Home, Near New Castle, Ind., June 12,1850.
DEAR BROTHER BEEBE: - I have seen and heard much respecting the "controversy" that has been for some time past, and is yet to some extent, conducted through the SIGNS, and it has received no small share of my attention. Having until now tried to content myself with being a silent looker on, listener and meditator upon the subject, I feel disposed to say something through your columns relating to it.
I will say, however, in the first place, lest I be misapprehended in the remarks I may make, that I am no way disposed to oppose a spirit of calm investigation and inquiry after the truth. I am pleased to see (whenever circumstances require it) all contend earnestly for it. And it is fully known by all who have been acquainted with my public course for years past, that whenever error has made its appearance among the Baptists, or has borne a threatening aspect so to do, it has been my uniform course to handle it "without mittens," or in other words, to "cry aloud, spare not." But above all, I abhor to see a disposition among the professed "Old School Baptists" to compromise with Arminians. And from the tender regard that some who have written in the SIGNS seem to feel for them, from their anxiety that they should be let alone in all their sophistry in trying to bewilder the children of God, in order that our congregations may be enlarged, that we may become more popular, or that the offense of the cross may cease, and from the fact that some seem disposed to change their manner of preaching to please men or gain their applause; when I consider all this, together with other things of which I am advised from other sources, I shall not be surprised if I hear of a matrimonial amalgamation taking place between some who have heretofore flourished as Old School Baptists, and the New School Babel builders.
But pardon this digression, and permit me to return to the object that I had in view when commencing this communication, the "controversy." In doing this, my highest aim is to contribute to the peace and welfare of that perplexed, "poor and afflicted people" that is "everywhere spoken against." I say perplexed, because there does appear to me to be an unusual degree of perplexity amongst them. With anxiety I ask the question, Whence has it originated? Not from the gospel, not from its divine and sublime Author, nor from his Spirit; for his fruit is "love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance," &c., and it must be acknowledged that the reverse of these has been manifest in many instances. Is it not to be feared, then, that the primitive rise of all this intricacy has been with the enemy of all righteousness? If this be the fact, he has had no doubt a medium through which to operate. And what is this medium? Not the "new man which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him;" then it must be the old man which is corrupt, the "flesh that lusteth against the spirit."
Dear brethren, let us all consider in these trying times that we are all encumbered with a "body of sin and death;" let us consider the frailty of our carnal nature, and the consequent imperfection with which our lives abound; and let us try to exercise all that christian forbearance, to cultivate all that brotherly kindness, to indulge in all that tenderness, and to exhibit all that forgiveness that is so necessary for the peace, quietude and fellowship of the dejected lambs of the good Shepherd. Notwithstanding all that has been said through the SIGNS, from the pulpit, and in the more private circles respecting the "controversy," and however applicable to the investigation under consideration, and although a term used in the scriptures, it does not in this case sound very agreeable in my ear; because the word controversy signifies "a quarrel," as well as a dispute. Then, if the expression is fitly applied to the case, is it not necessary, and is it not high time, too, that each one who has hitherto been engaged in it should commence (if it is not already commenced) a strict self-examination? And while under this self-inspection, solemnly to consider the weighty sentence of the Judge of the quick and dead, “for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” Matt. xviii. 7. Dear brethren, let me ask in (what I hope at least to be) the spirit of love, brotherly kindness and humility, Have not offenses been manifest, has not the love of many waxed cold, and has not iniquity therefore abounded to a considerable extent? Look around you and see if you cannot discover many of the disconsolate children with their heads bowed down like bulrushes, many more engaged in a heated controversy, many withdrawing their patronage from the SIGNS OF THE TIMES, who are thereby deprived of the comfort and instruction that we all have so sensibly felt and so often expressed in perusing them, and consequently weakening the hands of our brother, who has, under the providential care of a beneficent Protector, so long, and in the face of so many trying circumstances, so ably and so profitably conducted the medium through which we correspond; not because of a candid, faithful and brotherly investigation of the points of difference existing among the brethren, but because of an agitated controversy in which we fear (and pardon us if our fears are groundless) that the "old man" too largely participates. Let each one interrogate himself as follows: Has there not been a spirit secretly lurking within me that is repugnant to the one that was so frequently manifested by him whom I should delight to imitate and follow through evil and good report? If so, has not that spirit given rise to feelings unbecoming a follower of him who is "meek and lowly in heart?" Has not that spirit and feeling prompted me to use language that was calculated to cultivate in the breast of my brother a similar spirit? And has not retaliation been the inevitable consequence? And has not each response from such a source furnished additional fuel to the fire already kindled? Has not this kind of a spirit been communicated, cultivated and caught from breast to breast, until like a fire in the forest it has produced a conflagration that is calculated with grief and astonishment to extort the cry, "Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth?" Has not this fire where it has raged produced a dazzling, bewildering glare, rather than the exhibition of the pure, calm and unsullied light of the gospel? Has it not had an effect similar to that of the fire in the forest? Has it not been succeeded by a blighting, withering influence rather than a growth of the plants? And have there not, therefore, arisen fogs of smoke therefrom, calculated to mystify, bewilder and puzzle the minds of the "little children," rather than to illuminate their understanding, edify and build them up in their most holy faith?
