Calvinistic Methodist Influence on Early American Baptists

I recently shared an excerpt on Southern Baptist doctrinal conditions from a book by Victor Irvine Masters, D.D. (1867-1954).1 Masters was a past Superintendent of Publicity of the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.

In the last sentence of the section on doctrinal conditions Masters states, “The Baptists of 1815 in the South, barring certain minor sects, were everywhere Regular Baptists.” He then directs the reader “See Appendix A.” What follows is Appendix A where Masters points out some of the theological differences among early American Baptists including praise for two Calvinistic Methodists. One of those Methodists is even praised for saving the General Baptists.

The distinctions, General and Particular Baptists, arose in England, and, at an early date, followed the Baptists to America by immigration. General Baptists were Arminian in their theology. They came to place very little stress on regeneration and took unconverted persons into the churches. Notwithstanding this bid for popularity with the world, there was among them much laxness and falling away. Unitarianism recruited from their ranks.

Particular Baptists, on the contrary, held that the atonement of Christ was for a particular number, the elect of God. Some of them went to the opposite extreme from the General Baptists, claiming that it was wrong even to invite a sinner to accept Christ, lest this should be an impertinent interference with the work of the Holy Spirit. George Whitefield, a Calvinistic Methodist, had much to do with saving Baptists from the destructive latitudinarianism of General Baptists. The Particular Baptists modified their hyper-Calvinism and developed strength and members.

At a somewhat later period the distinction of Regular and Separate Baptists arose. Regular Baptists were those who had adopted the Philadelphia Confession of Faith. They were Calvinists and held the views which are still held in general by the denomination, except that they were comparatively indifferent to special revivals and efforts to win the lost. In [1750]* the Separate Baptists sprang up. The Separate Baptists were composed chiefly of Whitefield’s followers, and were at first really Calvinistic Methodists. At first, they were called New Lights. Later, Shubal Stearns organized them into separate societies, and they came to be called Separates. A year later, Stearns became a Baptist and most of the Separates followed him and became Separate Baptists. Their contribution of evangelistic fervor to the Regular Baptists, when, later, the two wings came together, gave the denomination a blessed impetus and viewpoint, which has wrought wonders in its growth. No Christian body in America, not excepting the Methodists themselves, owe more to Whitefield and Stearns, two great products of that faith, than do the American Baptists.2


*The book states “1850” but the correct date seems to be 1750. In the section in which this appendix is referenced Masters dates the Separates and Regulars as coming together in 1787. Also note that Shubal Stearns lived from 1706 to 1771.

  1. A 1915 Perspective on Southern Baptist Doctrinal Conditions
  2. Masters, Victor Irvine, 1915. Baptist missions in the South: a century of the saving impact of a great spiritual body on society in the Southern States. A manual for mission study classes and an instructive story for the reader 2nd ed.  (Kindle Locations 2391-2406). Atlanta : Townley & Company, printers.
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tagged as , , in Arminianism,Baptist,calvinism,Southern Baptist,theology

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 TBH September 15, 2011 at 2:12 pm

“In 1850 the Separate Baptists sprang up”- Shouldn’t this be “1750”?

2 Mark September 15, 2011 at 3:04 pm

TBH, I believe you are correct. Even in the previous Masters excerpt I posted he dates the Separates and Regulars coming together in 1787. He also writes that the Separates springing up under Stearns who lived from 1706 to 1771.

I checked the book and I did quote it correctly. Thanks for pointing that out.

3 Darrin September 15, 2011 at 10:32 pm

“they were comparatively indifferent to special revivals…”
I’m not sure that’s entirely a bad thing.

4 Peter L September 16, 2011 at 9:59 pm

Agreed, Darrin. Can we schedule an outpouring of the Holy Spirit? No. So why do so many modern evangelical churches have scheduled meetings they call “revival”? I always chuckle when I see a sign that says “We’re having revival (followed by the dates)”. After chuckling, I pray that the church really does experience revival, but not in the way they expect.

5 Chris Poe September 17, 2011 at 2:44 pm

On the conversion of so many of his followers to Baptist principles, Whitefield said something like “All of my chickens have become ducks!”

6 Jeri Tanner May 18, 2013 at 10:13 am

Fascinating, thanks for sharing this. I just finished Iain Murray’s biography of Jonathan Edwards and I don’t think this aspect of Whitefield’s work in America came up. Kudos to Shubal Stearns; what a great leader and teacher he must have been to lead so many out of Methodism into baptistic theology!


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