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The following letter is being printed in the interest of historical accuracy. We believe there is far too much bad information being circulated regarding our doctrine, practice, and heritage. Where possible, we aim to set the record straight.

April 16, 1991

Elder T. L. Webb, Jr., Editor
The Christian Pathway
P. O. Box 44
Milan, TN 38358

Dear Elder Webb,

The purpose of this letter is to address several of the comments you made in your article titled "Mohammedanism", in the March 1991 issue of The Christian Pathway. It will be obvious that I take stern exception to the things you said; however it is my desire to write in the spirit of charity, and not as an antagonist.

The portion of your article I wish to address is the last four sentences of the fourth paragraph, as follows: "They advocate that God has unalterably predestinated all things, evil as well as good. This is the doctrine of the absolute predestination of all things which has been copied by the 'Absoluters'. They borrowed this heresy from them. This would make God the author of sin as well as goodness. True Primitive Baptists do not believe this."

In your first paragraph you state that you take the facts you give from Hassell's History of the Church of God, pages 414-416. You also give Schaffs History of the Christian Church, Volume 4 as a source. I will leave Schaff to his own designs, while acknowledging Hassell to be, for the most part, an excellent source of facts. Since the things you said about the Absoluters were not in Hassell's History I conclude they either are your own opinions, or were from some other source. Whatever the source, the statements cannot stand without dissent.

May I say first of all that I am not writing to engage you in a controversy regarding the validity of absolute predestination. I am sure you are as convinced of your position as I am of mine. Rather, I will confine myself to the sentences quoted above. Nor will I trace out the origin of limited predestination, as you attempted to do with the unlimited view.

The doctrine of Mohammed and his followers is as different from the Absoluter's as day is from night. Rather than listing the many differences, however, I recommend you read the excellent piece called "Fatalism", by H. M. Curry found in The Feast of Fat Things. Curry very clearly marks out the disparity in the two doctrines, and leaves no doubt that fatalism and predestination are equated only by fools.

Several questions jump right out of your statements, and each begs asking. 1) If the Absoluters copied or borrowed their doctrine from Mohammed, did not limited predestinarians do the same at least in part? 2) At what point is limited predestination not a borrowed doctrine if absolute predestination is? 3) If you believe in some predestination, is it not then just a matter of degree as to which borrowed most from Mohammed? 4) Is the predestination of Christ to be crucified on the cross borrowed or copied from Mohammed? I trust you do believe this greatest of all sins evolved from more than bare permission. (See Acts 2.23, 4.26-28)

You quote copiously from Hassell, and in the midst of the quotes call absolute predestination a borrowed heresy. In all my extensive reading of Hassell I never found absolute predestination branded as heresy; not directly or indirectly. In fact, much the opposite is the case. On page 942 Hassell calls it "God's absolute yet sinless and righteous predestination of all things." Beginning on page 943 he inserted in full the last article written by Elder Gilbert Beebe on the subject titled "Absolute Predestination of all Things". There was not a word written to either refute, condemn as heresy, or object to what Beebe clearly set forth on the subject. And for good reason. Hassell stated that Beebe's views contained in the article were "in general, substantially the same as those expressed in the Third Chapter of the old Philadelphia and London Confessions of Faith." (Page 942) Since the vast majority of the old churches were established on these Articles of Faith, it is easy enough to see why the brethren at that time raised no objections of heresy as you have. Hear the record:-"A majority of these churches, it is stated, were the decendants of the English General Baptists at first, but, before they united in an associated capacity, they were thoroughly established in the doctrine of grace, and adopted the London Articles of Faith of 1689; upon which the Philadelphia and Charleston Associations were also founded." (Hassell's History, page 662) It appears terribly cold, harsh, and even sanctimonious to condemn as borrowed heresy the doctrine of all these churches that factual Hassell stated was "substantially the same as Beebe's." Hassell considered the opinions of Elder J. R. Respess, editor of the Gospel Messenger, important enough to quote extensively from him on the subject of predestination. Respess has always been considered a leader of that period with the limited camp; thus the things he says carries especially vital force in the question. "Learning that two Primitive Baptist Churches in Texas had withdrawn their fellowship from the doctrine of the absolute predestination of all things, Elder Respess writes: "This is the first time we have ever heard of this question being made a test of church fellowship, and we are sorry to hear it, because we believe it to be more a difference about words than in spirit. It has been believed by many eminent saints amongst the Baptists for probably centuries - we know it has ever since our remembrance. We have never ourselves professed to understand it: we couldn't understand it. We have always believed about it as Elder Rowe does [that is God decreed to permit sin], but it has never affected our love and esteem for those precious brethren who do believe it [that is, the absolute predestination of all things]. Because we are unable to say they are wrong about it." (Page 653) Whether you agree with Elder Respess or not, there can be no question that the body of Baptists as a whole did not consider absolute predestination heresy; neither borrowed nor copied. It is crystal clear too, that absolute predestination was no new doctrine among the Baptists, as Respess points out. In fact, the Baptists were not only familiar with it among them; it was generally embraced with- out dissent. "We beg leave to recommend to the patronage of our brethren a paper published by our brother, Gilbert Beebe, entitled The Signs of the Times." (Closing statements, "Black Rock Address," Black Rock Church, Butler, Maryland 1832) This endorsement must be considered in the light of the prospectus Beebe issued the year earlier for the paper with its item No.2: "The Absolute Predestination of all Things." This prospectus remained in the recommended paper (The Signs of the Times) the entire 49 years Elder Beebe published it, and he annually printed it in full. It remains the prospectus today. There was no dissent then. No accusations of borrowed or copied heresy. If there was ever anything more than an isolated protest against the absolute predestination of all things until Beebe's death in 1881 I have not seen it, and I don't think you have either. In fact, I am not aware of even so much as an isolated protest, though there may have been some that popped up and then died their deserved death before gaining a foothold in the minds of some.

