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Hardshellism Or Calvinism?

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Hardshellism is a term that is often in the mouths of some Baptists, yet it is obvious that many use it only as a term of reproach without knowing or caring what it really means, nor what it historically referred to. Many use this word as a slanderous term for those who are Calvinistic in theology, and for one who is set on slandering a brother who differs from him, truth has little weight for prejudice and party spirit are the ruling factors.

Historically, Hardshellism was anti-missionism and had no regard to what one believed theologically. It was a refusal to preach the gospel, or teach the truth; it was almost always against mission work, Sunday Schools, Seminaries, and neither taught doctrine, nor encouraged godly living; it was do-nothingism. It was not the result of Calvinistic theology, for at the time that this schism rose, the large majority of Baptists were avowedly Calvinistic. Note what Dr. John T. Christian, a Baptist Historian whose soundness is unquestioned, has to say about what Hardshellism is:

Contemporaneous with the formation of the Triennial Convention there began among some Baptists an aggressive campaign against missions, education, Sunday Schools, and indeed almost everything that organization fostered. The history of the Baptists of that period would be incomplete which did not give an account of the anti-effort secession variously called anti-missions and hardshellism. One can hardly, in this day, understand the rancor of speech which prevailed for many years in many of the churches, and most of the early associations. —A History of the Baptists, Vol. 2, p. 104, Broadman Press, Nashville, 1926. (The whole of chapter 7 of period 3 of this book deals with anti-effortism, or True Hardshellism.)

Hardshells indeed sometimes endeavored to justify themselves by their professed belief in the sovereignty of God, but this was not the primary thing; it was only an endeavor to excuse their disobedience to the Lord’s commands. Hardshellism is as far to one extreme of Calvinism as Arminianism is to the opposite extreme, and anyone who knows the true meaning of historic Hardshellism realizes that no one who believes in missions is a Hardshell, whatever his views of the doctrines of grace may be.

Calvinism is a five point system of theology concerning the plan of redemption; it deals with nothing else; it does not include a theory of a Presbyterian form of church government; that is denominated Presbyterianism, and he who confounds the two, betrays an ignorance of both. Most Baptists who profess to reject Calvinism, yet practice it in their prayers, for they pray for God to save and convert men. Why do they do this, if they believe that the choice lies, in the final analysis, with the sinner, who must do something after "God has done all He can to save you?" If God has done all He can to save a man, and that man is yet unsaved, one had better stop praying to God, and start praying to the man to be saved. The truth is, rejectors of Calvinism generally have never given it an honest appraisal, and so do not know what it really teaches. Either that, or else they are guilty of deliberate distortions of it. The greatest compliment that the opponents of Calvinism can pay it, is to distort it before they try to overthrow it, for they thereby tacitly admit that they cannot meet it and overthrow it honestly, but must distort it before they have a chance of defeating it.

Prior to the late 1800’s almost all Baptists down through history, that any self-respecting Baptist would want to claim kin to, held to Calvinism. Even those who lived before John Calvin were Calvinistic, though they were not called that; the most common name for this theological system prior to this was Augustinianism, though here again, it did not originate with Augustine. Calvin got this from Augustine’s writings, and possibly from the writings of the Waldenses and Anabaptists, both of whom held to these beliefs. Certainly, he never got it from the Catholic system from whence he came, as some claim, for this system of theology was never widely accepted by Catholicism at any time, but is actually about as contrary to Catholic principles as anything can be.

Calvinism has been held by most sound Baptist theologians, such as Abraham Booth, J. P. Boyce, John Bunyan, B. H. Carroll, Alexander Carson, J. L. Dagg, E. C. Dargan, T. T. Eaton, D. F. Estes, D. B. Ford, J. M. Frost, Andrew Fuller, Richard Fuller, John Gill, A. J. Gordon, J. R. Graves, Robert Haldane, Robert Hall, Alvah Hovey, J. B. Moody, E. Y. Mullins, J. M. Pendleton, A. W. Pink, J. W. Porter, W. B. Riley, E. G. Robinson, T. T. Shields, T. P. Simmons, C. H. Spurgeon, A. H. Strong, R. A. Venable, and a host of others. It is either an ignorance of the facts, or else a deliberate distortion of them, to claim that only a few Baptists ever held to this system of theology. Some charge this system with quenching evangelistic fervor, but it is an interesting fact that none of these Baptists of the past ever felt that it was any detriment to their evangelism. Indeed, Calvinistic Baptists have traditionally been the leaders in mission work, and these very beliefs have been a stabilizing force in their evangelism, and have prevented their going to the extremes of high pressurism that so many resort to today.

Besides being the more missionary, the Calvinistic Baptists have, through the centuries, been the most conservative doctrinally, for Baptist truth has generally suffered quickest and most in the Arminian Baptist ranks. Calvinistic Baptists have generally been the most steadfast in resisting alien baptism and open communion. The exceptions to this, such as Bunyan and Hall, have stood out all the more because they were exceptions to the general rule. Critics of this system charge it with causing the extremely low condition of English Baptists in the seventeenth century, but what they are careful not to point out is the condition of the English General Baptists at that time, who were non-Calvinists. These were in an even worse condition, for most of them fell away into complete Socinianism and Unitarianism, as their own historian, John Clifford, admits. Thus, even in their worst condition, the Calvinistic Baptists of England were much sounder and more spiritual than any other Baptists in the nation at that time.

Baptist historians, whom we ought to be able to trust if we can trust anyone, unite their testimony that the Calvinistic system has been the more general among Baptist groups through the centuries. See W. J. McGlothlin, Baptist Confessions of Faith; G. H. Orchard, History of Baptists; David Benedict, General History of the Baptist Denomination; W. A. Jarrell, Baptist Church Perpetuity; W. B. Riley, Baptists In The Building of the Nation; William Jones, Church History; and many others.

