"Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of truth." — (Psalm 60:4)
"Lift ye up a banner upon the high mountain, exalt the voice unto them." — (Isaiah 13:2)
Devoted To The Defense Of The Church Against All Errors And Innovations
Vol.IX No.VI Pg.8-9,16c
August 1947

Some Old Doctrines Restated And Examined

R. L. Whiteside

Some denominational doctrines, which a generation or two ago were preached persistently, ceased for a period to be much emphasized, except by a few debaters, and they usually tried to tone them down. Therefore the new members of their denominations did not know the doctrines of their churches. However of late most of these old exploded doctrines are being loudly and persistently proclaimed over the radio. If these doctrines were harmless speculations, we could afford to let them alone; but as they have a tendency to destroy a feeling of personal responsibility, we must again make a determined fight against them. The doctrines I have in mind may be summed up under the term Calvinism, for Calvin's teaching made them popular among the early Protestants. These doctrines of Calvin were incorporated in many of the creeds and confessions of faith. The great Westminister confession was published in 1648. Of this confession Prof. W. J. McGlothlin, in Baptist Confessions of Faith, says, "It was the product of much labor, and is certainly one of the noblest of all the Protestant confessions, if indeed it has a peer." "This Westminister confession, altered to suit Baptist views of the church and its ordinances, was adopted" in 1677 by "the elders and brethren of many congregations" in London and the country. In 1689 messengers from one hundred and seven churches in England and Wales met in London and approved this confession. In America the Baptist Association which assembled at Philadelphia, September 25, 1742, "ordered the printing of a new edition of this confession, the first of this or any other Baptist confession to be printed in America." Two articles were added: one, "concerning the singing of Psalms in the worship of God", the other, "laying on of hands upon baptized believers." These matters will serve as a background for some things I wish to say.

It is interesting to note what this confession, which has been "held as authoritative by all English speaking Presbyterians," says about God's decrees. God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established." (Chapter 3, Article 1). If you can understand that, you can go to the head of the class. In the "Larger Catechism," ratified and adopted by the Synod of New York and Philadelphia, held at Philadelphia, in May, 1788, we have this question and answer:

Q. 12. —What are the decrees of God?

A. —God's decrees are the wise, free, and holy acts of the counsel of his will, whereby, from all eternity, he hath, for his own glory, unchangeably foreordained whatsoever comes to pass in time, especially concerning angels and men.

If a man could bring himself to the point of really believing these pronouncements, he would not feel any responsibility for anything he did or failed to do. But the decrees are further stated: "By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death. These angels and men, thus predestinated and fore-ordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished." (Chapter 3, Articles 3, 4.) Again: "As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereto. Wherefore they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by his spirit working in due season; are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power through faith unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only." (Chapter 3, Article 6).

I would not accuse any one of believing what these confessions say about the decrees of God unless he avows such belief. However before a Presbyterian candidate for the ministry can be licensed, he must answer affirmatively four questions, one of which is, "Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechism of this church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures?" Then before he can be ordained as a pastor of any church, he must answer that question again. Hence if a Presbyterian preacher is truthful, he believes what his confession says about decrees. But how can he? God did "freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin." That is, God ordained it, but is not the author of it! He ordained whatsoever comes to pass, but that does no violence to the will of creatures! That is, God unchangeably ordained that a man should do a certain thing, but left him free to exercise his own will! His eternal and unchangeable decree does not take away the liberty or contingency of second causes! Can anyone believe these things?

A part of the doctrine of the eternal decrees is the doctrine of eternal and unconditional election and reprobation. And this doctrine leaves all non-elect infants, who die in infancy, with no provision for their salvation. The confession says, "Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth. So also are all other elect persons, who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the word." (Chapter 10, Article 3.) So non-elect infants and idiots are doomed. But some have tried to soften this matter by saying that non-elect infants never die. Where did they find any authority for such a statement? Besides, if a person is a non-elect, what difference does it make as to justice and fairness, whether he dies in infancy or old age? He is doomed anyway. To charge God with keeping the non-elect alive till they reach maturity to escape the charge of damning infants puts God in a bad light. According to the doctrine of the decrees, the mature non-elect is as helpless as an infant, for he is not allowed any choice in the matter. How such arbitrary dealings with human beings can be for the glory of God is more than I can see. There is no mercy in it. It looks too much like a cat's playing with a helpless mouse before he decides to kill it and eat it! One of the glorious attributes of God is his mercy. If you will look carefully into the doctrine of election and reprobation, as set forth in the Westminister Confession of Faith, you will see that mercy for lost sinners was not what moved God to redeem even the elect. Where is mercy, when some are allowed to perish without remedy? Oh, I know the confession talks about grace and mercy; but where is there room for mercy in what is said about the decrees of God? "By the decree of God for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others fore-ordained to everlasting death." Did mercy move God to make such a decree? No, he made it to manifest his glory. But does such a decree manifest any glory? Is any glory manifested in decreeing from all eternity that certain ones shall be saved regardless of their character, and certain ones damned without remedy? It seems to me that such decrees manifest neither the mercy nor the glory of God. The "decree" rather represents God as acting on a mere whimsy. And the makers of the confession thought there was also justice in such a decree. The Larger Catechism tells us that God "in Christ," hath chosen some men to eternal life, and the means thereof, and also, according to his sovereign power, and the unsearchable counsel of his own will (whereby he extendeth or withholdeth favor as he pleaseth) hath passed by, and fore-ordained the rest to dishonor and wrath, to be for their sins inflicted, to the praise of the glory of his justice." (Answer to question 13.) Now, is there any justice in decreeing that man shall follow a certain course, giving them no choice to do otherwise, and then inflicting punishment on them for so doing. It seems to me, that whatever they do would come under the head of what our courts of justice call "an act of God." It seems to me that the decree makes them no more responsible for what they do than is a bolt of lightning. And our courts do not regard it as just to punish anybody for "an act of God." But these decrees leave a man with no choice as to whom he will serve; that was settled by the eternal and unchangeable decree of God.

From my eighth year to my twentieth the nearest meeting house to our home was Old Center, a Primitive Baptist place of worship in Hickman County, Tennessee. I heard their preachers quite often, for they were rather numerous in our section and in some adjoining counties. At some time two schools of thought had appeared among them. One group held the old idea of the absolute predestination of all things —the eternal and unchangeable decree of God had marked out for every man his whole life to the minutest detail. If a man were born to be drowned, he would not be killed by a falling tree. But another group believed that the eternal decree applied only to election and reprobation, and a man had no choice as to whom he served; otherwise he was free to do as he pleased. These called the others absoluters. But the difference did not interfere with their fellowship. I never heard their difference publicly aired. But does a man have any choice as to whom he will serve?

"I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before thee life and death; the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed; to love Jehovah thy God, to obey his voice, and to cleave unto him." (Deut. 30:19,20). Here God through Moses exhorts the people to choose life. It is folly therefore, to say they had no ability to choose life. Joshua said to Israel, "And if it seem evil unto you to serve Jehovah, choose ye this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were beyond the river, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve Jehovah." (Josh. 24:15). Some one may say that these people were under the law of Moses. True, but that part does not militate against the idea that people have the right of choice. But why say more on this point; for every sane person is conscious that he can choose good or evil.