IT may be proper for us in replying to our correspondent to state our reason for the apparent neglect with which we have treated his former letters on this subject; and, first, we say candidly, we have not felt under any obligation to open our columns to the defense of doctrine in which we do not believe, and for the defense of which our paper has never been positively nor impliedly pledged, and of that character we hold the means doctrine, so far as we understand it to be.
2. It has been a matter of deep solicitude with us to avoid, so far as possible, needless and unprofitable jargon and contention, having already learned painfully that “a burned child dreads the fire.”
3. We have been able hitherto to fill up our columns with what we have conceived to be more profitable and acceptable matter.
4. Because that the great number of queries would require as great a number of replies, and the numerous passages of scripture of which brother Sperry demands of us an explanation, and the entire irrelevancy of the greater portion of them, to the points where he seems anxious to apply them, affords but a dim prospect of our being able to satisfy the mind of our worthy querist, or of stopping the gainsayings of arminians upon the subject.
5. And lastly, because we conceive that the means doctrine has been met and ably refuted by eminent brethren in the region where it has made its appearance in guise of Old School Baptist doctrine.
Our object, even now, is not a strife for mastery, nor the indulgence of a spirit of retort, but the hope of being able so to present truth and oppose heresy, as to be of some service to such honest inquirers after truth as may be confused and unsettled on the subjects involved.
Brother S. assures us that his object in stating his queries, and insisting on a reply, is not to elicit controversy, for he is not a believer in controversy. It is well he has informed us of the fact; for, from the circumstance of his pressing his queries on us, whom he knew to be at anti-podes with the means doctrine, and from the manner in which he speaks of passing the subject to brother Trott, whom he considers always ready to fight, sword in hand, we should certainly have suspected that our quiet and peace-loving brother was almost willing to risk a battle on the subject. But this may show us how liable we are to be mistaken. Brother S. wants no controversy; he don’t believe in it; he only wants, and (pardon us) is determined to have a hearing.
We beg leave here to digress from the subject a moment, to say that w-e have several communications on hand on other subjects, and from various quarters, from brethren who are equally opposed to strife and controversy, and who are unwilling to allow us to suppress them when we know they will provoke unpleasant contentions. But to return to brother Sperry’s letter, the next item of which charges some divines among the Old Baptists, so called, of leaving the principles or doctrines maintained by our old standard writers of the Old Baptists order, and qf introducing new theories, &c. Who the implicated divines are, we are not told; but it is very natural to suppose that those who contend that it is immediately and exclusively the work of God to quicken and regenerate souls, are intended; that the new doctrine lugged in, is that salvation is of the Lord. It would be cruel for us to think that our brother alluded to any but the apostles of the Lamb, as standard writers of the Old Baptist order, as no consistent, well-informed Old Baptist ever regarded any but inspired men as standard writers for the church of God. If our deductions, inferences, &c., are correct, our Correspondent charges those who hold with its that the giving life, to the dead is exclusively the work of God, with departure from the apostles’ doctrine, and of bringing heresy into the church, defiling the temple of God, and exposing themselves to swift destruction. But as no controversy is designed, we must conclude that our brother does not wish us to controvert the charges, but allow them to pass uncontradicted, seeing that a defense of the accused Divines would involve controversy. But for himself, he chooses to examine the subject a little be fore he swallows the Campbell, or camel. It is difficult for us to conceive how a soul can be born again without swallowing the camel which we understand him to allude to, namely, that it is independently and exclusively the work of God to regenerate the soul. We appeal to the experience of every child of God, and where shall we find one who is not thoroughly convinced that there was no eye to pity, no arm to save; that all hope had fled, and all means had failed to bring relief to him in his distressed and distracted state and condition, and that when peace and pardon came, they came by the manifestation, by the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ unto him as his Savior? If it be a camel to believe that God without the help of man or use of means commands light to shine out of darkness, shines in the heart of his redeemed, that he gives life to the dead, sight to the blind, hearing, to the deaf, and peace and salvation to the poor condemned and lost sinner, then that camel must be swallowed; or, to speak without a parable, the doctrine must be experimentally received or no man can see the kingdom of God. Whatever novelty brother S. may detect in the theory in which his brethren attempt to set forth this doctrine, the doctrine itself is as ancient as the salvation of poor lost sinners.
