In the year 1900, fifty one "Primitive Baptist" elders assembled in Fulton, Kentucky to affirm their historical adherence to the London Confession of Faith (1689) but to add their interpretation of certain sections of it in the form of "Footnotes." The footnotes mainly dealt with those sections dealing with means in salvation and with predestination, two areas which were sources of controversy for the newly formed denomination. In regard to chapter three of the London Confession, the Fulton Convention wrote:
"This clearly distinguishes between God’s attitude to sin and His attitude and relation to holiness. A failure to make this distinction has been a fruitful source of division and distress of our holy cause, and a failure to so distinguish between God’s permissive and overruling decree of sin and His causative decree of holiness will ever cause distress and confusion among our people. This distinction is expressed in the last clause of Section 4 of Chapter V.: “Which also He most wisely and powerfully boundeth and otherwise ordereth and governeth in a manifold dispensation to His most holy ends; yet so as the sinfulness of their acts proceedeth only from the creatures and not from God.”, etc. Chapter VI., last part of Section 1: “Satan using the subtlety of the serpent to seduce Eve, then by her seducing Adam, who without any compulsion did willfully transgress the law of their creation and the command given unto them in eating the forbidden fruit, which God was pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to His own glory.” We believe that God is perfect in wisdom and knowledge, knowing all things both good and evil from the beginning that would take place in time. That He is a Perfect Sovereign over all things, and that He absolutely and causatively predestinated all His works of creation and eternal salvation of His elect."
Obviously the debate over the extent of predestination is evident from these words from the Fulton Convention. It is also quite obvious that the Convention was made up solely of those who took the "Conditionalist" side. This is obvious from the consequences that the authors of the above footnote addressed to those who believed in the predestination of all things. It is implied that those "Primitive Baptists" who believed in the predestination of all things did not make a distinction between God's attitude and relation toward holiness and his attitude and relation toward sin. But, this perceived consequence of the "Absoluter" side was not generally acknowledged by them, as anyone who has read Absoluter writings must know. Nearly all of them stated, like the confession, that God is the determiner of all things and yet he is not the author of moral evil, nor delights in sin. However, like Sylvester Hassell stated, some of the Aboluter Hardshell founding fathers who held to the absolute predestination of all things sometimes used "unguarded expressions."
The problem that the Fulton Convention wrestled with deals with the relationship between predestination and divine causality. The Conditionalist thinks that God's predestinating all things means that he is, in every way, the cause of all things. But, though God is the "first cause" of all things, he is not the "cause" in every respect, for there are "second causes." Are the Fulton elders denying that God is the "first cause" as the London Confession affirms? Is not the "first cause" the cause of all subsequent causes, of all "second causes"? Aristotle referred to four different kinds of causes, such as the "material cause," the "formal cause," the "efficient cause," and the "final cause." Other philosophers on causality also speak of an effect being the result of "multi-causes," of "instrumental causes," necessary causes, and "sufficient causes," and "contributory causes," etc. In science and philosophy "etiology" is the study of causation.
The subject of "Divine Causality" is at the heart of any discussion on predestination (divine decrees) and providence. It also deals with theodicy, with dealing with the "problem of evil," especially within the Christian tradition. The problem of evil was first discussed by the Greek philosopher Epicurus (371- 270 BC). The logical "Problem of Evil" may be seen in four core propositions:
1. An all-powerful (omnipotent) God could prevent evil from existing in the world.
2. An all-knowing (omniscient) God would know that there was evil in the world.
3. An all-good (omnibenevolent) God would wish to prevent evil from existing in the world.
4. There is evil in the world.
Justifying the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, and immutable God, and his purpose in creation, and his government of his creation, is what theists and Christians attempt to do when dealing with the problem of evil. It is an attempt to "justify the ways of God to men."
Philosophical discussions of the problem of evil come under the term "determinism." Theological discussions of the problem of evil come under the terms "predestination" and "divine decrees." How the Hardshells deal with the problem of evil reflects their views on predestination and divine sovereignty.
The Fulton brethren spoke of "...God’s permissive and overruling decree of sin and His causative decree..." These brethren erred in not seeing how God's permissive will and decree was in some sense "causative."
