Winterset, Iowa, June 4, 1860.
Dear Brother Beebe: Brother A. Hood, of this place, put a letter into my hands which he had lately received from Elder N. Gifford, dated “Zionsville, Boone Co., Iowa, May 18th, 1860,” in which he (the said Elder) writes as follows:
“We have some new doctrine preached here lately by Benjamin Jones and John F. Johnson and son. I would like to know if it has got as far west as Winterset. I can give you some of the points: They say that the church never was lost, nor defiled, nor contaminated with sin in any way. I have been told that we need not look to any of Adam’s posterity for the church, for it was not there. They say that this Adam man is not changed in regeneration, neither in soul, spirit, body, mind or matter. Does not this sound strange, when compared with the gospel, or christian experience? I think it does, and I find no authority for it in the Bible; but we are in an age of progression. If the limits of a letter would admit, I would try to show some of the inconsistencies of this doctrine. Some tell us that Christ only died to redeem these bodies from the grave. As a matter of course, if we never was defiled or contaminated with sin, we need no redemption from it. But it is a pity when Old School Baptists will run into such error: but the leaders of this doctrine are Beebe, Dudley and company. Wilson cannot go the doctrine. I have only given you a sketch of it, &c., leaving it for you to meditate upon.”
Brother Beebe, the above is a true copy, and I send it to you by request of my brethren, and we desire you to reply, either in the SIGNS, or by private letter to me, as your judgment may dictate.
Yours in defence of the truth,
Reply: As our dear brother has been a subscriber and constant reader of the SIGNS for many years, it is not necessary for us to tell him at this late hour that our object in publishing, and the object of our subscribers in patronizing us, has been the general edification of the scattered family of God, the exhibition of the doctrine of God our Savior, and the defence of Bible truth, together with an unsparing exposure of error and delusion. When we embarked in the undertaking, we had not the vanity to flatter ourself that we could sail over a smooth, unruffled sea, if we kept steadily in view the object of our labor, and the pledge we gave our brethren in regard to the manner in which the SIGNS OF THE TIMES should be conducted; and now, after nearly thirty years experience in our vocation, we cannot say that we have been disappointed. It is true, we have had some opposition from quarters where we did not dream that it existed, and from some who once held up our hands and encouraged our heart in the prosecution of our labors, but such cases have been comparatively few, the sympathies and brotherly aid of the great mass of the old order of Baptists have been constantly with us, as will be inferred from the fact that in the face of all opposition our circulation has steadily increased every year, and is now larger than it has ever before been at the same season of the year since we issued our first number in 1832. If we have had some enemies, we have had many more true, warm-hearted friends, and what is still more blessed, we feel assured that the goodness and mercy of God have followed us and sustained us until the present hour. That we have given no occasion to our enemies to oppose us, or to our friends to censure us, we do not pretend; the very best of our labors have been poor and imperfect, but that our aim and design have been honest, and all our energies employed with a design to the glory of God and the good of his cause, we hesitate not, in the presence and fear of God, to affirm.
As our brethren can witness, we have generally declined to notice the personal assaults which have been made upon us, as we prefer to fill our columns with matters of more interest to the children of God. We have preferred that our name should be cast out as evil, rather than to set up a defense of our person or motives, especially as our readers have a sufficient opportunity to know our views, our doctrine, by reference to the files of our paper for many years. When we have been charged with new doctrines, heresies, and plots for selfish purposes, we have felt glad that our brethren all over the United States know what are our sentiments. There is not, in the United States, a member of the Old School or Primitive Baptist order, whose views on all subjects connected with our faith and order, are better or more fully known than those of the humble editor of the Signs of the Times. Twenty-four times a year, during the existence of the present generation, we have been heard from, from the centre to the circumference of our country. Yet almost every year some self-conceited wise-acre has attempted to make it appear that we are an awful and dangerous heretic, and that the Old School Baptists have not the intelligence to know it. Assuming to know more than seven men that can render a reason, they have made themselves ridiculous by assuming more discrimination than the whole fraternity of the old order of Baptists. But we have lived to see scores of those conceited comets arise, flutter and decline to their original nothingness. With a consciousness that the precious cause of God and truth is in better and stronger hands than ours, we have nothing to fear from the bluster of those who have no other idea of rising but by attempting the destruction of those who to them are Mordecais in the gate.
