After a close and careful comparison of the entire work of the Fulton “National Convention” with the text of the London Confession, as published in a booklet by the Elders Kirkland, in the spirit of godly sincerity and charity I wish to review it impartially with peace and goodwill to all lovers of truth.
As to authority: the confession was the work of “the ministers and messengers of upwards of one hundred baptized congregations,” and so it has the sanction and authority of all those churches of the saints. But the work of the Fulton meeting has no other authority than as thus expressed: “By request of the Fulton church, we met on November 11, 1000.” Hence, outside of the Fulton church, not one of those engaged in that work was an authorized messenger of his home church, but all were mere volunteers, having no authority whatever to represent and act for the general body of Old Baptist churches; therefore their work is entitled to no higher regard than their personal opinions as individuals, representing themselves only. How vast the difference! Thus it is an evident and potent fact, that the great brotherhood of Old Baptist churches of the United States neither felt the need of nor called for a “National Convention,” either to settle the orthodoxy of the old confession, or any other question touching faith and practice. So the Fulton meeting was a very load one indeed, instead of a “National Convention;” for the self-appointed persons who ran to Fulton without being sent, as did Ahimaaz, a good man, went from only ten of the nearly fifty States and Territories. Nor is this all, for so far from having the sanction and sympathy and prayers of the thousands of gospel churches and ministers of this vast Commonwealth to support them, it was the very opposite of this, for the general sentiment and feeling was against such a convention, and all concerned knew this. And well knowing this fact, it must have been apparent to all that such a mere local, voluntary and partial convention of Baptists could not promote the fellowship and unity of the general brotherhood of saints in Christ Jesus. What this local meeting did at Fulton, as published by those who called the meeting, is in sad evidence that they failed to restore the former peace which their new issues had disturbed. They could not have expected to restore that which they had taken, away. What, then, was the purpose of the convention! The answer is found in the published work of the Fulton meeting, as set forth in the general address, foot-notes, and appendix, to which special attention is kindly solicited. The main thing to be considered is, what the convention adopted upon the issues which had caused the “no small dissension and disputation” among the churches, where peace had prevailed before such issues were raised. Did they seek to heal the breaches in Zion, by pouring oil on the troubled waters, and extending the olive branch of peace! In sadness we fail to And any effort in this way as peace-makers. So far from it, the one principal purpose and work of that convention was but a reaffirming and trying to thus sanction those confusing and disturbing new issues, as things to be saddled upon the Old Baptist people as doctrines which they must receive and fellowship, or else they must be declared out of fellowship by the edicts of that convention, as declared in the general address, section two, page nine. In this item it is said, “We * * * beseech all our churches and people that they raise no bars of fellowship against any Primitive Baptist with whom they are agreed on fundamental principles – such as the eternal salvation of sinners, wholly by grace and entirely unconditional on the sinner’s part, and who are sound and orderly in the ordinances of the church.” It was well known by those brethren that this statement does not touch the disturbing doctrine at issue, which doctrine they elsewhere adopt as that which must be received as sound doctrine. The churches that will not so fellowship the new doctrine are declared against on page nine, saying, “the only course for those who want to remain in this holy church union is to discard their actions and have no connection with them, until they withdraw such bars of fellowship.” Bars of fellowship against what doctrine? The foot-notes and the appendix show that the bars of fellowship spoken of were the result of the new issues raised among the Baptists, and that those disturbing doctrines were conditional salvation in time, as distinct from unconditional eternal salvation by grace, and the partial or limited sovereignty or predestination or decree of God.
