HARE’S CORNER, Del., Jan. 1, 1880.
DEAR BROTHER BEEBE: –As you enter upon the forty-eighth year of your editorial labors, and the eightieth of your earthly pilgrimage, several rather serious reflections urge themselves upon me. I feel like making this time and place a standpoint, from which to take a kind of retrospective view, and remember and look over some of the incidents of the way, and also to look forward and contemplate the prospect ahead.
Since the separation, or first organization of the Old School Baptists as a distinct people, the SIGNS OF THE TIMES has been so identified with them as to really constitute in a great measure their history. As to the conduct of the SIGNS, it will probably be conceded that no other man that has lived among us could have conducted such a periodical during this period so ably, so satisfactorily and so successfully as Elder Beebe has done. It will be recollected that at the time of which I speak those who took the stand as Old School Baptists were comparatively “few men.” The number of churches, of associations and of ordained ministers were, as compared with the New School, or with other denominations, a small and feeble people. They had little, if anything, to commend them to the attention of impostors. There was good reason to believe that all those who took part in what looked like so unpromising a movement, did so in good faith and sincerity of purpose. Aspirants to popularity, position, sumptuous living or worldly applause, could find better prospects elsewhere. Contrary to all reasonable expectations, quite a number, particularly of ministers, have since fallen away. Some few went back, confessed their sins, and were cordially received into their former quarters. They had perhaps been the victims of disappointed ambition, or else had not sufficiently counted the cost. But more have gone off as the leaders of small factions and parties, each with a few adherents, and each claiming to be the true and genuine Old School Baptists. Disaffected and disorganized parties, split off under one pretense or another from the Old School Baptists, let the way to the starting of papers of various pretentions, but in opposition to the SIGNS, and in the interest of these opposing parties. If these movements could have been confined to those who made them, and acted voluntarily therein, there would have been little about it to regret. If instead of peace, and the enjoyment of that sweet fellowship which is in the spirit, they encountered wrath, bitterness, strife and wrangling, they had chosen it for themselves, and were eating the fruit of their doings. But the evil did not stop here. Innocent and peace-loving brethren and sisters were made the unwilling victims of their disorder. Whole communities of churches and associations were swept along with alienating and non-fellowshiping resolutions, under the lead and management of a few ambitious men who occupied a controlling position, and against when there seemed to be no remedy. There are numerous cases of great distress because of the confusion in which brethren and sisters have found themselves involved, cases which call for pity and sympathy, rather than censure. A fearful responsibility rests upon those who make use of their position and influence to sow discord among brethren.
I do not of course allude here to those papers which have served the common cause, and are published in the interest of peace and edification. It was to be expected that in the event of the SIGNS being successful, other papers similar in character and devoted to the same objects would in the course of time spring up, according as our vast country might be supposed to have room for them. In a review like this, the most important inquiry, and that which most immediately concerns us all, is whether the SIGNS has been in all respects what it should have been, or whether the paper or some of its correspondents have been responsible to any extent for any of the schisms or disorders that hath occurred among the brethren. Without saying y ea or nay to this, it may be proper to offer some reflections in relation to the matter. The first great duty of the SIGNS was to declare and maintain the fundamental and immovable principles of gospel truth. Thus the fixed boundaries, the stakes and cords of the spiritual tabernacle Were to be presented to view, and the ground occupied and to be occupied, and Within which limits were to he confined all who could be recognized as sound Baptist or gospel churches, exhibited and maintained. In the fulfillment of this sacred and vastly important trust, great unanimity of sentiment and harmony of action prevailed. It might now be regarded as quite remarkable that all over our widespread country what was sound doctrine and gospel order, and also what constituted a departure from the faith, were understood, accepted and maintained with general acquiescence and uniformity. stows and from henceforth, as a medium of correspondence among recognized brethren, and as a messenger laden pith precious gospel truth, will the tendency of the SIGNS be continually to bring them together, and laid then in one fellowship and communion? If not, why not? I have long held that the pure word of gospel truth would identify all true believers, and bring them together; and that, as far as they were concerned, whether the word of the fiord was preached or published, its tendency Would null must be to rally them to its standard, and that it was not possible for that word to alienate or scatter them. If this is not so, I have long been laboring under the impulse of a mistaken faith.