But we intended to refer to the inquiries of Elder Kester. Of the Elder, N. Gifford, whose letter is copied above, we know but little, only what we learn by his letter. It is more than possible that the design of his firebrand was to bring him out of his obscurity into notice, but whatever were his motives, it can hardly be accredited to an honest concern for the truth of God; for had that been his feeling, he would not have attempted to exaggerate or misrepresent the views of such men as Elder Benjamin Jones, John F. Johnson, to say nothing of brother Johnson’s son and ourself. The letter bears unmistakable evidence on its face of misrepresentation, and a design to prejudice the minds of brethren in a distant State, against brethren whose praise is in all the churches, as brethren who have spent their lives in their Master’s service, who have grown old in their labors in the churches, and in whose character not a blemish can be found; men whose standing in the community as well as in the church of God, has been untarnished for more than half a century. When men sustaining the reputation of Benjamin Jones, John F. Johnson and Thomas P. Dudley, cannot, in the evening of their long and useful lives be spared the blighting breath of malignant jealousy and slander, we count it, as we doubt not our young brother, Elder Joseph Johnson, does, an honor to have our humbler names classified with theirs, even in bearing reproach and misrepresentation for the sake of the truth. We say the letter bears the evident marks on its face of insincerity and mischief. Had it been otherwise, instead of laboring to spread the report into a distant State, its writer would have sought an opportunity to labor as the gospel directs, to reclaim those veterans of the cross, if he had honestly believed them to be in error. But such labor, we venture to say, he has not taken. We know the brethren implicated too well to believe they have ever uttered the sentiments charged to them, but if they had been strangers to us, when we read that the heresies charged are propagated under the leadership of Beebe, Dudley and company, (which we and all our readers know is false; utterly and unqualifiedly false) how can we believe the other part of his statement against those who are esteemed much better than ourself? Again, in uttering his slander he starts off with a mere inquiry, whether the “new doctrine” has got as far west as Winterset, Iowa? and then, instead of intimating that he desired an answer, closes by saying, “I have only given you a a sketch of it, &c., leaving it for you to meditate upon.”
But to the points charged: “They say.” Who says? Why Benjamin Jones, J. F. Johnson and son. What do they say? “They say that the church never was lost, nor defiled, nor contaminated with sin in any way.” When? where? to whom did they say this? and who heard them say it? We do not believe a word of it; we defy Elder Gifford to prove that they ever said it. What object could they have for uttering any such sayings? Have they not been for many years preaching that Christ gave himself for the church, that he might redeem her and cleanse her from all iniquity, and purify to himself a peculiar people zealous of good works? No sane man would utter any such sayings, much less such men as are assailed and falsely thus charged. They never said it, they never believed it, nor were they ever led into it by Beebe, Dudley and company. We risk nothing in saying that each of the brethren thus implicated believe that the church of Christ was involved in sin, defiled and contaminated with transgression, iniquity and guilt, and that all who are redeemed with the blood of Christ, were by nature children of wrath, even as others, “All we, like sheep, have gone astray; but the Lord hath laid on him [Christ] the iniquity of us all.” What then must be the depravity of the man who, while professing christianity and holding the sacred office of Elder, can deliberately say, write and send out the declaration into a distant State, over his signature, that “They say that the church never was lost, nor defiled, nor contaminated with sin in any way,” and that Beebe, Dudley and company, are the leaders of this doctrine.
He also writes, “Some tell us that Christ only died to redeem these bodies from the grave.” Who they are who have told Elder Gifford this, he does not say, but the impression is given that some of the brethren named Jones, Johnson, Beebe and Dudley, have told him so. But as this is not directly fixed on them or any of them, we wait for Elder Gifford to explain who has told him this. Certainly the brethren implicated hold no such doctrine. We constantly preach that Christ died to redeem his church from all iniquity, from the curse and dominion of the law, and to redeem them unto God with his blood.
