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(Reply to Elder James Strickland)

As in his letter he has made several appeals to us on various propositions, before we attempt an exposition of the text on which he desires our views, we will endeavor to respond to them briefly. We say briefly, because it would require much time and space to write elaborately on each of them.

First. We will remark that we were not led to a misapprehension of the general purpose of his former letter by his having unfortunately used the term “protracted,” as by a more careful review of our former remarks it will be found that we did not object to the protraction of meetings when the Spirit so directs, or circumstances require; we objected only to the idea of protracted meetings for the purpose of getting up revivals or religious excitements. We did not understand from brother Strickland’s letter that the meeting at Francisco was previously appointed as a protracted meeting for any such purpose, but being assembled, the meeting was protracted. Brother Strickland misapprehends us if he understood us to object to prayers being made for mourners in Zion. All the inhabitants of Zion are mourners at times; sometimes they mourn their own leanness and barrenness, their trials, tribulations or persecutions, and all the saints are at all times in public or private duly authorized to pray for each other, as the word directs and the Spirit indites; but still to call on either saint or sinner to signify by rising up, by coming to some particular altar or seat, or by extending their hand, or by any other sign or signal, is in our view very objectionable. First, because in so doing we assume a mediatorial position between the sinner and his God which would mislead them to rely on our prayers to commend them to God, instead of teaching them that we are just as dependent on God to sustain us as they are for deliverance from their distress. There are examples in the word in which the prayers of the saints are asked for, but if there be any instance where the primitive disciples called on their congregations to signify by motion or gesture, movement or sign, that they desired their prayers, we have overlooked it.

Second. Much mischief grows out of such proceedings sometimes. For instance, at a revival meeting, even if the revival be genuine, there are often those present whose natural sympathies are touched; they feel alarmed for the moment, and on being called on they signify that they wish the prayers of the minister; by their public expression of the desire they feel that they have committed themselves publicly as seekers, or as wishing to become christians, and having done so, after the excitement has subsided they are induced to make a profession of religion, when they would not think of doing so if they had not thus prematurely committed themselves.

We were sincere in saying that we had mistaken these brethren if they would designedly depart from the ancient landmarks of Zion. We did not think they really designed what their practice seemed to imply, and for that very cause we felt constrained to warn them to shun the appearance of evil. What we understand by the efficiency of the ministry, is that they be divinely qualified to minister in holy things, by such gifts, and only such, as Christ has given unto men for the work of the ministry and for the edifying of the body of Christ. If this be what our brother means by efficiency, we agree that the prosperity and benefit of the church is promoted by the gifts which Christ has so bestowed for the benefit of the whole body. Baptist ministers, in common with others, not beyond others, may be too much occupied in discussing worldly subjects, and a faithful admonition to such is seasonable and proper, if it be administered in the spirit of the gospel; instead of admiring errors among the Baptists, which we would condemn in others, we look for nothing else but errors in others, and therefore an error in a professed Baptist is more unbecoming and out of place, in our estimation, than anywhere else.

We may be under the deceptive influence of a beam in our own eye, but we are greatly deceived indeed if we do not discover a mote which we would gladly remove from the vision of our brother. We confess that the different view which we take of some of the same things seems to indicate that there is some defect somewhere in our vision, we do not seem to see the same things precisely alike; this may be owing to beams or motes. May the Lord enable all his watchmen to see eye to eye.

Brother Strickland says: “If our ministers had been as careful in pointing out and keeping before the brethren their errors as they have the errors and wrongs of others, it would have been better for the Baptists, and we to-day would not have had to complain of the cold, lifeless, barren and dead state of religion that we do.” This is saying considerable. Well, however derelict other Baptist ministers may have been in pointing out the errors, or what are supposed to be the errors, of brethren, brother Strickland and ourselves will not be charged with the sin of altogether overlooking or winking at the errors of each other. But although we have been for many years endeavoring to point out the errors of our dearest brethren, and not insensible that we have many of our own also, which our brethren have kindly borne with, still we feel much coldness, barrenness and deadness. But we have serious doubts if a kind of animation resulting from our own faithfulness, either in admonishing our brethren, or anything else that we can do, would be the kind of life and activity that either brother Strickland or ourselves would be satisfied with. Both of us would rather say, If the Lord shall quicken our poor, cold hearts, and animate our sluggish minds by the life-giving and life-reviving power of his Holy Spirit, it would make us more active and more faithful in pursuing every good word and work.

