State Road, Del., July 1886
Dear Brother Respess: – I have two or three letters fixed in my mind for the MESSENGER, but I have not got them committed to paper yet. Today I will just pen down a few somewhat rambling thoughts on general subjects.
Some communications have recently been published in both the Signs of The Times and MESSENGER that have caused a feeling of uneasiness and apprehension with me. I have wearied with controversies, and have hoped, desired and longed that all differences and discussions among Old School Baptists would cease, and that they would all speak only such things as tended to edify. Some writers have seemed to anticipate a conflict on the subject of Predestination, and instead of showing any apprehension of evil from such a source, show, I thought, rather a disposition to welcome the strife and a readiness of mind to participate in it. It is easy enough to avoid strife if people wish to avoid it; but some people appear to enjoy controversy; and, like wars of the world, it tends to give prominence and notoriety to those who take the most extravagant positions. I have yet failed to see why we, as New Testament Baptists, should be particularly partial to the word Predestination. For instance, to call ourselves Predestinarian Baptists. While I believe the doctrine as taught in the New Testament, I do not know that I believe it any more than many other points of truth; neither do I see it as any more important than other points of gospel doctrine. If I call myself a Predestinarian Baptist it would seem to imply that I am laying great stress on this doctrine as the one all important doctrine – to the neglect of others – and priding myself in being particularly strong in the belief of it. We cannot be too strong in believing and maintaining truth, but it is possible for us in our zeal to maintain a doctrinal position, to resort to arguments that will not bear examination. I think we should be very moderate and careful in discussing subjects in regard to which good brethren honestly differ, and especially when the subject is one so much of which is out of our reach. Brethren sometimes make their assertions very positive and strong where diffidence and deference would become them, and then they, are somewhat sensitive, perhaps, about allowing their position to be questioned. I have lived long enough to see several controversies begun and carried on for years; the parties not frequently coming together, but as a quite general thing going wider apart, sometimes ending in permanent alienation. It is not always gone into in the spirit of inquiry, with a desire to be instructed, but it may be sometimes rather with a disposition to establish out own position and confute that of the other party. While pondering over these things I feel sad that the MESSENGER and Signs both come to hand with some articles in them that have the appearance of taking not only rather extreme grounds, but that that is known to be disputed. Elder James Wagner is one of the writers of whom I speak, I do not know him personally, but I certainly do admire the masterly manner in which he handles all his subjects. He will not take it amiss of me to call his attention to a passage in a late communication of his. I quote: “Thus he loved Jacob and hated Esau, before they were born, or had done either good or evil; which demonstrates beyond doubt that the cause of the difference was not in the children themselves,” &c. Bro. Wagner may not have been aware how far he had got away from the scripture account in his construction of it. The record is: “Two nations are in the womb, and two manners of people, and the one people shall be stronger than the other people, and the elder shall serve the younger.” The reader will see that there is not a word about loving and hating here, and that what is said is not of Jacob and Esau as individual men, but of these two nations and two manner of people. Esau never did serve Jacob as a man, and there was no service rendered until the days of David, some eight hundred years afterward. The expression about loving and hating may be found in the closing up of the prophetic dispensation, and of course was spoken of as the idolatrous Edomites. In the same paragraph one other sentence in which passages are made to say just the opposite of what they do say, but I will not notice them now.
There is no need to resort to artifice or misconstruction to support truth, and we may sometimes argue to our disadvantage when we use scripture in a direct sense from what was intended. I am not meaning now to take up any side or position that has been taken and urged on this or any other subject, I am merely aiming to say that I do hope brethren will be careful what they write, and not indulge in a controversial spirit. There are not only questions that gender strife in and of themselves, but the manner in which they are discussed is more prolific of evil than the questions themselves.
Yours in continued afflictions,