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Oliphant-Durand Letters: First Exchange PDF Print E-mail
Written by Joseph R. Holder   

Durand’s First Letter

One who did not know that you have an experience of grace would think from this letter and your published article in reply to me, that you were relying upon your own power, freedom of will, faithfulness and diligence; for daily salvation and spiritual benefit and comfort, and that you were not one of those poor, weak, halting, stumbling creatures who are daily "beggars poor at mercy's door," and who daily and hourly feel their need of Jesus to uphold and lead them, and of his Spirit to guide them in the truth, and to restore their souls.

Although he quickly disclaims the point, this quote specifically questions Oliphant’s spiritual state, a patent “ad hominem” logical fallacy that involves attacking the person rather than the ideas held by the person.  

 …salvation is all of grace from first to last.

They do not find, in either the Bible or their experience, that it takes less of grace to keep them in the way than was needed to bring them there.

Here Durand confuses eternal salvation with discipleship, something that frequently repeats itself in Durand’s letters.  From his perspective every act of a regenerate elect person’s discipleship is no less divinely and unconditionally caused by God than one’s regeneration.  Durand also repeatedly affirms that a regenerate elect person, apart from divine intervention and cause, is as helpless to perform acts of godly obedience, or discipleship, as an unregenerate non-elect person.  Apparently Durand did not believe that regeneration made any observable moral or spiritual change in the individual.  He and Oliphant were agreed on the question of eternal salvation.  The points of disagreement related to discipleship and the scope of predestination, not on how God redeems His elect from their sins and secures them to eternal salvation.  This tactic is known as the “straw man” logical fallacy.  Intentionally (or otherwise) introduce irrelevant issues to avoid forthright dialogue regarding the real issues.  Either Durand is confused as to any theological distinction between regeneration and discipleship, or he frequently injects the confused distinction as a convenient straw man.  

 …for they know and feel that Jesus has wrought all their works in them, (Isa., xxvi, 12,) and that to him belongs all the praise, while theirs are the blessing and benefit.

Durand attempts to attribute “all their works” to God, but occasionally he denies that God wrought his sins.  If God didn’t work his sins in him, how can he so adamantly affirm that God “…has wrought all their works in them….”?   In his letter of response Oliphant questions; does Durand believe that God wrought David’s work in him related to the Bathsheba and Uriah affair?  Thus Durand affirms more than he claims to believe in this statement, or he in fact did hold to the idea that God caused his sins.  Further leaving his views open to question Durand never revisits this passage or responds to Oliphant’s question regarding David and Uriah.   

I do not understand, as you assert, that the word "if," as used in the New Testament, implies a condition. It is never used as expressing a dependence upon the will of the creature, as it is in the Old Testament.

Later Oliphant probes this point extensively.  Does Durand hold to “conditionality” for Old Testament saints, but not for New Testament saints?  If so, how does he reconcile his objections to conditionality with the immutability of God?  His view inadvertently imputes mutability onto God in His dealings with Old Testament saints in precisely the way that he rejects. 

 It is thought by some that if one can not do good he is not to blame for not doing it. This would remove blame from those to whom the Lord says, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good that are accustomed to do evil;" Jer., xiii, 23. We must remember that the cause of blame was before we were born.

Does Durand interpret this passage as referring to the regenerate elect, to unregenerate elect and non-elect, or to both?  It appears that he makes no distinction whatever in the moral disposition of the non-elect and a regenerate elect person.  Both alike are like the Ethiopian or the leopard.  Is this the teaching of Scripture?  Does Scripture teach that regeneration makes no moral change in the person regenerated? 

n the closing paragraph of his first letter Durand states: 

What has our will to do with our love, or with our belief? We can not of ourselves will to do either, neither is it of our will that we keep the commandments. “He that believeth hath everlasting life,” not “If you will believe you shall have everlasting life."

Here Durand specifically is dealing with a regenerate elect person by his choice of “our” and “ourselves.”  And here we see the true teaching of Durand and other representative absolute predestinarians in his fellowship.  Acts of faith and obedience in a regenerate elect are wholly caused by divine predestination and not in any way or to any degree related to the believer’s own will or anything in his/her regenerated and thus changed nature.  By his reference to “He that believeth…” and “…not ‘If you will believe you shall have everlasting life,’” Durand again employs the straw man logical fallacy by confusing eternal salvation with the believer’s faith and discipleship. 

