Dec 8, 2011

Zack Guess - Hardshell Apologist


Elder Zack Guess, a modern day Hardshell, and supporter of Elder Lasserre Bradley, Jr., and whose writings I have previously critiqued here, wrote:

"When God's grace enters a sinner's heart, that heart is changed. The will is changed. The sinner who hated the Holy God now loves Him, and longs for holiness (Matt. 5:6). The sinner is now willing to follow God and to please Him. As the psalmist said, "Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power..." (Ps. 110:3). As God said by Paul, "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure." (Phil. 2:13)."

There is nothing wrong with this description of the salvation/regeneration experience, of that time "when God's grace enters a sinner's heart."  However, the above description contradicts general Hardshell ideas on the nature of the saving experience.  It even contradicts other statements that Guess makes in the same writing, as we shall see.

Guess and the Hardshells do not teach that the "change" that occurs when one is saved includes any experience effected by gospel knowledge and belief.  A man is as much a heathen in belief and practice after "regeneration," according to the Hardshells, as before.  He becomes a "believer," but not a believer in scripture, nor in the gospel, nor in the one true God, nor in Jesus.  Those who are saved are "made willing," but not, according to Guess and the Hardshells, made willing to believe in Christ, not made willing to turn away from heathen faith and practice.  A man's heart and mind are "changed," but this change, as characterized by Hardshells, does not include any conversion to Hebrew and Christian faith.  It is a mere metaphysical change of the faculties of the soul, of what Hardshell apologist R. V. Sarrels, called the "soul essence."  It simply changes the physical nature of the soul to where it is now "enabled" to believe, repent, etc.  There is no real faith, nor turning to God, nor any revelation or enlightenment of truth about Christ.  According to Guess and the Hardshells, many idol worshippers in non-Christian religions have been "regenerated," and "made willing," but who nevertheless never become believers in the revelation of scripture. 

Guess says that a saved person is one who loves the Holy God.  But, to know the one holy God, one must have knowledge of him, for "how shall they believe in him whom he has not heard?"   Guess does not divorce enlightenment from the saving experience.  He does not make it wholly a sub-conscious or non-cognitive experience, at least not in this place, for he mentions loving God, being willing, etc.  One of the verses cited by Guess is Phil. 2: 13 and cannot be interpreted outside of the context of Christian conversion.  Willingness to do the will and pleasure of God implies a knowledge of God, and a knowledge of Christ, such knowledge that comes through instruction.  Can one be "willing" in a non-cognitive sense?  Guess says that regeneration makes a man "willing to follow God."  But, how can he follow God that he knows nothing about?  How can one believe in God of whom he has not heard? 

Guess wrote:

"The Ephesian epistle, in very powerful and beautiful language shows emphatically that it takes the same mighty, miracle-working power to make one a believer as it took to raise Christ from the dead: "And what is the exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places." (Eph. 1:19,20)."

All this is acceptable and an accurate statement, but who is the "believer" in the passage?  What is it that these believers believe?  What doctrine do they receive as true?  Clearly it is a Christian believer.  The context makes this all too clear to be successfully denied.  Notice these verses from Ephesians chapter one:

"That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise."  (12, 13)

Guess and the Hardshells are forced to admit that these words describe Christian conversion, a being saved by hearing and believing the gospel.  They cannot make the "believing" and the "faith" of these verses into a "non-cognitive faith," or "latent faith," or "hidden faith," or "seed faith," for the faith is produced by the preaching of the gospel and has Christ as the object.  So, they will admit that the "believer" of these verses is the one who is converted by the gospel.  But, they will affirm that conversion is not regeneration, that the Ephesian converts had been "regenerated" long before they heard the gospel and became converts to Christ.  Further, they will make the "salvation" of this passage to be something that occurs some time after "regeneration," and something entirely separate and distinct from "regeneration." 

But, in order to uphold their views the Hardshells must show, from the context, how the "salvation" of verses 12 and 13 is not eternal salvation, and how the "believing" of verse 19 is not the same believing of verses 12 and 13.  Where, in verses 14-18 does Paul show a change in definition for the term "believer"?  Is eternal salvation not under consideration in verses 1-11?  Does Paul not talk about being chosen and predestined to eternal salvation in all these verses?  How can the salvation of verses 12 and 13 be different from the salvation of verses 1-11? 

Guess makes the experience of being made a "believer" in Jesus to be the same as the experience of regeneration.  This passage presents all kinds of difficulty for the Hardshells and their "anti-means" view of salvation. 

