Saturday, 15 June 2013


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Some names in Church history are better known than others. I am more familiar with the names of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield or Gilbert Tennant than with the name of Shubal Stearns. I must confess that I find it somewhat ironic that my first contact with his revered name came through some who constantly and viciously attack Calvinists as purveyors of damnable heresy and the doctrines of devils straight from the pit of hell etc., while lauding this Calvinist preacher as a great Revival preacher. Anyway, God makes all things work together for good for His people (Romans 8:28) and here is the fruit of my research into this great Calvinist pioneer.

(BTW: Shubal Stearns was a Baptist preacher too. With all due respects to my Baptist friends, I do not normally attach any great importance to the denominational associations of the great preachers. This may be seen at once when you run your eye back over the first line of this article where the names of a Congregationalist, Anglican and Presbyterian are mentioned without reference to their respective backgrounds. I would contend that I, as a Presbyterian Calvinist, have more in common with Stearns than many "Calvinism-is-heresy" type Baptists who probably wouldn't let Stearns within 10 miles of their pulpit if he were alive today.)

* Shubal Stearns was converted, under God, through the evangelist preaching of Calvinist preacher, George Whitefield in 1745. Obviously this does not automatically make Stearns a Calvinist, but he certainly saw warm, evangelistic Calvinism in action and the rich blessing of God resting upon it. Unlike that of Whitefield, there are no written sermons of Stearns extant. However, it is significant that, like his father in the faith, he was noted as insisting regularly on the necessity of the New Birth to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

* In 1758, Stearns set up the Sandy Creek Association with other men of like faith. Unfortunately, the SCA did not issue a formal Confession of Faith until 1816, long after Stearns was dead. This was partly because they were not originally noted for their adherence to any form. (They seemed to be somewhat "laid back" as they say in these parts. ) An example of such informality can be seen in the fact that their Association had no formal moderator for a number of years. Even their 1816 Confession lacks the depth of the earlier 1689 London Confession of Faith and the 1742 Philadelphia Confession, but is modelled on the 'one liner' type statements of the Mississippi Baptist Association Articles of Faith from 10 years earlier. As will be seen, the 1816 Confession is distinctly Calvinist in its belief, especially lines numbered III and IV:

Principles of Faith of the Sandy Creek Association 

I. We believe that there is only one true and living God; the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, equal in essence, power and glory; and yet there are not three Gods but one God.

II. That Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the word of God, and only rule of faith and practice.

III. That Adam fell from his original state of purity, and that his sin is imputed to his posterity; that human nature is corrupt, and that man, of his own free will and ability, is impotent to regain the state in which he was primarily placed.

IV. We believe in election from eternity, effectual calling by the Holy Spirit of God, and justification in his sight only by the imputation of Christ's righteousness. And we believe that they who are thus elected, effectually called, and justified, will persevere through grace to the end, that none of them be lost.

V. We believe that there will be a resurrection from the dead, and a general or universal judgment, and that the happiness of the righteous and punishment of the wicked will be eternal.

VI. The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful persons, who have obtained fellowship with each other, and have given themselves up to the Lord and one another; having agreed to keep up a godly discipline, according to the rules of the Gospel.

VII. That Jesus Christ is the great head of the church, and that the government thereof is with the body.

VIII. That baptism and the Lord's Supper are ordinances of the Lord, and to be continued by his church until his second coming.

IX. That true believers are the only fit subjects of baptism;, and that immersion is the only mode.

X. That the church has no right to admit any but regular baptized church members to communion at the Lord's table.

* While it is true that the SCA had some issues with another Calvinistic body, (Particular Baptists) the issue was not over doctrine, but some of the CSA practices. In 1758, the body in question (Philadelphia Association) sent a respected and trustworthy investigator (John Gano) who complained that the CSA was "rather immethodical." Some of these practices included the ordaining of female elders and deaconesses and a toleration of "dancing in the Spirit" on the basis that "there was a genuine work of grace among the people." While he ruefully noted these somewhat disconcerting matters, the investigator concluded that "the root of the matter was in them" thus judging favourtably both their professed conversion to Christ and soundness of theology. It is inconceivable that such a detailed report from Gano would omit to mention any major differences in doctrine, especially on those doctrines commonly called Calvinism. Gano's report did much to strengthen the relationship between the two bodies which again indicates basic agreement on the Doctrines of Grace. This was not the first time that Stearns and the Calvinists round him had come under the scutiny of the Calvinists of the Philadelphia Association. The said Association in 1752 considered a query "Whether a person denyng unconditional election, the doctrine of original sin, and the final perseverance of the saints, and striving to affect as many as he can, may have full communion with the church?" and concluded that they could not. They were very firm about the matter. I quote:

"Upon which fundamental doctrines of Christianity, next to the belief of an eternal God, our faith must rest; and we adopt, and would that all the churches belonging to the Baptist Association, be well grounded in accordance to our Confession of faith and catechism, and cannot allow that any are true members of our churches who deny the said principles, be their conversation outward what it will."

With these sentiments in mind, the PA sent an Evangelist called Benjamin Millar to investigate the scene at Opekon where Stearns worked along with his brother-in-law, Daniel Marshall. This was because some complaints had been received. Benjamin Millar was suitably impressed and spoke highly of the spiritual state of the people. So much so, that in 1754, only two years after the Calvinist query had been raised in the Association, the church at Opekon (and also at Ketocton) was received into the Philadelphia Association. This would not have been if they could not have honestly subscribed to the Philadelpia Confession of Faith with its statements on the key Calvinistic doctrines of unconditional election, the doctrine of original sin, and the final perseverance of the saints.

So Shubal Stearns and the Sandy Creek men were certainly Calvinists. Like Whitefield before them and others like Edwards, they nail the lie that Calvinism kills both evangelism and Revival.  This is not so and it need not be so. Calvinism DEMANDS evangelistic endeavour. Contrary to the unwarranted attacks made upon Calvinism, we do NOT believe that God will save His elect, no matter what. We believe that God gathers in His decreed elect through the means of evangelism. This is why Calvinists evangelise. John Calvin himself was a great evangelist and encouraged others to be so as well.   

Helpful Article here.

Additional information:

* The Baptist Encyclopedia gives details of one of Shubal Stearns converts. One name that crops up is that of Rev. Murphy William. It says of him that he was...

"Rev. Murphy William was led to the Saviour and baptized by the celebrated Shubal Stearns. Mr Murphy had not only a sound Christian experience, but his doctrine was that of Calvin, Augustine and Paul. ... In the year 1775 when the churches were agitated by the Arminian controversy, Mr Murphy with great ability defended sovereign and efficacious  grace." (p825)




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