“Too much time and labor,” you say, “has been given to the subject of doctrinal preaching, and not enough to the practical part of the gospel.” And this you demonstrate by the testimony, which to us is new, that there are to-day a dozen different factions in the United States calling themselves Old School Baptists, utterly refusing to correspond with each other; all in consequence of some doctrinal difference. Admitting for instance the whole force of this testimony, we cannot see that it proves, but rather disproves, the correctness of the position, for the testimony only shows that those who are so divided on the subject of doctrine are not sufficiently posted on doctrine. If they were better instructed in doctrine they would be more united. If the difference were in their practice it would look more to us as though too little time and labor had been bestowed on practical subjects. Brother Strickland we trust will not undertake to say that the preaching of the doctrine of the gospel, the doctrine of God our Savior, has a tendency to divide the children of God; if so, we would infer that it ought not to be preached at all.

How many sorts of people may claim to be Old School Baptists who do not believe our doctrine, and who are not in correspondence with us, we do not know, but we did not think there were so many as our brother speaks of but if there be “a dozen,” it to our mind only shows the greater necessity for a more faithful and constant preaching of the doctrine.

Brother Strickland says: “No denomination that I am acquainted with seems to boast of the correctness of their doctrinal sentiments as much as the Old School Baptists, and yet none are more divided among themselves than the Baptists are.” Truly, if a dozen or more factions, holding different doctrinal sentiments, and having no correspondence, fellowship or communion with each other, are still but one denomination or church, it must be admitted that there is much division in the denomination. But is it fair to include as any part of the church of Christ any factions or parties who do not hold our sentiments, and who have no correspondence with us, merely because they choose to call themselves Old School Baptists? On the same principle may we not include as belonging to the true church of Christ all who profess to be christians, and so consolidate Catholics, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Mormons, Quakers and Dunkards, with many other names, as the same one church, only somewhat divided in their doctrine and practice? We hold that all who are not with us are against us, and all who have gone out from us have gone out that it might be made manifest that they were not of us. The church of Christ is a unit, and though there may be threescore queens, and fourscore concubines, yet Christ’s bride is but one, she is the only one of her mother, the choice one of her that bare her.

We admit that the faithful preaching of the gospel presents the gospel in all its excellence, which cannot be done without presenting the experience and practice of the gospel, but we do not think the minister of Christ can dwell too long or too loud on what is called the doctrine, nor that the doctrine can be faithfully preached without preaching christian experience, for all christians have experienced the doctrine of God our Savior, and desire to adorn that doctrine in their deportment and conversation.

We are astonished at the figure brother Strickland has employed to illustrate his views of the nature and tendency of doctrinal preaching. Is it true that the constant and persistent preaching of the doctrine of Christ, with now and then an exposure of Arminianism, stamps the life out of real christians, like the stamping the roots of young trees, as in the similitude used? We do believe that the faithful preaching of the doctrine of Christ will drive away from the church those who have never received the love of the truth, that they might be saved, but we are willing to see all that fire put out which God has not kindled, all those converts driven away from the church which God has not made, and all that life which is not born of God slain by the sword of the Spirit. Let them all die who cannot live on every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God; let them all starve who cannot feed upon the doctrine of Christ, and let them all be stripped of their foliage and fruit whose roots can be killed by the faithful preaching of the doctrine of the gospel. “For their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorra: their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter: their wine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps.” (Deut. 32:32,33) Of this sort were those “disciples” who figured zealously at the banquet of loaves and fishes. (John 6) But the vigor was bruised out of their roots on the very next day, by the doctrine which kills so many at this day. When Jesus preached to them the doctrine of salvation by grace alone, that none could be saved except by him, that none could have eternal life except they ate his flesh and drank his blood, etc., this doctrine made a great scattering of the disciples. No doubt if our Lord had kept back this hard doctrine, and in its stead given them such food as they could relish, a few more loaves and fishes, they would have been inclined to remain with him, and to have had him for their King. But the bread of heaven they did not desire, and his doctrine they could not endure; it pinched their roots beyond endurance, because they were not rooted or grounded in him, and we read, “Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?” “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.” (John 6:60,66) ‘Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” Here we see that the very doctrine which crushes the roots and drives away nominal and graceless disciples, feeds, comforts, unites and binds more closely together those who are truly born of God and led by his Spirit. Those churches therefore which have withered and died because the doctrine has been preached to them long and loud, and Arminianism exposed, we are sure were not the churches of Christ, and they cannot die too fast when the truth of God kills them. “ Doctrine is good in its place.” So brother Strickland admits, but where is its place? In the church of God. The holy apostle has warned us, saying, “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.” (II John 10) This admonition is to the elect lady and her children, whom John loved in the truth, and certainly is applicable to all who know and love the truth. Paul was so far from apprehending danger to the saints that he exhorted Timothy to “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” Too much of this would not kill them, nor destroy their spiritual exercises. God says by the mouth of Moses, “Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth. My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distill as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as showers upon the grass.” (Deut. 32:1,2) Nothing crushing or violent to the plants which God’s own hand hath set, in his doctrine. Even the tender herb, instead of being crushed by it, is refreshed; it comes like the small rain, and distills like the cheering dew, softly descending, with wholesome effect, causing the tenderest plants to sparkle in living vigor and beauty. To those who have an ear to hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches, the doctrine of Christ is in its appropriate place, but to anti-Christ it has no attraction; to all false professors of religion it would be like “a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout.” (Prov. 11:22) As brother Strickland justly remarks, “It must underlie all the experience and practice of the gospel.” Nothing therefore can be regarded as gospel experience or gospel practice that is contrary to or that cannot endure sound doctrine. But our brother seems to think it useless to harp upon it where it is already well understood. The apostle dwelt largely on those things, not because the saints did not know them, but because they did know them, and Peter desired, as long as he should continue in the flesh, to stir up their pure minds by way of remembrance.

