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Home arrow Writers arrow Joseph R. Holder arrow Background and Observations of the Danville Document
Background and Observations of the Danville Document PDF Print E-mail
Written by Joseph R. Holder   

            When professing Christians lose their focus on the primary objective of their faith and of churches to guide their conduct, they can act out disgraceful and ungodly wars among themselves, often sadly the cause of shame before the world around them.  There can be no doubt that the problems in the Primitive Baptist Church at Danville, Virginia in 1923 gave our critics ample fuel for criticism.  Notwithstanding this sad event, the document here reviewed offers a wealth of information from a wide array of respected and reasonable Primitive Baptists throughout the eastern and southern states of that time.  This document further reveals a number of major theological issues that surrounded the primary doctrine of contention, the extreme view of predestination referred to typically at the time and in this document as “the predestination of all things.”  It is for the historical value of factual investigation of these theological issues that I have scanned and provide here this historical document.  The scan was quite difficult primarily due to the age and condition of the original copy of the document.  I welcome corrections from anyone who has a copy of the document and discovers needed corrections to ensure that the document provided here in electronic form is in fact a correct representation of the original document In Search of Truth. 

            The problem in the Danville, Virginia church was not an isolated problem.  Advocates of absolute predestination and the “one salvation theory” as it is termed in the Danville document used this issue to spread their beliefs across the whole eastern seaboard of this country.  They used the Danville problem to further division among Primitive Baptists, claiming that the problem was with a preacher’s conduct, but, as the facts were investigated and reported in this document, the real problem was doctrine, specifically the “new doctrine” (so termed by advocates of absolute predestination at the time) had to do with absolute predestination of all things and the “one salvation theory,” the idea that God causatively predestinated our faith and obedience as fully as he predestinated our final destiny in glory.  Advocates of absolute predestination rejected both multiple aspects of salvation, eternal and temporal, and they fiercely rejected that our temporal deliverances, or blessings in obedience, are conditional on us in any way. 

            In 1923 the Danville Primitive Baptist Church divided over questions of doctrine.  Many mistakes were no doubt committed by parties on both sides.  Based on the findings of the investigating Council, whose report appears in this document, the group that opposed absolute predestination realized their mistakes and made repeated efforts to correct them.  The advocates of absolute predestination in the Danville Church repeatedly rejected all such efforts.  The Council convened around 1926 to investigate this controversy and to publish its findings. 


Who were the men involved in the Council or subsequently supportive of its findings?


            Advocates or sympathizers to the doctrine of absolute predestination have typically dismissed this document as the product of extremists or trouble makers.  However, this criticism rings hollow when one considers these men were generally highly esteemed among the Primitive Baptists of the day. I provide below the names and background of several of the men who either participated in the Council or who subsequently submitted their personal writings in support of the Council’s findings for this publication. 


Elder R. H. Pittman served as the compiler of this document and played an integral role in the Council’s activities.  Elder Pittman at the time served as editor of The Advocate and Messenger, a respected Primitive Baptist paper published in Virginia.  Elder Pittman was respected as a sound and faithful man by Primitive Baptists across the country.  He was not an extremist.

S. E. Copeland, a deacon from the Mt. Zion Association in Alabama, served as clerk of the Council.  Brother Copeland knew and befriended Elder Gene Thomas when Elder Thomas first started to preach.  He gave Elder Thomas a wealth of old Primitive Baptist publications and taught him much regarding our Primitive Baptist history.  Brother Copeland was respected as a wise and gracious man.


Elder J. A. Monsees served as pastor of Bethany Primitive Baptist Church near Atlanta, Georgia for most of his ministry.  I was blessed to meet Elder Monsees in my youth, to visit Bethany Church several times during Elder Monsees’ pastorate, and to spend time in his home.  Elder Monsees enjoyed a wide reputation as a sound and gracious man, a man who went above and beyond the normal scope of action in the interest of reason and peace among the Primitive Baptists.  Elder Monsees submitted a very notable piece for publication in this document.


