State Road, Del., July 1, 1880.
DEAR BROTHER BEEBE: – I have been requested several times, by an esteemed brother in one of the churches of that I serve, to write for publication some account of my exercises in regard to the public ministry of the word. It comes up rather as a task than a pleasure, but the pleasure, I suppose, rightfully belongs to others, and not to myself. Unless it could be some one to write who was more skillful and the word, the personal pronoun comes in with an unpleasant frequency when attempting to deal with these personal subjects. Waiving all objections, each requests, made in good faith and sincerity, are entitled to a candid and respectful attention. I have nothing to present that I shall either expect or desire to be regarded as a test or standard for others, or as even a guide. Still, some general observations upon the subject in hand will be indulged in for the consideration of the brethren, and to be received for just what they are worth. It was said to Israel that “they had not gone that way heretofore;” and it may be added that nobody else had gone that way either. It is undoubtedly true in regard to the calling to the exercise of gifts in the church, as it is in the first call to be saints, that they are led in a way that they knew not, a way that they would not have chosen, and which seems all dark and wrong to them.
Among the first serious thoughts that I can trace as having a bearing in all upon the subject, was an aversion amounting almost to a detestation of ignorant young man, who had need themselves to be taught, showing an anxiety to preach. The sacredness of that calling, and the vast responsibility resting upon it, not only made me shrink from it, but let me frequently to wonder and others, that it did not so affect them. It now seems to me that it was first in my own heart, and possibly resulting from the travel of my own mind, that I conceived the gospel and the preaching of it to be a provision for the saints. Neither the word nor the preaching of it, nor yet the preachers, or ever sent to convert sinners. Preaching the word did not present itself to me as designed to effect either the conversion or condemnation of the ungodly. There could of course, with such convictions, be no place for ambition or vanity with regard to saving those who would otherwise be lost. It would hardly be in place here to tell, even if it could be distinctly told, the various in arresting and import and reflections that presented themselves upon the calling an experience of the saints. If it has ever been mile ought to know anything of the blessing gospel, what it is, and what constitutes its excellency, I learned it in the experience of the Lord’s people. There I saw at all fulfilled. This gospel must be preached for a witness. It will be little worth to those or to any to whom it does not bear witness. It seems to me now that I have but little knowledge of the saints without loving them, and sympathizing deeply with them. Some of the first lessons in regard to their travel and exercises suggested the needs be for such a provision for them as that made in the gospel of the grace of God. If I saw enough of their experience, and knew enough of their life, to comprehend their hungerings and thirstings, their hopes and fears, their sorrows and their joys, I could hardly fail to trace up something of the riches of God’s grace in his word, as thus developed in the wants of his people. If the word is ever sweet to anybody, sweeter than honey and the honey-comb, it is to some one who is famishing for want of the comfort and nourishment it contains. Such of you of the Lord’s people, as a poor and afflicted people, was a view entirely new to me. That they stood in need of good, comforting and encouraging preaching, that which contain food, that abounded with milk and honey, and was full with a blessing of the Lord, was an impression that rested upon my heart. The incidence of thirty years have not in the least dimmed the recollection of anxious interest, of pity and solicitude felt in those times for the scattered of the flock. You know, brother Beebe, as many of your readers do not, the distressed condition of many of the churches about that time. The church organizations in many instances had been broken up, and their church property and church privileges taken from them. They wondered where they might, subjected to taunts and reproach is more stinging and cruel than anything encountered of later years. Of them it may well be said that the world was not worthy. But it was an occasion for all who loved Jerusalem to mourn for her. Zion as a body seemed to be brought to a low estate. Lover and friend appeared to be far from her. There were certainly great need for some to speak comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her that her warfare was accomplished. There was in mine hears the voice of numbers crying in the wilderness, hungry and thirsty, their soul fainting in them, and finding no city to dwell in. It may have been a somewhat new view of the world, that it contained everything needful to feed, to comfort, and to meet the varied wants of the sorrowing and afflicted people. “We wept when we remembered Zion.” The law sheep of the house of Israel, the Redeemer’s little ones, the poor of the flock, Zion’s children, who are going in weeping, inquiring the way, &c., of these, all these awakened a deep and abiding anxiety that the Lord would send by whom he would his word unto them, for me to have met with any of these people entirely destitute of the preached word, and have been capable of talking comforting words to them, join them in singing experimental songs, and mingling supplications, would have been pleasant. To preach was not in my thoughts. That was something far beyond any of my aspirings. When the subject was thrust upon me, as is sometimes was, I failed and have continued to fail to find about me than necessary qualifications. A man of unclean lips, slow