Jan 26, 2009

Dr. Howell & Hardshellism

Over the past several days I have been heavily involved in reading old issues (and taking notes) from "The Baptist" for the years 1838 and 1839 and edited from Nashville by the late great president of the SBC, Dr. Robert Boyte Crawford Howell.

Dr. Howell was a sound creedal Calvinist and was an avid opponent of both Campbellism and Hardshellism. If one reads the old issues of "The Baptist" and of "The Baptist Banner," and the later "Baptist Banner and Western Pioneer," he will see several interesting articles involving issues with the "Hardshells," or as Dr. Howell called them, "Hardsides," and "New Test Men," and "anti-effort Baptists," etc.

I found it interesting, historically and otherwise, the reference to the "circular letter" sent out by the newly formed "Stone's River Association" which was created when the anti-missionaries declared non-fellowship with those Baptists who supported missions, theological schools, and benevolent societies. Elder (Dr.) John M. Watson, whose writings I have often cited here in "The Baptist Gadfly," and in my ongoing book "The Hardshell Baptist Cult," was the "leader" of this Association, and who, it is said, crafted the words of anti-missionary propaganda contained in the "circular letter." Dr. Watson believed in gospel means, and was not a father to today's Hardshells, in this respect. He was "anti" however as regards the "Arminianism," pretended or real, among the "Missionary" Baptists, and against some of their views on the Great Commission, and on the methods of evangelism, theological education and Sunday schools, and church structure.

This "circular letter" was highly circulated by the "antis" and thus necessited that Dr. Howell and Elder Gayle, and other leaders of historic creedal Calvinism, and of missions, and who fought against Hyper Calvinism, answer the charges and accusations in this letter.

In the January, 1838 issue, in an article titled - "Stone's River Association," a writer for the paper wrote of this newly formed association in Tennessee, created out of its opposition to missions, theological education, and such like, wrote these words (excerpts - most emphasis mine - SG):

"A new Association, with this appropriate name, (for it is stony in doctrine, stony in heart, and a stony ground affair, any how) was formed in August last, in Wilson county, the minutes of which now lie before us. It is made up of some Churches and some fragments of Churches, decoyed off for the purpose, amounting in all to eleven. The old constitution of the Concord, which is a transcript from the Kehukee, or nearly so, would not do for them. It did not suit their new anti-missionary doctrine, with which it would seem from their circular, they have been "spiritually enlightened" within a year or two past. As they left the "Old Baptist" platform and concocted new articles of association, it was hoped they would cease to pretend longer to be Baptists. But they with equal gravity, and ridiculousness, now claim to be almost the only "old Baptists" in Tennessee. Like a hungry pig they darted into the heap, and snatched what they thought to be an ear of corn, but it was only a "cob," and now they run about squealing for life, afraid some one will get their treasure from them, when if they would only take time to look, they would find they have not a grain of corn upon it.

Well, thought we,
"Those who went out into Arminianism say they are the "true Baptists, so say "the Campbellites" etc., --It does really "seem if a part of the old Baptists were to go into Mormonism itself they would contend that they had not changed. Those who have once bourne (borne) the title of old Baptists seem loth, very loth indeed, to give it up, but we "would say for the benefit of such that when it is associated with the popular Arminianism (Antinomianism) of the day, or modern innovations, it loses all its charms, and the title of old Baptists then becomes a reproach, and the sooner dropped the better."

Now these Stone's Riverans have "gone out" from Baptists principles and doctrines, have gotten up a hotch potch faith of their own, of only a few summers growth, and they will let us, who still retain the old documents, and adhere to the old principles, pursue our own course unmolested. With these feelings we turned over to the circular, written by Elder John M. Watson M. D. when lo, and behold, we there found the identical words quoted above gravely printed and applied, now to who do you think? Why positively to us. What do you say to that eh! These Stone's Riverans ridiculing the Concord Association--yes, the Concord Association, and for what? for pretending to be what every body knows they have been ever since they had a being at all, old Baptists! (pages 13, 14) Well done Stones Riverans!"

Howell then himself writes:

"Since writing the above, we have received the following communication from father Whitsitt. It utterly annihilates the Stone's River circular. Its facts and arguments are perfectly conclusive. We are almost inclined to be sorry for Dr. Watson. The old soldier handles him as a lion would a kid. Our astonishment is, that, as the Doctor is a man of some judgment, he does not, as he must see it, confess and embrace the truth. We shall see what he will do."

Then follows a "review" of the Stone's River circular by a spokeman for Howell and the Missionary Baptists.