It is common for theologians and philosophers to divide the will of God into at least two kinds and use various adjectives to differentiate them. On one side is God's permissive will, this being what God allows, lets, suffers, or permits to occur without directly or efficiently causing it. This will of sufferance is set in contrast to that will which is often called decretive, sovereign, efficacious, irresistible, causative, what he himself determines to directly bring into being. Some of these adjectives are not proper, however, being what may be said of both kinds of the divine will. The Fulton brethren chose to call God's permissive will an "overruling decree," what is not a "causative decree." The best adjective, however, for distinguishing these two kinds of divine willing are the words resistible and irresistible.
We know that there is a will of God that is causative and irresistible. Paul agrees with the idea that none can resist the will of God. (Rom. 9: 19) Here the "will of God" refers to his sovereign irresistible will, what he decrees shall occur and what necessarily occurs as a result of such a willing, decreeing, and purposing. But, the moral law of God is also the "will of God." But, this is not his willing irresistibly, but a decree of what he wills that men do of their own will. Thus, the divine oracle that says - "you shall not murder" - if it were a sovereign irresistible decree would prevent murder from occurring. But, as a moral decree it does not irresistibly bring about the end decreed. It is a rule to be voluntarily obeyed.
The main question to be addressed is whether God's permission and sufferance of events is in any sense causative? Is it in any way part of God's eternal decrees and purposes. In other words, can anything come to pass apart from God permissively willing it? Is divine permission necessary for the occurrence of all events that he does not directly cause?
Many affirm that God's permissive will is not in any sense a cause of what is permitted, and that his permissive will is different from his will of purpose in this regard, as if God had no purpose in what he suffers and permits.
The most popular "defense" for "solving" the difficulties involved in accepting the above propositions is the "free will defense."
From the philosoplyofreligion.info web page, the writers say:
"In order to refute the argument from moral evil, then, the theist must show that it is not necessarily the case that if God were omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent then the world would not contain moral evil. Under what circumstances, though, for what reason, might such a God allow such evil?
Theists almost invariably meet this question with the free-will defence. Moral evil is caused by the free choices of moral agents, they argue. Free agency, though, is a good thing; a world containing free agents is far better than either a world containing only automata or a world containing no conscious beings at all. An omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent God would therefore create a world containing free agents, and in doing so would run the risk of allowing moral evil to enter into the world.
The first way in which the free-will defence works, then, is by distancing God from the moral evil in the world. Moral evil is not brought about by God, the free-will defence argues, but by free agents. God is therefore not the author of moral evil, and so is not responsible for it."
"This conclusion might be criticised, however, in the following way: Even if it is the free agents that perpetrate moral evils that are directly responsible for them, God does seem to bear at least some indirect responsibility for them. After all, God created the free agents, knowing full well the risk that he was running in doing so, and is therefore at least partly to blame for their abuses of their freedom. God it can be argued, is guilty of negligence in creating free agents, even if not of actually perpetrating any moral crimes himself."
"The second way in which the free-will defence works is in justifying the existence of moral evil by justifying God’s creation of free agents. The existence of moral evil, the free-will defence argues, is a consequence of the existence of a greater good: free will. Without free will there could be no moral goodness; a world without free agents would be morally void. The good that is the existence of free moral agents, it is suggested, therefore outweighs the bad that is the existence of moral evil, and God therefore did well in creating free agents even though he knew that some of them would commit moral evils."
"Others have thought that the free-will defence fails because God could have created free agents without risking bringing moral evil into the world. There is nothing logically inconsistent about a free agent that always chooses the good. There are, then, among all of the possible free agents that God might have created, some free agents that would always have chosen the good. Why, it is sometimes asked, did God not create those free agents, leaving the others uncreated?"
"A further criticism of the free-will defence imagines a human being using it to justify his failure to intervene to prevent a crime from being committed. If one of us were able to prevent a brutal murder, but instead allowed it to take place, then we could not justify our inaction using the free-will defence. If we were to say that although we could have prevented the murder, we thought it best to protect the free-will of the murderer by allowing him to carry out his plan, then we would be judged to have made a moral error. Why, if this argument would be unacceptable coming from a human being, should we think it any more acceptable coming from God?"