You say, "This would make God the author of sin as well as goodness." It is not clear if you mean the borrowing the doctrine or the doctrine itself, that would make God the author of sin. Whichever, you do not, neither do others that wield this argument, offer a shred of evidence why this is so. I conclude that you feel that for God to predestinate acts of evil would be sinful itself. Why so? To what court will you demand He appear in to answer His actions? Is there a judge of sufficient purity to try the case? What laws or standards will be hauled out against Him for these supposed violations? If it were possible for Him to be found guilty what bailiff could bind him over for restitution? Elder Webb, this naked assertion that God can be made the author of sin is at best poorly thought out, and at worst unfaithful to all knowledge of the Solitary God with Whom we have to do. It has been a favorite complaint against absolute predestination in every quarter, yet none who make the assertion bother to explain their meaning. It is much the same in validity as the indictment that for God to elect some and reprobate others makes Him an unjust God. Both complaints stem from either ignorance or deceit. I feel it safe to assume that when you say this "makes" God the author of sin you use the word much the same as to "accuse" or "condemn ", for you surely do not believe that anyone can "make" God do or be anything.

"True Primitive Baptists do not believe this." (Your quote) If the construction of your sentence is correct, then your statement, by the logic of inference, says, "Those that believe this (absolute predestination) are false Primitive Baptists. Since it is clear that many Primitive Baptists did, do, and no doubt will believe the absolute predestination of all things, it became necessary for those that do not believe it to say the believers of said doctrine are not "true" Baptists of the Old School or Primitive order. So, we who hold to the doctrine of absolute predestination, a doctrine accepted, loved, and boldly preached since the baptism of John, are to be drummed out as copiers of Mohammed, borrowers of heresy, slanderers of God, and false Baptists. Has this then always been the position of the limited predestinarians? It clearly was not if you put any confidence in the facts as Hassell presents them.

I suggest, however, that we look to at least one or two other sources for the facts of the matter.

"It has been his purpose on the one hand to steer clear of any who fail to adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour with a godly walk and conversation, and also those restless, progressive spirits among us who seem not satisfied with the order of God's house but who are clamoring for new practices unauthorized by God's word and unprecedented in Baptist History and who are pressing such things to the extent of division, thus manifesting they prefer innovations to the fellowship of the great body of Baptists.