Brethren, may not these things contribute in no small degree to the languid, dejected and enfeebled appearance of the church at the present time? If so, O let us be upon our guard, and very careful how we conduct controversy. Again, let it be remembered that man is an aspirant, and that there is a possibility at least of pushing our investigation upon the important points that have been discussed in the SIGNS beyond commendable limits, by indulging too much in an unjustifiable inquisitiveness, and endeavoring to explore unrevealed regions; or in other words, by striving to be "wise above what is written," however conscientious we be in our researches after the truth. And as we must all acknowledge our liability to err in relation to what is revealed and written, nay, as we must agree that we are prone to err in many of those things, and when past experience proves to us that we have erred, and that too in our honest views of matters, can we be too careful how we indulge in speculations upon a subject that is fraught with mystery incomprehensible by mortal powers, inaccessible to mortal thought? Although I can see at times a discrepancy in the views of the brethren, when taking their communications singly; yet, to embody the whole, and extract therefrom "the bone of contention," I do acknowledge to be more than I can do. This, however, is no matter of surprise, when the dimness of my vision and my native imbecility are taken under consideration. But the matter of astonishment with me is the fact that they seem not to understand each other. For notwithstanding one may with all the talent he possesses, all the precision that he is master of, delineate, point out and explain his ideas, when the response comes to hand misapplications, misapprehensions, misconstructions, and misrepresentations are complained of; and those complaints appear to be common on both sides. What can be the cause of all this misunderstanding? We know that these brethren are intelligent and instructing in other matters; we do not wish to harbor an idea that they willfully misconstrue, willfully misrepresent each other. Far be it from us to entertain a thought that they are in the possession of a principle so unbecoming brethren, so repugnant to the spirit of Christianity.
Will you then, brethren, force us to the conclusion that you do not understand yourselves? Well, what then? Should you urge us to this point, our inquisitive minds cannot rest here; we are assured that it is not because you are deficient in capacity, nor because you have not had opportunities of improvement. It therefore cannot proceed from a lack of intelligence. Then what can be the most rational conclusion for us to draw in this case? Must we not conclude that it is because you are endeavoring to explain matters that the Lord has not been pleased to reveal, and that consequently lie hid from us in awful shades of darkness, (see Psalm. xviii. 11) or enveloped in the lucid brilliancy of uncreated light, impenetrable by human thought, inexplicable by human intelligence, incomprehensible by human capacity, even when aided by all the revelation that an all-wise God has been pleased to make to us, while acting in a sphere where we are to know but in part? May we all let what an inspired apostle has declared to be "without controversy" a great mystery, remain a mystery without "controversy."
Do not conclude from these remarks, brethren, that we are disposed to condemn all that we cannot comprehend; for I for one am free to acknowledge my inferiority to my brethren in point of natural and acquired ability, and that things may appear clear and plain to their eagle eyes, which my dim vision cannot scan. And could they see "eye to eye," we might think it more safe to receive and embrace their opinions. But while it is intimated by them that one is contending for the doctrine of Polytheism, another for that of Arminianism, &c., we cannot conscientiously receive any idea unless we have "thus saith the Lord" for it. And when we have this testimony, although it may be contrary to our former notions, we should receive and embrace it with becoming reverence, and esteem it above every selfish or secular consideration. If on the other hand we should find the same weight of testimony against it, down with it, cast it "to the moles and to the bats," let it take its doom with all other things that are to "perish with the using." Again, if we find among the sentiments of our brethren one that we can neither justify nor condemn, let it remain in the peaceable possession of him who contends for it, until it pleases the searcher of hearts and the revealer of secrets to make it manifest. One thing, however, is a matter of encouragement to me, and that is the fact that the object of the brethren on both sides appears to be to exalt the Savior in the estimation of them all. All use the same texts to effect this grand object. This is indeed a superlative object. We never can err in extolling him too highly; he is a "plant of renown," all honor, praise, majesty and glory is due to him. But whether the brethren are pursuing the best course "to show forth the praise of him who hath called us out of darkness into his marvelous light," we leave them to judge.
