The Western Recorder is and has been the denominational paper for Kentucky Baptists since 1826. At the turn of the 19th century, T.T. Eaton was editor of the Kentucky paper, a position he had held much of his life. For 27 years, Eaton was pastor of the historic Walnut Street Baptist Church in downtown Louisville.
In or around January, 1892, The Magazine of Christian Literature had begun running a series of articles on The Sovereignty of God written by Dr. G.W. Northrup (1826-19001), President of the Chicago Divinity School. These articles had already been published in The Standard. Though not so known among Southern Baptists today, Northup remained an undeniable influence on Baptist theology during the last quarter of the 19th century and arguably well into the 20th. While serving as Professor of Ecclesiastical History at the Rochester Theological Seminary in 1866, Dr. Northrup was recruited as the first president and professor of systematic theology for the newly constituted University of Chicago Divinity School.2
Additionally, according to William Cathcart’s biographical entry, Northrup excelled both as a flaming pastoral evangelist and a keen, erudite theologian. During one recorded season of his professorial post at Rochester, Northrup established himself as a persuasive gospel preacher:
For one year and a half he supplied the pulpit of the First church in Rochester, 165 being in that time added to the church by baptism.3
To record 165 baptisms over a mere 18 month interim ministry remains extraordinary even today not to mention recording such a phenomenal number during the middle of the 19th century. Cathcart then goes on to describe Northrup’s theological contributions:
[Dr. Northrup’s] intellectual learning and capacity qualified him in an especial manner for a mastery of systematic theology; and his classes at Chicago enthusiastically testify to the grasp he has, and in their measure enables them to take, of the whole subject of Christian doctrine in its classification and in its verification. Although he has not as yet become known as an author, his lectures, alike in church history and in theology, have been made so complete and so full that, if they could be given to the world, they would rank with the most valued of the many books in these lines of theological study.
Hence, while we may not hold an appreciation either for Northrup’s theological legacy or his pastoral achievements during the last quarter of the 19th century, he nonetheless earned the respect of his contemporary peers as Cathcart makes clear. And apparently, the series on The Sovereignty of God Northrup penned wherein he criticized “The Sovereignty of God in Predestination as Held by Many Representative Calvinistic Theologians” made a big splash amongst Baptists in the south.
Sometime after Northrup’s series appeared in The Standard, T.T. Eaton ran in Kentucky’s Western Recorder a series of critical replies to Northrup from the able Presbyterian pen of Dr. Robert Watts, past Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and then Professor of Systematic Theology at The General Assembly’s College at Belfast.4 According to Eaton, a vocal call for permanent form of Dr. Watts’ reply to Northrup came from readers of The Western Recorder series:
When the articles of Dr. Watts appeared in the Western Recorder, reviewing the articles of Dr. Northrup in the Standard, there was a wide call for their publication in permanent form. Hence it was decided to issue a volume containing these articles.5
At first, only Watts’ replies to Northrup were considered for publication. However, after extended negotiations, The Standard agreed to release to Eaton the publishing rights for Northrup’s original series to be published along with Watts’ replies. The result was a book divided into three parts exceeding 300 pages entitled The Sovereignty of God (Baptist Book Concern, 1894).6
In Part II, excerpts are posted from Northrup’s essays pertaining to infant salvation, imputed guilt, and the positions held by representative Calvinistic theologians.7
1sometimes his birth is listed as 1825
2William Cathcart, The Baptist Encyclopedia, VOLUME 1:A-G, p.412
3William Cathcart, The Baptist Encyclopedia, VOLUME 2:H-Q, p.711
4the question begs to be asked–Where were Northrup’s critics amongst Southern Baptists to be found? Could not T.T. Eaton find a single critic at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to take Northrup on rather than turning to a Presbyterian in Ireland to rebut the Chicago president? With the seminary faculty a stone’s throw from his Walnut Street office, why publish in a Baptist denominational paper criticisms from a Presbyterian Calvinist rather than a Baptist Calvinist?
5The Sovereignty of God, Louisville, Kentucky: Baptist Book Concern, 1894; preface
6I first happened across this volume in a junk store in Alabama. I gave $5.00. What a tremendous find! I now have a digital copy
7it cannot be overlooked that G.W. Northrup himself seems to have self-identified as a convictional Calvinist. In his theological analysis, Northrup posits three types of Calvinists: hyper-Calvinists (supralapsarians), strict Calvinists (infralapsarians), and moderate Calvinists (pp. 62-63) even though he fails to directly identify with either of the three. Even so, he appears to embrace moderate Calvinism, at least in part, indicated by certain statements in his rebuttals to Watts.