For the Signs of the Times
BROTHER GILBERT: Some months since I addressed a letter to Mr. Alexander M. Beebe, (a copy of which I send you) and as I have heard nothing of it in the Register, I wish you would give it a place in the Signs.
To Mr. Alexander M. Beebe:
SIR, Having been favored, through the kindness of a friend, with an opportunity of reading a few No’s of the Register, I have seen some things which I conceive to be exceptionable. Among which is an article entitled “The contrast,” in which you say, “It is strange that professing christians can see the spirit of Benevolence running through the Bible as it does, and yet engage in resolute efforts to check it, where it may be found among their fellow disciples, as was strongly manifested in the conduct of the minister mentioned below.”
Having been an occasional reader of the Bible for about half a century, and some what acquainted with the letter, if not the spirit of it, I will offer a few of my thoughts, with some questions for your consideration, which I wish to see the public made acquainted with through your columns, with such remarks as you may think proper to append.
Well, Sir, I think that if you had carefully read, and had been acquainted with Paul’s 2nd Epistle to the Corinthians, 11th chap. and from the 12th to the 29th verse; Gal. ii. 3-6; 2 Tim. iii. 1 to end; Titus ii. 1 to end; 2 Peter ii. 1 to end, with various others; the thing you wonder at would not have appeared so strange. Query. Whose claim to benevolence is best founded, the man who spends his time and money to preach the gospel to the poor, without making it chargeable to any body? or the man who labours under the patronage of a society for $5 or more per week? How ought our modern money-beggars blush in view of what is recorded Mark xii. To the end; Luke xxi. 1-4! In your extract from the “Tract Magazine,” you bring forward a professed preacher of the gospel, whom it appears was employed by the Tract Society to dispose of their merchandise. It was doubtless convenient for him to gather the people to hear preaching and sell tracts, as well as those we read of John ii. 3-17, to sell their doves in the temple of God; see also Mathew xxi. 12,13; Mark xii. 15-17.
He complains of opposition to his business from a minister; – so did the scribes and chief priests complain of opposition from the Saviour. They sought to destroy Jesus; – and if I can understand your tract-merchants language, he wishes the opposing minister “silent in darkness.” The people too, seem, from his account, to have opposed the doctrine of the opposing minister; – so it appears the people opposed the doctrine and conduct of Christ: See Math. xiv. 14,15; also, Mark xi. 18. What tracts he had we are not informed, except the “Baptist Manuel.” The “Dialogue on Missions” it seems he had not; and if the one be wanted to give away, is the same that I have seen bearing that title, it contains sentiments as far removed from the doctrine of salvation by grace alone; as the doctrine of the judaizing teachers was from that which Paul preached. It also held up Peter and John to view as learned men; which contradicts Acts iv. 13, and which speaks of them as unlearned and ignorant men.”
Permit me, sir, to tell you that I have been a reader of tracts, more or less for several years; perhaps no pedlar has a pair of saddle-bags large enough to hold half as many as I have read; and yet among them all, I have found but few but what exhibited the same false notions of vice and virtue that were embraced in the multitude of novels which I read in my youth. There were, however, a few honorable exceptions; but my own judgment of them is not all that I will present for your consideration. Mr. Bacon, a celebrated preacher, in his sermon contained in a periodical called the “National Preacher, No. 1, Vol. 3, for 1828; in setting forth the duty of reading, and pressing it upon his readers, and in speaking of what they should not read, he speaks against the reading of tracts. He calls them religious stories, fictions found upon facts.” Can you tell me, sir, what better a fiction is for being founded on a fact? or what better a fiction is than a fable? I think a fiction is a falsehood – a story invented. Can you make a fact of a fiction? – As well might you turn falsehood into truth; much easier might men turn the grace of God into a lie. Had he been preaching the gospel with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, he might have had opposition from scribes, pharisees, lawyers, doctors, priests and anti-nomians, if they had heard him; but he “felt very desirous of disposing of” his merchandize. What merchant would not find fault if any one should prevent the profits of his trade by find with his good. Demetrius the silversmith, and workmen of like occupation, complained of Paul's preaching, as it operated against their craft; for by it they had their wealth. In his language, he says, “I verily believe that at this time, especially in our western country, (and more particularly in the Baptist denomination) antinomianism is productive of greater evil, and preventative of more good than all other things which oppose the precious cause of Christ; and with propriety may be characterized the anti-christian giant of the day.” Had this theological gook-merchant been soberly acting under the influence of the spirit of our divine Master, could he have given such a definition of the word Antinomianism? Are the tract he sells the law, and to oppose them Antinomianism? Is opposing tracts and recommending the Bible, “productive of greater evil, and preventative of more good than all other things which oppose the precious cause of Christ?” It must be so; I think the conclusion is fairly drawn, and properly belongs to the premises he has laid down; as all the crime he charges “our western folks” with is, that they “possess prejudices against tracts,” calling them “fables,” “ridiculing all the efforts of the day,” recommending the Bible, and striving to “circulate to “circulate the Signs of the Times.”