Given the repeated confusion that Durand makes between regeneration or eternal salvation and discipleship, it appears that he in fact believed that both our eternal salvation, first experienced in regeneration, and our discipleship make up one comprehensive view of salvation rather than two, and that God has sovereignly, effectually, irresistibly, and causatively predestinated every aspect of both alike.  This view hopelessly confuses multiple Scriptures and doctrines.  In one verse we read that Jesus is the one and only Savior of sinners to which most believing Christians will heartily agree (Matthew 1:21).  But when faced with passages that refer to a regenerate elect person saving himself or herself (Acts 2:40 as just one example), or to passages that refer to one person saving another person (1 Timothy 4:16 as an example), advocates of this view become rather obtuse and confused in their explanations.  Who is in fact the savior in Acts 2:40?  Who is the savior in First Timothy 4:16?  Did the inspired writer make a mistake in attributing the saving act to man?  In some ways the Arminian explanation of these passages is more logical, though theologically wholly errant, than the absolute predestinarian’s explanation.  If God predestinated and microscopically controls every inclination and act of our discipleship—if in fact God is our Savior in terms every thought, word, and deed of our discipleship as fully and as unconditionally as in our regeneration, a point that Durand and other absolute predestinarians occasionally made/make—why did inspired writers repeatedly attribute salvation as it relates to discipleship to either the individual or to godly people on behalf of another individual?  Why did those writers not clear up the confusion by consistently attributing every act and every aspect of salvation exclusively to God and never to the individual regenerate elect person?  If we read the Biblical application of “salvation” and its derivative words and interpret the “saving” involved by the Biblical context, we will inevitably conclude that eternal salvation, regeneration and all the works necessary to cleanse fallen sinners and present them to God at the Second Coming without sin and redeemed by the blood of Jesus, is all of God.  We will also conclude that our personal acts of faith and obedience, our discipleship, are defined, encouraged, enabled, and otherwise assisted by God, but that we must exercise personal and voluntary willingness to follow the divinely prescribed path to God-honoring obedience or face divine chastening for our conscious and willing rebellion.  Elder Oliphant typically refers to this concept with the term “God’s moral government.”  

Oliphant’s Reply to Durand’s First Letter

In his opening Oliphant refers to Durand’s questioning his spiritual state. 

I understand you, in this part of your letter, that at such times as I am in a proper frame and "walking in the Spirit" I am most likely to agree with you; and also I understand you that the fact that I differ with you is evidence that I am “forgetful of the most important things in my life and walk before God.” On the whole, you seem to judge of one's spiritual condition by his agreement or disagreement with yourself.

 I understand you in this to set forth the sentiments that we hold, as you understand it, and so you judge a man to be "left for a time” if he fails to see with you on the subject in hand.

If a person believes that God irresistibly and unconditionally predestinated his/her faith and obedience, and thus what and how he/she believes about various Biblical teachings, this idea inevitably fosters a certain arrogance of mind.  Anyone who disagrees with you—if in fact your belief is divinely, irresistibly, and unconditionally predestinated—is de facto outside the will of God and “walking in the flesh, not in the Spirit.”  There seems to be little or no consideration in Durand’s mind (or his followers’ minds) that they might in fact be deceived and thus themselves at the moment not at all walking by the Spirit of God, but rather “left for a time” to themselves!  Thus Oliphant observes that Durand’s approval or disapproval, his judgment of another person’s spirituality, is contingent specifically and directly on whether this person agrees or disagrees with him.  Apparently if I disagree with Durand or with subsequent believers in his ideas, it is either because God predestinated me not to believe these ideas, or I have been “left to myself,” a state in which I cannot possibly think or do anything righteously.  If this be the case, am I responsible for my beliefs that distinctly differ from Durand and his supporters?  Is it possible for me to think differently unless God predestinated me to agree with them?   

You say, "You seem to insist that they can do the things that they would, and that God has left all spiritual advantage and comfort dependent on their own will and work." If I wrote this to you I regret it. 