Let us take a look at a chain of causes. I am a sinner. But, why? Is this not the effect of some cause(s)? Scripturally speaking, the cause of my being a sinner is because I sin. Being a sinner is the effect of having sinned. But, what was the cause of my sinning? My choice or will to sin. But, what caused my will to choose sin? A depraved nature. But, why do I have a depraved nature? The sin of Adam, the first man, was the cause of my having a depraved nature. But, why did Adam sin? What was the cause of his choice to transgress? His mutability and freedom of choice. Why is Adam mutable and free to choose? Because God gave Adam those qualities? Why did God give Adam those qualities?
Thus, we have traced the cause of sin back to God, the first cause in the chain of causes. Therefore, it is false to say that God is, in no sense, the cause of moral evil. In law and etiology there is the "but for" standard used in determining cause. "But for" this, then this (effect) would not have occurred. Of course, this is used to prove that a thing was, in some way, a cause, without determining the nature or kind of cause. Is it a minor or major cause? Only a contributing cause of several causes or a singular cause? Is it a cause that merits culpability and moral and legal "responsibility"? Though it is undeniable that God is, as the Bible and the old Baptist confessions affirm, the "first cause" of all things, including moral evil, yet it does not teach that he is therefore to be "blamed" for it. Atheists contend that God, the first cause, if he existed, must be to "blame" for all of man's sins and failures. They believe that a First Cause that foreknows all things cannot help escaping "blame." Therefore, they reject the idea of God, or of a God who has foreknowledge of all things.
Some theists and Christians, not giving up faith in God's existence, and not being able to deny the reality of moral evil, have sought to "defend" God by denying his omniscience and his forekowledge of all things. These are called "Open Theists" and their theodicy deals with what is called "Process Theology." Process theology says that God is not simple "being" but "becoming" (Process). God is not stable, nor immutable, in process theology. God cannot totally control any series of events nor of any individual, but can only "influence" creature free will. In other words, God has a will in everything, but not everything that occurs is God's will. Some argue that God, in giving creatures free will, limited his foreknowledge and so does not see or know what will be the choices of his creatures.
Hardshells, however, do not deny God's omniscience (including his foreknowledge), omnipotence, and immutability. They believe, as scriptures and the old confessions teach, that God knows all things. And, if he knows all things, this would include all future things. They know that God is not ignorant of anything, does not increase in knowledge, nor learn anything.
So, they have to acknowledge that God foreknew what would be the result of creating Adam mutable and with free will. And, they cannot deny that God made Adam anyway, knowing what would result from his making Adam as he did. So, why do they deny that God is in some sense the cause of Adam's sin? In human legal philosophy no one would deny that God was a cause of Adam's sin. Suppose I created a product that I know in advance will bring a great evil. Suppose further that I go ahead and create that product anyway. Who would say that I was not, in some way, responsible, as a cause, for the evil caused by the product?
No one can deny that God is the "first cause," and that he is, in some sense, responsible for the sin of Adam. No Conditionalist Hardshell can deny it. If we cannot reconcile our belief that God is not "culpable" and to "blame" for the existence of moral evil with the foregoing facts, we ought not, on this basis to throw away belief in God's omniscience and omnipotence, his universal providence, nor his being good, holy, and righteous, and not morally to be blamed for the existence of moral evil. We cannot allow our inability to comprehend these great mysteries, these seeming contradictions and paradoxes, to decide whether to accept any biblical premise or proposition. We are to accept by faith all biblical propositions even though some of them seem to us to be incompatible.
What I am condemning is the idea that rejects the idea that absolute predestination of all things is to be rejected because it seems to make God the author or cause of sin. Will our devotion to the latter proposition lead us to reject that God is omniscient and omnipotent to save his holiness and justness? Will Hardshells become "open theists"? Will they deny that God is the "first cause"? Will they deny that God made Adam foreknowing that he would sin? Will they quit saying that God is, in no sense, the cause of sin and evil? That is a foolish view! The only ones who may properly say such a thing are the open theists who deny that God has foreknowledge of all things.