"And on the other hand the editor has taken a broad view of those points of doctrine and practices such as predestination and feet-washing, which has ever, to some extent, been open questions among our people, and over which there has been more a war of words than of principle; and advocates of different shades of opinion on such matters are given equal representation."(From the preface, page 10, Biographical History of Primitive or Old School Baptist Ministers of the United States. Edited by R. H. Pittman; dated May 27, 1909, Luray, Virginia. )

Elder Pittman was a noted leader among his people, and a limited predestinarian such as yourself; yet in his widely accepted and popular book he never hinted at a copied or borrowed heresy regarding the many, many Old School preachers of the absolute persuasion included in his masterful book. There was not a trace of "This one is a true Baptist, and this one is a heretic." No; he lumped them all together for the purposes of the book, in a spirit of good will sadly lacking today. I am not foolish enough to believe Pittman liked lumping them together, as if no difference existed. There was a war by then, as there is today. Brethren did, though, to a great measure, attempt to avoid acrimony.

It is a point of much interest to see how many of the ministers listed in Pittman's book were absolute predestinarians. Observe the names of some of the absolute predestinarians of yesteryear in only the first four letters of the alphabetical listing. Thomas Barton, B. F. Coulter, Gabriel Conklin, F. A Chick, Joshua Cabbage, R. H. Boaz, William Beebe, Gilbert Beebe, Jessie Cox, H. M. Curry ,Ambrose Dudley, Thomas P. Dudley, Silas H. Durand. Three of these ministers were signers of the "Black Rock Address"; G. Beebe, Barton, and Conklin. I repeat. All these were Absoluters. No one dreamed of calling them copiers of Mohammed, borrowers of heresy, or false Baptists. No; they stood out as giants among the ranks, and Pittman so recognized them. With several exceptions these above mentioned ministers of the Old Order of Baptists were prolific writers. Their works abide today, and there can be no doubt whatsoever that they held the doctrine of the absolute predestination of all things. Yet there they are, listed by Pittman, a minister of the limited camp, among those who were sup- posed to be the "True" Primitive Baptists.

The Old School, or Primitive Baptists had their first major split among them in 1853-1854, over twenty years after the division with the Missionaries at Black Rock. Recorded History offers no trace of dissention among them over the extent of God's predestination up until that time. (And for many years after that.) Elder John Clark, a capable and eloquent minister among the Baptists, in withdrawing from The Signs of the Times and the Eastern Baptists led by Elders Trott and Beebe, gave his reasons for withdrawing as an agent and as a brother as departures in doctrine among the "Signs" Baptists. Was absolute predestination one of those doctrines? No sir, it was not! The subject was eternal vital union, and supposed Arianism. Clark wrote to the "Signs" and other papers at length on the matter, yet nothing was brought up about the Eastern Baptists copying or borrowing heresies from Mohammed. No mention made that they made God the author of sin, or were disqualified as "true" Primitive Baptists for propagating absolute predestination among the flock. So universal was the belief of this doctrine among the Old School, Primitive Baptists that he would have been laughed from all reputation if he had launched a tirade against it. Clark also wrote a lengthy article called "Exposures of heresies propagated by some Old School Baptists." This article was 49 pages in length, yet in the whole of it not a syllable is found complaining about the Eastern Baptist's views on predestination. Not a trace! Why? Simply stated, there was no disagreement, at least in the open, about it. He railed on long and hard about every perceived heresy his keen mind could summons; yet he was silent as the tomb on predestination. Can any honest student of history come to any other conclusion than there was no real difference? And since there was no real difference, and it is abundantly clear that absolute predestination was the general view, then in the developing of time it was the Limited Predestinarians, not the Absoluters, that were the interlopers.

I have suggested to a number of Limited Predestinarians among the Primitive Baptists that they search historical records at length, arid if they can produce any articles, letters, or documents that establishes to any degree that absolute predestination was not the unmistakable doctrine up until the death of Elder Beebe in 1881 I will withdraw from the contest and make a full apology for propagating a new doctrine. However, if the limited camp cannot sustain their position from history, they should do the same. Elder Webb, the weight of history comes down in full on the side of absolute predestination. The very authors you employed to write your article say so. We do not ask you to accept us; we certainly wouldn't you. We ask that you cease hurling unsubstantiated charges against the doctrine of the historical Old School, Primitive Baptists.

This letter will be published in a future issue of The Remnant. Should you wish to respond, space will be granted you, provided your response is not vitriolic. Respectfully,

James F. Poole
The Remnant
Volume 5, No.4
July - August, 1991


Reply From Elder Webb

As we promised in the July-August, 1991 issue of "The Remnant" we are publishing the response of Elder Webb to our dissent from his remarks, regarding the origin of the doctrine of the absolute predestination of all things. It will be seen that we have included six notations in the body of his letter. The substance of those notations will follow at the end.