Elder Sylvester Hassell was probably the best known and most respected minister of the era in which these events occurred.  Elder Hassell also submitted more than one article for inclusion in this publication.  Advocates and sympathizers with the doctrine of absolute predestination will often quote a brief snippet from Elder Hassell, offered early in the absolute controversy in which he complained that much of the controversy was semantic, not significant theological difference.  However, it is clear from the Danville document that the beliefs of those who held to the doctrine of absolute predestination advanced during a rather brief time into ideas that Elder Hassell strongly opposed.  He also submitted two brief articles for inclusion in the Danville document.  Elder Hassell’s name appears no less than thirty times in this document, consistently a name appealed to by those who rejected absolute predestination and not once mentioned by advocates of absolute predestination as either a sympathizer or supporter of their views. 

It is further noted that in one of his articles presented in the Danville document Elder Hassell compared the present views of those who were advocating absolute predestination as comparable with fatalistic paganism, “Fatalism is a doctrine of the heathen Mohammedans.”

An equally insidious doctrine rather consistently held by those who advocated absolute predestination jointly rejected “conditional time salvation,” the teaching of Scripture that imposes conditions on regenerate children of God for the enjoyment of temporal blessings, coupled with the absolute view of—as it is referred to in the Danville document some nine times as the “one salvation theory.” The absolute predestinarians rejected any idea of conditions to be met by regenerate elect people for blessings and strongly advocated that all salvations in the Bible are included in God’s sovereign salvation of His people.  They often characterized their views by asserting that the regenerate elect person is as passive in obedience as he/she was in regeneration.  Reference to this passive obedience appears some six times in the document either with reference to Adam’s transgression or to the obedience of a regenerate elect person. 

I copy below a major portion of Elder Hassell’s comments regarding his views of the “one salvation theory” and his affirmation of the conditionality of temporal blessings or “conditional time salvation.” His words speak clearly for themselves.  Advocates of only one salvation, or as it was described in the Danville document the “one salvation theory,” often strongly affirm their belief that this view is the historical view of Baptists, as well as the correct Biblical interpretation.  In conjunction with this view its advocates strongly object to any conditionality on the part of the regenerate elect person related to this temporal or “time” salvation.  Elder Hassell in this article effectively rejects both the historicity and the idea that it is the correct Biblical interpretation of the multitude of passages that deal with this question.  Of all men living then or now, Elder Sylvester Hassell would have known if this doctrine in fact had any historical claim among Baptists during his life or in earlier historical Baptist doctrine.  He is quite emphatic in rejecting it as having any Bible basis whatever.  I believe he correctly identifies that this doctrine is a direct corollary to the primary error of absolute predestination.  To underscore Hassell’s conviction I offer these quotes that you may read in the body of this article.  First, “It cannot be denied by any informed and honest man that such Scriptures as the following are conditional….”  And, with emphasis on the bold type in the original Danville document, “Thus the conditionality of time salvation is just as certain as the truth of the eternal word of God.”  And finally, Hassell closes this article with these thoughts, “Man is not an unthinking, involuntary, irresponsible machine. He can and should be moral-it will be better for him in this world; but it is far better for him to be spiritual, and to be thus prepared for heaven.

“I believe that all right-minded Primitive Baptists will accept these scriptural truths. Such acceptance would put an end to the useless and ruinous strife of words on this subject."  I heartily “Amen” Hassell’s words. 


Hassell on “the conditionality of time salvation”


Another equally unnecessary and unprofitable verbal contention among a few Primitive Baptists is one similar to, if not connected with, the controversy on predestination. It is the question concern­ing what is called "the conditionality of time salvation," and, con­nected with this, the question as to the ability of the child of God to obey the commandments of his Heavenly Father.           