So now, let us kindly consider this question of disturbance and compare the points at issue with the London Confession, which all claim to accept upon those points of difference. But why, then, the need or utility of the Fulton Convention? Why the address, the foot-notes and the appendix added to the good old Confession, which had been good enough for the Old Baptist people through the centuries, until this late upheaval? The plea for all this additional supplementary work of the recent convention has been stated in print frequently, and is thus given in the general address: “Language through the lapse of many years undergoes variations in applications and meanings, whereby certain claeses become more or less obscure in meaning. Wherever, in the opinion of this assembly, the meaning of a section was not apparent, foot-notes were added to bring out the meaning.” But if such a change of meaning and obscurity of language is true of one section of the old Confession, it is also true of every section, and just as true of the whole Bible, which is older than the London Confession. In all candor, then, why were the foot-notes confined to a few sections, and these the very places which treat of the doctrines involved in this new issue! This is very strange indeed, if the old Confession has really become doubtful and dark in meaning because of its age! If this is a valid cause for calling a convention of Baptists, why not bring out in easy and plain words the meaning of the entire Confession, so that all the Baptists may now understand and unite upon its meaning? Then, if the plea is a real and valid one, why not also get up a Baptist Convention to “bring out the more or less obscure meaning “of the ancient Bible! But who were the leading and active workers in the work of the Fulton Convention! With all courtesy to them, were they eminent for great learning and wisdom! And as such, were they chosen and sent to Fulton by the Old Baptist people at large! “Why would they, then, take it upon themselves to put their own meaning or construction upon some of the chief doctrinal sections of the old Confession, and decree that those who want to remain in their union shall have no connection with other brethren and churches who cannot conscientiously fall in line with the new issues and decrees or work of the Fulton Convention! Brethren who deplore bars of fellowship being set up, do certainly err and far exceed their authority and right, in thus clothing this Fulton Convention with ecclesiastic authority to decide the terms of fellowship for all the Old Baptist family, then cast out all of them who cannot indorse their work, and say to all who will do so, “The only course for those who want to remain in this holy church union is, to discard their actions and have no connection with them.” This is in itself a sweeping and world-wide bar of fellowship, and it is both arbitrary and without charity. For it is binding a yoke upon the consciences of thousands of the loving disciples of Christ, humble, loving and God-fearing men and women, who devoutly believe that all their salvation is by God’s abounding grace in Christ Jesus, vouchsafed to them as ever sinful and unworthy in time; and who cannot believe otherwise than as simply stated in the London Confession upon “God’s decree,” which they accept in all its parts, without any words to explain it away. And upon these two things the issue is made, with all the resulting confusion and marring of fellowship.
The old Confession says, “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 come 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.” This is as guarded as words can make a statement, yet most clear and plain. In this sublime belief in the dominion and sovereignty of God his servants and children have stood unitedly from of old, and will yet ever so stand as the loyal and prevailing brotherhood in Christ, though ever reproached for it.
But the Fulton convention said, “We do not believe that God unconditionally, unlimitedly and equally predestinated righteousness and unrighteousness. It is our belief that God has positively and effectually predestinated the eternal salvation of his people, which were chosen in Christ before time.” This statement as a whole plainly denies the above statement of the Confession, and admits only that God predestinated or decreed the eternal salvation of his people, and to this it limits God’s decree of predestination. The long foot-note on page 36 is a similar statement, and not in accord with the Confession on God’s decree, to which there is no limit, but it includes the words “freely and unchangeably all things whatsoever come to pass.” The contradiction here is irreconcilable, and one or the other is erroneous. But when the convention says, “A failure to make this distinction [‘between God’s attitude to sin and his attitude and relation to holiness’] has been a fruitful source of division and distress of our holy cause, and a failure to so distinguish between God’s permissive and overruling decree of sin and his causative decree of holiness will ever cause distress and confusion among our people.” Again, page 99: “God’s purpose concerning sin does not sustain the same relation to sin that it does to holiness. While we think that God’s purpose concerning Bin is more than barely permissive, it is such as to exclude all chance and uncertainty, yet we hold that God is in no sense the cause of sin.” Again, page 100: “We insist that we should not use language implying that God’s attitude to sin is the same as his attitude to holiness, for this tends to destroy the distinction between right and wrong. The expression, ‘unlimited predestination of all things,’ seems to convey the idea that God’s purpose concerning sin is as unlimited and uurestricted as it is concerning holiness; and if so, then God’s decree concerning sin would be causative, since it is causative concerning holiness, and this view would destroy all distinction between right and wrong.” Now, sadly let me say, these statements and seeming inferences are unwarranted, uncharitable and prejudicial, calculated to mislead all who accept them as facts, for they assume that the Baptists who believe just what the old Confession most plainly and positively declares of God’s decree, (his unlimited predestination of all things) make no distinction between sin and holiness, but hold that God sustains the same relation and attitude to sin that he does to holiness, and that his relation to both is causative; that is, that “God is the author of sin,” if it be true that he decreed all things whatsoever come to pass. No Baptist so believes. No Baptist writer has ever written that God’s decree of all things makes no distinction between sin and holiness, but is alike the cause of all sin as well as holiness. This imputation is most hurtful and lamentable, because it is neither just nor true, but a very prejudicial inference, and a violation of christian charity and brotherly kindness. For all Predestinarian Baptists have ever held on this point of doctrine, as did those ancient brethren of England and Wales, that, “yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein.” Therefore, in raising this mistaken cry of alarm against the unlimited decree of God, and charging that it makes all wickedness and sin the result of his decree, and destroys the distinction between right and wrong, the brethren of the Fulton Convention have grievously put a stumbling-block in the way of unity, fellowship and peace.