Men that love the doctrine contained in the New Testament, will hardly believe that opposing tracts and recommending the Bible, is productive of greater evil, and preventive of more good, than the devil and all his children. Scribes, pharisees, lawyers, judaizing teachers, false apostles, hirelings, wolves in sheeps clothing, together with all their lusts, corrupt passions and evil propensities of the flesh. What therefore, shall we think of this theological book-merchants? shall we think him a learned man, just come from school with the knowledge of letters, words and languages? If so, we must think his “anti-christian giant of the day,” which has risen from men's enjoying the liberty of worshiping God according to the rule given in his word, without the aid of tracts, is far worse than priestcraft, adultery, treason and murder. Of course he would prefer having people bound by some law to receive or buy his tracts, and to believe their contents, whatever may be found in the Bible to the contrary notwithstanding. Or shall we think him some ignoramus that did not understand the language he used? and so did not mean to pray for the distruction of our civil and religious liberties, when he prayed, saying, “May the good Lord have mercy upon us, and follow with his blessing the many efforts now making for its (the anti-christian giant,) “entire downfall.” You may have which horn of the dilemma you please, if he was ignorant and did not understand what he said, it may be that the minister he mentioned did not ridicule “all the efforts of the day” in a scandalous manner at all; if learned, he must know better the meaning of the word “anti-nomians” than to apply it to the rejection of tracts, and preferring the Bible; unless he believed his tracts were the law. But suppose the minister he mentions should have been an anti-nomian in reality, and all the Baptists in that section of country, (of which I have no evidence) could it be possible that a minister of Christ, in the exercise of the spirit of grace, could candidly make use of such an expression?
But to proceed, he says, “something must be done,” &c., “the Baptist denomination are much better informed than they were six years ago, and I feel almost convinced, that, in less than that time to come, our anti-nomian and anti-effort Baptists will be so much out of credit, that provided they should adhere to their sentiments, they will be silent in darkness.” Here he has connected anti-effort with anti-nomianism; and doubtless be means, by anti-effort Baptists, those which reject the arminian fictions that are published in tracts, and proclaimed by men called missionaries, or apostles, as the missionary dialogue calls them; together with the whole mass of inventions of men, and the doctrines of men and devils, and their mechanical operations for making christians; self-created national religious societies, formed upon a monied base, which gives membership instead of christian fellowship, and amalgamates the church with the world; where infidels may buy religious priviledges for money – where men believe “themselves sacredly called to the high and holy work of supplying the world with an efficient ministry” – where they declare that “Money is no less the nerve of missionary enterprize than of war,” and that “the heathen will not be given to Christ without money.” They also tell that Jesus Christ is calling upon us for money, “that he may expend it as he did his heart's blood for the salvation of a perishing world.” If, sir, to oppose these corrupt sentiments, constitute an anti-nomian or anti-effort man; I wish I was more of one; and you may rest assured that while God gives me grace to serve him with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, my effort shall not be wanting to oppose such abominations as are practised under the cloak of religion, “though I be nothing.”