Here Oliphant exposes Durand’s logical fallacy of the “horns of dilemma.”  This fallacy creates two extreme views and presumes that no other alternatives are available.  In this case either people must agree with Durand that every act of faith and obedience are divinely and irresistibly predestinated with God directly causing by specific predestination any cognitive participation of the believer’s will or conscience, or they must hold that acts of the believer’s faith and obedience are wholly independent of God and wholly prompted by the believer’s will.  Oliphant rejects this “horns of dilemma” fallacy and equally denies ever advocating that the believer’s acts of faith and obedience are wholly of self.   

In the Monitor of October you say, "In the beginning of my ministry I sometimes spoke of a "conditional" salvation inside the church, referring to the fact that only when we are walking in obedience to the commands of Jesus can we enjoy the power and comfort of that salvation. In my letter to you I do not think I contended for more or less than is contained in this quotation. Had you not shifted your position you would have the hearty endorsement of our brethren now.

Here Oliphant reminds Durand that he had himself acknowledged that his present view of absolute predestination grew out of a change of mind from an earlier belief in “conditional time salvation,” a view that Oiphant correctly observes was held by the senior Elder S. F. Cayce and other respected Primitive Baptists in the past, a Christian heritage that Oliphant claimed at least to his great-grandfather back to 1815.   

In this last quotation you say, "But are given freedom of will and are dependent upon themselves whether they will be happy or miserable." In this you certainly place a strained interpretation on my words. I hold that our enjoyment is, in some degree, dependent on our obedience. Read my article in the October Monitor. In that article I say, "We are liable to extremes on both sides. If we urge that the work and presence of the Spirit is necessary to obedience, just as it is to regeneration, we are not voluntary; for, in regeneration, we are not voluntary, and so regeneration is not a virtue on our part, and if the Spirit's power and presence is exerted in our obedience, just as in our regeneration, then there is no duty in obedience, as we perform no duty in regeneration; and so on the other side, we are liable to forget that we must have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably," etc. If we take one extreme we take away all vice or virtue from the conduct of God's people, and if we take the other we substitute cold formality for the spiritual worship of God. Now, here I insist that we must have grace, and that we can not serve God acceptably without it. I do not, as you say, hold "that they are dependent upon themselves," etc. Our Savior, (John i, 13,) speaking relative to regeneration, says, "Nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man," but he nowhere tells us that our obedience is independent of our will.

The meaning of the word requires that it be dependent, or resultant from the will, and voluntary; so nothing but a willing service is acceptable. I hold just the views you did before you changed to your present position.

Notice Oliphant’s description of his true position, not the “horns of dilemma” misrepresentation that Durand made of it, “…our enjoyment is, in some degree, dependent on our obedience.”  This is the precise point that Durand repeatedly denies in that he holds that our obedience in no degree is dependent on our will. 

otice Oliphant’s concise point, “The meaning of the word requires that it be dependent, or resultant from the will, and voluntary; so nothing but a willing service is acceptable.”  Repeatedly in his writings, this letter exchange included, Oliphant distinguishes God’s creation governance of the physical universe from His “moral government” over His regenerate elect whom he consistently describes as “moral” creatures.  Oliphant also correctly distinguishes God’s sovereign and unconditional work in regeneration from His “moral” governance over his regenerate elect who themselves are “moral” beings because of the effects of regeneration on them.  In regeneration, Oliphant observes, we do not choose to respond to God as “moral” beings would, but rather divine grace sovereignly works the change in regeneration, so it is not a matter of moral response that we are passively changed by divine grace in regeneration.  However, according to Oliphant—and I believe Scripture as well—our cognitive response to God’s commandments as His regenerate elect involves our will and our cognitive choices to obey, rendering our obedience a moral decision that responds to God’s moral government over His regenerate elect.  In response Durand predictably diminishes the concept of “moral governance.”  

Durand attempts to make a point of Jesus’ obedience  being to the Father’s will, but not to His own will, as if in some way that he never explains Durand thought that Jesus’ will and the Father’s will were in fact different, perhaps even contradictory.  One wonders—at least I certainly do—did Durand believe that Jesus in the Incarnation possessed a fallen and sin-prone human nature that possessed a sinful will?  If so, where in Scripture could he justify such a view?   