Those who possess genuine faith will show it by their works, and where it is not so manifested we have no reliable evidence of its existence. “We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak.” (II Cor. 4:13; Psalms 116:10) Those who believe that the preaching of the truth is for the edifying of the saints will be expected to advocate that kind of preaching, and those who think an exhibition of the doctrine will be detrimental to the cause, and depressing to the spiritual exercises of the saints, will be apt to show their faith by keeping it back.

Brother Strickland inquires, “What good is faith going to do you or me, unless that faith is coupled with good works?” We reply, That faith which is the fruit of the Spirit never fails to work, for it works by love and purifies the heart, and any other kind of faith will be vain, even if it be coupled with what we may call good works, for without faith it is impossible to please God. We do not disagree in regard to the character of those works of which brother Strickland speaks, and we believe that the faith of the Son of God living and reigning in us will be evinced by a careful practice of them all. We may differ in regard to the manner in which the saints are to wash each other’s feet. According to our understanding of it, we are now trying to wash brother Strickland’s feet, and we presume that he designed to cleanse our feet of some dust by his brotherly letter, to which we are now replying. If we diverge from the pathway of holiness we shall defile our feet, if not our garments, but we shall keep our feet when we stand on holy or consecrated ground.

Having occupied so much space in our remarks on brother Strickland’s letter, and our replies to his interrogatives, we will now attend to his request for our views on II Peter 1:10: “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.”

The saints to whom this apostolic admonition is addressed, we are told in the first verse, had already obtained faith of the like precious kind, as that possessed by Peter himself It was not therefore a faith in prospect and to be procured, nor a faith that had originated with themselves, but it is that faith which is the gift of God, is born of God, and is the faith of the Son, and which overcomes the world. It is precious from its intrinsic value, from its nature and effects, from its power to conquer the world, quench the violence of fire, stop the mouths of lions, and give ability to endure all things, as seeing him who is invisible. It is peculiarly precious, because it can only come from God as a special gift, and because without it no man can please God; and it is also precious because it is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen; and precious because to it all divine revelation is made to the saints of their election, calling, justification before God, deliverance from wrath and assurance of immortality beyond the grave. With this priceless treasure the apostle assures the saints that God has given them all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue. By this precious faith, together with all things pertaining to life and godliness, which things are all grasped, apprehended or received by precious faith, and by them are given (that is, dealt out to us from our Lord Jesus Christ, the great Reservoir of all spiritual blessings), to us exceeding great and precious promises, that by these (that is, by faith, and what faith lays hold on), ye might be partakers of the divine nature. It is not by this faith and all things that pertain to life and godliness, that we are or were made partakers of human or earthly nature, but of that spiritual, immortal and eternal life, which constitutes our new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. We cannot possess this precious faith without possessing Christ, for it is in him, and as Paul says, “Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” By this faith and these attendant graces the saints have escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust, or through the depraved propensities of our earthly nature, being by the blood of Christ purged from our old sins. Now with all this grace, not only in store for us, but given and received, obtained and in possession, we are called to be active. God has bestowed all these spiritual blessings on us in Christ, “according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” God has called us to glory and virtue. “Wherefore [for these reasons, this being the case, and this grace being received,] the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure.” Instead of this precious faith, and with it all things pertaining to life and godliness, and all the many great and precious promises, and even a participation in the divine nature, having a tendency to make us negligent, careless or indifferent in regard to our high and holy calling, every principle of this heavenly and divine nature implanted is rather calculated to make us diligent in the pursuit of the things which become sound doctrine. The child of God thus called and invested with these precious gifts is to regard it as the great business of his life to diligently pursue those things which are in our context enjoined. Not thereby to procure his election, or any or all the things which pertain to life and godliness, for these he has already in possession, but that he may thereby demonstrate for his own spiritual comfort and for the declarative glory of God, that he does already possess them. This makes sure their calling, that is, it proves beyond all contradiction that God has already called them to glory and to virtue; and as it proves that they are called, so it proves that they are chosen or elected children of God, for “Whom he did predestinate, them he also called.” To make our calling and election sure, is not to procure either, for they are already complete, but it manifest and demonstrate the existing fact. “For if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.” Do what things? The things which he had mentioned in the preceding verse. “Add to your faith virtue.” Virtue is the opposite of vice, and God has called the saints to virtue, that they may show forth the praise of him that hath called them. All the amiability of our nature, in the absence of faith, could not please God, or make our calling and election sure. Faith is first, and virtue, which is in harmony with precious faith, is to be added as evidence to ourselves, and to those around us, that we possess the faith of God’s elect. A man may hold a creed which for orthodoxy may be unexceptionable, and he may preach long and loud in defense of it, but if he be not virtuous in his conduct and deportment he only holds the truth in unrighteousness. And again, a man may be a subject of grace, and possess true and genuine faith, yet if he be not virtuous, circumspect and upright in his deportment, he becomes a castaway, so far as relates to the proving of his calling and election, and a castaway as to his usefulness in his high and holy vocation.

