THE old stale arminian hobgoblin difficulty is brought to bear against the doctrine of salvation alone of God, that, if the means doctrine is not true, there would be no use what ever for preaching, praying, exhorting, or anything else. This is what all arminians consider a “knock down argument.” Old Cain saw no use for Abel to live any longer if his doctrine was approved of God, and the utility of the ordinances of our Lord Jesus Christ, the preaching of the gospel, the prayers which are indited by the Holy Ghost, together with everything belonging to the order of the church of God is not only questioned, but absolutely denied by our correspondent, who virtually charges the head of the church with having instituted these things as useless lumber. May we not retort, Nay, but who art thou, O man, that repliest against God; that darest to denounce what he has appointed; and pronounce those things useless which have never been without their use among God’s dear children? Feeding the flock of God which he has purchased with his own blood, is denounced as useless, unless such feeding can be used as a means of making sheep. Prayer in which living souls hold converse with heaven, and breathe forth the desires, confession, thanksgivings, and adoration to God, is considered useless unless it can he made a machine for either raising the dead, or of so operating upon the unchanging God as to cause him to aid us in the regeneration of sinners. Exhortation which is injoined on the saints, has no utility with those who hold the means doctrine; and finally nothing else, of any use whatever, if the opposite of the arminian stuff be true. Well, our correspondent may depend on it, the opposite of this heresy is truth that shall stand when heaven and earth shall be dissolved, and when time shall be no more, and if there are those who profess godliness who cannot love it, we bless God there are others who have been made, to love it and to live upon it.
Our correspondent is mistaken in anticipating that we wilt say that we hold to all such means for building up, establishing, and comforting new-born children. We deny the application of the term means to, the institutions of the gospel; they are gracious provisions for building, comforting and establishing the saints, but they are not the means of doing that or anything else. Means is the name for a sort of machine used by workmongers, by which they expect to set the grace of God in motion; but preaching the gospel of Christ, praying, and every exercise belonging to the gospel, are put in motion by grace. This is the grand difference; the means doctrine reverses the order of things so as to even place the institutions of christianity under the control of men. Men turn the crank, use the lever, the wedge and the screw of means, and heaven and earth obey. Our eating, drinking and breathing, are not the means of our living, but the effect; for if we were not alive before we ate or drank, we should never have the one nor the other. We wish to set our face against the sly, insidious, God dishonoring doctrine of God’s helping men to regenerate sinners, because it is untrue, and no lie is of the truth.
If our brethren in the west who have been led away with this filthy trash, only wish to express the idea that preaching, praying, &c., are appointed for the comfort, establishment, &c., of the saints, why do they raise so much clamor about it, seeing there are none who dispute such a position? But from what we understand them to mean and to say, we can ‘make nothing more nor less of their doctrine than down-right arminianism. But hold! Here comes another query, viz.:
21. “Can you prove that God sends his Spirit in the one case and not in the other?”
We have already said we believe that God is both Alpha and Omega in all that he does in creation, providence and grace; we do not believe that he is second to us in any of his operations. Instead of sending his Spirit to second our motions in any thing, he, by his Holy Spirit, quickens dead sinners, unaided by men or angels; and by the same Spirit he raises up his ministers, and they are directed by his Spirit to preach, and all the “exercises of his children are produced by the Spirit,” which Spirit is uncontrolled, unbiased and unaided by them.
22. “Pray, what comfort or joy do the children of God enjoy from preaching, if God does not accompany the word by his Holy Spirit “ This is to us a hard question; for we know of no gospel preaching where the word is not administered in the Spirit. The preacher’s words may often be at random, cold, lifeless, and carnal, but such is not gospel. The work of the Spirit is not to warm up and enliven the cold, dull pratings of the minister; but the Spirit prepares the preacher, provides the message, gives the door of utterance, and at the same time prepares the hearers to hear, and their hearts to rejoice in the truth thus ministered unto them.
“If it is his good pleasure and will to send his Spirit with his word to comfort his children, why not send his Spirit with his word to awaken dead sinners?” The word which quickens dead sinner’s is itself spirit, and it is life; the testimony of those who have experienced the life-imparting power of that word comforts those who are prepared by the Holy Ghost to receive the testimony. But the testimony is one thing, and the thing testified of is quite another. The word testified of can quicken the dead and comfort the living, but the mere articulations of a minister’s voice can do neither. Sometimes the term “Word,” in the New Testament means Christ, as John i. 1; sometimes it means the quickening operation of the Holy Ghost, as where Jesus testifies, It is the Spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing; the words which I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life. In this sense the word is spoken of in connection with the regeneration of the saints. Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of an incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever. If brother S. only intends to be understood that God sends his servants to preach Christ, and at the same time sends his Spirit to quicken dead sinners, and qualify them to hear and profit by the word preached, we shall not differ; but if he contends that the preaching of the gospel by the ministers of Jesus is a means to procure the quickening operation of the Spirit, we must differ. Indeed the same Spirit that sends the minister of Christ, and enables him to preach the word, quickens the sinner, and qualifies the living saint to profit by the preached word. But one is not to be regarded as a means or instrumentality for procuring the other. Thunder is not a means for procuring rain, neither is rain a means for procuring thunder; yet God in providence often sends them together. The Spirit is not the means, but the cause of God’s ministers preaching; so neither is the preaching of the gospel the means, but the effect of the Spirit’s operation.