You say, "I do not find two kinds of predestination spoken of in the Bible. You certainly admit that predestination is efficacious, causative, respecting our regeneration, creation, etc. So, if you know of but one kind of predestination, you would hold that sin is also efficaciously predestinated. In your article in the Church Advocate, October, 1896, you say, "Can we think that he predestinated salvation, and all the times and ways of its experience, * * and did not predestinate that which made it necessary? * * Did the Lord predestinate the rainbow and not the dark cloud in which he set it to display its glorious beauty?" From these and many of your expressions we would understand you to hold that God is as much the cause of evil as he is of good: and what is this but to destroy the distinction between right and wrong?

You quote the text "For thou also hast wrought all our works in us. What do you understand by the words "all our works?” Did God work David's works in his behavior with Uriah and his wife, in him. Did he work Peter's conduct in denying his Lord, in him? You complain of a heart deceitful and desperately wicked. Did God work all this deceitfulness in you? You quote this text several times as if it were your main reliance. If all our sins and wickedness are wrought in us by the Lord, then wherein does right differ from wrong? You also quote Heb., xiii, 20, 21, "Working in them that which is well pleasing in his sight." Is there anything in or about God's people that is not well pleasing in his sight? Paul mentions some, (I Cor., x. 5,) "With many of them God was not well pleased." If every work was wrought in them, how does it occur that God was not well pleased with them? In Heb., xiii, 16, "With such sacrifices God is well pleased.” But if God is pleased with all our conduct and all our ways, why mention that "With such sacrifices God is well pleased?"

There is as much difference between right and wrong as there is between heaven and hell, and yet you do not make a distinction, that I can see. "Only one kind of predestination, etc."

Here Oliphant nudges Durand relative to his excessive language regarding predestination, coupled with his (Durand’s) claim not to believe that God causatively predestinated sin.  If followed to its logical conclusion, Durand’s language logically would lead one to believe that God in fact did predestinate sin.  If “there is only one kind of predestination” and if God predestinated all things, how could Durand logically deny a belief that God in fact did predestinate sin?  Oliphant in this quote exposes the often non-sensical and illogical language of many absolute predestinarians who will boast of their belief that God controls or causes every event that occurs from the blowing of a grain of sand in a Sahara Desert dust storm to the falling of a single drop of rain, but still deny that they believe that God predestinated sin.  

Notice Durand’s emphatic assertion that he knows only one kind of predestination; and that is causative predestination.  Occasionally advocates of the absolute predestinarian view will attempt to avoid the consequences of their beliefs and language that God caused sin by implying that they believe that predestination is not at all causative.  This view of predestination makes it effectively synonymous with God’s omniscience.  However, Durand clearly—as do other absolute predestinarians—holds that divine predestination is wholly causative.  Advocates of this view cannot conveniently hold to causative predestination at one time and non-causative predestination on other occasions.  

Oliphant insightfully questions Durand’s interpretation of “Thou has wrought all our works in us” with David’s “works” relative to his sinful affair with Bathsheba and his orchestrating the murder of Uriah her husband.  Did God “wrought” these actions in David?  Durand never responds to this question?  

Occasionally absolute predestinarians attempt to avoid the logical conclusion of their language by effectively reducing divine predestination to little more than divine omniscience, a wholly cognitive, but non-causative awareness of the unfolding of human actions.  While appealing to Jerome Zanchius or other historical writers, they seldom appeal to Scripture itself to support this claim.  Who is willing to explain or defend the idea that the use of divine predestination in the eighth chapter of Romans or the first chapter of Ephesians are either non-causative?   

