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Robert Vaughn

Peter, I just got a copy of the reprint of White's book made by the GRWBHS, but haven't cracked it open yet. The quote above is quite unexpected for what one might think would have been written by Cyrus White (if you've read Mercer's side of the story). I find it kind of humorous (in a sick sort of way, I guess) that, based on the excerpt above, what Mercer identified as Arminianism might have likely been identified as Calvinism by the preachers in our area when I was growing up! I mean, "stubborn wills subdued by sovereign grace," "to whom he will," "made willing"? Wow!


And people think we can't learn from negative history .

peter lumpkins


You'll be surprised by White's little tract. He's clear, straightforward, and makes sense whether or not one agrees with him. No wonder he was so popular among Baptists.

You'll immediately notice the contrast in style between White and Mercer. Mercer's style leans toward exhaustive, making tight distinctions, and wrangling at times over words. White skims the surface but without portraying a simplistic understanding.

It's hard not to favor White in this one, which, only my guess, but I think that's one reason Mercer took his tract so seriously. Common people could easily grasp what he was saying, and it made sense to them. I also think Sherwood's biographer and Jesse Mercer's biographer Anthony Chute among others are dead wrong making White into nothing more than a Methodist. They are basing their conclusions on Mercer's critique and not on White's words, hardly fair for a scholar to do.

If one would read Jonathan Maxcy's treatment on atonement, White sounds exactly like him in his arguments at places. It seems to me it's just as credible and perhaps even more so that White could have been influenced by New Divinity views on his understanding of atonement rather than Arminianism. That would also explain his strong views on sovereignty coupled with unlimited atonement.

Robert Vaughn

I brought the book with me to read while sitting with my Mother tomorrow. At only 24 pages (in the reprint) that shouldn't be much of a task. I'm looking forward to it.

Re Free Will Baptist history, it seems to me that the FWBs in the South often appear to be a people without a history looking for one. (Obviously they have history, but often historians are unsure and conflicted about what it is.)

If Cyrus White is someone still "Calvinistic" (certainly these shorthand terms themselves are problematic for "clarifying" what someone believes) who rejects limited atonement for an unlimited atonement, it brings to my mind a question. Why would Jesse Mercer, for example, freely labor with Abraham Marshall while attacking Cyrus White? In his new book, David Allen quotes Mercer from his Memoirs, "Abraham Marshall was never considered a predestinarian preacher. To use his own figure; he used to say, ‘he was short legged and could not wade in such deep water.’ He, with several others, was considered sound in the faith, though low Calvinists." If Marshall was a low Calvinist it would seem to me that he didn't have a sparkling stand on limited atonement? If this were true and he still considered "sound in the faith," why did Jesse Mercer not consider Cyrus White still sound in the faith? What are your thoughts on this? Thanks.

Robert Vaughn

Oh, I meant to ask. How hard is it to find the Sharon Confession of Faith? I've looked and found nothing readily available so far. Thanks!

Robert Vaughn

Peter, I don't want to monopolize your comment thread, but I have a couple of other things to bring up.

First, I quote the following that I found referenced in "History of Free Will Baptist State Associations" by Robert Picirilli (ed., 1976). It is (supposed to be) from The Christian Index (you may have seen it) in July 1843: "This [Chattahoochee Association] is a growing body, favorable to missionary operations, Free Will Baptist in sentiment, but willing, we think, to unite with Calvinistic Baptists on any middle ground that does not involve a sacrifice of principles on either part. Can such ground be found?" Nothing remarkable that whoever wrote this (assuming they are in the GBC camp) might think of Chattahoochee as "Free Will Baptist in sentiment." What I think (although depending on who wrote it) is remarkable is that 13 years after Jesse Mercer called Cyrus White an heretic and 2 years after Mercer's death, someone is musing on whether Chattahoochee might be able to cooperate with "Calvinistic Baptists."

Peter, my memory is dull on whether you are a native Georgian, and if so, from what part. When I laid me down to sleep after reading your post and Cyrus White's book, I began to wonder about something. Over the years I have identified a number of "non-cooperative" associations -- mostly in north Georgia -- such as Chestatee, Coosawattee, Ellijay, Jasper, New Hope Pleasant Valley and so forth. At least some of the older ones (Ellijay, for certain) once identified as United Baptists. That in itself isn't distinctive, since many Baptists did so after the reconciling of Regular and Separate Baptists. Nevertheless, this got my mind wondering whether some of these older associations might have their non-cooperation with the GBC rooted in the time of Cyrus White and opposition to the predominant Calvinistic sentiment. Any idea on this?