"I requested Bro. Howell not to review that Circular, for I thought it would be paying too much attention to it, and it would be keeping up the strife, which has continued too long already. I have long venerated the character of Dr. John M. Watson. True, I am not so fond of Elder John M. Watson; but could I consistently do it, I would let him alone. He sent some copies of the Stone's River Minutes to a Church which I attend, and must have known that I would receive one, but I suppose he has sent me one. True, I did not so particularly observe the backing, but I took out a package for Dr. Whitsitt at the same time, put up in the same way, and backed J. M. Watson. I am told that he wrote the Circular....No doubt, Elder Watson and his adherents think his letter a masterpiece, for I hear he has circulated it far and wide.

Supposing that Elder Watson sent me this copy, he may expect my reply, which if I withhold, he will use my silence as a triumph, I am therefore under the necessity to reply. I have no idea, however, that I can render any service to him, further than to stop him from boasting. I shall place this review under three heads. The first is PERVERSION."

Was the commission given to the church?

"It is believed by all christians as far as I know, the Stone's River churches not excepted, that the sacrament of the Lord's Supper is a church ordinance; as such the Lord acknowledged the Apostles to be the church, for he gave the Supper to them in the absence of the 500. According to his own showing, the writer of this letter is a very singular character in the Baptist church, for he is a non-commissioned officer. The commission to teach and baptize having never been given to the church, she can never confer the commission on any of her members, for it is impossible for her to confer what she never had; hence his act in baptizing, and solemnizing the rites of matrimony, are both done without a commission. But it may be, the writer claims his office by succession to the Apostles. If he does, his claim is not good, for the Apostles are now on their thrones, and can have no successors while they sit there. Read Matt. 19: 27, 28. If he claims this succession he is not a Baptist, for they never did allow their ministers to sit on thrones. If the writer claims this succession he is a Catholic; they have thrones and dominions. St. Peter's chair has been filled (they say) by one of their fraternity, ever since his decrease.

We are now at the forks of the road, one leads to a clerical government, the other to a democratic. The one leads to thrones, the other to seats. In order to see which road this writer has taken, we will quote again. "We admit these things were given for the benefit of the church, but to particular individuals. Now if the commission had been given to the Apostles as a church, then the church should have appointed them their respective fields of labor afterwards, as the Convention folks do now, but this was not done by the church then, neither should it be now. The church is only called upon to fellowship and acknowledge what the Lord as the great Head of the church does in these respects." (Page 8) Here lies the foundation of Episcopacy. The Church prays for, prays to, and obeys those whom the Lord may appoint to office from time to time. Althougth I have already proved, that the commission to teach and baptize, was given to the Church, yet as I have men to deal with, strongly prejudiced against that idea, I will enlarge the proof." (page 20)


"First, "We are now just what we were when we joined the United Baptist Church; then there was no Convention." Page 3

Every word of this is true, and I am very sorry that it is true. This writer is the man who drew the "Bethesda resolutions," in which (if I recollect) he rebuked the churches for having neglected to sustain their ministers, and from the above avowal they still neglect it. 2nd. It was then agreed to furnish supplies not only for domestic, but for those who might wish to go into foreign lands. This they also disavow, as they "are just what they were." 3rd. "Then there was no Convention." And because we were wrong then, it seems we ought to have continued so. Then the whole church were under the same obligation to "preach the Gospel to every creature" that they are now, and in order to do it, the whole church were under obligation to support a whole ministry. And when the church felt this obligation, anciently, there was a combination of churches, and agents sent out to solicit and receive funds for benevolent purposes. But we have all slept over our commission, and if these brethren intend to sleep on, it is no reason we should. When a whole ministy give themselves wholly to the Lord's work, and a whole ministry live of the Gospel, then, and not till then, will the Lord's whole work be done." (page 21)

"2nd item. "Wherever we may see preachers starting out, under a spiritual exercise of soul concerning the heathen, and going in the way of the Saviour commanded, without gold or siler, or with their own purse only, in the wisdom and power of the Lord, and in his providence connected with their work, we will hear of a spiritual work abroad." (Page 6)

Yes, we will so. But where did we ever see this? not in the New Testament..." (Page 22)

"3rd item. "We are bold to affirm that no portion of the primitive Church ever went out into a distinct society, and assumed to themselves the right of hiring and sending out ministers, on pay per sermon, per month or per year." (page 4)

Yes, and I am bold to affirm, that no portion of the primitive Church, ever went out into such a society as the one which wrote this letter. (page 23)

"The Baptists are mixed with the high and low Calvinists, and have sometimes split on it; the missionary Baptists are mixed in the same way, yet get along in that respect without difficulty." (page 24)

"The position of the authors of this charge is just this. They will not carry out the commission, because they say it was not given to the church. They cannot carry it out, because their system will not admit of it. Hence they will not, they cannot, and we shall not. To go out and obey Jesus Christ, is heresy, but to stay in and disobey him, is othodoxy." (Page 25)

"There is something like argument in this letter, which at first view is imposing. It is said that the missionary system is not like the apostolic system. But it ought to be remembered that the apostoloc community and the Baptist community, as regards missionary operations, are entirely different. We will take the Stone's River community as a sample. The whole of the apostolic community acted under a commission to preach the Gospel to every creature, and strove to carry it out. The Stone's River community it seems have no commission to preach the Gospel to any creature, and stive to hinder it. Hence, as the systems stand connected with people so different, some disparity may appear. But we will examine the alleged difference. It is said that apostolic men went forth without a pledge, but missionary men fo forth under a pledge. This is a grand mistake, which I now prove." (Page 26)

"It is said that our missionaries depend on the Convention, and not on the Lord. Another mistake."