All Primitive Baptists are agreed upon the unconditionality of our eternal salvation, and the inability of those who are dead in sin to render spiritual obedience to the law of God. Instead of re­pentance and faith being conditions prerequisite to salvation, we understand that they are the work of the Holy Spirit in the re­newed heart, and are thus essential parts of salvation; and, until the spiritual renewal, the fallen child of Adam will love sin and hate holiness and continue in rebellion against God. 

But there is an apparent disagreement in two or three of our Associations, among worthy and lovely brethren, who would be heartily fellowshipped and gladly welcomed by other Primitive Baptists everywhere, as to whether our time salvation, that is, our deliverance from spiritual darkness, coldness, distress, and chastise­ment during the present life is conditioned or dependent upon our obedience to God, and as to whether the child of God is able to obey or not.

Now, even the authors of dictionaries have no right to manu­facture or change the meanings of words; their business is simply to ascertain and state the meanings which words actually and al­ready have in the language of which they treat. It would be de­ceptive to use words in a different sense from that which they generally have, unless we explain the sense which we mean. The most of controversies are strifes of words; and when words are properly defined, and their correct meaning is accepted by both parties, the controversy, ends.

A "condition" is defined by the best of English dictionaries to be "an event, object, fact, or being that is necessary to the occurrence or existence of some other, though not its cause; a prerequisite; that which must exist as the occasion or concomitance of something else; that which is requisite in order that something else should take effect; an essential qualification." And these dictionaries say that the word "if" is "the typical conditional particle, and is nearly always used to .introduce the subordinate clause of a conditional sentence," and means on the supposition that; provided, or on condition that; in case that, granting, allowing, or supposing that.” 

There are 1,422 “ifs” in the Bible—830 in the Old Testament, and 592 in the New Testament; and these conditional sentences make up about one fiftieth part of the Bible.  Thus forty-nine fiftieths of the Scriptures are unconditional, and one fiftieth is conditional.  All reverent minds must admit that this conditional part of the Scriptures, though comparatively small, has a real and true meaning. 

It cannot be denied by any informed and honest man that such Scriptures as the following are conditional; “If His children forsake My law, I will visit their transgression with the rod, nevertheless My loving-kindness will I not utterly take from Him. (Psalms lxxxix. 30-33).  “If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land; but if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword, for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”  (Isa. 1. 19, 20).  “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” (John xiii. 17).  “If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye, through the spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” (Rom. viii. 13  How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?” (Heb. Ii. 3).  “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” (I John ii. 7). See also, such scriptures as Lev. xxvi; Deut. iv. 29-31; vii. 12-26; xi. 13-32; xxviii.; Ezek. Xviii, xxxiii.  Nor only is it certain that these Scriptures are conditional, but it is equally certain that the condition, introduced by “if,” necessarily precedes the conclusion, which would not take place unless the condition took place first.  If the conclusion in these sentences means eternal punishment, then Arminianism is true; but either the text itself, or the context and other Scriptures, prove that the punishment or chastisement threatened in case of disobedience, is temporal and corrective, and not eternal and destructive, for God gives His children eternal life, and they shall never perish, and though their voluntary sins separate them from His face, nothing present or future can ever separate them from His love.  (John x. 28-30, Heb. xii., Isa. lix. 2; Rom. Viii. 28-30).  Thus the conditionality of time salvation is just as certain as the truth of the eternal word of God.  Baptists have always heretofore understood it so; nearly all Baptists understand it so now; and this truth is in perfect accordance with Christian experience.  And if the living child of God, having the indwelling of the Spirit of life and grace, which makes him alive, is not able to obey heartily and sincerely, though imperfectly, the commandments of his Heavenly Father, his real state does not differ from that of those who are dead in sin.  Of course he can do nothing spiritual or acceptable to God except by that Spirit of grace; but that Spirit dwells in him.  (John xiv. 16, 17; Rom. viii. 9-17; II Cor. vi. 16; Eph. ii. 22); and he “can do all things through Christ, who strengthens him.”  (Philip. iv. 13); and he well knows and loves to confess that he has nothing good which he did not receive from God, and that without Christ he can do nothing, and that, by the grace of God, he is what he is—a poor, hell-deserving sinner, SAVED BY GRACE—a brand plucked from the eternal burning (I Cor. iv. 7; James i. 17; John xv. 5; I Cor. xv. 10; I Tim. i. 15; Zech. iii. 2).  And he knows just as well, both from the scriptures and his own experience, that, in willful disobedience to God, he does not enjoy that spiritual comfort which he has in obedience. All the children of God are as assured of these truths as they are of their own existence; and bitter contention over them is wholly unnecessary, unprofitable, unwholesome, and subverting.  The ENTIRE scriptural truth about any matter unites, comforts, and edifies the children of God; while a contention for a PART of the truth for the WHOLE truth divides, distresses, and overthrows them. Truth is spherical; we must look at it on all sides to understand it at all aright.  Extremes are dangerous; let us avoid them as we would the verge of a fatal precipice.  “Let our moderation be known unto all men—the Lord is at hand.” (Philip iv. 5).

