The Baptist Beacon
Elder SHUBAL STEARNS
By Editor Timothy Don Binion
Shubal Stearns was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on January 28, 1706. He was married to Sarah Johnstone but had no children. He came out of the New Light movement and became a Baptist in 1751. He accepted believers' baptism at the hands of Wait Palmer, the pastor of the First Baptist Church in North Stonington, Connecticut. On March 20th of this same year he was ordained into the full work of the ministry.
In 1754 Shubal Stearns felt led to leave the New England area, looking for what he called "providential openings". He spent a short time at Opeckon Creek, Virginia, and did mission work at Cacapon. The greatest blessings of Shubal Stearns' ministry occurred when he arrived in North Carolina. At the time he arrived in 1755 there were only twenty to thirty thousand inhabitants in the central and western counties of North Carolina (Baptist Encyclopedia 1881). North Carolina was at this time a state experiencing great confusion, war, and controversy, it still being a British colony (Stroupe 1955, 26). It was in this western region, under these circumstances, that God chose to launch a great missionary enterprise. God used Shubal Stearns and the Separate Baptists to revive his work (shackled by hyper-Calvinism) and evangelize the South. It is clear that God did this not by might nor power but by his Spirit.
Shubal Stearns was a great Baptist preacher with a unique style of delivery. God used his influence to strengthen and restore Baptists, especially in the area of evangelism. Stearns was a church planter and had great leadership quality. The Baptist Encyclopedia described him as:
Stearns believed in personal leadership from the Lord and believed one could receive personal instruction from heaven if he sought God earnestly (Stroupe 1955, 28). This "Divine guidance" was what Stearns remained sensitive to as a minister of the gospel and what made him a great evangelist. This sensitivity to God's will led him to Sandy Creek, North Carolina, an area ripe for revival.
Historians place more emphasis on Shubal Stearns' style of preaching rather than the results that it achieved. He is described as being "very expressive" and, in addition to this dynamic deliverance, he had "penetrating eyes and a voice singularly harmonious" (Baptist Encyclopedia 1881). There are many accounts given of sinners who would literally fall to the ground under his preaching, and even his enemies were unable to resist this compelling style.
Some have tried to categorize Stearns and this movement as charismatic (Hunt 1986, 5). However, those who do so have no true knowledge of what a genuine revival Spirit was like in the eighteenth century.
When Stearns arrived in the Sandy Creek area, the people had religion but had no knowledge of salvation. The doctrine of salvation or the new birth was foreign to their ears. Semple wrote:
It was this Baptist principle of experimental knowledge in the eighteenth century that blazed the Southern continent with revival. Their practice is further described in the following manner:
The evangelism of Stearns and the Separate Baptists is different from most Baptists today. Notice, there was no plea to accept Christ, no sinner's prayer used, no read and sign on the back of this tract, nor a mental persuasion evangelism. To them salvation was a heartfelt reality that came from the Lord. With none of the modern-day techniques, Stearns somehow organized and evangelized a great portion of the South. A. H. Newman wrote: "It is doubtful whether any evangelist but Whitefield surpassed Stearns in magnetic power over audiences" (Hunt 1986, 8). Stearns' greatest contribution to Baptists was evangelism, especially in the areas of missions and church planting.
By the year 1775, the Baptists had become one of the largest denominations in North Carolina, planting at least one church in every county (Stroupe 1955, 32). The vehicle used to achieve this home mission enterprise was the Sandy Creek Association.
The Sandy Creek Association organized by Shubal Stearns became the main hub for this strategic evangelism. The heartbeat of this association was the new birth experience, and the preaching of a "heartfelt" religion was in high demand. "People from distant areas attended to petition the Association to send preachers into their neighborhoods" (Baptist Encyclopedia 1881). The Sandy Creek Church grew from 16 to 606 (including its arms) in just a few years and:
The eminent legacy of Sandy Creek emanates from the evangelism that swept across the South.
Stearns' style of preaching, evangelizing, church planting, divine guidance, and mission enterprise organizing (Sandy Creek Association), is what our country needs today for revivification. This writer believes that most Baptists would have trouble with Stearns' evangelism in "feeling conviction and conversion" and that the greatest historical coverup of our time is that all Baptists of the eighteenth century practiced an experimental knowledge conversion. Somehow the Protestant evangelism of "human learning and prolonged course of instruction" has replaced the historical evangelism of Baptists, which was an "immediate revelation" in the soul. Some Southern Baptists take pride in the synthesis of Stearns' warm delivery and invitation to sinners, but ignore the most vital and most stressed part of Stearns' theology, which was "Experimental Knowledge". Many times modern day historians purposely leave out the historical Baptist practice of conversion. Several are fond of and familiar with D. L. Moody's "inquiry room" and Billy Sunday's "shake the preacher's hand salvation," but what about the practice of Stearns and the eighteenth century Baptists? It is no wonder our nation is the third largest lost nation in the world and is experiencing a moral decline. The mass evangelism of the twentieth century has not worked. Our only hope is to lay aside this Protestant evangelism and its ecclesiastical pompous popularity and pick up the mantle of Shubal Stearns and historical Baptists.
Timothy Binion was baptized in 1972 by Calvin Perrigo.
Calvin Perrigo was baptized in 1936 by Calvin Gregory.
Calvin Gregory was baptized in 1909 by R. B. Davis.
R. B. Davis was baptized in 1859 by E. B. Haynie.
E. B. Haynie was baptized in 1819 by John Wiseman.
John Wiseman was baptized in 1799 by Thomas Durham.
Thomas Durham was baptized in 17XX by John Waller.
John Waller was baptized in 1767 by James Read.
James Read was baptized in 1756 by Shubal Stearns.
Shubal Stearns was baptized in 1751 by Wait Palmer.