What did the “Old” Baptists believe prior to the early 1800s? The following excerpt from the Portsmouth Baptist Association Circular Letter of 1793 proves their adherence to doctrines which today are at the center of controversy among those who presumptuously take this title unto themselves (emphasis mine – KF).
“Before we leave the subject (election – KF), it may not be amiss to treat a little of the Time this Business was transacted by God the Father, as revealed to us in the Holy Scripture. And here you may note, it was not when Adam was in the Garden of Eden, nor after he was expelled, nor at the Time, or after a Soul believes in Jesus Christ; nor we make light of Faith, Repentance, Holiness, &c. But consider those blessed Graces highly necessary in their Places; and look upon them as precious Fruits and effects of our election in Christ Jesus; but by no means the causes thereof, either in whole, or in part:for this Choice was made before the Foundation of the World, and consequently our existence, from which it is evident there could be no good Qualification in Men to influence his Choice.”
Things are expressed correctly here. Faith, repentance, and holiness are highly necessary yet at the same time are not to be considered efficient causes.
They write further:
“Now if all Things were known of God as they invariably come to pass, through all Eternity, the Result is; They could not be so foreknown of him, if they could, might, or may, otherwise come to pass. So that upon the whole; if his complete Foreknowledge of all Things is confessed; it ought with the same parity of Reasoning also to be owned, that he is able, and of consequence can, predetermine all Things, with as much justice and equity as he foreknows all Things, as they invariably come to pass, through all eternity. However, We hope we shall not be so understood, as to exclude the use of Means in any case whatever; nor on the other Hand, to idolize Means; for God is at Liberty to work by them, without them, above them, or against them at his divine Pleasure; though in common has seen fit to honor the timely, prudent, and humble use of them with a Blessing: - but by the way, it ought to be remembered, that he has not only prescribed in his written word, what Means he approves of, but by his Providence, &c. excites to such a use of them as may lead to an accomplishment of all good Ends; so that when happiness of any kind is enjoyed, all the Praise is his: when Evil is felt, the blame is justly on Angels, and Men as Creatures unprovokedly abusing primitive Liberty.”
This is also an important statement as it takes a correct stand on the issue of foreknowledge as it relates to predestination. It understands that if God foreknows all things, that such foreknowledge must be sure. And what makes it sure is God’s decree! Thus, predestination is absolute. This is a lesson greatly needed to be learned by the Conditionalist faction of the Primitive Baptists, who create a disconnect between foreknowledge and predestination, claiming that God foreknows all but did not decree all.
We also see they were “Means” Baptists and did not let their belief in predestination deny such by abusing it with a fatalistic approach.
1793 Portsmouth Circular Letter