Guess wrote:

"This same truth is taught in I Peter 1:23: "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever." The "word" here is not the preached word nor is it the written word. Rather it is the living truth of God in Jesus Christ which is implanted in the heart of the believer by the Holy Spirit. We will study this verse in depth in another study sheet."

Of course, I have responded to this argumentation in chapters in my book and in postings in my Gadfly and Old Baptist blogs.  Hardshell apologist, Elder R. V. Sarrels, in his "Systematic Theology," said that "the word" here could not be the Lord Jesus Christ because the definite article "the" is absent in the Greek of the passage, and yet, in all the passages where Christ is called "the Word of God," the definite article is present.  Of course, there are lots of other reasons why this interpretation is false.  Certainly the London Confession cited this verse as proof that men were saved by the preaching of the gospel.  John Gill also believed that this "word" was not Christ, but was the gospel, which was the means whereby God "begets" his children. 

Guess wrote:

"The impartation of saving grace to individuals is also referred to in the Scriptures as a creation. "For 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." (II Cor. 4:6). Here, of course, Paul is referring back to the Genesis account of the creation of the heaven and the earth. How was light created? God commanded it to shine with irresistible power! "And God said, Let there be light: and there was light." (Gen. 1:3). There was no resistance here. God was the active agent. The thing created was passive (indeed non-existent) until God called it into being."

Not only is it problematic for the Hardshells to make Ephesians 1: 19 to refer to either regeneration or conversion, II Cor. 4: 6 is also problematic for them.  Is Paul describing the Christian conversion experience in these words, or not?  How do Hardshells answer the question?  Guess says it is talking about regeneration, about effectual calling or irresistible grace.  But, how can he not see that this experience of regeneration is applied, by the apostle, to the experience of Christian conversion?  Guess and the Hardshells affirm that regeneration often exists apart from conversion.  Many people, even worshippers of idol gods, are "regenerated," and only need to be "converted."  

Clearly Paul is describing Christian conversion in these words for he says that the "light" that illuminates the soul is the "gospel," and the soul is enlightened with "knowledge" of Christ!

Guess wrote:

"The great majority of Christians believe in gospel regeneration. They believe that a person must hear and believe the gospel (or at least read the Word of God) in order to be born again. However, they have a problem with what to do with those who die in infancy or with those who are mentally incapable of hearing and understanding the gospel."

Notice that Guess does not say "however they have a problem with these verses of scripture"?  No, he says that those who believe that the gospel is a means in regeneration "have a problem" with explaining how the gospel is a means in the regeneration of those who die in infancy and with those who are mentally incapable.  But, I have written extensively on this argumentation in my book on the Hardshell Cult and have completely refuted it.  The main purpose of Guess is to convince bible believers that the bible does not make faith in Christ, or conversion, to be necessary to be eternally saved.  What an impossible task!  The bible is full of verses that affirm that faith in Christ is necessary for being eternally saved.

Guess wrote:

"The Scriptures make plain that God has regenerated individuals before they were able to think in a reasonable manner. This is very plain in the case of David. He said, "Thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother's breasts." (Ps. 22:9). This clause is rendered in Bagster's Interlinerary Hebrew And English Psalter, p. 29, "causing me to trust upon the breasts of my mother." The word for "hope" in Ps. 22:9 is BATACH, which, according to Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon To The Old Testament, p. 112 means, "to confide in anyone, to set one's hope and confidence upon any one." So it is obvious that David was regenerated while a suckling. It is just as obvious that this was before the stage of maturity to mentally comprehend either the spoken or written word of God. The conclusion that must be reached is that regeneration takes place on a level below the consciousness. Faith and repentance are those exercises which reveal this subconscious change."

Yes, and all these "carnal reasonings" have been "cast down" in my book.  I have shown that the case of David does not exclude the use of means.  David is said to "hope," but hope is cognitive and springs from faith in a revelation of truth.  Guess even admits that this "hope" included "trusting," and "confiding."  Therefore, David was not a non-cognitive infant.  But, after admitting that David hoped and trusted in the Lord, and confided in his God, yet this was "before the stage of maturity to comprehend..."  What a contradiction of words!  Guess and the Hardshells will say, on the one hand, that "the infant is not able to believe, repent, trust, etc.," and yet here we see, on the other hand, how Guess argues that David did exactly the thing he said infants could not do!  David hoped!  David trusted in the Lord!  David had faith in the Lord!  David confided in his God!  But, it was not possible for him?  What contradictions! 