Brother S. assures us that he had addressed his queries to us as to a teacher in Israel, whom he anxiously looked to for an answer. Here again we were at fault, for we honestly thought from the manner of stating the queries that the design was rather to teach than to be taught, nor did this impression altogether vanish when our brother referred his queries to one more valiant and fearless than ourself; but “to err is human, to forgive is heavenly;” we hope our brother will consider it so. Those cases which brother S. reminds us of, that we have referred to brother Trott, were so referred, from a consciousness of his superior ability to do them justice, and not because we thought him ready to fight his brethren, or indifferent to their feelings; and in the case of these queries, after we have written all that time and circumstances will permit us, we shall probably leave ample room for brother Trott or any other brother to express their views Upon the subject. In noticing the queries, as they are very numerous, we shall be under the necessity of studying brevity.
Query 1st relates to a dollar which our brother says he has sent us for sister Jewett, for which he has seen no receipt. We have been in the habit of receipting all money received for her, and of applying it according to her direction; the dollar in question we have no recollection of, but as brother S. has sent one, whether it has ever reached us or not, we will hand one dollar to sister Jewett, on his account, and in her behalf thank him for the favor.
2. The second query, if so it may be called, has the form of a reminiscence. Brother S. remembers when Old Baptist preachers talked much about primary and efficient cause, and also of secondary causes, and so (ho we; but we do not recollect of even hearing them refer to any scriptural authority for making such distinction; and as we read of no such distinction in the good book, as having been used by the standard writers of the New Testament, we are of time number who “hardly know what such language means.” We know of but one cause adequate to the production of life and salvation, and that cause is both Alpha and Omega, First and Last, Beginning and Ending, the Almighty. If our brother knows of another, or a second, he is welcome to it.
3. The third proposition has the form of a challenge, rather than of a query, and our querist takes firm ground, not of a pupil instruction without controversy, but of one whose mind is fully made up on the subjects involved. If the brethren can reconcile the difficulties which he has started with the theory of the anti-means party, he will submit, &c. Thus it seems he would task the anti-means party with means to use in his own conversion, and if he cannot be convinced without the use of means of his own appointment, he will not be converted at all. This is ultra ground; it is going the whole figure. But has he really determined that the Lord shall not convince him of error in any other way? Alas for such rashness! For our part we know of no anti-means party in the church of God. The church is a unit, one body, not a heterogeneous mass of factions, and although her borders may be infested with the retailers of heresy, she to whom the sacred name of church belongs has but one Lord, one faith, one baptism. She is called in one hope of her calling, and all her children are taught of God. Those who cannot bear her doctrine, though they may have a name to live, are dead, and belong not to her.
4. “The entrance of thy word giveth light.” A strange passage this to prove that God depends on means, or makes use of means in quickening dead sinners! What is the Word? How doth it enter? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This Word is eternal life, living and abiding for ever where it enters; and having entered, it is Christ in you, the hope of glory. In him (the Word which enters) was life, and the life was the light of men. Well might the Holy Ghost through the psalmist declare, “The entering of it giveth light.” But how does it enter? “God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” – 2 Cor. iv. 6. The vulture’s eye cannot perceive the application of means, as they are called, in this. Reference is made to the creation of the world. What means did God use when he commanded light to shine out of darkness? Let there be light, he said, and there was light. He spake the word, and it stood fast; he commanded, it was it done. “For as the rain cometh down, and the snow, from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater; so shall my word be that goeth out of my mouth; it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” – Isa. lv. 10, 11. Those who believe that God regenerates, quickens and communicates light to the dead, independently of means or second causes, ask for no stronger testimony than we have in the very text first quoted for the refutation of this glorious doctrine. We certainly should doubt the evidences of regeneration in any man who would tell us that the entrance of the word which giveth light, in the sense Of the text, was designed to mean the words of ministers or saints in preaching, warning or exhorting dead sinners. When, where and how has a dead sinner ever beer, enlightened but by the immediate power of the Holy Ghost? The natural or dead man cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. – 1 Cor. ii. 14. God has hidden these things from them; and they cannot see the kingdom, nor the things of that kingdom, except they be born again. – John iii. 3, 7. That an interchange of ideas from one man to another, even in a natural or unregenerate state, may enlighten the natural judgment of man in theories of religion, and cleanse them externally like a washed saw, or purge them like a sickened dog, and leave them still with all their unclean propensities, unchanged, to return to their vomit or wallowing in the mire, is not denied; and that the operation of means will produce mocking Ishmaels and carnal, graceless professors of religion, is very apparent; but the sons of God, the heirs of glory, are born of an incorruptible seed, by the entering of that word which liveth and abideth for ever. Nothing can be more clear than that they only who are begotten of God are the sons of God, while they who are begotten of means are the children of means.