Permit me, dear brethren, to observe one thing more before dismissing this part of the subject. You probably think, each one of you, that you have been wronged, and this may be the case. But remember, you should not think of taking each other by the throat and demanding full payment. If every wrong is to be fully redressed, where then will be the necessity of that forgiving disposition that is so indispensably requisite while we are encumbered with "a body of sin and death," and so frequently enforced and inculcated by the LAWGIVER of Israel, and by his apostles? Now, brethren, though I feel sensible of my weakness, inadequate to advise, and unworthy of a place even at the feet of the saints, let me exhort you to love, bear with and forgive one another, as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you.
Brother Beebe, permit me before sticking up my poor pen, to say a few things to the brethren about the Fort Mountains, in the Rappahannock Association, and in all other places where "the controversy," or any other controversy, has raged, is raging or may hereafter rage.
Dear brethren, I am now considerably advanced in my fiftieth year; and although younger no doubt than many of you, it has been my lot to pass through many (of what I thought to be, at least,) severe trials. And among other things, it has been my painful lot to see those who labored in word and doctrine, and whom I loved and esteemed for the work's sake, involved in disputings and other difficulties. I have seen it the case, too, that there has been manifested too much of the disposition that prevailed at a certain time among the brethren about Corinth, when contentions got among them; and to my great grief and mortification I have seen those who I did believe loved the Savior and each other, cruelly torn asunder, and many of them made to wander in solitude, dejected, cast down and afflicted, deprived of enjoying the privilege that the kind Shepherd has so graciously bestowed upon the sheep of his pasture, in congregating them together in a church capacity, where they could unite in company in ascriptions of praise and thanksgiving, in mingling their voices in singing "with melody in their hearts to the Lord," the Author of all their enjoyments; bereft, too, of the more private or family circles of the saints, where in mutual converse they could recount their joys and sorrows, their temptations and deliverances, their doubts and assurances, their despondency and hope, their sins and evidences of pardon, and the various other cares and comforts of this life, which conversations were so well calculated to sweeten the bitter pangs, alleviate the burdens, quell the fears, revive the hopes - in short, to bestrew with flowrets and with fruits the rugged and thorny path that lies before us, and that we must inevitably pass while wending our way over these barren wastes to the celestial city. May the God of grace and mercy forbid, brethren, that it should be thus with you. Be assured that one who wishes you, grace, mercy and peace, and one who has known what it was to mourn over such desolating scenes, hopes better things of you. As it was said on a former occasion by one, I am of Paul, by another, I of Apollos, by a third, I of Cephas; let it not be said by one of you, I am of Gilbert, by another, I of Samuel, and by a third, I of John, &c. Remember that Christ is not divided, neither should "his body" be; he alone was crucified for you, to him you are indebted for your standing, for a name and a place in his house, which is better than that of sons and daughters. Although Paul and Barnabas contended so sharply that they "departed asunder one from the other," and although others may do so likewise, it certainly does not follow as a matter of necessity that those who are under the most solemn obligations to "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" and who should under the most trying circumstances be "knit together in love," should rend asunder the dearest ties that unite them in their social intercourse, and thereby become aliens, and even enemies, to each other. Then we repeat, may God forbid that this should be your unhappy situation, merely because your preachers whom you esteem, and whom you should love for the truth's sake, are involved in contention.
It has given me pain to hear it expressed that a refusal, on the part of brother Beebe, to publish certain things in the SIGNS, would be likely to cause greater divisions than otherwise. In the name of peace, brethren, do such things as this constitute a sufficient warrant for those who are bound by such sacred ties to rend them? Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph. - 2 Samuel i. 20. May we all consider that the "little flock," the "few" that enter in at the "strait gate," have enemies in abundance, without making enemies of each other. Think not that they are asleep; nay, they are ever on the alert, always ready to exhibit a belligerent aspect toward us. Their poisoned arrows are always on hand whenever an opening appears through which they can discharge them. Then, dear brethren, may we all stand clad in heaven's nobler panoply, (see Eph. vi. 11-16) and then we may bid defiance to all their rage of war. "But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another."
Brethren, farewell; live in peace, and may the God of love and peace be with you.