What is Hardshellism?

    It will not be necessary for many of our readers to be introduced to the writer in the general framework of that faith commonly termed “hardshell.” To others, it seems only fair to say the writer does not come to this unbiblical term without a certain amount of bias. He has not always been so classified, but was first accused of “preaching hardshellism” when it became known in the “New Testament”, or Sovereign Grace churches that he preached that one had to first have an impartation of spiritual life in order to effectually and spiritually hear and believe the Gospel of the salvation which is in Christ Jesus. After observing the courses of action by fellow ministers and in reaction to the “duty -faith” which they coupled with “Calvinism” — the writer, in time, located that great body of people who loved and rejoiced in the full sovereignty of the Eternal Godhead — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thus, he willing and joyfully submitted to that awful “epithet” of hardshellism, and by the grace of Almighty God was enabled to cast his lot with the suffering saints of the most high God.

    At this juncture I should point out the definition and historical aspects of the word “hardshell”: First: by definition, a hardshell is: “Adj. uncompromising, confirmed — a conservative.” (Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, G. C. Merriam Co., 1974)

    For such men, guided by the highest standards of intellectual scholarship, a Hardshell is someone who is firm, well established, and fully persuaded upon a point at issue; and as such cannot in good conscience yield to a compromise which weakens or destroys his position. Surely, in the context of divine revelation of the truth of God, every child of God is commanded to be uncompromising and confirmed in the defense of the “faith once delivered to the saints.” “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” (I Cor. 15:58) In the face of their adversaries — who in truth are also adversaries of God and all righteousness - they are thus exhorted, “Be ye sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.”

    Therefore, poor afflicted outcast before a self-esteemed world, hold fast that which God has so freely of His grace committed unto you by His revelation. It is no dishonor to be a “hardshell”; but rather, it is an honor you cannot have deserved, to suffer for His Name’s sake.

    Second: historically, the etymology of the word “hardshell” as it is related to religion in America, developed over the extent of the redemptive work of Christ. It had no direct relationship to the subject of regeneration at the beginning of the Old School — New School Controversy. The New School followed the theory of Andrew Fuller that the death of Christ was sufficient for all mankind, and efficient for the elect only. This gave them the motivating impulse to advance their mission enterprise world-wide. But the Old School foresaw the consequence of such a theory and insisted upon unity of the scope and design of His blessed redemption. Simply stated, the central issue was whether Christ Jesus shed His blood for the full and complete free salvation of all the elect people of God only; or whether He died merely to make possible the salvation of all of Adam’s posterity. The issue was not a controversy in American churches until the introduction of Fuller’s humanistic and sentimental desire to convert the world to Christianity. This theory was introduced precisely during the Great Enlightenment and the benevolent surge of social reform emotionalism of the nineteenth century. It captivated the sentimental and utopian element in England and America. But the overall tone of this movement was totally contrary to Biblical revelation. There can be no room given in true religion for the overthrow of the eternal justice of God as displayed in the damnation of the wicked, reprobate, and base generation of Adam’s posterity. True “Calvinists” adhered to the Scripture. To yield to Fullerism was to overthrow the faith once delivered to the saints, and to destroy the foundation of divine revelation and experiential salvation by the effectual work of the Spirit of God. There was (nor is) no compromise of this issue. Either Christ died for all of Adam’s posterity, or He died only for some. And if He died for all without exception, then the record of Holy Writ was uninspired and Christianity a false religion; for the record of divine revelation was, and is, that Christ died for His people, who were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world. If He died for all of Adam’s race then there can be no election of grace. If He died for all without exception, and if any perish, He miserably failed, and His Divinity is made a lie. In that issue, there was but one viable position for the elect of God, and that position was “hardshellism” —uncompromising, unyielding, stubborn, and tenacious.

    In America, the advocates of unlimited atonement were most ably supported by William Staughton, Recording Secretary of the Philadelphia Baptist Association, founder and first president of the Baptist Board of Foreign and Domestic Missions, and Mr. Luther Rice. William Staughton was the organization initiator of the movement, and issued the call for the first convention of Baptists to meet in Philadelphia in 1813. The appearance of the Arminian Congregationalist preacher, (turned “Baptist”) Luther Rice; having been rejected by the Baptists in England, and arriving in time for a newspaper promotion by William Staughton, was introduced to the delegates as they assembled in 1814. He was the most capable beggar for money to be found in America, and was made the first Agent of the Board for this end. It was Rice, who while driving his buggy to collect money, reportedly saw a bright light at noon-day. And it came to him how he should organize the loosely knit Baptists into a mighty organization. The “revealed” design was very simple. It was nothing less than the old Consociation of the Puritan Congregational Church in which he was reared, educated, and excluded. It was that organization which first sent him out as a “missionary” to India. It was Rice whom Gilbert Beebe exposed with documents for robbing the treasury of the Board for his own designs, and so embarrassed the Board that they had to reassign him to other work to prevent his sticky fingers from getting into the Baptists’ till so readily!