That convention likewise recognized and labored to establish another new issue in doctrine, which has caused much confusion and distress, where harmony and peace prevailed before it was foisted or sprung upon the Baptists of the Old School, but a few years ago. This new doctrine is called, “Conditional Salvation in Time.” And this has been the chief disturbing doctrine in the “no small dissension and disputation” which it has caused among the Baptist people. Knowing this as they did, it is sadly strange that the Fulton Convention of Baptists adopted it as an article of their faith, and required all other Baptists, who want to remain in their union, or who may want to come into it, to accept it. Lamentably strange this is, after saying in the preface to their work as a convention, “With an earnest desire to see union and harmony prevail among us everywhere,” &c. Again: “The Importance of Fellowship cannot be overestimated. * * * Bars of Fellowship set up by our local churches have been the most destructive influences against the growth and progress of the church. Traditions of men and human customs, being regarded as authority, have often given rise to bars of fellowship and resulted in the destruction of the peace of the churches.” This statement will as well apply to the Fulton Convention and its work, and contains its own sentence. For here it was not even local churches making tests and setting up terms of fellowship for the Baptists at large, but only a few unauthorized brethren as individuals. Yet those brethren, when they speak of the good old doctrine of unconditional salvation of sinners being wholly by grace, they must qualify grace by saying, “eternal salvation,” as much as to say our salvation in time is not by grace, but of works, and is conditional upon our part. They therefore say, page 101: “We believe the Scriptures teach that there is a time salvation received by the heirs of God distinct from eternal salvation, which does depend upon their obedience. The people of God receive their rewards for obedience in this life only.” Again, page 102-3: “We hold that God’s government of his people is moral. We hold, too, that conditionality is an essential element of moral government.” And again, page 104: “We understand it to mean that men are capable of choosing things in harmony with their nature – things most agreeable to them. They are and must be capable of voluntary action, in order to their being accountable. Liberty of will in this sense is essential to moral government, as we believe.”
Now, kindly, sincerely and faithfully do I protest that this distinction in the salvation of sinners, as both of grace and works, unconditional in part and conditional in part, is a seriously confusing and disturbing element and doctrine; a distinction and division in our salvation not made in the Bible, nor in the London Confession, nor by our faithful fathers in the gospel of the grace of God; for all these ever use the singular noun, “salvation,” and never the plural, salvations; and they all attribute our entire salvation from all sin to God and Christ and grace. This gospel of full and complete salvation by grace, “not of works,” the Old Baptist people have ever cherished in their hearts as divinely true and sacred; and the remnant according to the election of grace will ever do so until time shall be no longer. And in blest eternity “the general assembly and church of the Firstborn “shall ever happily be “to the praise of the glory of his grace.”
Until very modernly, the principle and doctrine of conditions in salvation had no place or influence among the Old Baptists, but it prevailed among the Arminian orders, and many thousands of the children of God among them have been brought into bondage by it. It is also true of the other new and kindred issue, the mistaken and uncharitable outcry against the Predestinarian Baptists, that their doctrine makes God the author of all things whatsoever come to pass which he decreed from all eternity, as affirms the old Confession, that this charge was made only by the Arminian conditionalists until very modernly.
It should not be wondered at, therefore, that the introduction and pressure of these new issues among the Old Baptists met with opposition from many of them, whose hearts are established in the sacred belief of salvation by grace only, and in the unlimited sovereignty of God, just as declared in the London Confession; for the inevitable consequence of this innovation upon the gospel of the grace of God, by the new gospel (?) of conditional salvation in time, and of this recent war against God’s decree of all things, as held through the ages past, and solemnly set forth in the good old Confession, was confusion and division among the local churches, where these new issues sprung up and were urged. It was this opposition to sovereignty and grace that led to the disturbance and, in some local churches, the breaking of fellowship, all of which is lamentable and gives us all sorrow. The responsibility rests upon the new doctrines.