of speech, and forever insufficient for these things, is and has been the honest and sober judgment to which I have found myself subjected. Some may inquire how and why, then, have I gone on. My only answer is, a necessity is laid upon me to serve the brethren and do their bidding. My only idea, of which I am conscious, is to serve them, and honor and glorified their Redeemer. At no time have I felt at liberty to say no to their demands upon me. Whether my services are worth anything or not, I have all along confided to their judgment. I have not had any conceptions of preaching in any other light than serving the churches, and this certainly implies being serviceable to them. Of the service and profit to them, they are themselves competent and the proper judges. My travel, whether under the lead of the Spirit or not, has led me to some clear and strong convictions with regard to the order of the church. I have not heard the sound of taxes or hammers in its building. Those who have a right to enter in, find the gate open to them. It is a bad mark to see anyone anxious to get into the church that the church is unwilling to receive. Any irregular steps or maneuvering to Gideon, tends to destroy confidence and a close the doors. So of the ministry; the churches have quite naturally been anxious, too anxious, to have preachers. They have sometimes encouraged incautiously some whose zeal ran in this way. If there is a preaching gift, and the brethren find it at a fine and profitable, they will certainly call for its exercise, and I have long regarded the fruits as a safe criterion by which to judge of the gift. As a man cannot procure the gifts of God of himself, so neither can he push himself upon the brethren without them; and all attempts to do so on the part of an aspiring member, or on the part of his friends, lonely injure him in his standing in usefulness, and theirs also. It is a feeling or state of mind that I have been utterly unable to comprehend, to be ambitious to speak where there is no show of a corresponding wish to hear.
Again. All ideas that I have ever had of the work of God’s spirit are humbling and prostrating upon the mines impressed with them. While a man’s whole soul is absorbed and occupied with this work of God’s grace, the spirit of the Lord God will show upon him. He cannot be light and trifling with these things, nor indeed with anything ounce. If indeed are eyes have seen Jerusalem, we have fell to pray for her peace. The result, I think, of severe exercises in regard to the order and discipline of the church, is to prepare and qualify to minister that order and discipline in a proper spirit, and to salutary effect.
My sympathies, which were first awakened in behalf of what might be called a supposed case, of a feeble band of brethren, destitute of regular preaching, and almost for sake and and forgotten, soon found opportunity for exercise and the place and with a people exactly corresponding to what I saw in my dream, if it was a dream. It was at Tuscarora, Juniata County, Pennsylvania, where I was first called to administer the ordinance of baptism. I am conscious of promptings of that same kind yet in behalf of those whose only food is the hidden manna, and whose thirst nothing but living water will satisfy, who are scattered away from each other, destitute of regular preaching, and as sheep having no shepherd. There is something about a sight and sense of the labor needed in the garden, and among the plants that the Lord has planted, that of itself says, “Go work to-day in my vineyard,” and also qualifies for the work. It also furnishes an incentive to it, as well as an enjoyment in it.
In this sketch I have had in view and endeavored to trace such, and only such, exercises as evidently tended to fit and prepare for the work. An impression upon the mind that it is my duty to preach, or that I ought to preach and must preach, &c., I have purposely discarded as a little account. I do not question but some have been so impressed who have been called and have become approved preachers; but these impressions alone do not qualify nor shall a gift, and many have professed to be so impressed who never gave any other proof of their calling. Preaching is something that I’m not attempting to comprehend. The great thing is to have a message, one that there’s a reason to believe that God himself has given. The delivering of it will come in course. Not only the original exercise and opening of the understanding to understand scriptures, but a daily acquaintance with the travel and trials of the people of God, seems to me to be requisite, so that a man’s heart may be in the work; and a further in continual opening of the word with its treasures, too perfect and thoroughly furnish him to its fulfillment. The first text ever presented to my own mind in that way was Deuteronomy xxxii. 9, 10: “The Lord’s portion is his people,” &c. The second was Psalm lxix. 6: “Let not them that way on thee, O Lord God of hosts, be ashamed for my sake: let not those that seek thee be confounded for my sake, O God of Israel.” If I have not entirely mistaken the travel of my own mind, this deep and abiding interest in Zion, this desire that peace may be within her walls, and prosperity within her palaces, has lived and groan with me, and I have lived in it; but I never have been allowed any stock on hand. At the best, I have only lived from day to day, and no manna that I could obtain would keep. Whenever I cease to be furnished with the message that shall be somewhat new as well as old, that shall seem to promise a word in season to awaiting people, I think I shall have to stop. For myself, I ask and expect the forbearance of my brethren; but what I write, I expected to be subjected to the test criticism, and for it to stand (if it stand at all) upon its own merits.
The above is submitted, brother Beebe, to your judgment. And the fellowship of the word,
Signs of the Times
Volume 48, No. 16
August 15, 1880