    The Board set out as its first task to collect all the minutes of Baptist associations in America. They were aided in this task by the historian David Benedict (the founder of the first Sunday School in America in 1820; and the first to place instrumental music in a Baptist church; and the first to have a trained choir). That work was completed in 1814, and the first appeal for mission support can be found in the minutes of Baptists associations of 1814, 1815, and 1816. Who were those mission supporters? Look at the associational records. The list includes Regular Baptists, Separate Baptists, Particular Baptists, Freewill Baptists, General Baptists, Six Principle Baptists, and Sabbath-day Baptists. Thus, the missionary organization became catholic, or unbrella, embracing any kind of “Baptists” willing to join in the unified effort to “missionize” the world. With this kind of structure, doctrinal truth had to be compromised for the sake of unity — hence, “anti-hardshell”!

    The premise of the Fullerite movement was that millions of heathen were dying and going to hell, merely because they did not have the gospel (according to Fuller and party — Arminianism) preached to them. Lying beneath that premise was more than they at first dared to admit, i.e., these, who could be saved (if they had the means) were elect people of God, and these elect would go to hell unless the Gospel was preached to them. It is this premise which is the father of “gospel regenerationism.” It forced a modification of Calvinism immediately among the adherents of the missionary system. God did not, they reasoned, choose individuals particularly to salvation; rather, He chose a plan of salvation which made His invitation an honest one to those who were reprobates. It was squarely on this point that the word “Hardshell” came into usage.

    Gilbert Beebe, John Leland (who was present at the first meeting of the Philadelphia Board) and the host of predestinarian Baptists over the country took the Fullerites to task. All of the leading Fullerites had in time past been familiar with the doctrine of sovereign grace. They had all, to the man, been ordained by old school churches which were predestinarians holding to what was known as the Five Points of Calvinism. The Fullerites, to the man were betrayers of Christ and the truth, and the Baptist faith. And Beebe had no mercy on them in his defense of the faith. Debates raged all over the American frontier between the two parties. And the Predestinarian Old School party quickly found that the most devastating way to prick a nerve was with the declarative statements of Christ and the apostles. “He SHALL save His people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:21); “They SHALL hear My voice” etc. A Fullerite dreaded being faced down by a “Thus saith the Lord” which most of his hearers knew full well he had once espoused!

    Through these debates, the doctrine of free grace was refreshingly brought forth to the edification and love of multitudes — many who had not heard them in past decades as the ministry had become diluted with moral issues. The Predestinarian Old School Baptists grew rapidly, and many new churches sprung up in the wilderness. The Mission party offered an easy and simple (and often simple-minded) alternative to the necessity of the New Birth for natural religionists, and they also grew rapidly. It is this, perhaps, which explains how the Baptists, in general, became some of the largest bodies of religion in America today. The movement helped purify Predestinarian Old School Baptists by driving the Arminian and nominal believers into the Mission camp. The movement strengthened the doctrinal foundation of the Old School party, and in the end, by the grace of God, led to a period of some of the greatest and soundest ministries with which the church has been blessed in America. It was in this separation that those ministers who defeated the Fullerites with the SHALLS of the Scripture were first termed “Hard Shall Preachers.” Quickly, they were dubbed “Hardshells” and this word moved into the vocabulary of Americans and our dictionaries.

     Just a brief comment may be useful here. In the past few months a new term has been introduced. Only time will tell if it becomes permanent. The term is “New Hardshellism,” It is well when a new term is coined that it should be more accurate than the old term which it replaces. The author of the new term gave its definition as being the same as “Old Hardshellism” except that it referred to those free grace Missionaries who believe (as the “Old Hardshells”) that regeneration was by the Spirit without the means of the gospel. This writer begs to differ, based upon the true origin of what is being called “Old Hardshellism.” Old “hardshellism” was applied to the defenders of Particular Redemption and Limited Atonement of Christ for the elect only. It did not involve the doctrine of Holy Spirit regeneration, per se, for even the New School party gave lip service to this truth for a time. A better definition of “New Hardshellism” would be: “belief by those who have newly been taught by the Holy Spirit that the Eternal Godhead is One, and in perfect harmony in the attribute of sovereignty.” It is in fact applied to those free grace ministers and believers in the new free grace movement who have been taught that God the Father is Sovereign in all things, and in His choice of the objects of His love; that Jesus Christ is the Sovereign Eternal Son of God, and that He exercised His full sovereignty in the full and complete redemption of those whom His Father gave to Him in the covenant of grace before the world began (Eph. 1:4-6); and, the Holy Spirit — one in essence with the Godhead — is sovereign in applying the accomplished redemption of Christ to the elect in their regeneration, calling, justification, sanctification, and glorification. Unless I have misunderstood these brethren (whom I have met personally), this is in fact what they are contending for so sweetly and so powerfully before their hearers — and I will add: which hearers appear to be receiving with joy and edification in the most holy faith.

    Since it is said that these “New Hardshellers” have no Scripture to support their belief in the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit in giving life to dead elect sinners, I offer, for them, a good reply from the pen of an “Old Hardsheller” —none other than Gilbert Beebe. If the predestinarians can prove conclusively that not ONE TEXT used by gospel-regeneration advocates will support their carnal decision-making (though called by any other practice) scheme, surely, the defense of that scheme will be exposed as foolishness.

Topics: Hyper-Calvinism Gospel Distinctives
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