an America dominated by “Baptists” in its critical formative years. They were holding their people to no creed more particular than the New Covenant of Jesus, for more than a glorious century, and half of another. Written within the heart and mind by God, forgiving all sin of the soul, and leaving every recipient knowing God! This was, and is, the “New Covenant!” This was also the Biblical substance of the religion which long blessed the United States of America and made her great among the nations. She did not falter until long after she began in large numbers to turn away from such closeness to her God. She will never recover, nor even survive the maladies resulting from her backslidings, unless or until she returns to these real and practical “old paths where is the good way.” America’s great awakenings were a revival of experimental knowledge of God. Primitive Christian faith is founded upon this “rock.” That kind of mutual experiential knowledge between the living Christ and each and every one of his disciples was the rock upon which Jesus declared “I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:18) This promise He has kept in every succeeding age. Baptists came to America with a persistent insistence upon that foundation principle. Thus the revival greatly increased their numbers as multitudes of such converts joined the denomination which most simply preached and enforced that prerequisite to baptism and church fellowship which they had graciously experienced. That emphasis was where the Lord first placed it, not somewhere on the confusing see-saw of two human philosophies pitting free will against predestination.