It seems best to begin this series on Hardshells and Predestination with the words of the London Confession of 1689 relative to God's decrees.
Chapter 3: Of God's Decree
1._____ God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established; in which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing his decree.
( Isaiah 46:10; Ephesians 1:11; Hebrews 6:17; Romans 9:15, 18; James 1:13; 1 John 1:5; Acts 4:27, 28; John 19:11; Numbers 23:19; Ephesians 1:3-5 )
2._____ Although God knoweth whatsoever may or can come to pass, upon all supposed conditions, yet hath he not decreed anything, because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.
( Acts 15:18; Romans 9:11, 13, 16, 18 )
3._____ By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated, or foreordained to eternal life through Jesus Christ, to the praise of his glorious grace; others being left to act in their sin to their just condemnation, to the praise of his glorious justice.
( 1 Timothy 5:21; Matthew 25:34; Ephesians 1:5, 6; Romans 9:22, 23; Jude 4 )
4.______These angels and men thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished.
( 2 Timothy 2:19; John 13:18 )
5._____ Those of mankind that are predestinated to life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ unto everlasting glory, out of his mere free grace and love, without any other thing in the creature as a condition or cause moving him thereunto.
( Ephesians 1:4, 9, 11; Romans 8:30; 2 Timothy 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:9; Romans 9:13, 16; Ephesians 2:5, 12 )
6._____ As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so he hath, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto; wherefore they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ, by his Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power through faith unto salvation; neither are any other redeemed by Christ, or effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.
( 1 Peter 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:9, 10; Romans 8:30; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:5; John 10:26; John 17:9; John 6:64 )
7._____ The doctrine of the high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men attending the will of God revealed in his Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election; so shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God, and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel.
( 1 Thessalonians 1:4, 5; 2 Peter 1:10; Ephesians 1:6; Romans 11:33; Romans 11:5, 6, 20; Luke 10:20 )
All "Primitive Baptists," of whatever faction, will accept articles 3-5 of the above confession, but will argue over the meaning of articles 1, 2, and 6. Some are guilty of violating the 7th article, for it is clear, from a study of the various conflicting views among Hardshells regarding predestination and the divine decrees, that have occurred throughout their beginning as a denomination, that they have not generally handled this topic with the "special prudence and care" as advised in article seven by the old London Baptists.
As was mentioned in the beginning of this book, the "Primitive Baptists" have several factions. One of those factions is called "Absoluter," because they profess to believe in the "absolute predestination of all things," and the other is generally known as the "Conditionalist" faction because they reject the idea that "all things" have been predestined by God. The "Absoluter Division," as it is called, was years in the making, but culminated in division of churches and associations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Each faction argued with each other both from scripture, and from Baptist tradition, as to who were "old line" Hardshells.
The "Absoluter" side clearly had both scripture and history on their side in their acceptance of the "absolute predestination of all things." This is what is clearly taught in the first two articles of the London Confession. The "Absoluter" side, however, did not handle the subject with prudence and care due to their adding of speculations and erroneous inferences, drawn from the confession and from the what is implied in the term "absolute predestination of all things." It seems clear to me that the "Absoluter" side went to one extreme on the doctrine of predestination and the divine decrees and the "Conditionalist" side went to another extreme.
The "Absoluter" faction was slower to deny means in regeneration and rejected the "Conditionalist" view that "conversion" was altogether unlike "regeneration," affirming rather that both were the work of God and effectually wrought by God, whereas the "Conditionalist" faction believed that "conversion" was not an irresistible experience as was regeneration. The "Conditionalist" faction took an Arminian approach to the experience of "conversion" and called it by a new name, by the term "time salvation," or "conditional time salvation."
The "Absoluter" faction were far more "antinomian" than the "Conditionalist" faction. They became extreme "Determinists," fatalistic. They believed that they would do as much good or wickedness as had been predestined, and they therefore felt no responsibility, thinking all was God's responsibility. One of the outcomes of this kind of thinking and preaching was that God, though getting "all the glory" for the "good works" done, also got all the blame for the lack of good works, and for sin and evil works.
The "Absoluter" faction denounced the "Conditionalist" side as being "Arminian," a charge that was true as regards their views on "conversion." They also denounced the new doctrine known as "conditional time salvation," one of the key doctrines of the "Conditionalist" side.
The "Conditionalist" side denounced the "Absoluter" side for believing that God was the "author of sin," that God is as much the same cause of evil works as good works.
Historically speaking, nearly all of the "Absoluter" side were supralapsarians and nearly all of the "Conditionalist" side were infralapsarians, which often was a point of argument among them.
Present day "Absoluter," James Poole, wrote:
"When the Black Rock Convention convened in 1832, among the committee to draft a resolution for consideration was Elder Gilbert Beebe, then only 31 years of age. During the proceedings his Prospectus for a paper to be devoted to the Old School was introduced and accepted by the entire assembly. Item two of his Prospectus read as follows: "The Absolute Predestination of all things.""