Now, in relation to the words, "Work out your own salvation, for it is God that worketh in you, both to will and to do of his good pleasure;” i Phil., ii, 13. What does this text teach that God works in them? To will. First, when he blesses his people with a new nature and heart they are willing. So, the will to do is of the Lord to work in them to do---to incline them, to do, to prompt them to do; so now those who have been prompted or inclined to obey should obey this text. If this text teaches that all the works necessary were included in the words, “It is God that worketh in you," why does he say, "Work out your salvation?" There should be some distinction made between God's unconditional act in working in us, and our duty to him as a result thereof. Your position seems to be, that, when our Savior said of regeneration, “Nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man,” he should have said the same of all our duties. The Savior denies that regeneration is in any sense dependent on the will, while you seem to deny that obedience is in any sense dependent on the will. The word "obedience" denotes that the will is essential to it. So, when Elder Thompson insisted that the brethren were called on to “work out their salvation," there was something they were to do besides the act of God in working in them the will, etc.: not that they were to do something not required, or something besides what they were inclined to do by the grace of God; but there was a duty on their part required---a salvation for them to work out---and no twisting of this text can destroy the sentiment and truth that these brethren were exhorted to work out a salvation. The fact that God has worked in them to will and to do does not destroy the fact that something yet remained to be done, and that that something was to work out their salvation. All that God had done in them and for them did not destroy the fact that they were yet called on to obey and to work out their own salvation; and as obedience must be a willing obedience, or it is no obedience at all, so these people were called on to obey willingly. I am willing to admit that regeneration is independent of the will, but I deny that obedience is independent of will. So I hold that the will is ever connected with obedience and essential to it; that men who serve God CHOOSE to do so.

In this quote Oliphant challenges Durand’s partial interpretation of Paul’s words in the second chapter of Philippians.  Oliphant affirms with Paul that our obedience grows out of God’s regenerating work in us, a work that he consistently affirms to make a moral and spiritual change in the regenerated person’s will or desires and abilities, but he also affirms that the regenerate person’s obedience requires cognitive, moral choices or willingness on our part.  Not only did Paul indicate that God was working in the Philippians, but he also affirmed that the Philippians were to “Work out” their own salvation, a command wholly out of place and unnecessary if all their good works were predestinated of God.   

You say, "Neither is it of our will (or choice) that we keep the commandments." If you are right in this, there is no such thing as obedience, if we pay any attention to the meaning of the word "obedience." If you pay any attention to the meaning of the word “obedience,” you make a sad blunder when you say: "Neither is it of our will,” etc. On your plan God's government of his people is like the boy's government of his marbles: you may say, “Neither is it of the will of the marble that it is in the right place.” Your theory requires a new dictionary, made expressly to suit your doctrine.

You quote, "If ye be led by the Spirit," etc ; Gal., v, 18. The word "lead" or "led" implies that those led are willing to be led. If the party led is not willing and active, then it would be "drag." So this word "lead" is fatal to your position that the will is not concerned in our obedience.

"If any man will do his will;" John, vii, 17. So here again the will is concerned in doing God's will. Numberless places could be found showing the will to be concerned in obedience. Duty would mean nothing, obedience would mean nothing, if we exclude the will from them. Vice, virtue, right, or wrong, might be excluded from every language under heaven, and man is reduced in his conduct to the level of a watch or a clock.

What I intended by the distinction in the act of God in our regeneration, or the raising of Lazarus from the dead, and the act of God in leading us into the path of obedience, is, that we should make some distinction here. The raising of Lazarus was a physical act, and one wholly independent of his will; while in leading us, we are, and must be, voluntary. The fact is, when you deny the will of man being concerned in his obedience, you deny that man is a moral being. The planets obey the laws they are under, but not willingly---they are not moral beings. And so I understand you to deny man to be a moral being. The words obey, disobey, vice, virtue, leads, led, duty, reward---all these words denote a dependence on the will, and I understand you to change the meaning of all these words to suit your notion of things. And so the word "if." But I will notice this later on.

This quote contains one of numerous references by Oliphant to the implications of God’s “moral government” of His people, a point that he typically equates with the permanent moral and spiritual effects of regeneration on the individual.  Notice his challenge to Durand’s view as the equivalent to a boy’s “…government of his marbles.”  This reference, along with his follow-up reference to Durand’s view of obedience apart from “conditionality” and/or the believer’s conscious and willing choices to obedience, makes the point—in Oliphant’s words—that Durand’s view of a regenerate elect’s obedience is the equivalent of the mechanistic operation of a watch or a clock, or of the planets and heavenly bodies moving according to God’s physical government over them.  Oliphant frequently observes that the position of a boy’s marbles, the movements of cogs in a mechanical clock, or the movement of planets in orbit do not involve moral choices, so marbles, clocks, and planets are not “moral” beings.  However, given the change of nature wrought in regeneration and the conscious, voluntary response of the regenerate person’s will to moral choices are moral issues, making the regenerate elect individual a “moral” being, not a mechanistic robot.  