Commenting on chapter five, the Fulton document says:
"Should not be construed to mean that God directs and governs all creatures and things in all they do, so that He brings to pass all their acts, both good and evil."
But, that is exactly what the London Confession said! The Fulton brethren are distorting the clear meaning of the words and intentions of the confession. Hardshell apologist, Elder R. V. Sarrels, who wrote a twentieth century "Systematic Theology" for the Hardshell cause, said this about the Fulton brethren's "footnote" regarding the confession's affirmation that God has decreed the existence of evil and the occurrence of sin. Sarrels said that Hardshells "do not believe" chapter three of the London Confession, dealing with predestination, and says that the Fulton Convention's footnote was an attempt "to make this old article MEAN WHAT IT DOES NOT SAY." (Systematic Theology, pages 109, 110)
The footnote wants to adhere to the proposition that affirms that "God directs and governs all creatures and things in all they do," but wants to also deny the proposition that says "so that He brings to pass all their acts." Had the footnote said "so that He is not the culpable cause of all their acts," there would be no problem. But, in order to avoid a contradiction in their minds, they remove God from having any causal responsibility at all for the acts of men, and this is blind denial of the obvious. How can they deny that God made Adam, and "but for" God not making Adam, there would be no moral evil in the world. How can they deny that God foreknew that Adam would sin and yet made him any way?
It is often the case that a person will himself go to an extreme when fighting an extreme. The Conditionalist went to the extreme in denying that God is, in some sense, the cause of sin, and in denying that he is the foreknowing first cause of all things?
The Fulton brethren, in one of their footnotes on the confession, wrote:
"We understand this section to teach that while God does not cause men to sin, nor is His predestination in its attitude to sin causative, yet that He exercises such a control over all His creatures as that all chance and uncertainty is excluded from the universe."
Here the Conditionalist Hardshells deny that God is, in any sense, the "cause" of sin! This is their grave mistake. It is ironic to see them involve themselves into a contradiction, by such a denial, knowing that their historical quest has been to be "consistent," to be able to reconcile all things, to escape believing in seemingly incompatible propositions. This attempt at consistency has caused them to deny that God is in some sense a cause of moral evil. If God is not a cause, in some sense, then how can you consistently affirm that God made Adam? And, that he made him knowing what the effect would be? Was God, in any sense, a cause of the crucifixion of Christ? Was God, in any sense, a cause of Joseph's being sold into Egypt?
Here is what the Bible affirms about God's predestination, creation, providence, and government of "all things."
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[i] have been called according to his purpose." (Rom. 8: 28)
"For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen." (Rom. 11: 36)
"In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will." (Eph. 1: 11)
"But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him." (I Cor. 8: 6)
"For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God." (I Cor. 11: 12)
"And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation." (II Cor. 5: 18)
The Hardshell Conditionalist will not accept the idea that "all things," in these passages, literally mean all things and will therefore always make the "all things" of these verses to mean only "some things." But, they do this a lot, taking universal propositions and making them into limited ones, and vice versa.
Consider all such verses as these, stating the same idea.
"Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not?" (Lam. 3: 37)
On this verse, Dr. Gill wrote:
"[when] the Lord commandeth [it] not? has not willed and decreed it, but determined the contrary; for nothing escapes his knowledge and foreknowledge; or can resist his will; or control his power; or frustrate his councils, and counterwork his designs; whatever schemes men form to get riches, obtain honour, do mischief to others, prolong life to themselves, and perpetuate their names to posterity, being contrary to the purpose of God, never succeed; whenever they do succeed in any of the above instances, it is because God has commanded, or he has determined, it should be so; as in the instances of Joseph's brethren, in their usage of him; and of the Jews, in the crucifixion of Christ, Pr 16:9."
The Fulton brethren seemed to want to agree with such statements, for they denied that anything happens by chance or uncertainly. But, by their denial that God is, in some sense, a cause of moral evil, they are affirming chance and uncertainty!
The Absoluter side also had their extremes. Those will be discussed in this series.