"The paper, to be called the "Signs of the Times," was launched shortly thereafter, and for a number of years was the only paper circulating among the Old School Baptists. For 49 years after, until his death in 1881, Beebe annually incorporated the original Prospectus in the pages of the "Signs" as it had become known. Make no mistake; the Baptists knew what Beebe was publishing, and moreover, it was generously and enthusiastically received and supported."
This evidence is strong and convincing and from my historical studies I can confirm the truthfulness of what Poole writes. The general view of the first Hardshells for the first forty years of so of their historical development embraced the doctrine of the "absolute predestination of all things," and what is clearly stated in the London Confession. It is the burden of the "Conditionalist" side to present the evidence to show that their views on predestination were the generally accepted views of the denomination during the period mentioned. It is their duty to explain the facts as given by Poole.
Poole cites Beebe as follows:
"No one who justly appreciates the intelligence of the Old School Baptists, can believe that they could read our paper for twenty-six years, and not know what are our religious sentiments. It is presumed there is not a person in the ranks of the Old School, or Primitive Baptist communion, whose doctrinal views are better understood by the Old School Baptists generally throughout the United States, than are those of the editor and publisher of this paper; and it is arrogant and presuming in persons of but ordinary intelligence, to assume that they know more than all the church of God, are better able to judge and detect heresy, and that they are competent to search the hearts and try the reins of men, and to affirm that men do hold doctrines which they constantly disavow. "But we leave all this to be considered by our brethren, and disposed of as our God may see fit, and our assailants to enjoy all that distinction and notoriety which their efforts to injure us may entitle them to, or earn for them. "Our circulation is now between six and seven thousand, and constantly increasing; and we have the assurance of many thousands of the scattered flock that they are edified and comforted by the perusal of the communications which have appeared in the Signs." (Elder Gilbert Beebe, Signs of the Times; December 15, 1858)
Again, this is simply more proof demonstrating the general belief in the "absolute predestination of all things" by the first Hardshells.
"All this makes it very plain, Conditional Time Salvation was not the doctrine of the Old Order of Baptists, and Absolute Predestination of all Things was the doctrine of the Old Order of Baptists." See here for Poole's article.
Poole ties together the denial of "Absolute Predestination of all things" with a belief in "Conditional Time Salvation." It is appropriate for him to do this, as history shows. There is a connection between these two areas of doctrine. Did one cause the other? Did a denial of the absolute predestination of all things produce the doctrine of "conditional time salvation"? Did the invention of the doctrine of "conditional time salvation" produce a denial in absolute predestination of all things?
Hardshell "Conditionalist" David Montgomery, wrote:
"The doctrine of Absolute Predestination was hotly debated throughout the 1800's and on into the 1900's." ("Church Divisions")
This is not all true. It was not the case that Absolutism was hotly debated "throughout the 1800's." As was said by Poole, this was not "hotly debated" for the first forty years or so of the Hardshell formative years. Rather, it was not till the late 1800s that it began to be "hotly debated." If Elder Montgomery has any information to show that the first Hardshells vehemently disagreed with Beebe and the "Signs of the Times," regarding predestination, then let him produce the evidence to prove it.
"In the Bonham Council of June 1902, Texas made it a test of fellowship. To contradict the Bonham Council, the Fort Worth Council of October 1902 adopted Absoluter language into their articles of faith which as accepted by several churches. Twenty years later, most of these elders were dead and their churches had disbanded. Only one elder, namely J. H. Fisher, came back to the mainline churches."
This statement shows how the separation between "Absoluters" and "Conditionalists" did not begin till the early 20th century, at least in Texas. It will be seen in this series how divisions in churches and associations continued throughout the early part of the 20th century.
It is interesting how Montgomery uses the decline of the "Absoluters" as proof that the "Absoluters" were the ones in error and not blessed of God. Why does Montgomery not use the same criterion for judging who was right in the division with the Mission Baptists? Is it not clear that the Mission Baptists grew by leaps in bounds throughout the 19th century while the Hardshells dwindled in numbers?
"It is my personal belief that the Bonham Council prevented Absolutism from taking a foot-hold in Texas and thus saved many of our churches. The eastern half of North Carolina is wasteland today because Absolutism ran amok. It also killed most of the churches that were planted in Washington and Oregon in the late 1800's. This is why I get real nervous when I hear Absoluter language in sermons today and get put out with folks who do not think it is such a big deal." See here for Montgomery's article.
Having established some of the history of the division among Hardshells over the doctrine of predestination, and introduced the London confession's statement on it, and given some general observations on the subject, I will in the next several chapters look more closely at the issues involved and discuss what Old Baptists taught on the subject as well as what the scriptures teach on it.