Thanks. (I intend to share a few thoughts on White's book on my blog sometime this week.)

peter lumpkins

No worries Robert. First, is Picirilli speaking of the Chattahoochee Baptist Association or the Chattahoochee *United* Baptist Association? These are two different associations and are easily confused. Second, some associations like Jasper was "United" but I'm unsure it had to do with the Regular-Separate merger. Jasper United Association was Anti-missionary (Ency of SBs, Vol 1, p.555). Third, it's fairly common for Free Will Baptists to cite Cyrus White and the Chattahoochee United Baptist Association as the beginnings of FW Baptists in Georgia. And they are not completely wrong in doing so. But it must be remembered that FWB theology was a developing theology not a developed theology during the 19th century. Confessional evidences seem to indicate that they did not consistently drop perseverance of the saints and add the possibility of apostasy in confessional statements until the latter part of the 19th century (and some FWBs argue the first part of the 20th century). Thus, with this theological trajectory in place, it's fairly easy to see how they might claim Cyrus White and Chattahoochee as holding to "Arminian sentiment."

Another reason exists, however, that they may claim "Free Will" or "Arminian" sentiment--the earliest records we have concerning White and Chattahoochee use the "Arminian sentiment" about them. So far as I can tell, the earliest article about White is Babcock, R. & Choules, J. O. eds., 1842. VIII: White-ites. The Baptist Memorial and Monthly Chronicle, 15 March, 1(3), pp. 69-78. Boykin quotes from it in his history of Georgia Baptists. The article is signed "S." Boykin guessed it was Adiel Sherwood who wrote it. Anyways, whoever wrote it said, "His [White's] views on the atonement were regarded as rather Arminian." He offers nothing as to documentation of his assertion. My guess is, he was taking Mercer's critique at face value. As do others.

I think I have sufficient evidence with White's only known work in print as well as Chattahoochee United Baptist Association's confession and comparing with New Divinity Baptists' writings to make a case for White's influence being along the line of New Divinity rather than Arminianism. This will be a novel argument since virtually everybody wants to perpetuate the notion that White was Arminian. I intend to contest that in my dissertation.

Robert Vaughn

Picirilli calls it the Chattahoochee Association of United Freewill Baptist, organized in 1835 and locates them in Jasper, Henry and Campbell Counties in Georgia and Chambers County, Alabama, so it seems he intends the Chattahoochee United Baptist Association of White.

Re the non-cooperative associations in north Georgia, I just named off some that came to mind. The Jasper local association, interestingly had cooperative and non-cooperative churches up until the late 1930s, when the non-cooperative majority excluded the cooperative minority -- probably more over the mourner's bench than for cooperating with the GBC. All that to say that they are probably not likely to connect back to Chattahoochee. None of them may, and it may just be a wild idea on my part. But if any do, it would more likely be those whose organization is in the same time frame as Chattahoochee, such as Chestatee and Ellijay which go back to the 1840s. It would be interesting to see how their articles compared to Chattahoochee. Both believe in perseverance in grace and election according to the foreknowledge of God. (I do not have records that prove those are their original articles of faith.)

I think your pursuit is intriguing. Even if there are historical ties between White and current Free Will Baptists in Georgia (which I am not disputing) it does not follow that White was a Free Will Baptist or Arminian. As I mentioned to you before (I think), our church in Texas -- with Greene County, Georgia roots -- held basically what is identified as "Traditionalism," and at the time of their organization at most were "New Hampshire Confession Baptists" (a greatly modified/watered-down Calvinistic statement). Certainly that doesn't prove they believed that when they were in Greene County in the early 1800s. If we applied the "White was an Arminian" logic to my ancestors based on their descendants, it would prove they were not 5-point Calvinists. But their 1806 church covenant proves otherwise. What people, families and churches believe changes over time, and this is no less true of any connection White has to the Free Will Baptists. (Hope that makes a little sense!)

Thanks again for the interesting historical discussion.

Robert Vaughn

From what I could find online about Chestatee and Ellijay -- which is definitely limited -- it looks like Chestatee was formed out of Chattahoochee Association. Not White's Chattahoochee, but the one in northern Georgia. And then Ellijay out of Chestatee. So not likely connected to White's movement, though their thinking could have been influenced by it. Their soteriology now is probably basically the same as that of Cyrus White.

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