5. The next text which we are required to harmonize with our view of salvation alone of God, is Heb. iv. 12. “For the word of God is quick [or life] and powerful,” &c. If our correspondent had told us wherein he thought there was a want of harmony, we might direct our remarks to such difficulties, but for our life we can see no discord between this scripture and the doctrine we hold. If he has brought this text forward to apply to words which are preached, or articulation of sounds from the preachers’ voices, he has greatly mistaken the text, as nothing could have been farther from the apostle’s meaning, or more remote from the subject of gospel rest, on which he was treating. The word of God is vital, or quick, not the word of man. “It is the Spirit,” says Jesus, “that quickeneth, the flesh, (or means,) profiteth nothing. The words which I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life,” or quick. Now if brother Sperry has preachers out in Ohio who can speak life-giving words, words that are quick, or quickening, let them go on and raise the dead and cast out devils, and so demonstrate that they have the power which they claim; but let them not appeal to the bible, for that book bears testimony against their presumptuous pretensions, and stains the pride of human ambition. Let it not be forgotten that that word comes only from the mouth of God; and it comes not thence as the result of means, but it comes as comes the rain and snow. What means would brother S. propose to produce rain or snow? and if human means cannot produce an effect in nature, how shall they be effectual in things which are of a spiritual nature? His words are such as never man spake. No man’s words can discern the thoughts and intents of the heart, nor divide asunder the soul and spirit, but the word of God can, do all this.
6. “Is not my word like fire,” saith the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” All that are born of God know that God’s words are as represented in these figures, but they also know that man’s words and man’s means are nothing like these figures; hence this passage we use to prove the opposite of what is called the means doctrine, unless we can be made acquainted with some system of means by which we have power to cause God’s words to be so spoken as to break the rocks, divide the seas, open the doors of death, and close the gates of hell.
7. “The dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live.” But can men utter the voice of the Son of God? If not, how shall they use that voice as a means of saving sinners? Can that voice be uttered by any but him who called Saul, and who calleth his own sheep by name and leadeth them out? “I will cause my glorious voice to be heard, and will shew the letting down of my arm,” &c.,saith God. Will the admirers of the doctrine of means tell us whether that cause is what they call first or second cause? God will not only utter his voice, hut he will cause it to be heard, and we confidently affirm that there is not another or a second power in heaven, earth or hell, that can cause the voice of God to be heard. We will say to brother Sperry in relation to this text, as Jesus said to the means using Jews, “Marvel not at this, for the hour is coming in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice and shall come forth,” &c.; but what means does brother Sperry expect shall be used to produce either the utterance, or the effect of that voice.
8. “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life.” Why so careful to keep back the other part of this text? “It is the Spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life,” and that exclusively of all fleshly power or means. Can the words of Jesus of spirit and life be spoken by any other than himself, or can others say to the winds and to the waves of the sea, “Be still!” and be obeyed?