What is a good conscience worth? Who of us would engage in the arduous task of the ministry if our conscience would be easy? So, where men have gone into the fires of persecution, they have had the sweetest and best of all rewards---a good conscience. When the prophet felt that he was left alone and that he was in an enemy's land, his conscience was a rich reward to him. Paul says, "Herein do I exercise myself to have always a conscience void of offense toward God and toward men." So Paul labored always to have a good conscience. This is all the “self" we contend for, and these sentiments may make you “sick," but a good conscience was the end the apostle aimed at.

See also Rom., xiii, 5, "Wherefore ye must needs be subject not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake." Also I Tim., i, 19, "Holding faith and a good conscience, which some having put away * have made shipwreck.” The Bible abundantly teaches that holy men of old prized a good conscience as of greater reward than gold. Who can have a good conscience in sin? What Christian has not learned that obedience only keeps a good conscience? I hesitate not to say that a good conscience is conditionally enjoyed. "If ye keep my commandments ye shall abide in my love.” A dear sister, in opposing the idea that we should hope for reward, said she understood us that money was the reward we aimed at. I asked her if she found any advantage in obedience. She said, "Yes; she felt a good conscience." "Well," said I, "that is your reward." Now, dear brother, this will satisfy me. Let us insist that obedience is better than disobedience; let us insist that the path of duty has more to cheer than the path of disobedience.

Here Oliphant insightfully examines Durand’s “horns of dilemma” misrepresentation of his views regarding “rewards” relative to the obedience of a regenerate elect believer.  As Oliphant observes and defends, the Biblical reward has to do with the believer’s desire to glorify God and honor Him, not with self-gain.  In this reference Oliphant not only “takes the roof off” of Durand’s horns of dilemma fallacy, but he also affirms the Biblical basis for rewards and blessings that Scripture clearly and repeatedly associates with the believer’s voluntary and willing obedience.  The motive of the obedient believer for reward or blessings is not the desire for self-gain, but for glory to God, a point that Oliphant makes and Durand never addresses.

It occurs to me that if you first explain your doctrine to your people---that they can not obey till the command of God comes, and when it does come they can not disobey; that the words in Isa., xxvi, 12, mean that .all our good works are performed by the Lord, and that the words in Phil., ii, 13, only express the works God does, and nothing at all for them to do; that there is no reward for their obedience, either in time or eternity; that they can claim no more in their obedience than they can claim in their redemption; that they shall have no reward in time or eternity for anything they do, either mentally or physically; that, all gospel rewards are of grace, and wholly unconditional; that the most patient obedience for a lifetime will never secure one moment's peace, or the least conceivable degree of happiness, either in time or eternity; that if one of God's true and called ministers should entertain the thought that a faithful life of a half century among the churches merited so much as a crust of bread, it would be evidence that he was left of the Lord, and that he never could get back till God brought him back; that God promises no advantage for obedience of any kind, either here or hereafter; that the words "obedience," "duty," etc., denote no dependence on the will of man; that Webster, and every other author, is in error about their meaning; that it is exceedingly doubtful whether God's people are moral beings at all; that his government is a spiritual one, and hence very doubtful as to its being a moral one,---I should think when all these things are laid before the people, it would be difficult to go about an exhortation.

Here Oliphant strikes at the true heart of the absolute predestinarian view.  Claims such as “I do not believe that God causes or predestinated sin so I’m not an absoluter,” or similar statements wholly misrepresent the historical absolute predestinarian view.  The primary distinction between absolute predestinarians and Oliphant, a leading representative of our view in 1900, had to do—and today has to do—with the nature of the regenerate elect person’s acts of faith and obedience.  Are all such acts divinely, effectually, irresistibly, and causatively predestinated, or do they involve some elements of voluntariness on the part of the regenerate elect person to God’s work of grace and the resultant change of nature wrought in them at regeneration?  If not outright dishonest, at the least the “I don’t believe God predestinated sin, so I’m not an absoluter” claim pleads historical ignorance to the major issues related to the absolute predestinarian controversy that came to a head among Primitive Baptists in America around 1900.  

