Part I of this series began with a brief background to the publication of a book entitled The Sovereignty of God (Kentucky: Baptist Book Concern, 1894) by longtime editor of The Western Recorder, T.T. Eaton. Eaton published in The Western Recorder a series of critical replies to then president of the University of Chicago Divinity School, G.W. Northrup, who had earlier published magazine articles challenging what Northrup characterized as the theory of “Divine Sovereignty in Predestination as held by many representative Calvinistic theologians.”
The critical replies Eaton published in The Western Recorder were penned by Irish Presbyterian theologian, Dr. Robert Watts. The ultimate result was a final manuscript in three parts Eaton published as a book in 1894:
- part one contains Northrup’s original series first published in The Standard and later in The Magazine of Christian Literature, both publications of which were widely circulated (which may account for Eaton’s quest to publish a definitive, scholarly reply);
- part two records Watts’ replies to Northrup with some rejoinders to Watts from Northrup;
- part three offers a final word from Northrup since, according to Eaton, it would only be judicious if Northrup had the “last word” since his articles stood as the occasion for the dialog in the first place1
Below are selections taken from the third essay2 in part one of The Sovereignty of God.3 Northrup suggests the chief aim of his essay was to discuss the following question:
Does the doctrine of God’s Sovereignty in Predestination, as contained in the strict Calvinistic system, necessarily imply that the perdition of a part of mankind—the non-elect—is not only certain, but inevitable, let them do what they can to obtain salvation, even in the way appointed in the gospel?
Northrup begins by defining three “doctrinal systems” known as “Calvinistic” which differ from each other chiefly as regards the order of divine decrees (pp. 62-63):
- supra-lapsarianism (which Northrup equates with hyper-Calvinism);
- strict Calvinism (which Northrup equates with infra-lapsarianism);
- and moderate Calvinism (of which exist two types)
It is the second doctrinal system—strict Calvinism—toward which the northern Baptist theologian aims his intellectual guns.4 After a lengthy treatise in examining both Reformed confessions and Reformed theologians, Northrup gathers up the conclusions drawn from the evidences considered under a heading entitled “WHAT STRICT CALVINISM INVOLVES” if these propositions are true5:
(1) that men are, at birth, under condemnation—”subject to death with all its miseries, spiritual, temporal and eternal,”
(2) that their inability to repent and believe ‘is as complete as the inability of the blind to see, or of the dead to restore themselves to life”
(3) that eternal life is absolutely dependent upon repentance and faith
(4) that regeneration, of which repentance and faith are fruits, is a work of God in relation to which “man is altogether passive”
(5) that God’s action in regenerating some and leaving others in a state of unregeneracy, is the certain and necessary result of the decrees of election and preterition,
(6) that these decrees are, in the logical order, antecedent to and irrespective of all personal action, having respect solely to pre-natal depravity and guilt
(7) that these decrees are eternal and immutable, and the number included in each “is so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished”
if these propositions are true it is demonstrably certain that the eternal perdition of a part of the human race—all the non-elect—is not only certain, but inevitable, let them do what they can to obtain salvation, even in the way appointed in the gospel. For, since the eternal and immutable decree not to extend to them saving grace was formed antecedent to and irrespective of their personal action, they can do nothing that will have a favorable bearing upon their eternal destiny; they cannot repent and believe; they cannot renew themselves; God himself cannot deliver them from their state of depravity and condemnation, for He cannot reverse His irreversible decrees. Their perdition is, therefore, as unavoidable as it would be if He had decreed to send them to hell on the day of their birth” (pp.73-74, all italics original).
Part IIIl examines one of two questions Northrup asks in consequence of the concluding propositions about strict Calvinism’s theory of God’s Sovereignty in Predestination listed above from his third essay.
1Eaton shows the best side of being “fair and balanced” here since he could have just as easily let Watts have the last word since Watts most probably expressed Eaton’s personal theological sympathies. How unlike the propagandistic type of exchange we observe on many subjects contended within the evangelical community today stands Eaton’s editorial courtesy toward Northrup. 2pp. 62-89
3The fact is, Northrup’s essays are not the easiest to follow. He uses extremely tight reasoning which forces the reader to move slowly through his presentation, a process unaccommodating to today’s internet junkies who crave substance but only if it is in the form of a tweet. Sticking with Northrup—even if you have to re-read, re-read, and re-read—will produce a profitable intellectual windfall be assured
4recall once again, I mentioned in part I that Northrup apparently aligned himself with the third doctrinal system—moderate Calvinism—even though he doesn’t say so in so many words. Whatever the case, in his rebuttals to Watts it seems clear he most certainly rejected allegiance to any form of Arminianism.
5the paragraphs are broken apart solely for enhanced readability purposes