J.F. Poole


April 22, 1991

James F. Poole
Welsh Tract Publications P. O. Box 1250
Salisbury, MD 21801

Dear Brother Poole: Your letter of April 16th kindly acknowledged. In the article I wrote in-the March issue of THE CHRISTIAN PATHWAY, I compared the views of the "Absoluters" today with those of the Mohammedans on the doctrine of the "absolute predestination of all things, good and evil." I certainly did not mean to imply that your people, or the people you are identified with, are similar to their views on all things, only in this particular view. I apologize if I left this view or indication that you were like them in all points. I do think the extreme views of predestination are copied from these fatalistic doctrines. Some of these views go back to the Reformation era.

We quote the following from "Baptists in All Ages" by Elder J. S. Newman: "The doctrine of the absolute predestination of all things, good and evil, was not preached by our people before John Calvin's day, nor during his day. -- Will someone please give the history that teaches to the contrary of the above statement. (1) The doctrine was introduced among the Old Baptists by Elder Beebe in 1832. No church that I have any knowledge of in Elder Beebe's country, or in any other state in the union, was constituted on such an article of faith." - page 146.{2)

In regard to the views of Elder Sylvester Hassell, I am enclosing a copy of an article that appeared in the ADVOCATE AND MESSENGER in 1930 written by Elder R. H. Pittman. In this article he publishes a letter he received from Elder Hassell in 1925 explaining why he allowed Elder Gilbert Beebe to print the article on "Absolute Predestination of All Things" in his Church History.(3) In this letter he plainly states: "the 'absolute predestination of all things' is a man-made phrase(4) which I have never endorsed, as it ignores God, and the infinite distinction between His attitude to sin and His attitude to holiness." Elder Hassell also said in an article in the old GOSPEL MESSENGER, 1894, page 146: "Like nearly all the doctrinal errors among Primitive Baptists, a tendency to fatalism seems to have come in through the broad door of dualism (two-seedism) about 60" years ago...

Regardless of what Hassell, Beebe, Newman, Respess, Pittman or any other man has said or written, what is important is what do the Holy Scriptures teach. It is wrong for any of us to add to the Word of God, is it not? Keeping the word, "predestination" in the light of what is taught in the Bible, it is confined to the eternal destiny of His people(5) - when kept where the Bible puts it, we have no problem. It is when we go to the extreme and put it elsewhere, we have problems harmonizing the Scriptures. I'm sure you are as firmly convinced in your beliefs as I am mine, so it would be useless to debate the issue. I do deny that this unlimited predestination doctrine has always been held by all the Baptist family. (6)

You mentioned your paper, THE REMNANT. I do not get the paper and would be happy to exchange with you. If you will send me yours, I will send you the PATHWAY as an exchange. Please send me some back issues if you have any to spare. May we ever keep our correspondence in the spirit of the Master, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Until we hear from you, I remain respectfully yours.

In Christian bonds.
T. L. Webb, Jr.

(We have no desire to take the advantage of Elder Webb by adding these footnotes. Rather, this seems to us to be the best way to follow up on the subject. Should Elder Webb take exception, additional space will be freely granted him.)

Note (1) A thorough review of this point will be, the Lord willing, forthcoming in a future issue of "The Remnant."

Note (2) It is a terrible slander on the whole body of Old School Baptists of 1832 to dare suggest that Beebe introduced the doctrine of absolute predestination among them then. Can any sane person believe the Baptists of that day were so ignorant, spiritually dull-witted, gullible, and vacillating that Beebe, then a young man in his early thirties, or anyone else, for that matter, could haul in a doctrine of such magnitude, and introduce it among the churches, and they wholly embrace it with not so much as a word of alarm, concern, approval, dismay, ecstasy, humble gratitude, or expression of caution? It is beyond belief! Where, in all recorded history, is there anything to lead us to believe such was the case? Are we to believe Newman's naked assertion without a shred of evidence? And why, we ask, did Newman reproach the Baptists this way? For our part, we consider his vilification of the Baptist family in general, and Beebe in particular, a sad blight on the cause, and probably motivated by a disbelief of the truth.