David is not said to be sucking upon his mother's breasts, but to be "upon" them.  But, many young children sit in mother's lap and recline in her bosom long after they have been weaned.   

Guess wrote:

"Another infant who was regenerated in infancy was John the Baptist. In fact John was born again while in his mother's womb. "The babe leaped in her womb" (Luke 1:41) "The babe leaped in my womb for joy" (Luke 1:44).

The occasion of the joy was the presence of his Savior who was in the womb of Mary. This was no ordinary leap of a babe in the womb of its mother. Elisabeth was enlightened by the Holy Spirit and she said the babe leaped for joy."

Again, I refer the reader to my book "The Hardshell Baptist Cult" ( and to those chapters where I deal with the case of the infant and how it gives no support for their anti-means view of regeneration, for their "regeneration" that lacks Christian faith and conversion.  The case of the Baptist certainly offers no support, and actually overthrows it!  If John the Baptist was truly "regenerated" while in his mother's womb, ever since he became "filled with the Spirit," was it a regeneration that excluded gospel faith and knowledge?  That excluded conversion?  Did not the Baptist "leap for joy"?  How does that prove that there was no gospel faith or knowledge?  Does it not rather prove the presence of faith?  Further, since the salutation was a gospel announcement, was not the gospel present and believed?  Again, one cannot help but notice how the Hardshells speak out of both sides of their mouths and are grossly contradictory.  First they say that infants cannot be saved by possessing gospel faith and knowledge because they are incapable of possessing it, and then they cite the case of John the Baptist to prove it!  No, but the case of the Baptist disproves their assertion that infants cannot hear and believe the gospel!   

Guess wrote:

"How does this square with a Scripture like John 17:3, where it is said, "And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent." The answer is simple. One of the basic meanings of know is "to be aware or cognizant of."

There is much misunderstanding in the religious world about "faith" or "belief." Many preachers will say that salvation is by grace but that a person must "put his trust in Jesus Christ" or "believe in Jesus Christ as his personal Savior" or "have faith in Jesus Christ" before he can be saved. This act of faith, thus presented, is an act of the sinner's free will.

These verses make it plain that "saving faith" is not an act of man's so-called "free will" but is a gift of God."

How confusing and contradictory are these words!   Hardshells argue that "regeneration" is a non-cognitive experience, that there is no imparting of truth knowledge in it.   But, as I have said, they speak out of both sides of their mouths in this regard.  For, while they insist that no instruction is integral to the regeneration experience, or involves cognition, or belief of revelation, out of one side of their mouths, they will out of the other side say what Guess says, that having eternal life is essentially connected with "knowing" and "believing" the "only true God," and in "knowing" and "believing" Jesus, as God's appointed Savior.  And, he affirms that "knowing" means "to be aware or cognizant of."  How can he say, on one hand, that regeneration is non-cognitive and then say, on the other hand, that it is cognitive?  It just demonstrates that they are blind to their errors.

Guess once again objects to the idea that faith precedes salvation!  But, is this not the universal presentation of scripture?  Have I not already given a couple examples?  Where does Guess cite any verse that says men "believe because they are already saved"?  Is it not always "believe to salvation"? 

Guess objects to saving faith being a free will act, and yet he has already affirmed that "the will (choice) is changed" in regeneration, and that being saved involves God making the sinner "willing" and obedient, and making him into a Christian believer, a bringing him to know God and Christ.  To what extent, and in what sense, the will of the sinner is "free" in salvation, is beside the point.   

Guess also affirms that gospel "faith," or "faith in Jesus," is "the gift of God," and he says this in the context of his apology for the Calvinist doctrine of "irresistible grace" or "effectual calling."  But, if gospel faith is the gift of God, then conversion is equally efficacious as is regeneration.  Yet, this is denied by Hardshells. 

Guess wrote:

"The Greek word most commonly translated "believe" in the New Testament is PISTEUO. The meaning is "to believe, be persuaded of, to place confidence in." (W. E. Vine). Thayer gives the meaning as follows: "of the conviction and trust to which a man is impelled by a certain inner and higher prerogative and law of his soul." When the object of believing is Jesus Christ, Thayer says that it is "a conviction, full of joyful trust, that Jesus is the Messiah."

The Greek word most commonly translated "faith" in the New Testament is PISTIS. The meaning is "firm persuasion." (W. E. Vine). Thayer says of this word that "when it relates to God, PISTIS is the conviction that God exists and is the creator and ruler of all things, the provider and bestower of eternal salvation through Christ-Heb. 11:6." He says that, "in reference to Christ, it denotes a strong and welcome conviction or belief that Jesus is the Messiah, through whom we obtain eternal salvation."