9. “In Christ Jesus I have begotten you through, the gospel.” – l Cor. iv. 15. This text being the only one that has the slightest appearance of favoring the means doctrine, requires a careful investigation. The grand question involved is whether Paul was contending that the children of God, as such, were begotten by him, that he had regenerated them, had begotten them by proxy, or whether he used the term in the same sense as that in which he speaks of fathers and mothers in the church of God. One thing is beyond dispute that is in this text; he claims to be the further of such as he said he had begotten. No begetting of his could make them the children of any other than himself, nor did he claim beyond this. He says that he begat Onesimus in his bonds, and in the same sense he claims Onesimus as his own son. In the same figure of speech he claims Timothy and Titus as his sons. Not that he claimed to have been the cause of their regeneration any more than he was of their election, or redemption. The Corinthian brethren had many, or might in Paul’s supposition have had ten thousand instructors in Christ Jesus; yet they had not in the same relation and figurative sense. He does not claim that be was the instrument which God had used in begetting them, or that his preaching had been an instrumental cause or means of their regeneration, for that would not have constituted them his children, nor him their father. To us the sense of the apostle’s words imply that their standing being like that of his own in Jesus Christ, by the election of grace, the redemption which is by the blood of Christ and the quickening power of the Holy Ghost, God had bestowed on him apostolic gifts, by which he was to occupy the distinction among his brethren of a father in the sense of the figure wherein he also spake of having travailed in birth for the distracted saints at Galatia, until Christ should be formed in them. – Gal. iv. 19 But, it will readily be perceived that travail had no allusion to their regeneration, as they had experienced that work long before, and the matter in which he travailed in birth for them, was that which formed the ground on which he called them his little children. As the children of God, Christ had been previously formed in them, they had began in the Spirit, had run well, &c., but they had become disordered by heresy, the means doctrine had got in among them and had bewitched them, and the apostle travailed for them until they should be restored to gospel order. Those who can believe that even Paul can or could produce the quickening and regeneration of a soul, must be strangers to the work. We once held a public debate with an arminian Presbyterian preacher, who contended that Paul actually regenerated all the members of the Corinthian church, but we never expected to have lived long enough to hear the absurd and ridiculous assertion made by a professedly Old School Baptist.
10. “Of his own will begat he us, with the word of truth.” – James i. 18. Instead of honored instrumentalities, the whole power of producing the conception and consequent birth of the children of God is in this test accredited to “His own will” alone, that is, to the sovereign, immutable will of God, which proves the position we have taken in the preceding item of our reply. In the sense in which they were begotten of God, they were not begotten by Paul. Perhaps the means renders will try to make some capital of the words “with, the word of his power,” construing the word of his power to imply instrumentality. One of two things must be intended by these words: “With the word,” they were begotten by the Father of lights, spoken of in the context. Christ is the only begotten of the Father; but as a begotten emanation from the Godhead, he is the life of his people, head of his body, the church, mediator, &c.; as God he is self-existent, equally with the Father; but as the life and immortality of his spiritual body, he is the beginning of the creation of God, and the first born of every creature; and in this sense he only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto, [not even by the magic Power of means,] whom no man hath seen nor can see; to whom be honor and power everlasting’. Amen. Now the one production of spiritual life w as what we understand to be the begetting of both the head and the body, so that if Christ as the Word is intended by James, the saints have a common origin with Christ their head, and both be that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are all of one, for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren. Or, secondly, if by the word of truth we are to understand his word, as used Isaiah lv. 10, still there is no room for arminians to introduce a particle of means. The world was created by the same word. God said, “Let there be light.” It was by the omnipotence of his word that all things came into existence, and we may with the same propriety talk of God’s having used means in the creation, as in quickening his children.
11. “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God that liveth and abideth for ever.” – l Peter i. 23. This is about the last text we would have expected to see brought forward to prove that the sons of God are born of such corruptible seed as means, works, instrumentalities, &c. How any enlightened christian can think that the words uttered by men are spirit and life, quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, that they are an incorruptible seed, and that they live and abide forever, is truly more than we can comprehend; and to believe that such is the case, requires a stretch of what is called charity, beyond our ability. Is it possible than any who are born of God can believe that the incorruptible seed is communicated by what they call second causes? That seed which results in a spiritual birth, must of necessity proceed from a spiritual source. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit. It is so even in the unchanging laws of creation; to every tree and herb as well as to the animal creation God gave seed in itself for the propagation of its kind, but in no case seed in one tree or plant to produce those of another and different species.
12. “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.” What system of means men can make use of to bring the law of the Lord to act in the conversion of souls, is not stated; but if any is required it would contradict the plain declaration of the text, that that law is perfect; for that which is perfect cannot be improved or made efficient by something out of itself. Can the advocates of means tell us what means are used in putting this law in the inward parts of God’s new covenant people, and writing it in their hearts? The law is itself the governing principle which controls the affections, desires, hopes and emotions of a heaven born soul. God himself imparts and implants it. No part of the work is left to depend on contingencies.