Another direct charge is, “They say, (that is, Jones, Johnson, his son, and Beebe, Dudley and company say), “that this Adam man is not changed in regeneration, neither in soul, spirit, body, mind or matter.” This also sounds to us like an exaggeration of the sentiment held by these brethren on the subject, and we doubt whether any of them have said this, in the manner expressed above. Some of them we know have never said any such thing, and therefore the above statement is untrue. The circular written by brother Dudley some years ago, on the christian warfare, holds the sentiment that christians in their present state possess a carnal, earthly nature, which is born of the flesh and is flesh, and that it is at war with holiness, and lusts against the spirit, and constitutes one party to the warfare, and that they also possess in them a spiritual, immortal life, which is born of God; born of an incorruptible seed, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever. That the former carnal nature is in the Scripture denominated the old man, which christians are admonished to crucify with its affections and lusts, and that the life implanted in them by regeneration, which is not born of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God, is called the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. These two men are directly opposite in their natures, elements and propensities, the one is born of the flesh, and the other is born of the Spirit; the one is unholy, the other cannot commit sin, because it is born of God. (1 John iii. 9.) These two men, which are found existing in every christian while in this earthly tabernacle are the combatants or parties in the christian warfare. If this be heresy, every christian on earth is an heretic, for not one can be found on earth who does not know and daily feel the struggle between the flesh and the Spirit; between the old man and the new man, between that in them which is born of the flesh and that which is born of the Spirit. Then where is the heresy that so much shocks the sensibilities of Elder Gifford? Is it an unpardonable sin to believe and preach that all that is unholy, impure, corruptible, depraved and at war with the Spirit in us, is born of the flesh, is earthly, sensual and devilish, and that whatever is found in us that is pure, holy, spiritual, godly, is born of the Spirit of God? Is this a new doctrine among Old School Baptists? Have we not been taught by the word and by the Spirit of our God that all that is in us opposed to holiness is from beneath, and that every good and perfect gift cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness nor shadow of turning? Elder Dudley’s views are before the public, in his own manner of expressing them, Elder Johnson’s, also, and ours, and when Elder Gifford, or any other person desires to tell what “They say,” all we ask is that our sentiments be presented in our own way of expressing them, and if they do not stand supported by the Scriptures, and by all christian experience, let them be rejected.
Now, in regard to the change effected in us by the new birth, we will only attempt to give our own views, which, so far as we are advised, are also the views of our persecuted, slandered and traduced brethren. It is the view of the writer of this article that in our unregenerate state, or until born of the Spirit, all our nature is earthly, depraved, sinful, and that there is in us no fear of God, no desire after holiness; no love to God or love of holiness; that we are dead in sins, enemies to God by wicked works, and that we are totally ignorant of our deplorable state and condition. When men are called by grace, quickened by the Spirit, are made the subjects of a great and astonishing change, their views of God are radically changed, and they view him as they never viewed him before. His holiness, purity, goodness, justice and truth fill them with a reverence and awe that they were total strangers to before. They are astonished that so holy and righteous a God has suffered them to live so long in rebellion against him; a sense of his goodness leads them to repentance; they are overwhelmed with a sense of their own vileness, and they feel so guilty that it seems to them there is no way for even God to save them without an infringement of his eternal justice. When fully humbled before him under a sense of their vileness, and the justice of what appears to them to be their inevitable doom, and all hope of commending themselves to his favor is taken away, Christ is revealed to them as the hope of glory, his blood is applied to them by the Spirit, for the remission of their sins, and his righteousness as the grounds of their justification before God; the love of God is shed abroad in their hearts, a new song is put in their mouth, and they are made to rejoice in Christ with joy unspeakable and full of glory; old things are passed away and all things become new; the things which they before hated, they now love; the things which they before loved, they now hate; the Bible now opens to them with new beauty; the precious promises are applied to them; the church and people of God now appear lovely; the doctrine of salvation by grace, which they before hated, becomes food to their spirits; they love and desire to walk in all the ordinances of the house of God, and to live in love and fellowship with the people of God. This looks to us like a change. They have passed from death unto life, from darkness into marvelous light, and from prison into liberty. But this, although a very great and marvelous change, is not all. By virtue of this quickening operation of the Spirit, they begin, from the hour of their being made alive, to learn the difference between the two principles or natures which they find within them. They find a law in their members, (which they never found before they were born again) warring against the law of their mind. They feel the incessant warfare, and become more and more convinced that while with their mind (which is born of God) they serve the law of God, with their flesh (which is born of the flesh) they serve the law of sin. They find that they bear about with them a body of sin and death, and we are greatly mistaken if they do not become more and more convinced in their experience with Jones, Johnson and son, Beebe, Dudley and company, as well as with Paul and Peter, James and John, that all that is holy, heavenly and divine in them, is born of God, and that all that is earthly, sensual and devilish in them, is born of the flesh, and is flesh. We know not who Elder G. means by Wilson, whom he says “can’t go the doctrine.” We suppose he may allude to brother Wilson Thompson. If so, we think he does him great injustice, for the past files of our paper will show that his views of this subject accord with those entertained by us, while it is presumed that neither Elder W. Thompson, nor any other sane Old School Baptist, holds any such sentiments as Elder Gifford has charged upon the brethren named above.
We have written lengthily, and it may be thought with a degree of severity, on this subject, but not, we hope, with a resentful feeling; not to defend ourself, so much as to disabuse the minds of misinformed brethren in regard to the real position occupied by those whom we really esteem better than ourself.
July 15, 1860.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 4
Pages 368 - 375