“And to virtue knowledge.” We are not to conclude that we know enough, and that there is no more for us to learn in the school of Christ. We are to learn of Jesus, search the Scriptures, prove all things, and hold fast that which is good. Ask counsel of God, watch carefully the leadings of his word and Spirit, and follow those things whereby one may edify another. This knowledge of divine things is to be diligently sought after, that it may be added to our faith and virtue. But if we have not the faith and virtue we may be ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

“And to knowledge temperance.” If we have not faith, virtue and knowledge, we shall not know what is temperance, but having the former we are qualified to add to them the latter, and to be temperate in all things.

“And to temperance patience.” A restless, murmuring, fretful course illy benefits one who should show forth the praise of the Redeemer. To be patient in tribulation, under sore trials, afflictions, temptations and persecutions, greatly adorns the life of the christian, and this blessed ornament of our profession should be added to the others.

“And to patience godliness.” Godliness consists in living in the fear of God, denying ourselves all ungodliness, that we may live soberly, righteously and godly in the world. To live godly is to pursue in all things that course which God has approved in his word, and which Christ has taught in his examples.

“And to godliness brotherly kindness.” We cannot attach too much importance to these things. “We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren.” But how do we know it if we do not love the brethren? Brotherly kindness is an important evidence then of our calling and election.

“And to brotherly kindness charity,” or christian love, which is to manifest our attachment to God, to his cause, his doctrine, his ordinances, his people, and to all his laws and institutions.

“For if these things be in you, and abound.” That is, if precious faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and charity, if these thins be in us and abound, that is, if they be acted out, made manifest in all our walk and conversation, we cannot be barren or unfruitful, for these are the fruits of the Spirit, and give testimony that the tree which bears them has been made good, and hence they demonstrate that our calling and election is of God, and therefore sure.

“If ye do these things, ye shall never fall.” Never fall from your steadfastness in the truth, from the evidence that you have been purged from your old sins; you shall never fall into that darkness of mind and blindness in which you cannot see afar off, and in which you forget that you have been purged, washed, cleansed, sanctified and set apart from the world to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. When all these things are abounding in us we feel a blessed assurance that we are born of God, a joyful reliance on the great and precious promises which are given unto us.

The apostle adds, “For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” In the absence of these aboundings we feel barren and unfruitful, and find it hard to enter into the precious privileges of the kingdom, and we sometimes doubt whether we have any right or inheritance there; but when they abound in us we do sweetly and experimentally enter in through the gates into the city of our God; and the entrance is ministered unto us abundantly by the Spirit, in our spiritual exercises of mind, in our enjoyment of our gospel privileges, and by the brethren and kindred in Christ, who soon discover the evidence that these things are truly in us and abound, and our entrance into their hearts, their confidence, their love and their fellowship is most abundant.

Middletown, N.Y.,
August 1, 1862.

Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 5
Pages 228 - 239