It was quite natural for the leading promoters of these new and disturbing elements and issues of limited decrees and limited grace, or part grace in salvation, to feel zealous for their greatest success, and so seek to draw all the Baptists with them as far as possible. And it was this fact that led them to make effort after effort to call a Baptist convention, in which they finally succeeded. What was its aim and scope! The work of the convention, as published by them, shows that their sole object was to have the disturbing doctrines engrafted upon the Baptist articles of faith, in which they succeeded so far as the Fulton Convention could give sanction and prestige to them. Therefore, so far from it being a “National Convention “of the Old Baptists, as claimed, it was so exclusive or partial and local that none others only those who would sympathize and come in line with them in their innovations upon the old and sacred doctrine of God’s sovereignty in his decree and grace was wanted or could have been an active member in that convention. For it was understood that all who could be welcomed there must fall in line. So all did who attended as volunteer messengers to that Fulton meeting. The leading spirits in the new movement virtually proclaimed abroad: We are in trouble; for we have enlisted in a war against the old doctrine of salvation only by grace, and God’s unlimited decree, and unfortunately we are meeting with strong opposition from many good brethren who will not fall in with our improved and less objectionable doctrines, which, if generally accepted, will greatly elevate and enlarge the Primitive Baptist churches, so that they will become far more influential and popular than they have been. Now, therefore, come to Fulton and join with us in a “National Convention,” which we intend shall eclipse the old London meeting, and help us to fix up this trouble and settle this controversy, in such a way that conditional salvation in time and limited predestination or decrees shall be made to harmonize with the long accepted London Confession of Faith and added to it as supplementary articles of the Baptist faith. This was done. Now the work of the Fulton convention is incorporated in a book with the time-honored London Confession, as a very important addition to it, explaining it and giving it prestige. And all the Old Baptists who accept the old are likewise expected and required to accept the new, or they shall be discarded as not “in this holy church union,” which, it is boastingly claimed, includes perhaps nine-tenths of all the Primitive Baptists. Now, permit me to sorrowfully and lovingly say, How very lamentable that all this has been done! For so far from taking up the stumbling-blocks out of the way of the Lord’s afflicted and poor people, in a work of peace, the effort has been thus made to divide them upon the line of eternal salvation only by grace, but salvation in time, of works, and limited predestination to holiness only. This gratified the few leaders in this new movement, who are pleased with their seeming success; but it is really lamentable for themselves in the end, no less than for the general peace and spiritual health and welfare of the dear Old Baptist brotherhood, who are thus unhappily made to suffer from those disturbing innovations upon the doctrine of God our Savior.
In conclusion, there is one alleviating and consoling fact in all this new and strange movement among Baptists; that is, the so-called “National Convention” was nothing more than a voluntary individual meeting, without any authority or jurisdiction whatever to decide upon any point of doctrine or fellowship, so none of the churches of the saints are bound by it; and the good old doctrine of the London Confession relative to the unlimited decree and universal providence of God and salvation by his sovereign grace only, remains unshaken, true and sacred as before, not in the least curtailed, modified or “explained away.” And this doctrine of our forefathers and of the apostles of the Lord will stand immovable as a bulwark of God’s eternal truth long after this new movement against it shall have passed away, and the people “saved by the Lord” shall on and on down through the coming ages, till the Lord shall come and bring all his saints with him, ever abide steadfastly in the unlimited sovereignty of God and the gospel of salvation by his grace.
“Grace all the work shall crown,
Through everlasting days:
It lays in heaven the topmost stone,
And well deserves the praise.”
This is submitted in brotherly kindness to all who in heart believe in Jesus as the salvation of God, as did Simeon, and for them I have fellowship and love, though they may be “entangled with the yoke of bondage,” as the Galatian brethren were, through conditional teaching. For no heart felt believer in Christ, the Redeemer and Savior of sinners, of whom the word says, “Neither is there salvation in any other,” do I declare non-fellowship, but it afflicts me to know that any of the dear redeemed people of the Lord, who is all their salvation, deny the sufficiency of his grace to save them in time, but they must fall back upon conditional works of their own now in time, yet admitting that their eternal salvation is unconditional and by sovereign grace alone. To me this is a strange paradox, an irreconcilable inconsistency and contradiction; for since grace alone has power to save with everlasting salvation from sin, and all sin, it alone has power to save from sin in time, from any and every sin, whether of commission or omission. For certainly since grace is sufficient unto the greater salvation, it is no less sufficient unto the lesser salvation. But none will presume to say that the salvation by grace is conditional, for grace has no conditions in it, but it reigns in salvation as the princess of heaven. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need,” says the word. And this is salvation by mercy and grace in time, and in every time of need.
O that we all, who daily need the grace of God, could thus humbly and contritely come unto the throne of grace, and be filled with grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Prince of peace; for then there would be no controversy or contention about our daily salvation not being by grace, but of works and conditional on our part.
“Savior, visit thy plantation,
Grant us, Lord, a gracious rain!
All will come to desolation,
Unless thou return again:
Lord revive us,
All our help must come from thee!”
Crawfordsville, Ind., Aug. 22, 1901.
Signs Of The Times
Volume 69, No. 18.
SEPTEMBER 15, 1901.