13. “He called you by our gospel to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Not by our preaching, nor by our use of means. What then is the gospel? It is the Power of God unto salvation to every one that believes. It is Christ, the power of God, and the wisdom of God. The gospel is the thing preached, not the preaching. Strange that the distinction should be lost sight of by any who have ever felt its power. The gospel calls all who are saved, but the preaching of it has no such power. It was often preached by Christ and his apostles where it only occasioned the gnashing of teeth; but time gospel itself never failed, whether preached or otherwise applied to the soul, to produce salvation perfect and complete.
14. “Ye are clean through the word I have spoken unto you.” Shall we then understand that when our Lord speaks in the salvation of sinners, that he is only assaying to save them by the use of means I As well may we unite with the arminiain general atoners and conclude that the shedding of his blood was a means used to endeavor to procure the salvation of sinners, and dispute what the Holy Ghost has said, that by his stripes we are healed.
15. “Thy, word hath quickened me.” This is the very position occupied by those who deny the doctrine of means. His words they are spirit and they are life. His word, and nothing short of it, can quicken. He says unto the soul that is in its blood, Live, and that almighty word produces life, as when he said unto Lazarus, “Come forth,” or to the tempest, “Be still,” and there was a great calm.
16. “I had not known sin but by the law, and the law worketh wrath.” This is a very far fetched argument to establish the doctrine of means in producing life. The law working wrath is that which kills, but it cannot make alive.
17. “Look unto me,” (not to means,) “and be ye saved.” Who are called on to look, the living or the dead; those who have eyes, or those who have no eyes? The context says, “I said not to the sons of Jacob, seek ye my face in vain.” In calling his people to look to him alone for salvation, he gives the reason; for, says he, I am God and there is none else. It takes a God to save a sinner; if means could do it there would be no necessity to call on them to look away from means, and from everything else, to him who says in the same connection, “I am God, and beside me there is no Savior.”
18. “Preach the gospel to every creature,” (not only to the regenerate.) The words in crotchets are added. That the preaching of the gospel is ordained by Christ there is no doubt, whether the commission authorized the apostles to whom it was given to preach it to the old creation, or to every creature of the new creation, does not effect the present argument. It was to be preached, not used as a means for the regeneration of sinners. If the gospel, which is Christ, had not the power in itself without a system of collateral means, our Lord would not have prefaced that commission by a declaration, “All power in heaven and on earth is given into my hands; go ye, therefore,” &c. If part of the power were in the gospel, and part in means to be used, how could all power be in the hands of Jesus?
19. “So shall my word be that goeth out of my mouth,” &c. How shall it be? “Like the rain, and like the snow,” and are they, are either of them produced by the use of means? What nonsense!
20. “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. And they went forth and preached every where, the Lord working with them and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.” That Jesus called, qualified, sent forth, and went with, and worked with his apostles with signs, &c., none will dispute; but that this display of his power and Godhead either says or implies that he is in need of means, or anything else to secure the great work of salvation, is denied.
We have noticed the twenty passages of scripture which were brought forward to sustain the doctrine of means, and find them all decidedly sustaining the opposite sentiment. And we have a right to believe that these scriptures are principally relied upon by the advocates of the means doctrine, or our correspondent would not have pledged himself to yield up the point if it could be made to appear that these scriptures were in harmony with what he calls the anti-means doctrine. If we did hot know. that, “It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps,” and that nothing short of divine power can deliver from the power of darkness, we should expect him immediately to give up the point. But there are some other arguments with which the letter is closed, which require our notice.
It is not the word means that we object to, but the unscriptural use which is made of it, in dividing the honor of our salvation with what that word is used to signify. This is what grates upon our ear, for we are taught both by the word and by the Spirit, that salvation is of the Lord. But we can find no system of means appointed of the Lord to be used by men, in the use of which God has promised to aid, them in their efforts to save sinners. It would not, therefore, remove the difficulty to change the name. Retaining the heresy is what we object to. The name has often been changed, and under a multitude of names the abominable doctrine has been wrapped up, and its deformity partially concealed, ever since the days of Cain.
New Vernon, N.Y.,
September 15, 1846
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 2
Pages 666 – 680