Again, our correspondent says, “God is not limited.” Certainly not as to power to execute his sovereign and eternal purpose, and therefore he cannot require means to aid him in the quickening of his redeemed people; but ye are not, consequently, to infer that he has no fixed and definite mode of communicating life to the dead; that he effects this, sometimes in one way, and sometimes in another, as sometimes through means, sometimes by means, and sometimes without means. He has revealed to us but one way of salvation, and that is altogether of, by, and through our Lord Jesus Christ. The case alluded to by brother S. of the remark of an anti-means preacher would be more in point if the anti-means man had not involved the doctrine of means by his if. “There is,” says brother S., “but one way for every child, or heir of promise, to be brought to the knowledge of the truth, and that way is fixed in the eternal mind, unalterably fixed.” We understand him to mean that there is one way for each, or perhaps as many ways as there are children or heirs to be brought to know the truth; but while we admit there is or may be a variety of circumstances connected with the experience of the children of God, we contend that there is but one way, fixed, unalterably fixed, in the eternal mind, for bringing all the children and heirs of promise from death to life; and that one way is by immediately communicating life to them, without the aid of any intermediate cause, power, agency, means, or instrumentality whatever; and we are equally sanguine, with him, that God will not be frustrated in the accomplishment of his designs.
The allusion made to John Bunyan’s being awakened through a lewd woman is begging the question, for he has not proved that God did awaken or quicken John Bunyan through a lewd woman, or through any other name or medium than Jesus Christ, and we should be very sorrowful, while the testimony of Christ is before our eyes, that no man cometh to the Father but by him, to have brother S. prove that John Bunyan or any other person had received life and salvation through a lewd woman; at such proof heaven would be astonished, and earth would tremble. We do not dispute that after John Bunyan was quickened by the Holy Ghost, he might have received some of his first impressions concerning his sinful and lost estate from a lewd woman, or from any other circumstance; but at the same time it must be confessed that if he had not been previously, or at least simultaneously, quickened by the Spirit, the circumstances of the lewd woman would have passed without making any unusual impressions on him. The first thing seen or sensed by a living person cannot be the cause of his having life, but it is an evidence that he is alive.
Perhaps the most extraordinary passage in the whole letter of brother S., coming as it does from a professed Baptist, is this, “For to contend that God cannot, or does not, give faith until a man is regenerated and born again, is repugnant to the word of God.” Well, we do contend that God does not give faith to an unregenerate person. Faith is the substance of things hoped for; and what hope has a dead sinner? It is the evidence of things not seen; and what does the unregenerate man see? Without it he cannot see God. Without being born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. “Marvel not [O Nichodemus] that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.” The unregenerate man is a natural man, and the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. And faith is one of the things of the Spirit of God; for the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, &c. If God gives faith to a sinner before he is regenerated, then faith is no evidence that a man is born of God; and what evidence can any person have that he is a child of God, if God gives it to unregenerate men? If this position could be established it would prove that faith is by no means peculiar to God’s children, and Abel may be in hell! The illustrious catalogue of saints mentioned in the xi. chapter to the Hebrews, who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens, &c., might after all have died and gone down to hell in an unregenerate state. If unregenerate men are the recipients of faith, all these may have been unregenerate men. If such a sentiment does not deny the faith, we know not what language can. Is it possible that a heaven born soul can breath out such doctrine?
In support of this position, namely, that God gives faith to men before they are regenerated, this text is brought. “He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is the rewarder of them that seek him.” We have never met with even a professed arminian who would contend that the coming to God mentioned in this text had reference to the work of regeneration, much less that sinners must profess faith as a prerequisite to regeneration. The same text is prefaced thus: “But without faith it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh to God must believe,” &c.
This text is in perfect harmony with the words of Jesus. “God is a Spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” The whole epistle to the Hebrews was addressed to “Holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling,” and the whole theme of the inspired writer was to show the distinction between the legal dispensation of, carnal ordinances and its worldly sanctuary, and the dispensation of the gospel, and that the law was not of faith; its provisions were, the man that doeth the things enjoined by the law should live by them. But the righteousness which is by faith. speaketh on this wise, “Say not in thy heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? that is, to bring Christ down from above; or, Who shall descend into the deep? that is, to bring Christ up from the dead,” &c. Although under the old covenant of works, much was to be done of manuel labor as a sort of means of temporal prosperity, yet under the gospel no means are to be used to bring Christ down, or to bring him up, for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with, the mouth confession is made unto salvation. Now seeing that it is with the heart man believeth, we ask, is it with his old heart of stone, his unregenerate heart, that man believeth unto righteousness, or is it with his new heart and new spirit which God has promised to give his people? “He that cometh unto God.” Does the unregenerate or the regenerated man come to God believing that he is, and that he is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him? If, as brother S. contends, it is the unregenerate man preparatory to his regeneration, let us not forget that “No man cometh to the Father but by me.” Hence, if an unregenerate sinner comes to God it must be by Christ as the only medium of access, for he is the only way. And if a sinner can have faith, and can come to Cod through Christ, without regeneration, to qualify him to see the kingdom of God, what need is there for regeneration?