It should be obvious that PISTEUO and PISTIS are cognate words. This means that they were derived from a common original form or root. One is a verb; the other is a noun. Simply put it means that "to believe" is "to exercise faith." "Faith" is "the ability to believe." So, if one believes, he is exercising the faith which he already has."

One can read what I have written on pisteuo and pistis here.

All that Guess writes, excepting the last sentence, destroys Hardshellism's teaching about the nature, definition, and use of the word "faith."  The definition that Guess gives of "faith" (noun) and "believe" (verb) uproot another Hardshell definition of "faith" and "believe" which is absolutely opposite to the one he gives above.  Notice that Guess does not say that the above definition is true only of that faith which comes by hearing the word of God, but not true of "latent faith" of "seed faith."  What he does in one sentence after the end of his biblical definition of faith is to say "Faith" is "the ability to believe."  Faith is not belief!  Faith is without belief!  Unbelievers are actually believers!

If "faith is ability to believe," is this true of "seed faith," of "non-cognitive faith," of that "faith" that is given to all in regeneration?  The same that is given to infants and the mentally incompetent when they are regenerated?  By this logic, Guess creates a infinite chain of causes!  One must have faith in order to have faith!  If one has to have "ability to believe" even before he has "seed faith" or "hidden faith," then regeneration must occur even before one obtains it!  In other words, in order to have gospel faith, one must first have seed faith, and before one can have seed faith he must have the "faith of ability," ad infinite.     

Guess, by defining "faith" by "ability to believe," has changed the whole meaning of the word.  After Guess cites the definition of faith and believe as given by scholars, then adds to the definition and gives one that no scholar gives, a totally new definition.  Is this not a clear example of perverting and corrupting the word of God?  Is "repentance" also to be defined as "the ability to repent"?  Is "perseverance" to be defined as "the ability to persevere"?  Is "knowing" and "trusting" God to be defined as "the ability to know and trust"? 

Guess wrote:

"The Scriptures make plain that faith is a gift of God and not an achievement of man's "free-will." "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." (Eph. 2:8,9). These verses tell us that we are saved on the principle of grace (a free unmerited favor); that faith is the instrument used; that salvation is not of works (including a work of faith); and that man cannot take any credit for his salvation. In short these verses say that God gives the individual faith when He saves him. Faith, as used here is almost a synonym for spiritual life."

Guess affirms that the "faith" of Eph. 2: 8, 9 is "the instrument used" in salvation.  He even says that such faith is "a synonym for spiritual life."  But, what is the meaning of "faith" in this passage?  Is it the faith that the word scholars gave and which Guess endorsed?  Or, is it that weird definition of "faith" that Guess himself gave to it?  Does Paul mean "ability to believe" when he speaks of being "saved through faith"?  Let us read the passage with the Hardshell definition.  "For by grace are you saved through ability to believe."  How does that make any sense?  Where does Guess give us any proof from the Book of Ephesians where "faith" meant "ability to believe"?  Where does Guess prove that the "faith" and "believing" of the Book of Ephesians is non-cognitive, that it is not what came by the preaching of the gospel?  It is good that Guess admits that faith is "a synonym for spiritual life," but he needs to accept the biblical definition of "faith" and throw his man-made definition away. 

In Ephesians 1 Paul speaks of "your faith in the Lord Jesus" (vs. 15), and of a faith that involves "revelation in the knowledge of him," and "enlightenment" (vs. 17). 

Guess wrote:

"For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake." (Phil. 1:29). This verse makes it plain that the ability to believe on Christ is a gift of God, and not a power exercised by the "free-will" of the sinner."

To apply this passage to regeneration is as damaging to Hardshellism as the application of Eph. 1; 19 to regeneration.  Guess and many Hardshells want to affirm, and actually do affirm, that "faith" is "given in regeneration."  Too many scriptures uphold that truth.  But, they do not want to make this "faith" that which "comes by hearing the word of God" (Rom. 10: 14), and thus have to create a whole new definition of "faith," one that is diametrically different from the one given in the scriptures.  But, as we have shown, the "believing" of Eph. 1: 19 is clearly shown, by the context, to be that believing in Christ that comes by the gospel, the same kind that Paul had in mind when he said - "how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard and how shall they hear without a preacher?"  But, Guess cannot make the "believing" of Phil. 1: 29 to be "ability to believe," or "latent faith," or "hidden faith," or "seed faith," for it is a believing in Christ.  All Hardshells confess that believing in Christ necessitates that one hear the gospel, as Paul taught, and yet Guess applies believing in Christ as what is the gift of God, what is given effectually in regeneration. 