God is the only independent and absolute Being in the universe; not for one instant does any other being cease to be, both naturally and spiritually, dependent upon Him. All our sins come from our­selves alone, and with confusion of face we must take all the shame for them, and not charge them in any way upon our holy Creator ­upon His foreknowledge, or predestination, or the partial with­drawal of His spirit of grace, for well do we know that such a blasphemous imputation would be the grossest of sins; while all our salvation from sin and its consequences comes from God, who de­serves and will receive every particle of the glory of it.

While fear and hope are, in the conditional scriptures, recognized and addressed as strong motives to human action, pure, self-deny­ing LOVE is set forth, in the scriptures, as the highest and strongest motive that can actuate any being; the motive which assimilates us most to the character of the Three-One God, who is love, and who saves His people because of His eternal and infinite love of them. Without this divine motive in our hearts, our services cannot be acceptable to God, and we can never enter that "heaven above, where all is love," or if we could enter the home of eternal love, we could not enjoy its holy delights.

Man is not an unthinking, involuntary, irresponsible machine. He can and should be moral-it will be better for him in this world; but it is far better for him to be spiritual, and to be thus prepared for heaven.

I believe that all right-minded Primitive Baptists will accept these scriptural truths. Such acceptance would put an end to the useless and ruinous strife of words on this subject."


            Would anyone dare to label Elder Hassell as an “extremist” whose views did not represent the doctrine held by what the Danville document and Hassell claim was believed by 90% of all Primitive Baptists in the nation at that time?  I think not.  At the close of the Danville document is a record of a letter sent by Elder Pittman to local newspapers that carried articles regarding a “secret” meeting of absolute predestinarians and released to local newspapers in the region, a shame in itself!  Elder Pittman indicates that he was made aware of the article by Elder Hassell and that Elder Hassell asked him to send notice to the newspapers correcting several factual errors in the original press release from the absolute predestinarians.  Clearly Elder Hassell was not sympathetic to the theology of those who promoted an increasingly extreme and blasphemous view of absolute predestination that attributed the assassination of President McKinley to divine predestination!  Advocates of similar extreme predestination claimed that God was working His will according to their view of predestination in the atrocities that Hitler committed during World War II.  (Rhodes-West Debate, 1943; Elder Rhodes, the absolute predestination advocate made this claim in the debate.  At the time of the debate, 1943, Hitler’s mass murder of the Jews was not known, but his military role in World War II was well known, the likely point intended by Rhodes in his mention of Hitler in that debate.), or when terrorists flew two commercial airplanes into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. 


Elder Lee Hanks was respected almost as much as Elder Hassell.  Elder Hanks is also referenced in the Danville document some ten times, each time supporting those who opposed the doctrine of absolute predestination.  Here is a quote from Elder Hanks regarding his views that opposed absolute predestination.