Was the doctrine of absolute predestination new among the Old Order of Baptists? On the contrary; Beebe launched his new paper (openly advocating the doctrine in question), "The Signs of the Times", among a most receptive family of Baptists, and with great success. And we read not a syllable of comment on any newly introduced doctrine, as such, from the pen of a single Old School, Primitive, or Particular Baptist of the period. From the historical perspective, only one conclusion can be reached in this regard: the Old School Baptists, as a body, already believed in the absolute predestination of all things, and Elder J. S. Newman didn't know what he was talking about.

Regarding his assertion that he had no knowledge of any church being constituted on such an article of faith; let the record speak. On November 20, 1876 the Snow Hill Old School Baptist Church, Worcester County, Maryland was constituted. Their Articles of Faith, (31 in all) contained the following:

14. We believe that God has freely ordained all things that come to pass which doctrine is called Absolute Predestination.

The Snow Hill Church was established with a presbytery of ministers in full fellowship with Elder Beebe, and he preached there himself on annual visits to the Salisbury Association until his death in 1881.

It should be apparent to those with eyes to see that sufficient has been given here to fully discredit Elder Newman's claim as a historian.

Note (3) Elder Beebe had nothing to do with the insertion of his article on predestination in Hassell's History of the Church of God. As noted above he died in 1881, several years be- fore the History was published. The openly stated reason why Hassell printed the article is as follows: "[In accordance with the request of Elder G. Beebe's sons, the publishers of this book and of the 'Signs of the Times,' I append the last editorial of Elder Gilbert Beebe on the subject of Predestination, showing in full his views, and those of the present proprietors of the 'Signs of the Times,' and of a large number of the subscribers of that periodical, in regard to God's absolute yet sinless and righteous predestination of all things." (First sentence, page 942, Hassell's History)

A careful reading of that statement will suggest that Elder Hassell at that time had himself abandoned the doctrine of absolute predestination, yet fearfully declined to take a stand, preferring rather to allude to the large number of "Subscribers of that periodical" as being numbered among the yet faithful. It is to be regretted that he attempted to retrace his steps fully 40 years later, when most of the principals involved in publishing the History were long gone (The historical record remains, however).

Note (4) True enough the phrase, "absolute predestination" is man made, but the sentiment and truth of the phrase certainly is not. Very many words or phrases concerning Bible doctrines are adopted to express various beliefs, such as "The Trinity", "The Sovereignty of God", "The New Birth", "Total Depravity". These do not appear in the Bible, and yet no one but rank Arminians would deny they are completely acceptable words which convey vital truths. Must we abandon their usage because they are not, as such, found in the Word of Truth? The proposition is preposterous.

We feel compelled to note that a host of "man-made phrases" are also in current usage among the camp of our opponents, such as, "Gospel Salvation", "Two Salvations", "Time Salvation", "Conditional Time Salvation", "Limited Predestination", "Lose the Joy of Your Salvation", (Joy and salvation are always found in the singular in the Bible, never in the plural.) and assorted other expressions used to convey their doctrine.

Note (5) We will point out, since Elder Webb himself uses the word "predestination", which is not found in the Bible in that form, that the controversy is more about the extent of its meaning than of the word itself. Since then, the specific term predestination is not in the translated Word, then to what extent do such frequently used Bible words, as declaring (Isa.46.10), decree (Job 28.26), counsel (Prov. 19.21, Isa. 46.10, Acts 2.23), purpose (Isa. 14.27 Rom. 9.11), will (Eph. 1.9, 11), and others that are often used in the Scriptures concerning the Holy Plan of God allow? Can anyone dare limit these to eternal destiny alone? No matter what expression is used the clearest evidence is that God's works and all existence are interrelated.

Note (6) Elder Webb has somehow gathered from what we have said that we think all Baptists did, and do believe in absolute predestination. It should be clear that we do not, for if all believed alike, then there would be no need for dissent. We are sorry for any confusion that may exist due to our lack of ability to put our feelings into words.

Finally, we ask, hopefully in a spirit of humility: if there is anything that comes to pass outside the predestination of God, what relationship does He have to such events, if any? If He does have a relationship, can the relationship be anything less than supreme, as befits a God? If He has no relationship to some events then is He not, to the same extent as the events reach, no God at all?

Can we possibly understand God as anything less than omnipotent? It seems to us a certainty that He Who declared the end from the beginning governs all in the most unlimited sense.

James F. Poole
The Remnant
Volume 5, No. 5