"Item 1. "He that knoweth God heareth us: he that is not of God heareth not us." I John 4: 6. This is their text, set at the head of their letter, in all the majesty of St. John himself."

Now reader, I want you to understand that these letter writers have got into the shoes of the Apostles--their successors: the truly orthodox. And we who are spending our money to spread the gospel are 'the carnal' and 'worldly minded;' and although they believe some of us to be regenerated, ye twe "are weak professors;' hence those who love their money better than they love their duty are 'the orthodox Baptists,' and those who spend their money with a view to obey Jesus Christ, are 'the heretics.' As their proceedings accord with their letter, I will now quote from their minutes." (pages 26, 27)

"Item. 2nd. "This Association shall not exercise any control over the internal rights of the churches." Government, Art. 7.

This is just as it ought to be; each church is considered to be an independent body, with a full right to judge the conduct of her own members. This is the law of Jesus Christ; I will give an example."

"Legislative authority is alone the perogative of Jesus Christ. Executive authority is alone the perogative of the church of Christ. That body of men who may pass a law to bind the church, assumes the perogative of Jesus Christ; and takes from the church here executive power, and strips her of her internal rights. These positions will not be denied by any real Baptist. Having made these remarks, which I wish the reader to keep fully in mind, I pass on to quote from the proceedings.

Item 3rd. "The following resolutions were offered, and unanimously adopted by the Association."

1st. "This Association shall be wholly disconnected from the Tennessee Baptist Convention, and all others.

2nd. "This Association will not receive the delegates or letter of any church connected with the Tennessee Baptist Convention, or any other."

Now reader, take notice, here is positive law, made to govern the church of Jesus Christ. As positive as it would have been with a "Be it enacted." This law nullifies the 7th Article, for they cannot both be enforced." (Pages 27, 28)

"And now reader, you have seen in this review the kind of weapons with which we are opposed, or rather weapons with which the Lord is opposed, for they have not only shut out the obligation of the church, to preach the Gospel to every creature, but have stript her of the means in the divine arrangement, by which she might carry out his work. You see too the dilemma into which the party have brought themselves. It is a pity for the Stone's River churches, for there is a number of fine people among them, but they have lent themselves to a few headstrong men, who are determined to go ahead, regardless of consequences. These churches have now shut themselves in, or rather, have shut out, three fourths of the American Baptists. "Beware of the concision," saith Paul." (Pages 28, 29)

"In justice to the Stone's River Circular, I must say, that it is famous for its money saving policy, and no doubt many think it to be a great display.

I have now done with the Circular, and I will conclude by remarking that, perhaps the reader will think me severe, but I can assure him that I have studied a different course. To have been less severe, I must have lost the ideas which I have conveyed. The truth is, I have reviewd this review carefully, and have stricken out every thing which I thought severe, that I could strike out. I ask the reader seriously, if it is not a hard case to have our characters traduced and influence destroyed, merely for complying with a plain duty, when we are not pushing ourselves where we are not welcome. The whole matter is a voluntary thing, and always will be so, for every man to have control of his own purse. We only ask to be let alone, to pursue the path of duty in peace. But this can't be done, for we have been opposed from the word go; slandered and misrepresented. And to stand in our defence, is nothing more than what ought to be expected. In the days of Nehemiah "they which builded the walls, and they that bare burdens with those that leaded, every one with one of his hands erought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon." It is even so now. Those who opposed the work then, were non commissioned people, and they are professedly noncommissioned who oppose the work now. Missionary operations bring covetousness, and pride to the test. Covetousness in withholding, and pride in seeing others doing, and they neglecting. On these two rotten legs stands the opposition of many."

