Fatalism is the doctrine that all things, great and small, mental and material, were eternally and inexorably predetermined, by an external, arbitrary, irresistible fate, or destiny, or necessity, an endless and admantine chain of causes and effects, so that nothing, not even any thought, or feeling, or word, or action of any human being can, by any possibility, in the slightest respect, be different from what it is, and thus no man is really to blame for anything he does, because he cannot help it. The word fatalism is derived from fate, which is the Latin word fatum, meaning something spoken or declared by some intelligent being who has power to make his words good; and as the word fatum indicates, the doctrine at first implied the supreme and universal, yet un-moral government of God; but it afterwards came to mean a shadowy, undefined, mysterious, impersonal, unconscious, unintelligent power, even at times above the power of God. Fatalism annihilates the moral character and the moral government of God, and the moral nature of man, and the distinction between right and wrong, good and evil, and reduces man to a mere involuntary, irresponsible machine or automation. No sane mind, whether heathen or Christian, has every fully believed it, or can believe it, in all its boldness and deformity; for by the very constitution of our moral nature, every man knows, as well as he knows his own existence, that he is a voluntary and accountable being; that he ought not to do many things that he does do, and that he ought to do many things that he does not do. All the laws, literatures, histories, and religious of mankind teem with demonstrations of this momentous and universal truth, which is inherent in the natural conscience of the human race (Rom. i-iii). The doctrine of fatalism is the rebellion of the carnal heart against this universal principle of our nature, seeking to excuse itself for its sinfulness by throwing the blame, the responsibility, upon the Creator (Gen. iii.12). But even nature teaches, and the Holy Spirit effectually impresses that teaching upon the inmost recesses of our being, that we alone are altogether accountable and blamable for our wrong-doings, and that our Holy Creator is not at all responsible for them, and that therefore we justly deserve condemnation and punishment at the hands of the Righteous Governor of the universe; and the Spirit of God further teaches us that it is only of His merest, His sovereign mercy, that we can be pardoned and saved from that everlasting ruin which our sins richly merit. Any doctrine that lessens the accountableness and blamelessness of man belittles and tarnishes the grace of God.
Now, I do not believe that there is a Primitive Baptist in the world who is a real, a full, and genuine fatalist; although our Arminian friends call us all fatalists. But I greatly regret that there is a growing tendency, among some of our people, to reduce the Bible doctrine of predestination to the pagan doctrine of fatalism. This unmoral tendency to fatalism and pantheism - to make God, and not man, the real author or cause of sin, and thus to destroy the distinction between right and wrong - appears in such unguarded and unscriptural expressions as "the absolute predestination of all things" (without any explanatory or qualifying phrase). "God predestinates sin in the same way He does holiness." "Sin is a creature of God, and is a very good thing in its place," (nothing can be more false and blasphemous than to call sin a creature of God, when it is rebellion of the creature against the Creator, the creature's transgression of the law of the Creator). "God introduced sin into the world." "God prepares the evil heart as well as the good heart." "God was the sole cause of Adam's partaking of the forbidden fruit." "God's suffering sin is the same as His commanding sin." "Sometimes the spiritually enlightened child of God hardly knows which most to admire, sin or grace." "Permissive decrees are permissive nonsense" (and thus the great majority of predestinarians are fools, believing nonsense). (1)"We are compelled to do everything we do." "Men are not accountable." "God is the moving cause of sin." "God is the sole, efficient, and responsible cause of all the wickedness in the universe," (perhaps the most blasphemous utterance ever made by man). I feel perfectly sure that no Primitive Baptist who uses such expressions really means all that they seem to imply - really means that God both prompts and compels (when the Scriptures declare that He does not even tempt - James i.13) His creatures to sin, and then either convicts them by His Holy Spirit that the sin is altogether theirs, without repentance for which and forsaking of which they can never be received of Him in peace, or else punishes them with everlasting banishment from His holy presence; for, as I have said before, there has never been even a heathen who has been in such dense and total darkness as not to have even a natural consciousness that his sins are his own and not his Maker's. But such extreme and unqualified expressions as those mentioned above ought never to be used, for three reasons, viz: They do not fully and accurately represent the real belief of the Primitive Baptists in regard to predestination; they are contrary to the teachings of the Scriptures, and tend to the pagan doctrine of fatalism; and, instead of glorifying, they dishonor God by staining His holiness, the most glorious attribute of His character. Because God, as a righteous Judge, most justly executes criminals who have forfeited all claims upon His mercy, the horrible thought has been uttered that, if He were to do the very same things that sinners do, it would be no sin in Him. The very supposition is blasphemy; it is impossible for God to lie, or to deny Himself (Heb. vi.18; 2 Tim. ii.13), to act contrary to His essentially, infinitely, and unchangeably holy nature. It is said in justification of this blasphemy, that He is above all law; but, though a glorious and eternal Sovereign, He is a Most Holy Sovereign who cannot do wrong, and He cannot be above the law or rule of principle of His own perfect nature or character, which is a part of Himself, and is infinite light (or truth and holiness) and love. Imbedded in the very essence of the Divine character is the eternal and unchangeable distinction between light and darkness, holiness and sin, truth and falsehood, right and wrong, purity and impurity, self-denial and selfishness, love and hatred, kindness and unkindness.
