British ‘Reformed’ Baptist

You don’t have to agree with the following label or charge of hyper Calvinism but the quote contains a few names and dates worth keeping track of. The original article was found here.

Septimus Sears

Sears is another man whom many will be unfamiliar with, certainly amongst most evangelicals. He was a British Reformed Baptist, though even many UK Baptists will not be aware of his name. He is important by default since it was as a result of opposition to his ministry that detrimental theological changes were made to a certain Baptist denomination. Though we disagree with the Hyper-Calvinism that Sears espoused, there is no doubt that he was a devout and serious preacher who sought to glorify God.

The detrimental changes I refer to are the Gospel Standard ‘added articles’; those which formalise the errors of Hyper-Calvinism in restricting the preaching of the Gospel, affirming that we cannot preach in the way the apostles preached, but must only preach to the elect. The Gospel Standard articles began as John Gill’s Declaration of Faith, which were adopted in 1729 by the Goat Yard Church at Horsleydown and in 1843 by JC Philpot; later John Gadsby printed these for use by Particular Baptist churches. In 1866 these articles were amended to become the Articles for Strict Baptist Churches. In 1872 the 17 articles were increased to 31. The ‘added articles’ were the addition of four more in 1878; these are the offending statements2. What concerns me here is how these ‘added articles’ came into being.

It should be stated that the basis of these offending Hyper Calvinistic articles did not formally appear until 1818 in a tract by Robert Hawker, a vicar in Plymouth. The denial that we should preach as the apostles did is not found in Gill, John Brine or Joseph Hussey, even though they limited the Gospel presentation to some degree3. Gadsby quoted Hawker in his defence of this error but JC Philpot formalised the doctrine after 1841 denying that we can make general exhortations to believe the Gospel.

Shortly we shall see the unrighteous accusations by Gadsby that led to the agreement of these articles, but first we have to introduce Sears.

Sears lived from 1819 to 1877 and was a Strict Baptist preacher and pioneer in Bedfordshire who had great success for over 30 years, despite sickness, poverty and much defamation. He also established a school, almshouses and published numerous works. There is no doubt that Sears was a good man who faithfully served his Saviour and his  brethren at great cost to himself. Though mistaken in one aspect of theology, Sears was a man of great integrity, independent thinking and was committed to urgent Gospel preaching. Near the end of his life Sears was publicly, falsely and bitterly maligned by Strict Baptist leaders. The aftermath of this attack remains today, espoused in the ‘added articles’ and the continuing smearing of Sears.

In the 1870s John Gadsby and the Gospel Standard unjustly accused Sears of error and being too free in preaching to sinners. Ironically Sears was innocent of these charges, being influenced by the Hyper Calvinist tendencies of his denomination. Though he was fervent in preaching the Gospel and warning of the danger of sin, he did not command sinners to repent and believe. Sears did not believe in Duty Faith.

In 1841 Philpot wrote a review of a book by James Wells where he laid out his Hyper Calvinism—that we must not invite, exhort or command the unregenerate to believe and repent. Initially Sears agreed with this review but later he changed his mind. In 1865 he wrote to Philpot, expressing his anxiety about it. After Philpot died in 1869 Sears published his letter in his magazine ‘The Sower’ in 1871 where he explained that we should follow the Biblical pattern and exhort the unconverted (though, confusingly, he did not mean by this commanding belief, except to convicted ‘sensible sinners’, i.e. the elect). Sears warned the sinner, invited the seeker and exhorted the saint; he did not directly demand faith of the sinner. However, he disagreed with Philpot who had taught that we cannot copy the ministry of the apostles, which Sears considered were invitations to the sensible. So, though Sears had disagreed with Philpot’s extreme position, he was still a Hyper Calvinist. This could not save him from defamation.

The bitterness of the accusations against him were so serious that they contributed to Sears’ death. John Gadsby had taken over from Philpot as the editor of the Gospel Standard magazine. Sears had preached and published a memorial for Philpot in 1870 speaking highly of him but issuing some caution regarding Philpot’s ‘Gospel invitations’ and tendencies to mysticism; he also published his letter to Philpot in 1871. In 1872 the Gospel Standard articles of faith were expanded to include statements about invitations of the Gospel being only for sensible sinners, denying Duty Faith & repentance and indiscriminate offers to all (Articles 24, 26. 29).