You insist that the case of Lazarus being raised is parallel with the obedience of a Christian. If this be true, then the will of man is in no sense concerned in obedience. I grant that the will of man is excluded from regeneration, but you go farther and insist that the will has no concern in obedience. I need not cite the numerous places in your article in which you insist that the will of man is unconcerned in the matter of obedience, and this is to deny that God’s government is moral. In your effort to steer clear of Arminianism you have landed your bark on the sands of Antinomianism. If you are correct in holding that the choice of man is excluded from his obedience, I grant that the event of Lazarus being raised is parallel with obedience. I will quote one sentence from your article on this subject: "The form of expression in the New Testament never leaves the result (obedience to God's command) as depending upon the will and choice of man." I find many such sentences in your article. If a man's obedience to God is parallel with his having gray eyes, his will has nothing to do with it; and so he is neither to blame nor praise for these things; but you as effectually exclude his will from his obedience as it is from choosing the color of his eyes. If a man's will has no more to do with his obedience than it has in the color of his hair, I will confess I ought not to have written about a distinction between the moral and physical governments of God. If you can show that the will is not concerned in our obedience, you will have convinced me that God does not exercise moral government over his people. The planets ever obey, but not from their own will, arid you have tried to show that our obedience is as independent of our wills as the order and regularity of the planets is independent of their wills, and as there is no such thing as vice, virtue, crime, or innocence, among the planets, so on your theory these things have no place among God's people. You quote often the words, "Thou also hast wrought all our works in us;" Isa. , xxvi, 12. Also “It is God that worketh in you both to will and to do." Also "Working in them that which is well pleasing in his sight." Your comment on these texts indicates that you think we are no more concerned in our obedience than we are in our height or the color of our hair. We read of the daughters of men being fair; (Gen., vi, 2;) also that Sarah was fair. Now, while these are good qualities, they are not moral qualities, like chastity, virtue, obedience, etc. And I insist that in your zeal to set aside the choice of men in the matter of obedience, you reduce the moral qualities of men to a level in every way with their physical qualities, in regard to which they exercise no choice whatever.

Oliphant further explains and documents the true theological distinction between himself and Durand—between us and absolute predestinarians of our day.  If in every particular our obedience is so divinely controlled, predestinated, and involuntary as the motion of planets around the sun, there is no moral quality to either obedience or disobedience!  

I do not know what authority you have for saying gospel rewards are not as other rewards are; in fact I deny your authority to change the meaning of words. It would be as wrong to take away the meaning of a word as it would be to "take away from the words of the prophecy of this book;" Rev., xxii, 18. I know the meaning of the words "reward;" "if," "obedience,” etc. I see that they are in your way and that you must do something to get rid of them before your theory can stand. They suggest that God's government of His people is moral, disciplinary, parental. They suggest that there is some end, comfort or delight that is in some sense conditional, aimed at by intelligent obedience, and this end, be it what it may, is the reward to be conditionally enjoyed, or attained. The word "if" denotes conditionality, and it is frequently used in the New Testament. You say, "The Savior and his apostles do not say, 'If you will,' but 'if you do.' It is never used to show a dependence upon the will of the creature," etc. But the Savior and his apostles do say, "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine,” etc. If some dependence is not here expressed, what sentence would express dependence on the will? Also, "If ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts,” etc.

In this paragraph Oliphant further clarifies the implications of the Durand view of obedience and his related denial of words depicting conditionality on temporal blessings as well as “rewards” and blessings “in” and “for” the believer’s voluntary, willing, and conscious obedience to God’s moral commandments to His regenerate elect.  

I have all my life heard Baptists affirm that regeneration is unconditional and independent of our choice. We become sons and heirs unconditionally, but as His sons we are under a parental or disciplinary government, which is conditional. We may be tried and even burned, but a good conscience can only be maintained by paying the price of its maintenance, and a good conscience is of great value. My own experience is, that doing wrong is widely different from doing right.