Remarks by Eld. Hanks: "If this does not make God the author, cause and originator of all sin, wickedness, murder, and all law­lessness and leave the devil without an office, I fail to know what language means. It puts man under a physical law, destroys all accountability, ignores God's moral government over His creatures, and forever abolishes the commands and exhortations of the Bible and excuses the vile, ungodly criminals of the world, placing their devilish acts upon God as the first great cause that forged and welded all their abominable crimes by fate, and makes the vile criminal not blameworthy.  If God molded the chain of events, forged and welded all the links and the chain can not be changed, then it follows that Christ Jesus coming into the world to put away sin is a failure-failed to do what He came to do, as every link (sin and wickedness) was forged and welded in the chain; and if Christ had put away sin, He would have changed the chain; and the writer says it is forged, and welded by God the Father and can not be changed. Then it follows that Christ could not put away our sins, for by so doing He would destroy the chain; and according to the writer, Jesus Christ would have been working in opposition to God the Father, trying to destroy what the Father had forged and welded; the Holy Spirit could not regenerate the heart, for that was forged and welded a cage of unclean birds and a sink of sin, and the chain can not be changed. If the writer's position be true, every human being will go to hell, for sin can not reach heaven. The position of the advocates of the above theory is that sin is an essential link in the chain of salvation. Then if Christ put away sin, cleansed His people from their sins by His own blood, then He removed the essential link, destroyed the chain, and eternal con­demnation would be the result for all the race, and the work of Jesus brought damnation instead of salvation. Then, if sin brings salvation, what brings death and damnation? The Bible teaches that sin is of the devil. Then, if sin brings salvation, the devil must be the prime factor in man's salvation. The Bible teaches that sin is the transgression of the law. Then if sin is the essential link in man's salvation-salvation upon that principle would be, conditional, conditioned upon man's disobedience, while the Armenian has salvation conditioned upon obedience. Both systems eliminate grace and are Christless. This doctrine is the doctrine of Mahomet….


Clearly the Danville document In Search of Truth was not the product of radical or extreme men who did not know or understand the historical doctrines of Primitive Baptists.  These men lived at the time of the Danville controversy and spoke clearly their views regarding the doctrinal issues involved.  We cannot embrace absolute predestination and also embrace such men as those named above as representative of our beliefs and our theological heritage. 


Absolute Predestination:

An Unstable Doctrine that Grows in its Claims Against the Moral Character of God


            When the absolute predestination controversy began in the late nineteenth century, a significant number of those who embraced it sincerely tried to avoid laying sin to God’s charge.  While their language was vague and confusing on the question, they spoke out against the idea of God being responsible for sin.  Some among the absolute predestinarian Baptists today still reject the idea, but many of them, like their early fellows in the Danville dispute, seem to openly advocate and believe that God is fully as causative in the matter of sin as in salvation.  “Passive obedience” in a regenerate elect person is still advocated widely among those who advocate absolute predestination of all things.  In conjunction with this error those who embrace absolute predestination of all things still embrace the “one salvation theory” and emotionally reject any “conditionality” in the temporal blessings of a regenerate elect person. 

            It is thus with grave concern that I have undertaken this work.  It seems clear from the historical record in Danville, as well as in other instances related to the history of this controversy among Primitive Baptists, that an excessively broad view of predestination will not remain stable, but will in fact grow insidiously in its view of God’s predestination until it eventually blames God for everything that occurs, the most hideous of sins included.  To say, “I don’t believe that God predestinated sin, so I’m not an absoluter” is to deny the historical record. 


Absolute Predestination:  Practical Implications


            Perhaps the more commonly held view of absolute predestination, at least in its early stages of evolution (It continued to evolve, eventually morphing into the extreme view documented in the Danville publication), is that God actively causes all good, but that He does not cause sin.  This view is effectively a “back door” endorsement of the “passive obedience” error typically affirmed by absolute predestinarians.  It categorically rejects the conditionality of discipleship that Elder Hassell so clearly affirmed in the above cited article. 