In Dr. McGlothlin’s Baptist Confessions Of Faith, referred to above, even the confessions put forth by the "General," "Free Will" and other Arminian Baptists were much more Calvinistic than many Baptists today are, which only shows all the more the sad deterioration of theology in Baptist ranks in these latter days. What was considered Arminianism and even Pelagianism two centuries ago, often passes for the best of Baptist theology today, and most Baptists today would feel the greatest insult if they were called "Arminian," though this was the historical designation for modern Baptist theology. David Benedict, whose Baptist History was printed in 1813, observed:

The reader must keep in mind, that in this day, those were called Arminians, who held to the universal provision of the gospel, or that the atonement of Christ was general in its nature... (They) were called Arminians, because they maintained, that by the sufferings of Christ, salvation was made possible for every individual of Adam’s ruined posterity. —General History of the Baptist Denomination, Vol. 2, pp. 61 (note), 410. Manning and Loring, Boston, 1813.

Yet these who would be so grievously offended if any called them "Arminians" feel perfectly justified in erroneously calling Calvinists "Hardshells" and "hyper-Calvinists." Why do they not use the proper term—"Calvinist"? Is it not because they realize that this term has for centuries been associated with soundness of doctrine, and to call one’s opponent by this name is to intimate that they themselves are Arminians—a term long associated among Baptists with unsound doctrine?

Many Baptists of past and present have, while holding to this system, yet declined to be called "Calvinists," since they rightly held that the system did not originate with John Calvin. However, this name has long since passed into a theological term, and connotes nothing more than what is involved in the five points of this system. A compendium of the five points of Calvinism is as follows:

(1) Total Depravity, which means, not that any person is as bad as he can be, but only that man is universally and totally sinful—that there is nothing in man that is good by nature (Rom. 3:9-12,19,23; 7:14,18). Even the mind and the conscience is defiled (Rom. 8:7; 1 Cor. 2:14; Titus 1:15). Men are spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1-5), and so, unable to perform any spiritual act apart from Divine grace.

(2) Unconditional Election, which means simply that there was nothing in man which obligated or moved God to choose him unto salvation; it is an "election of grace" (unmerited favor), (Rom. 11:5). God chose men according to His own purposes (Eph. 1:4-10), so that every good thing that is found in man results from God’s gracious giving (Jam. 1:17). Foreseen faith is most often claimed to be the condition of election, yet this results from election (Acts 13:48; 18:27), "believed through grace" (Rom. 4:16). Faith itself is the gift of God (Acts 11:17; 14:27; Rom. 12:3; 1 Cor. 3:5; Phil. 1:29; Heb. 12:2, et al). The foreknowledge which is the basis of election in Romans 8:29 cannot be a foreknowledge of "faith", for it is a foreknowledge of persons ("whom"), not of things or conditions. Romans 9:11 reveals that nothing in man is the cause of election.

(3) Limited Atonement, means that Christ died only for those who shall be finally saved—for His sheep (John 10:14-16; in verses 26-28, believers are distinguished from others because they are the Lord’s "sheep," and not vice versa.). Anti-Calvinists reply that Christ died "for the world," which is true, but they fail to realize that "world" has at least thirteen different significations in the New Testament, all but one of which are limited in meaning, and so its application must be determined by the context, and when this is considered, it harmonizes with the doctrine of a limited atonement. The word "all" is likewise always limited by the context to believers when the atonement is under discussion. Another thing, to hold to a general atonement makes the work of the different Persons of the Godhead to be in opposition, for then the Holy Spirit’s work of the application of the atonement is more limited than Christ’s work of accomplishing it. Their work is harmonious, not at cross-purposes. John 17:2 shows that the number of those who shall receive eternal life is limited to the number of those given to Christ in the covenant of redemption, and John 6:37 shows that this number is limited to those effectually called. Finally, "atonement" means reconciliation (Rom. 5:10-11), but how can a man be reconciled to God, yet still be lost? Or, on the other hand, how can one be saved, yet still be unreconciled? There is no way of getting around the fact that it is limited to the believer, except by holding to an abstract atonement, something the Scripture knows nothing about.

(4) Irresistable Grace, which simply means that those whom God sets out to save, He does, in time, call and save. It does not mean that grace is never resisted, for it always is, but this means that it is never successfully resisted by the elect. It is sometimes called efficacious grace. We do not know how any one can deny this truth in the light of John 6:37-40 (See also verses 44-45). Ephesians 1:19-20 reveals that the same power works in the individual in his act of believing that worked to raise up Christ from the dead (See also Ps. 110:3; Phil. 2:13; 1:6). Grace, if it reigns (Rom. 5:20-21), is sovereign, and if it is sovereign, then it is triumphant. Without sovereign grace, no one would ever be saved.

(5) Perseverance of the Saints, means that those whom God has chosen and called, He will keep until the end; this is based upon His elective purposes, not upon any ability in man (John 10:29-31; Phil. 1:6; Rom. 8:35-39; 1 Pet. 1:3-5). Salvation is thus all of the Lord in its commencement, continuance and consummation. God has provided ample means to bring to pass all that He has purposed to do, and He does all that He purposes, not by destroying man’s will, but by changing it so that it will desire to fulfill His purposes.

G. W. McDaniel has well said: "Calvinism is a comforting, strengthening doctrine, but ultra-Calvinism is a blight. Our duty is to invite all to salvation and leave God to do the drawing." —The People Called Baptists, p. 101.

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