But he says, “something must be done,” &c. A mighty effort must be made to scandalize, stigmatize, blacken the character, and impugn the motives of the few feeble, trembling souls that dare not leave the directions given in the word of God to follow cunning craftiness of men whereby they lie in wait to deceive. “Something must be done,” to get these few who are endeavouring in the midst of opposition, to “press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus;” and that are endeavouring to worship God in the spirit and truth, “so much out of credit” that “they will be silent in darkness.” What a noble philanthropic effort this, to call them hard names, reproach, defame, and slander them abundantly. To say they are opposed to all that is good, have a bad spirit, and rank them with the enemies of God; to give a false colouring to their sentiments, and misrepresent their practice. Yet they have little cause for complaint, “for their's is the kingdom of heaven.” So were the prophets persecuted: it was said that John the Baptist had a devil; “The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous man, a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners.” Now, “the disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord: if they have called the master of hte house Belzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household.” But, as I do not wish either you, or your correspondent to be deceived, I will tell you that I think there are some among those who bear such hard names, that, for Zion's sake, will not rest until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth: though they should receive no remuneration for their time and services from their fellow men, except jeers, scoffs, and ridicule. Some whom God has set without the aid of modern machinery, as watchmen on the walls of his spiritual Jerusalem, which will not hold their peace day nor night; and such I hope will be continued as ministers among the living in Jerusalem, until the two witnesses shall be slain. See. Rev. xi. When that time comes I have no doubt there will be great joy among false teachers, and their adherents, to see those that opposed their idolatrous innovations in practice, and the doctrine of salvation by human effort, “silent in darkness.”
Having presented some of my thoughts respecting what you have quoted from your correspondent, I proceed to notice your contrast between the “Opposer of tracts in Pa. and Mr. Kincaid of Ava.” And since you arrive at the conclusion that “common honesty and philanthropy would be at no loss” to condemn the minister in Pa., I will suggest an exception to your conclusion. Though I will not say that the minister in Pa. did right, he might have erred; but from the testimony you adduced, it does not appear that he was opposed to the circulation of all kinds of tracts, for he “strove to circulate the Signs of the Times,” which is merely a tract. Thus he bears testimony that the minister complained of was friendly to the circulation of such tracts as he believed contained gospel truth, and matters of fact: it was, therefore, such as he thought fabulous, and contained false doctrine, that he was opposed to. Would not your correspondent and yourself do the same? Where then is the blame of the minister in western Pa? Does Mr. Kincaid circulate tracts in Burmah that contains sentiments which he does not believe. If he does, he very illy compares with the Apostles, and cannot be seen “standing in all the boldness and loveliness of a primitive disciple, before the prince and nobles of Burmah.” You also ask us to “look at the 4th of Acts and read the chapter.” This I have done, over and over; but cannot find a single verse in it that reads as you have quoted them. The 19th, 20th and 21st reads the nearest like your quotation, of any that I can find, and you have quoted neither of them as they read in my Bible. I really wish you would be more careful, or not give notice that you are quoting from infallible inspiration. However, I will call it a mistake either of the editor or printer, and let it pass; I sometimes make mistakes myself. But what shall I think when I read the following: “The prince and his nobles feared the people too, in Burmah. Notable miracles had been there, also, as well as in Jerusalem. The spiritual infirmity of several in Ava had been removed by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Many people knew it; great surprise had been excited, that those on whom this miracle of healing had been wrought should cast away their idols, and give testimony to the power of the cross at the hazzard of their lives.” Did you mean that your readers should understand that Mr. Kincaid had power to heal the souls of the heathen, miraculously, in the name of the Saviour, as the apostles had to heal their bodies or limbs? Unwilling as I am to believe it, yet I cannot see what else you should mean to have them understand by your expressions. You compare him with them, his government with theirs, and miracles connected with both cases. What else can we understand? But why is it more of a miracles that a man should be born of God in Burmah than in America: Is it harder for the Almighty to change the heart of a Burman than an American? Is it, indeed, the work of God, or of Mr. Kincaid to communicate the divine nature to the heart? If you believe it to be the work of Mr. Kincaid, ascribe it to him; we live in a land where the liberty of the press, and freedom of speech are yet enjoyed. But believing, as I do, that it is the work of God alone; your insinuation looks much like blasphemy. When I read it I thought of the three unclean spirits like frogs, that came out of hte dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. In my judgment, it is, at best, a very exceptionable clause. No more till my next.
Signs of the Times
Volume 4, No. 16
July 29, 1836