We call on brother Sperry to turn to Hebrews xi. 6, and read his text, and with its whole connection, and then say if he himself believes soberly that unregenerate men can possess that faith which is. the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen; by which the elders obtained a good report, and through which we understand the worlds were made by the word of God, &c. The allusion made to Paul’s being sent to some places, and not suffered to go to others, shows he was subject to the government of the Spirit, and not that the Spirit was, through some magic power of means, governed by Paul. He was truly sent to places where God had much people, but he was not sent among them to use means for their regeneration. Philip was not sent to quicken and regenerate the eunuch; that work was performed by the Holy Ghost, and Philip was sent to preach Christ to him, and to baptize him. “Feed my sheep,” “Feed my lambs.” Feed the flock of God, is the commission; but the ministers of Christ are no where directed to make sheep, or to use means for increasing the flock of God.
“And what business, suppose ye, the apostle Paul would have amongst a parcel of dead sinners?” It was the business of the apostles to go where they were sent, and to tarry wherever the Lord commanded them to tarry; but if the Lord had intended to make it the business of Paul to regenerate the much people in that place, he would have told him so; but he was not so informed. The events showed that Paul was to preach the gospel, and “He that had an ear to hear, was to hear what the Spirit said to the churches.” Paul had no ears to give to those who had none; but he had a message for such as were, by the quickening operation of the Holy Spirit, prepared to gladly receive the testimony which he bore. If the preaching of Paul had been a means used for quickening dead sinners, why were not all to whom he preached exercised alike? Will not the same cause, under similar circumstances, produce the same effect? But Paul’s preaching was invariably, to the Jews, a stumbling block, and to the Greeks, foolishness; but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Until God called sinners from death unto life, gospel preaching was unto them a stumbling block, and foolishness, a savor of death unto death, far enough from being a means of quickening them. The allusion also to the vision of Ezekiel, of the valley of dry bones, is equally unavailing for the purpose of proving the efficiency of means. All these dry bones were the whole house of Israel, who say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost; we are cut off for our parts. Therefore the Lord bade the prophet prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, O my people, I will – what? use the prophesying of Ezekiel as a means of raising you out of your graves ? Not at all. Ezekiel was not to raise them, nor to help raise them; neither was God about to raise them through the means of Ezekiel or his preaching; but Ezekiel was to declare what God had said that himself would do. Say unto them, Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, and shall put my Spirit in you, and ye shall live; and I shall place you in your own land; then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord. The Lord purposed, the Lord spake, and the Lord performed; and all that Ezekiel had to do, was what all God’s ministers have to do – to testify of the grace of God, tell of God’s purpose, of his promises, of his power, and of the deadness, dryness, inability and utter dependence on the life-giving power of their sovereign God. Strange that a professedly Old School Baptist should wish to divide the quickening power between God and means.
Having noticed, as we believe, every item of the communication of brother Sperry, we will say in conclusion, that we have endeavored to use great plainness of speech, without designing to employ one word of unkindness. We honestly believe, as our remarks will show, that the means doctrine, as it is called, is a heresy of no trifling magnitude. That it has been suffered in the all-wise providence of God to annoy the churches for the purpose of purging the Old School community of corruptions, for the trial of the faith of the saints, and that its final tendency will be to relieve our churches from excrescences which do not belong legitimately to the mystical body of Christ, we have no doubt. Many have attached themselves to the Old School Baptists, simply because they were opposed to the Popular institutions of what is falsely called benevolence, and not from a unity of sentiment with the primitive saints in regard to the doctrine of the gospel of Christ. If in any part of our reply our language should seem unnecessarily harsh or severe, let it be remembered that we have been urged by the author of the communication which we have received, to publish it. We have not sought for an occasion of controversy, but on the other hand held back until we were confident that our backwardness to go into the investigation was being construed by the means party into a tacit endorsement of their heresy. We sincerely hope that such of our brethren as have become bewildered with this mischievous means doctrine, may be enabled to compare it with the scriptures, anti with their own experience, and be no longer like children tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. Towards brother Sperry, as an old and valued correspondent and faithful friend of the SIGNS OF THE TIMES, we entertain the kindest feelings and profound regard; but for the doctrine embraced in this communication, we feel unmingled regret that any of our dear brethren should be captivated by it. May the Lord deliver them from all error, and lead us all by his unerring Spirit into all truth, for his mercies’ sake. Amen.
New Vernon, N.Y.,
October 1, 1846
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 2
Pages 680 – 689