Guess wrote:

"To further show that Jesus finishes what He has begun He said to Peter, "But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not." (Luke 22:32). Christ prays for all His people as their Intercessor. Though they lapse into sin from time to time their faith (practically a synonym for spiritual life) will never fail. The fact that Jesus is both the author and finisher of faith is what is being emphasized in the following verse: "For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." (I John 5:4)."

For what kind of "faith" does Guess think that Jesus prayed?  For "faith" that is defined as "the ability to believe"?  "I have prayed for thee that your ability to believe fail not"?  Did Jesus pray for a hidden, latent, invisible "faith"?  For a "faith" which did not have him for an object?  For a "faith" that was without knowledge and cognition?  Again, Guess says that "faith" is "a synonym for spiritual life."  What kind of "faith" did John have in mind in I John 5?  Did he not refer to "whosoever believes that Jesus is the Christ" in verse 1?  And to him "who believes that Jesus is the Son of God" in verse 5? And to one who believes "the record that God gave of his Son" in verse 10?

Guess wrote:

"Another verse that shows that the ability to believe is entirely of God and is not of man is I Peter 1:21: "Who by Him do believe in God, that raised Him up from the dead and gave Him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God." The gift of faith was purchased for the elect on the cross: "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God." (I Peter 3:18). We are brought to God in vital, living union by faith. That faith is entirely by Christ is further pointed out in Acts 3:16: "And His name through faith in His name hath made this man strong, whom ye see and know: yea the faith which is by Him hath given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.""

Notice how Guess says that the word "faith" in the passages he cites is "ability to believe."  But, he has no authority from word scholars in Greek or Hebrew for his definition, and the context shows that the novel and man-made definition of Guess is false.  The "faith" of these passages is a "faith in His name," a faith in Christ, a faith that Hardshells admit can only come through the preaching of the gospel per Romans 10.  It is a "believing in God," but how can one believe in Israel's God without any revelation or knowledge of him? 

Guess wrote:

"Faith is not the work of man. Man only exercises that which God has already worked in him. "This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent." (John 6:29). John Gill says of this verse, "This, as a principle, is purely God's work; as it is an act, or as it is exercised under the influence of divine grace it is man's act." He is saying what I have said above -- man only exercises what God has already worked in him. The Greek scholar, A. T. Robertson says, "So here Jesus terms belief in Him as the work of God.""

Yes, Gill gave all the credit to God for faith, but he did not interpret "faith" as did Guess, and Gill affirmed that faith in Christ was produced through the gospel, and that God regenerates through the gospel as a means.  Notice that Robertson's words contradict those of Guess!  Faith is "belief in Him," that is, belief in Jesus!

Guess wrote:

"It takes the same power to truly believe as it took to raise Christ from the dead. "And what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ, when He raise Him from the dead ... " (Eph. 1:19,20).

The pattern of how one becomes a believer is Paul the Apostle. He wrote, "Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on Him to life everlasting. (I Tim. 1:16).

Paul became a believer on the road to Damascus by a direct operation of the Spirit of God. He was not under the sound of the gospel when this occurred. Since this was a "pattern" conversion, all sinners who become believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are born again by the immediate power and grace of God, and not by the ministry of the Word."

It is interesting that Guess cites the words "believe on Him to life everlasting," for they uproot his Hardshell notions about believing not being "to life everlasting," but teach rather that men believe because of everlasting life.

I have already shown how Guess is wrong about the regeneration and conversion of the apostle Paul in my posting pointed to earlier in the link given.  Paul was converted when he was regenerated and the gospel was present in his mind and believed at the time of his regeneration.  When Guess says that Paul "became a believer" when he was regenerated, was it not a believer in Christ?

Zack Guess's article, titled "Irresistible Grace," can be read here.


Scott Price said...

The problem with the Hardshells is not much different than the Arminians like Billy Graham, Robert Schueller and Joel Osteen who say their are "other ways" of salvation besides knowing of Christ alone. They make God a liar (and have an idol of their imagination) by dismissing the gospel and the exclusive claims of Christ as being the only way. Here, Hardshellism and Arminianism come full circle - both being heresy and false gospels.

Stephen Garrett said...

Dear Scott:

Good to hear from you! It has been many years since I visited your church and fellowshipped with you and Lee Loftus.