It not only stains the holiness, but
it also belittles the wisdom and the power of God to say that He can
govern His creatures only by instigating and compelling them to sin; it
represents Him as a mere Machinist, instead of an incomparable
Sovereign, who perfectly foresees and perfectly controls even their own
abominable wickedness to the manifestation of His glory - who can and
does allow them, within predetermined bounds, to go their own sinful
way, and carry out their own sinful purposes, and who is wise enough and
strong enough to make even their sins, the wrath of man which worketh
not the righteousness of God, redound to His praise (Psalm lxxvi.10;
James i.20). This is a far truer and grander idea of God than that which
makes His intelligent creatures, formed in His image, nothing but
involuntary and irresponsible machines. The Scriptures are perfectly
plain upon the point that men have sinful wills and ways of their own,
which God suffers, and, even by such sufferance, accomplishes His own
wise and holy purposes (John v.40; Isa. X.5-7, 12; liii.6-12; lv. 8;
Psalm ix.16; lxxxi.11; Gen. L.20; Jer. l.17, 18; Matt. Xxii-3; xxiii.37;
Luke xii.22; Acts ii.23; iv.27, 28).
I will now briefly examine the leading extreme and unqualified expression used by some of our brethren on this subject, but which is utterly rejected by at least nine-tenths of the Primitive Baptists in the United States. "The absolute predestination of all things." As is well known, this phrase is not in the Scriptures; even the word "absolute" is nowhere in the Bible; the phrase, then, is a human inference and invention. So far as I have been able to discover, Jerome Zanchius, of Italy, (1516-1590) invented the phrase "absolute predestination" (but he always said that God's predestination of sin was to permit or suffer sin, and to direct, restrain, and overrule it for His own glory); and, as far as I can learn, Eld. Gilbert Beebe, of New York, (1800-1881) appended the words "of all thing" to the phrase Zanchius (but this able and esteemed write never ceased to maintain that man is voluntary in the commission of sin, and accountable for his sins). The phrase, "the absolute predestination of all things," is not found in any church confession of faith; but it is the substance of the first part, and only the first part, of the first sentence of the third chapter of the London Baptist Confession of Faith (Church History, p. 670); while the last part of that sentence, which is just as true and important, and which is indispensable to a statement of the entire Scriptural truth on the subject, is unwarrantedly ignored and suppressed, just as the Scriptures that teach this part of the truth are ignored and suppressed. "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." The same old Baptist Confession of Faith declares that God did not compel Adam to fall, but was pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel, to permit him to fall, having purpose to order it to His own glory (chap. vi, sec. 1); that He leaves men and angels to act in their sins to their just condemnation, to the praise of His glorious justice (chap. iii, sec. 3); that He leaves His own children oftentimes for a season to manifold temptations and the corruptions of their own hearts, to humble them, and make them feel more sensibly their dependance upon Him for support, and to make them more watchful against all future occasions of sin (chap. v, sec. 5); and that He wisely and powerfully boundeth and otherwise ordereth and governeth the sins of angels and men, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice and infinite goodness and mercy (chap. v, secs. 1 and 4). Eld. G. Beebe also says that "God is holy, and reigns in righteousness, and is not the author of sin; that men act voluntarily when they commit sin, and are accountable for their sins; that God had a purpose, worthy of Himself, however inscrutable to us, in not preventing the entrance of sin into the world; that He sometimes binds and at other times looses Satan; that He restricts the wickedness of ungodly men, making the wrath of men praise Him, and restraineth the remainder of wrath of men praise Him, and restraineth the remainder of wrath; and that, by His supreme power and decree, He restricts all the rage and malice of Satan to do no more nor less than what He will overrule for the good of His people, and His own glory" (Editorials of the Signs of the Times, vol. i. pp. 30, 31, 128-130; Signs of the Times, Oct. 1, 1880). "Author" means originator, beginner, first mover, efficient cause; and, certainly, if God