James Whitsitt, Solitude, Dec. 13th, 1837 (page 29)

A person then writes to Bro. Howell:

"I am trying to give effect to your letters to Watson, by circulating them through the country. Having a friend for whom I feel the warmest affection, but who belongs to the new fashioned denomination called "Old School"--alias Hardsides, I sent him a copy. Last week he came to see me and thanked me very much for the opportunity of reading the letters, and told me "if it had not been for a passage in the seventh letter, he hadly knew what they would have done with him." Not having, myself, observed any thing objectionable in them, I asked him to direct me to the item. It is in the latter part of the seventh letter, in these words: -- "Some are saved by the knowledge of God, and some are saved by the ignorance of God etc." He does not understand you, and may it not be supposed that, as he is, others may also be at a loss. I place this matter before you that you may have an opportunity to explain. (page 79)

Yours truly, H. P. Carney

Dr. Howell responds:

"We will explain with very great pleasure, and thank brother Carney for the suggestion. In the place refered to we were exposing the absurdity of old school doctrines. They maintain that all the heathen will not be lost, because they are perfectly ignorant on the whole subject of religion. Then, we said, if they are not lost they are saved, and if our old school friends are right, they are saved by their ignorance. This they profess to believe, not we. But it is evident, with us, that those who are saved on the Bible plan, are saved by the knowledge of God in Jesus Christ. This we know is true; and assuming the doctrine of "the hardsides" to be true also, then some are saved by the ignorance of God and some by the knowledge of God. We laid down these grounds and then, to show the absurdity, of antiism stated, if this is true, ignorance and knowledge are equally beneficial. We believe that no one will be saved but though the blood, and righteousness of Jesus Christ, and that all who have arrived to years of maturity, heathen or not, who do not repent and believe in Christ will be lost.

That God knows all things from the beginning we believe and maintain. That portion of knowledge which he thought proper to communicate to us, is contained in his word, by which we are governed in our conclusions. We are to be guided, not by what, perchance, may be the secret will of God, but by his revealed word.

We thank brother Carney for the circulation of these letters. They have been published for some time, and we hope those who subscribed for them, will take them, and give them an extensive dissemination." (page 80)

Dr. Howell, and Dr. Whitsiit, in reply to some incidents and questions, write:

"How can we, my brother, oppose the more extensive preaching of the truth? Our blessed Redeemer said (Mark 16: 15)-"Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature." We have not yet done this. We certainly ought to do it. But some of our brethren-brethren, too, whom we love-say to us-You shall not do it; if you do, we will declare nonfellowship with you!" (page 136)

"Why should our brethren cast us off for this? Really, I think, that, instead of disowning us, they ought to join us in the good work; and I believe, if they would throw away prejudice, and take some pains to understand the matter, they would do it." (page 137)

"An impression has prevailed that the doctrine of predestination and the principles of the Convention are at variance, and that if one be embraced the other must be abandoned. There never was a greater mistake. I am myself a predestinarian Baptist. So are the friends, and members of the Convention of Tennessee, and of the General Association of Virginia, with which I was for many years connected. The ministers whose names you mention Kerr, Fife, Baptist, Tinsly, and a hundred others of similar character, and usefulness, are old acquaintances, and beloved brethren, with whom I have spend many a joyful day. I was eight years pastor of the Baptist Church in Norfolk, Virginia. The Churches, and brethren there, are all predestinarian, and all missionary. The doctrine of predestination is missionary doctrine. If God carries on his work by means--in other words, if he accomplishes his purposes by instrumentalities--and you believe he does--then the purposes are the doctrine, and the missionary labors are the means, or instrumentalities. The true doctrine of predestination is one thing; and the antinomian doctrine, preached by many, and called predestination, is another, and a very different thing. Antinomianism discars the use and efficacy of means, and leads men to oppose missions; but predestination teaches men the right us and value of means, and leads them to embrace missionary principles. (page 137)


"When Jesus Christ commanded, that the gospel should be preached to every creature, he meant every, new creature. The following reading is designed to elustrate this:

"Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every new creature. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved; but 'the new creature,' that believeth not shall be damned;" Mark, 16: 15, 16. "That repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, 'to new creatures,' beginning at Jerusalem;' Luke 24: 47. "Then Paul and Barnabas became bold, and said, it was necessary that the word of God should be first spoken to you: 'new creatures,' but seeing ye reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles;" Acts, 13: 46." (page 187)

"Admitting this doctrine true, and that the word of God has no agency in the regeneration of the soul, and that the elect of God will be saved any how; what does all that avail against positive laws, when it is admitted, that the commission was carried out by the first Church, to the full extent? If it was necessary that the elect, then, in every part of the world, should hear the gospel and believe, is it not equally as necessary now?"

These are indeed interesting historical citations. I will be posting some additional citations with comments in upcoming postings.

I was glad to find these copies of "The Baptist" on the internet. I am still hoping to find the first two or three years (1835-1838).

I will be having more historical information on the first major Hardshell periodicals also, and on the Letters that Dr. Howell wrote to Dr. Watson, a series of letters that answered the charges of the Hardshells, and which, to my knowledge, Dr. Watson and the Hardshells never rebutted. More to come.

For citations see here

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