            What are the practical implications of this view?  A person’s doctrinal beliefs will invariably impact every area of his belief system, as well as his conduct.  The Danville document sadly identifies an extreme view of associational supremacy embraced and defended by those who advocated absolute predestination.  Many among the absolute predestination fellowship to this day continue to advocate this unbiblical role of associations as the “Supreme Court” that exercises rule over local churches. 

What does this idea have to do with absolute predestination?  I suggest that it has everything to do with it.  Consider your mindset if you believe that every exercise of your faith in everything good that you think or do is absolutely predestinated of God.  You think your ideas are right, so you also think they are divinely predestinated.  If someone challenges your ideas, they are in fact challenging God in your mind!  It has been my observation that people who embrace the doctrine of absolute predestination, whether they approve of associational supremacy or not, in fact do embrace a stubborn, rigid, and at times arrogant resistance to any suggestion that they might be wrong.  “…in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14).  For most Christians who reject extreme predestination, there is a safe and persistent respect for other believers who hold to differing views and who therefore offer counsel or caution to their brothers of different persuasion.  This respectful openness to wise counsel is often absent among those who hold to absolute predestination, even to the view described here—that God predestinated all our faith and good works, but not our sin.  Instead of being open to wise counsel advocates of this extreme and unbiblical view of predestination, albeit quite subjectively, believe they are right in their views, so any suggestion that they are wrong is met with fierce rejection. After all, how can you argue with divine predestination that supposedly “revealed” truth to its advocate and actively caused him, an “unworthy instrument” in God’s sovereign hands to accomplish His will?  As is repeatedly pointed out in the Danville document, the absolute view of passive obedience, even the view that at least superficially rejects its own terminology and claims to avoid blaming God for sin, the idea that God predestinated and thereby caused every act of faith and obedience reduces the obedient, regenerate elect person to, as Elder Sylvester Hassell phrased it, “an unthinking, involuntary, irresponsible machine.”


What was the real “new doctrine”?


            Occasionally advocates of absolute predestination will claim that their beliefs are the true “old doctrine” believed by Baptists, and that rejection of absolute predestination, rejection of “one salvation only” and the embracing of “conditional time salvation,” along with a myriad of related doctrinal errors are the “new doctrine” of historical Baptists.  Repeatedly and consistently in the Danville document, the concepts embraced by absolute predestinarians are identified as the “new doctrine” in 1926 and historically.  I especially appreciate the comments by Elder Hassell and Elder Hanks regarding the historicity of the doctrines that Primitive Baptists have held, specifically embracing of Biblical predestination that ensures the eternal salvation of all God’s chosen people, and the equally Biblical teaching that our temporal blessings are “conditional” on our faith and obedience, not the machine-consequence of divine predestination or “passive obedience.” 

            The fact that the absolute majority in the association to which the Danville church belonged had to change the wording of an article of faith to support their “new doctrine” of absolute predestination is quite telling evidence as to which doctrine was new and which was old.  The “old” original doctrine of Baptists stood on old historical articles of faith, not in any need of revision.  A new doctrine would encounter conflict with old articles of faith and would therefore be quite interested in revising the articles of faith to support their new doctrine. 

      Even advocates of absolute predestination of all things and the only “one salvation theory,” a companion doctrine to absolute predestination that rejected “conditional time salvation,” openly acknowledged that their doctrine was “new” among the Primitive Baptists of their day.  Notice this point, “Elder Cockran said on one occasion that his and Elder J. W. Wyatt's doctrine is a 'new thing here in the Staunton River Association;' but said he 'it is the coming doctrine.'"  Also notice this quote from Elder C. H. Cayce, “The above shows very clearly that the expressions used by some of our brethren now, and which are objected to by some, are not new. The above circular letter was written forty-eight years ago. Notice the expression, "Time work" and "common salvation," which the Lord's children were commanded to work out. That doctrine is not new, and the man who says it is new is the man that is wrong.”  If such men as Hassell, Hanks, and Cayce rejected the historicity and the Bible’s support for both absolute predestination of all things and “conditional time salvation,” why should we have any doubts as to what is “new doctrine” and what is the historical and Biblical doctrine of our people? 