This is a suitable note for Oliphant to end his first letter.  He categorically distinguishes the character and function of divine grace in our regeneration from the function of divine grace in our obedience, and he does so in a way that affirms God’s moral government over his regenerated and thus moral children.  

The relevance of these letters to our day is overwhelming!  If we believe as Elder Oliphant believed, we have every reason to claim him as our spiritual ancestor and to learn from his insightful and balanced teachings in these letters.  If we believe as Elder Durand believed, we should not be embarrassed to state in clear and public terms that we hold to his, and not to Elder Oliphant’s views.  However, if we hold to Durand’s views, we deceive ourselves and others by claiming to adhere to Oliphant’s views.  Christian integrity requires personal transparency and honesty in the manner in which we articulate our beliefs and identify with men from the past who either held to the same or similar views.  

The significant issue of disagreement then—and now—often becomes confused between primary issues of theological difference and peripheral or subsequent ideas that grow out of those primary differences.  Terms such as “I want to give God all the credit” or the various “salvation” terms, such as “eternal salvation,” “time salvation,” “unconditional time salvation,” or “conditional time salvation” all logically (or illogically) grow out of a fundamental theological difference regarding the Biblical doctrine of predestination.  

Few issues under current discussion more clearly demonstrate the textbook logical fallacy of “horns of the dilemma” than the “…give God a hundred percent of the credit” issue.  Interestingly this precise issue surfaced between Oliphant and Durand.  Although Elder Oliphant insisted on the integration of multiple Biblical texts that deal with “rewards” or various blessings that we realize only in and for our obedience to God, at no time and in no way did Elder Oliphant ever manifest any interest in diminishing God’s glory or “credit.”  In fact one could easily make the case that Elder Oliphant believed that by our obeying God so as to receive the “rewards” or blessings promised in Scripture and related specifically to our acts of faith and obedience we give God far more glory than if we do not perform these acts of discipleship.  Never in any way did Elder Oliphant so much as hint at the idea of gaining glory to self or of detracting glory from God by such acts of Biblical obedience.  For advocates of either view to play the horns of the dilemma argument so as to imply that the men who hold the opposite view to theirs are consciously taking glory from God to themselves is therefore inexcusable, no less than it was for Elder Durand to impute such a claim against Elder Oliphant.  

What is the central issue of theological difference?  What is the correct Biblical use of predestination?  Is it merely another Biblical term for divine omniscience, identifying God’s infinite knowledge of all things, but in no way causative?  Does it apply exclusively to the death of Christ and the divine work necessary for the final deliverance of God’s elect into eternal glory?  Or does it also apply to the various events in time, both good and sinful?  Or does it apply to eternal salvation issues and to our attitudes and acts of faith and discipleship?  If believers in the doctrines of grace agree on their answers to these questions, they will invariably be agreed on the underlying foundational doctrine of predestination.  If they disagree in their answers to these questions, they will distinctly disagree on the more fundamental question of predestination.  The presence of these questions, especially when individuals disagree regarding the answers to them, almost inevitably manifests a deeper and far more profound disagreement regarding the doctrine of predestination itself.  To borrow a simple analogy, these terms and questions more relate to the cobweb, but the spider who weaves the cobwebs is the fundamental idea of predestination itself.  

As with any issue of significance, our epistemology is central to our beliefs and to our discussion of our beliefs.  If we incorporate either Oliphant, Durand, or others of either theological stripe as an effective source of authority for what we believe, rather than Scripture alone, we must come to honest terms with proper epistemology, proper authority.  Is Scripture alone our true authority, or is Scripture plus Oliphant, Durand, or other ancestors in our faith also an acceptable epistemological authority?  While I respect Elder Oliphant’s beliefs and writings, my sole source for my beliefs must be Scripture alone, or as the Reformers coined the Latin term, Sola Scriptura.  

May we learn from our rich history, but may we learn more fully from the authoritative teachings of Scripture.

Joe Holder


Last Updated ( Wednesday, 25 July 2007 )
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The Primitive or Old School Baptists cling to the doctrines and practices held by Baptist Churches throughout America at the close of the Revolutionary War. This site is dedicated to providing access to our rich heritage, with both historic and contemporary writings.