Gadsby seems to have sought revenge for Sear’s audacity in criticising Philpot, still revered amongst Strict Baptists today, despite his occasional errors; also Sears published a rival magazine. When the Moody-Sankey campaigns were prominent in Britain Strict Baptists were generally alarmed; even Sears wrote a temperate response, but expressed grief that those who held sound doctrine were so lax in preaching the Gospel. This was not strong enough for Gadsby. In 1874 Sears published a sermon about the need for faith and repentance. Gadsby pronounced that this was worse than Arminianism and also took issue with a book review in The Sower about the Gospel presentation. Gadsby began to accuse Sears of preaching Duty Faith, which was untrue, and did so by misrepresenting Sears’ words.

In 1875 Sears was again criticised by Gadsby for denying eternal justification, with JK Popham supporting Gadsby4. Using misrepresentation, Sears was accused of threatening the very foundation of salvation. Here Gadsby affirmed the serious error that no elect, sensible sinner is damned, even if he dies before actually coming to faith!!! This is the danger of wrongly interpreting Matt 5:6 based on the error of eternal justification. It completely denies multitudes of scriptures, such as Eph 2:1–8. Despite the fraudulent argument and invective, Popham charged Sears with serious error (denying the eternal union of Christ with the elect), even though Sears’ whole ministry proved otherwise. Though a writer published a defence of Sears, the damage was being done.

Attacks continued (e.g. Gospel Standard, 1877, p120). When Sears spoke warmly of the Puritans, Sears was challenged by Gadsby (despite Popham and Philpot having said the same previously). He censured Sears for warning dead sinners to flee and called him a hypocrite. Harsh criticisms continued even when Sears published a portion from Gadsby’s father showing that he addressed sinners in the same way as himself. The stress of conflict began to show more and more as Sears shared the weight he was under with his congregation. He temporarily resigned to try to regain his health, but he was dead four months later.

The unmitigated attacks on Sears were unrighteous and unjust, contributing to the death of a godly man; but they also led to the adoption of certain changes in the Gospel Standard articles of faith.

In the meeting of the Gospel Standard Aid Society, 27 April 1877, Sears’ teaching was criticised and two men who were to preach anniversary sermons for Sears were to be removed from the council. In October, Gadsby announced his resignation as editor. He expressed his concern for the affirmation of Hyper Calvinist doctrines and proposed a deed to give the magazine to the Gospel Standard Poor Relief Society but reserved the right to take back the magazine if he thought fit and pledged £500 (about £44,000 today) to the new society. This was both blackmail and bribe. Money was available for the Society if they did as he wished; without the magazine and the gift, there was no Society.

Gadsby proposed the added articles because of the ‘errors that had sprung up among them’ and these articles clearly had Sears in mind. The articles deny that Christians can call the unconverted in the way the apostles did. Mixed congregations cannot be called to repent and believe because it implies ‘creature power’. Despite misgivings, without any deliberation, and despite no Scriptural proof, money talked and the four articles were added to the Gospel Standard Articles of Faith. Committee member William Wileman stated in 1879, when the articles were unanimously adopted, that it was done under Gadsby’s threat to take back his gift.

Most Gospel Standard advocates believe that the articles were added to stave off the Arminian threat posed by the Moody-Sankey crusades, but this is not true. The direct cause was the controversy with Sears, which was unrighteously conducted by the editors of the Gospel Standard and which was based upon lies and slander against one of their own.

The added Articles were drawn up in 1878 as a direct result of (principally) Gadsby’s vindictive (and misguided) attacks upon Septimus Sears for his stance against Philpot, Sears’ view of Moody and Sankey, his addresses to sinners, and over eternal justification. This should be known and recognised5.

Though accused as a serious heretic and Arminian, the truth was that Sears was always a Hyper Calvinist, but one with great desire to preach the Gospel—warning sinners and inviting the elect. That such injustice was meted out to him is not only ironic, but pointless in a time when there was serious heresy around that needed action (such as the various cults, Irvingism and Dispensationalism). To make a petulant and sectarian point, Gadsby and Popham converged on an innocent man spending less energy combating the real heresy surrounding them. In doing so they contributed to the suffering and death of a brother. What shame! (source)


Author: jm

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