Is God’s Predestination Causative?


            Occasionally advocates of absolute predestination will attempt to make a case for the idea that divine predestination is not in any way causative, that it is a near equivalent to divine omniscience.  This unusual view appears to be used as a vehicle to evade the charge that their view makes God’s predestination cause sin.  First of all, the ultimate question must be answered by Scripture.  Does Scripture teach that divine predestination is not causative?  There can be little doubt in reading the Danville document that historical believers in absolute predestination of all things among the Primitive Baptists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries clearly believed that predestination is causative.  I offer one passage that should resolve this question from a Biblical perspective.  In Romans 8:29-30 Paul linked five verbs—five distinct divine actions—together.  We must either reject the divine preservation of Scripture or accept the personal pronouns that appear in the King James Bible that consistently are associated with each of these verbs.  Paul did not write “what” but “whom” as he developed these five activities of God.  Paul was not writing that God foreknew, predestinated, etc. events, much less all events that come to pass; rather he focused his teaching on the people whom God chose in Christ and whom He shall finally glorify at the Second Coming.  In this passage “foreknowledge” is a verb, not a noun.  Therefore Paul’s use of “foreknow” refers to something that God did, not to a divine attribute (omniscience) of God.  The other verbs are “predestinate,” “called,” “justified,” and “glorified.”  Given the grammatical and logical parallels of these five verbs, if we successfully prove that one of these verbs is not causative, we have proved far too much in the process, for we have also proved that none of these verbs is causative.  Who will seriously attempt to prove by Scripture that God’s calling, justification, and final glorification are non-causative?  Further, if in this five verb sequence divine predestination is non-causative, it becomes synonymous with divine foreknowledge, making Paul’s use of these two words senseless and redundant.  It becomes about as illogical as the Watch Tower’s bogus explanation of Jesus’ words to the thief on the cross, “Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).  The Watch Tower explanation relocates the comma and claims that Jesus in fact said, “Verily I say unto thee today, Thou shalt be with me in paradise.”  Do you see the flaw?  Why should Jesus say, “I say to you today”?  The mere presence of a present tense verb makes the point with no need for the word “today.”  The word “today” holds meaning only if Jesus was telling the thief that they would be together in paradise on that very day, not at some future kingdom date.  Anytime an interpretation of Scripture results in making a word or thought in a passage redundant, beware; it is bogus and likely grows out of heretical views that infect the thinking of the one making such a senseless interpretation.  The claim that divine predestination is non-causative makes it a functional equivalent to divine omniscience.  It should be noted that in Romans 8:29 Paul did not refer to divine omniscience, but to divine foreknowledge, a verb that describes an action of God, not a noun that describes an attribute of God.  Further in Ephesians 1:4 Paul affirms that divine predestination is causative in our being transformed through divine adoption “…by Jesus Christ to himself….”  The claim that Biblical predestination is non-causative is a sad example of sophistry (“…a method of argumentation that seems clever but is actually flawed or dishonest,” Encarta Dictionary), not a valid explanation of the Bible doctrine. 


The Question of “One Salvation Theory”


            Interestingly as I read this one work, along with several others from that general era that deal with the doctrinal issues surrounding the absolute predestination issue, another doctrine seems almost as fully at the forefront of the controversy as the nature and extent of predestination.  The question of “one salvation” only, denial of temporal salvations taught in the Bible, and especially the nature of those temporal deliverances—are they conditional on the part of the regenerate elect person, or are they as unconditionally predestinated by God as our eternal salvation and wholly apart from conditions on our part?—appears at times to have been fully as much at the heart of the controversy as the doctrine of predestination. 