After the foundation had been laid, and the fundamental principles some what settled, it was natural enough for those giant minds that had been called out, and had in a great measure finished the conflict in which they had been engaged, to leave these first principles of the doctrine of Christ and go on unto perfection. They no doubt would consider themselves admonished by the apostle so to do. The house must be all glorious within, as well as Without. Jerusalem must be searched as with candles, and many innovations and disorders must be purged out. These, some of them at least, will be found to be of long standing and quite deeply rooted is the minds and affections of the pee pie. This measuring of the temple and of the altar and Or the worshipers is all right. The building must bear measure both without and with in. No trouble ought to arise, or alienation spring up, because of judgment being thus applied to the line And it is to be presumed that there would not, but for human infirmity. If all this was kept hi the hands of that ye which are spiritual, of whom the apostle speaks, the result would generally, if not always be salutary, and peace and prosperity would be attained. If it was the mission of the SIGNS, in its peculiar sphere, to minister to purifying of the internal order of the sanctuary, and to present to view the sacred solemnities of divine worship, we would expect that the word of God as set forth therein would run and be glorified. Moreover, if in addition to this it was its mission to penetrate to all places where sheep and lambs were scattered in dearly and cloudy days, as a light to guide their feet in the way of peace, bearing to places of sorrow and mourning the witness of the Spirit, and ministering peace on earth and good will to men, would not all the children of God scattered abroad realize the blessing, and coming to walk in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, be multiplied? That all this happy consummation has not been attained, must be admitted. I will not not dare to say that any failure is to be attributed to the word, or to the faithful administration of it. If we find a cause in human infirmity (as hinted above), we shall not find it all on the side of the SIGNS. The readers are men of like passions with the writers and publishers. The first thing that comes up to ma mind is, that those long accustomed to war with enemies failed to lay off their war-harness w hen entering the sanctuary; instead, they should always have had on their priestly vestments. In ministering to the sick, comforting mourners, or feeding lambs, there needs nothing but tenderness, self-sacrificing devotion and love. In these is the very spirit of the word. Neither the spirit nor the language of conflict and strife are in place in the tabernacle. In the discussion of fine points of doctrine, or of the particular bearing of certain passages of scripture, our object of course is, or should be, the instruction and profit of the reader. We are not called to display our own wisdom, or our progress as debaters. Our reputation should depend upon the fact that what we advance is cordially received by the brethren, and that general satisfaction and edification result. We all have more or less ambition; and if we advance a sentiment that is new, or so presented as to appear new among the brethren, and we find them puzzled and perplexed with it, the end that ought to be had in view has in this case failed. But will the brother drop it, or will he insist all the more upon it? If our only object is to enlighten, we need not strive for the mastery. If I refer to the testimony that ought to serve, if I stop there. But if I go on and construe that testimony, and continually have the last word, I shall certainly fail of the object to benefit my brother; I shall alienate him. In discussions of this kind, I find brethren tenacious of their phraseology. Even their very words they are ready to fight for. You are expected to not only admit the sentiment, but to admit the correctness of all the terms maple use of to express it. If at any time a medium of correspondence like the SIGNS is thus used by, ambitious men, pressing sentiments and phrases upon the reader that are regarded at least as of doubtful authority, division and discord will be as it has been the result. There is such a thing as when an idea or sentiment has been advanced, and has become a subject of discussion or disputation, that it becomes magnified in the mind of the writer, so as to be maintained and contended for as of the first importance. Another thing I will notice, and then draw to a close. That is, the language proper to be used in brotherly correspondence. There are a number of words in the vocabulary that brethren in their correspondence have no use for; such terms as enemies, slanderers, vilifiers, and malicious, viperish, traducers, and all others of this class. I have no enemies among the brethren, nor indeed anywhere else. I never find occasion in correspondence, nor in trying in my feeble way to preach, to use such terms. My brethren are jealous for the truth, and for the doctrine of God our Savior. If I fail to satisfy them, I should not blame them for hesitating to receive what I say. Preachers and writers of gospel truth can afford to be patient. No need that they should be fretted, or lose their temper; the right will triumph. If we have not attained to that perfect love and union that is desirable, there is no doubt a cause. Far better to ferret it out among ourselves, than to blame or censure those who are involved in the alienation. The gospel minister may rejoice in his word, in that it will bring forth fruit in fulfillment of its divine mission. The church may rejoice in the light and glory that the Lord has shed upon her. If any would eclipse her light, or stain the pride of her glory, she is out of their reach.
The SIGNS may aspire to a higher mission than it has yet fulfilled; but no religious periodical has ever be fore attained the eminent and exalted position of the SIGNS. Its editor, now in the eightieth year of his earthly pilgrimage, can look back to see, but to make all due allowance for human infirmity. He can afford to overlook and forgive every unkind thing that has ever been said of him. In humble yet unshaken faith he can commit his future to him that judgeth righteously. Let us indulge the hope that the incoming year will be one of happiness and peace beyond those which have preceded it. That the columns of the SIGNS will be greatly enriched with gospel treasure. That alienations and strivings about words will cease. That wounds will be healed, offenses forgiven, and broken fellowship restored. That Zion may be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness. And that her captives weeping by the rivers of Babylon may come home with joy and singing. A happy year then to all the household of faith, for happy is that people whose God is the Lord.
Yours to serve in the cause,
Signs of the Times
Volume 48, No. 3
February 1, 1880