is not, the creature is the author of sin. Our most absolute brethren use the Scriptural term permission in reference to the providence of God; and the predestination of God can be no more sacred than His providence; and it is inconsistent, not only with the Scriptures, but with their own common practice in reference to providence, not to use the term permission also in reference to predestination. One of the most able and courteous of them wrote me, seven years ago, that there was no practical difference between absolute and permissive predestination - what events were just as certain under the latter as under the former (there is, of course, no difference in the actual occurrence of events; but there is, to my mind, all the difference between truth and error between God's permissive and His compulsory predestination of sin). The King James version of the Bible and the London Confession of Faith use the term predestinate in reference only to the salvation of the people of God, and never in reference to sin or damnation; but the Greek word pro-orizo, translated predestinate, determine before, ordain before, is used in reference to sin in Acts iv.28, and perhaps in I Cor. ii.7; and the Greek word orizo, translated determined determinate is used in regard to sin in Luke xxii.22 and Acts ii.23. It must not be forgotten, however, that the word orizo strictly means to bound, to limit; and that the word pro-orizo strictly means to fore-bound, to fore-limit, or limit in advance, not to fore-compel, but to fore-determine the bounds of, as is shown by the same root-word in Acts xvii.26. God's connection with sin, whether by predestination or providence, is thus shown to be a connection, not of instigation, causation, or compulsion, but of sufferance, direction, restriction and overruling. Sin originates in the will of the creature, and not in the will of a Most Holy God, to whom, and to all who have His mind, or will, or Spirit, sin is utterly detestable and abominable, and not at all admirable and lovely. If an unchangeable God permits sin in time, as His word so often says He does, He certainly predestinated in eternity to permit it. Indeed, if all duration is one eternal now with God, there is no real difference between His predestination and His providence. The Scriptures often speak of God as doing what He permits to be done (see Job i.12,21; ii.6; 2 Sam. xvi.10, compared with 1 Chron. xxi.1; 1 Kings xii.11, 15; xxii 20-23; Gen. xxxvii.28, compared with xlv.5 and 1.20; Psalm xxxix.8, 9; Isa. xlii 24; Amos iii.6; Acts iv.27, 28, compared with ii.23); for He is the Creator and Upholder of the universe, and could prevent the occurrence of anything He chose. The Holy One that inhabiteth eternity is, to sin in every form and in every being, a consuming fire (Heb. x.30, 31; xii.29; Isa. vi.3, 5; lvii.15). Even His sinless Son, when He represented His sinful people, was forsaken of His holy and loving Father, and delivered up to suffer the horrible death of the cross.
There can be no real and permanent basis for gospel union among Primitive Baptists except the Scriptures of eternal truth; and just as long as the Bible word permit continues to be ignored or suppressed by a few of our brethren, and just as long as the extreme unscriptural expressions, verging upon fatalism, that I have mentioned, continue to be used, just so long will there be strife and confusion upon the subject of predestination among those who believe alike but express themselves differently (which ought not to be - 1 Cor. i.10; iii. 3; 2 Cor. xiii.11; 1 Pet. iii.8), in regard to this matter. The responsibility for this deplorable and totally unnecessary contention and confusion must rest upon those who esteem the language of men above the language of God.
I repeat that I do not believe that any Primitive Baptist is, in either head or heart, a real fatalist, though the expressions of some seem to imply it; and I would humbly and earnestly beseech our absolute brethren, whom I esteem as the excellent of the earth, to discontinue the use of all expressions that either assert or intimate that a Most Holy God, and not rebellious man, is the responsible cause of sin.
Eld. Wm. Gadsby, of England (1773-1844) wrote an "Everlasting Task" for Arminians, which they have never been able to perform; and I propose an Everlasting Task for Fatalists (if there are such among us), which I cannot imagine how they will ever perform, and it is this: How to explain such Scriptures as Deut. v.28, 29; xxxii.29; Psalm lxxxi.13; and Isa. xlviii.18.19, consistently with their favorite theory.