            If a person embraces the extreme view of predestination that we see in the Danville controversy, or for that matter far less extreme views that still reach significantly beyond Biblical predestination, the conditionality of our blessings or chastisements in time, God’s temporal blessings or His temporal judgments against His regenerate elect people, is integrally involved in the predestination question.  Advocates of predestination during this era frequently referred to discipleship and to temporal deliverances from God in terms of their being wholly predestinated of God so that the obedient, regenerate, elect person is “as passive in obedience as he was in regeneration.”  In other words they taught that God wholly caused every act of their faith and obedience, including their will as well as their mental and physical actions. 

            Elder James Oliphant’s Thoughts on the Will, as well as the appendix to the Fulton, Kentucky, meeting of Primitive Baptist elders in 1900, both address this question quite directly.  In 1943 when Elder Ariel West, the Primitive Baptist, and Elder R. W. Rhodes, the absolute predestinarian, framed the propositions for their debate, the content of both propositions is quite telling to this question of temporal salvation.




1. The Scriptures teach that God, from the begin­ning, did absolutely predestinate all things, both good and evil, whatsoever comes to pass.  Elder Rhodes af­firmed.


2. The Scriptures teach that the salvation of God's people here in time, after regeneration, is conditional on them living up to Scriptural requirements; also, their suffering and afflictions are conditional on them not liv­ing as they are commanded. Elder West affirmed.


No surprise, Elder Rhodes affirmed his basic thesis regarding predestination, agreeing to affirm his belief that God’s predestination encompasses “…all things, both good and evil, whatsoever comes to pass.”  The surprise in these propositions appears in the focus of Elder West’s proposition.  Unless we understand the central role that this question of discipleship and, as it was commonly described then “conditional time salvation,” we will not understand why Elder West worded his proposition as he did.  However, if we read the Danville document as well as other writings from the era, not to mention the intense acrimony shown even to this day on absolute predestinarian websites against “conditional time salvation,” we will fully understand that the issue of conditional temporal salvations framed in Elder West’s proposition was fully as central to the theological differences between the two groups of people as was the question of predestination. 

            Those who advocated absolute predestination of all things included every act, volitional, mental, and physical, of our discipleship in God’s causative and irresistible predestination.  The heat of the contention focused on one word, “conditional.”  The absolute predestinarians, then and now, rejected this word with fierce emotion.  The mainstream of Primitive Baptists then (described by Elder Hassell in the Danville document as representing 90% of all Primitive Baptists in the United States at the time) insisted that the word “conditional” was necessary to represent the Biblical teaching regarding our discipleship.  There is no difference in this question today.  Those who advocate the “one salvation theory” today to some extent sympathize with the absolute predestination belief voiced by their counterparts in 1900-1926 as evidenced in the Danville document and other writings from that era. 

            The claim, “I preach duty, so I’m not an absoluter,” denies historical facts regarding the nature of the original controversy.  Absolute predestinarians taught “duty” then, but they taught that all duty admonished in Scripture and performed by a regenerate elect person in life was unconditionally, effectually, and irresistibly predestinated by God.  They denied—and continue to deny—the conditionality of discipleship and related temporal blessings.


God’s Omniscience and Predestination


            Another significant theological question, again central to the absolute predestination issue, had to do, as it does now among advocates of absolute predestination.  That question relates to God’s omniscience and the relationship that exists between divine omniscience and divine predestination.  Absolute predestinarians in the main, as mentioned occasionally in the Danville document, believed that the two are identical. At times they alleged that the only way God could “know all things,” divine omniscience, is for Him to predestinate all things. In other words, bizarre as it seems, absolute predestinarians claimed that God is incapable of knowing in advance what each and every one of mankind will think, say, or do unless He predestinated those thoughts, words, and deeds.  Regularly absolute predestinarians accused their critics of “limiting” God by their view of predestination.  At times they referred to their critics as being “akin to Arminianism” because they rejected the absolute predestination of all things, and because they affirmed the conditionality of temporal blessings in Christian discipleship.  It is telling that they resort to their view of the absolute predestination of all things to avoid imposing their own rather glaring limitations on God in their own theological paradigm. 


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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.