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WHAT OF THE NIGHT?

Dear Brother Beebe; Not long since I received a private letter from my much esteemed brother W.L. Beebe of Covington, Ga., from which I make the following extract. He says:

“I have been forcibly impressed of late with two facts which seem to me more clearly evident than I ever before saw them. One of these is the discord and confusion among all orders of anti-christian professors of religion, especially among the Missionary Baptists, of whom I do not know any single church united in sentiment and maintaining even the semblance of christian unity. The other and more gratifying fact is the universal prevalence among the Old School or Primitive Baptists of a more earnest and cordial christian love and fellowship than I ever noticed before. Are these things confined to the limited range of my personal observation; or are they generally apparent? It seems to me that there is a great change about to take place in the religious world, which will sensibly affect the church in her visibility. I apprehend a trying time not far distant. Please tell me either privately or through the “Signs,” “What of the night?” How do you see relative to the times in which we live?”

I wrote a private letter to my beloved brother, and had concluded to write nothing for the “Signs;” but upon reflection I have determined to offer a few thoughts, which will be at your disposal. So far as relates to the discord and confusion now becoming more plainly manifest among anti-christian professors of religion, and more especially among Missionary Baptists, from all the information that I have, I think it is a general thing; and it is but natural it should be so, for several important reasons. In the first place they have no vital permanent principles in which they are agreed, and to which they are devoted, but are devoted to their preachers and to one another. As it was and is yet with the Catholic clergy and their laity, so it has become with the Protestant clergy and their laity. The clergy directs and their laity obeys; and such as refuse to obey are ridiculed from their pulpits and through their written publication. They appoint their protracted meetings at such times as will be most convenient for the people to attend generally, in this country between the middle of July and the last of September, which they call their revival season. These meetings are conducted mainly by their preachers, who make it a business, day and night, to influence their hearers to come up [to seats prepared for the occasion] to be prayed for; and if persuasion will not bring them up, they are threatened with awful calamities. Parents are often sent through the congregation to persuade their children and most near relatives and friends to come up to be prayed for; and by the direction of the preachers the same course is pursued to get all they can to take seats prepared for candidates for membership. And in the bounds of my acquaintance none have been rejected [young, nor old] who could be influenced to take those seats; and often when the candidates could tell nothing, the preachers have told for them. At such meetings the preaching is so arranged as carefully to avoid the doctrine of the cross of Christ; like one of their preachers [not long since] boasted of, by them as a theologian – predestinarian – sound gospel minister, quoted from the 6th of John, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me.” Here he paused, and said, “That is so; but he does not say no others can come.” And then in a great strain urged them all to come to Christ. By such preaching and continued efforts their ranks have been crowded with nominal professors. Not killed to the love of sin, and of course having no love to God or his truth; with no love stronger than natural affection, and no devotion, but to their preachers and to one another. How could there be anything but confusion [Babylon] manifested in them? And as it has become more and more plain, many of God’s children who had united with them have obeyed God and come out from among them, and united with the Old School Baptists, just as though they had never before made any public profession; and truly such enjoy themselves, having made their escape from Babylon. In this way things have moved on, till now the Missionary Baptists have but few, if any left, but carnal, nominal professors; hence their confusion is more manifested; and the farther they go, the more trouble their preachers will have to keep such members in the bounds of piety or morality, and make them pay such salaries as they require; and the more discord and confusion they must have until their folly shall be made manifest, as was that of Jannes and Jambres, who withstood Moses.

Saying nothing about the manifest evidences that Catholics and Protestants may become united, and the consequences that might follow, I will proceed to notice how and why it is that the Old School Baptists are more manifestly united in christian love and fellowship. Before the Baptists in this country divided on the missionary question, they had become numerous and popular, and were quite careless in receiving members, licensing and calling to ordination preachers, and became so lenient and charitable in their fleshly feelings that they generally invited ministers of other denominations to preach in their houses and on their meeting days; and a majority of our preachers began carefully to avoid the plain doctrine of the cross of Christ, and gradually grew into the habit [in their preaching or exhortations] of using such sayings as the following: “Come and seek the Lord now, before it is too late, everlastingly too late.” “Come and accept of offered mercy upon the terms of the gospel; for now salvation is offered to you through our preaching. For it has pleased God to save sinners through the preaching of the gospel; and through such means he gives light to sinners dead in trespasses and sins.” Such sayings, and many others equally unscriptural, became quite common; and when the modern missionary plans were suggested, a majority were ready prepared to lay hold. But some could not; and the contest began and spread from church to church, and from association to association, until a separation was unavoidable; after which the Old Baptists had peace among themselves for a while. But some who had come out with them were still wedded to many such sayings as the above, and to the practice of inviting missionaries and others to preach with them, and keeping up the practice of calling up their hearers to be prayed for; singing, exhorting, and shaking of hands, all at the same time, which tended more to excite fleshly feelings, and to confusion, that to instruct, edify and comfort the saints. And it was soon manifest that notwithstanding there were but few, comparatively, yet there were too many; for while such as were sound in the faith necessarily became more particular and plain in declaring the apostolic doctrine, many became offended, and went back, or rather turned to their own place, [being of a fearful heart] falling again in with the popular crowd. It was thought then the division was done; but as time moved on, and God’s ministers grew more particular, bold and fearless in proclaiming the discriminating truth of the gospel, yea, the deep things of God, it was soon discovered that there were yet others who could not endure sound doctrine, or lap water like a dog, nor pronounce clearly the word Shibboleth; and they took offence, and went off, leading some few with them, ridiculing and misrepresenting God’s ministers. And all this time missionary preachers had hope of proselyting more, and no pains were spared to misrepresent and ridicule such as stood firm. But of late it is manifest that their hope of proselyting such as are with the Old School Baptists is gone, and they have dropped back into silence, as though they thought them unworthy their notice, and their fears of Catholic prosperity seems to have died away. Truly the Old School Baptists are more manifestly united in brotherly love and christian fellowship, because they are nearer all agreed in the great and unshaken principles of the doctrine of salvation by grace alone, and have become more confined to the practice of the primitive saints. Truly there has a great change already taken place in the religious world which has, and will more sensibly affect the church in her visibility. Strange and mysterious have been the workings of the great Refiner of his people. His watchful eye has been, and yet is upon the crucible, or furnace of affliction in which his people are chosen, for the trial of their faith. And glory to his name, he keeps the temperature exactly right, so that all things work together for good to them that love him, and are the called according to his purpose. Well may Israel say, The Lord is our Judge, the Lord is our Lawgiver, the Lord is our King, he will save us. His power and grace alone has kept us from going in the popular way, which our depraved nature was much inclined to do. The benefit is ours, but the praise is his.

Yours in love,
D.W. Patman.
Near Lexington Georgia, Jan. 2, 1870.