Luray, Henry Co., Ind., Feb., 1856.
DEAR BROTHER BEEBE: - In the early part of October last I had a severe attack of chills and fever, irritability of the stomach and nervous system, which reduced me quite low. From that time until recently I have been much confined to my bedroom, and also to my bed. My confinement has prevented, in a great degree, that reciprocity of union and communion with the saints, which are well calculated to alleviate the cares and sufferings of the Lord's afflicted children here. True, I have received numerous letters from them that have been highly appreciated, but have not given them that attention that their contents have richly deserved. I hope they will forgive me when they will have known my situation. My health, however, is now so far reinstated that I travel short distances occasionally, and hope to be able to visit you in New York some time next month. I expect to remove to Delaware County about the last of March; and will here inform my brethren and friends who may write to me after that time, and also the editors whose papers I read, that my Post Office address will be Muncie, Delaware Co., Ind., instead of Luray, Henry Co., Ind. I expect to settle two miles south of the Muncie Depot, immediately on the New Castle State Road, where I hope to receive the calls of my friends and brethren who may pass that way.
I have contributed but little to the columns of the SIGNS of late, and the prominent reason is, I am not capacitated to contribute much. Occasionally, however, I meet with something in the SIGNS OF THE TIMES, or elsewhere, that is calculated to stir up my almost dormant faculties, and cause me to throw into the scale my little mite, when I can entertain a little hope that the interests of Zion may be subserved thereby. On looking over the second number, present volume of the SIGNS OF THE TIMES, I have been made to reflect much on the communications had between brother Linn, of Pennsylvania, and yourself; and also upon the published Circular of the Tygart's Valley River Association. Probably the fact of my having been raised (principally) in the vicinity (the northwestern part of Virginia) where that association is generally held, and also of having visited and tried to preach for a number of the churches several times since my removal to the west, causes me to feel a deeper interest in the case than I otherwise should have felt.
If I mistake not, my last visit there was in the fall of 1853, and it was an interesting one to me, and appeared to be to the brethren generally. It was the more so to myself because I found them to be (as I thought) thorough going Old School Baptists. Nor do I yet think I was mistaken in that opinion. I found, however, that there had been some busybodies operating among them, who were well calculated to deceive, not by disseminating unsound doctrine at that time, (for had they done this, I feel confident that there were brethren there who would have detected them) but by misrepresenting those who contend for the truth.
It is a fact, and one much to be lamented too, that those who are disposed to cause divisions and draw a party after them, (the big party they want) when they set out with their false notions, and find that Old School Baptists prove them to be such by the scriptures, their zeal seems to increase with their mischievous designs, and they will withhold their real sentiments for a time, when with those who love the truth, and undertake to consummate their purposes by calumniation, detraction and misrepresentation. Let it not be thought that my design in these remarks is to wage war upon our enemies who have gone out from us, nor yet to defend the characters of brethren Trott, Beebe and Dudley; for they are far more able to defend themselves (were it necessary) than is their humble servant. I hope I have a higher object in view, and that object is the peace, quietude and harmony of the Zion of God.
I am pained and grieved when I consider how many of the dear children of Zion have read that Circular, and settled down in the opinion that the misrepresentations therein contained are the real sentiments of those calumniated brethren. What are we, to expect from such a state of things? Why, it is rational to suppose that in that association there will exist a distant and hard feeling towards those brethren who have spent a large proportion of their lives in defending and publishing the holy, heart-animating truth of the gospel.
Permit me, dear brethren, though a little one among you, to entreat you, not to indulge in a malevolent and bitter spirit towards your enemies, nor those who may have been deceived by them; but, as brother B. has remarked, [and I was glad to hear it] "pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute, you." May the Lord, if it is his will, grant them the forgiveness of their sins according to the riches of his grace. I do hope that this circumstance may have a good effect upon churches and associations in the future. For an association to be so far inveigled into the meshes of the enemies to the truth as to be brought down to dabble in the filthy pool of detraction and calumny, and take up the carnal weapons of their enemies with which to prostrate their brethren, is a matter much to be deplored.
Brethren, would it not have savored more of a christian spirit in you, after hearing those reports, (and perhaps knowing they were from the lips of an enemy to those brethren) to have called in a christian spirit upon them for their views upon the subjects, as brother Linn has upon brother Beebe since the action of the Association, and let them have their own expositors, before publishing them broadcast to the world?
When the enemies of the Old School Baptists undertake to preach their doctrine for them, they make sad work of it, especially if they receive their version of it. Elders Beebe, Dudley and Trott stand identified, probably, with far the largest associational correspondence of the Old School Baptists that the world knows. They have published far and wide their sentiments, both from the pulpit and the press. Look over their own productions, brethren, (you will probably find imperfections, for I presume that none of them make any pretensions to infallibility, nor should we expect that while we are suffered to know only in part,) and see if you can find anything there, to justify you in the course you have taken. Ah! Look further; look into the unadulterated oracles of God, and see whether you have either commandment or precept there to sustain you. Should you fail in both cases, it follows, as a matter of course, that you have done wrong; and how beautifully it develops the christian character when we err, (as we all do) to make the most timely amends for our misgivings. I feel no disposition to conceal or encourage the errors of any. If such exist among us, I am willing, yea, anxious, that they should be faithfully ferreted out. We do not expect, or ever hope to arrive at a state of perfection while in the flesh, yet notwithstanding the malevolence of our enemies in misrepresenting our views and exaggerating our errors, I think I speak advisedly when I venture the opinion that there has not been a time, since the days of the apostles, when the church exhibited a greater degree of unity of sentiment, and that sentiment more thoroughly based upon the doctrine of the Bible, than is now portrayed by the Old School Baptists. True, there are some in different parts of the country, under the lead of those who are incessantly howling round our borders, and who, because, they could not be bell-weathers, would not be weathers at all, but put on all the forms and fashions of the canine race, endeavoring to bite and devour the sheep. But fear them not. Let them howl, and bark, and snarl, and bite if they can. Nay, let his Satanic majesty, their conductor, marshal all his legions, use all his serpentine windings, resort to all his deceivableness and sophisms.
"We laugh to scorn his cruel power,
While by our Shepherd's side,
The sheep he never can devour,
Although he may divide."
Let him through his agencies pour out his floods of reproach and abuse, puff his storms and hurricanes, but let Zion fear not; turn neither to the right hand nor to the left, and she will leave her foes in the distance - outride every flood and every storm, and ultimately enter the port of complete safety, and find her safe anchorage in the harbor of eternal rest.
When I venture the opinion that a great degree of union prevails among us at the present time, I do not venture said opinion upon mere conjecture, but consider I have had a little opportunity of examining the matter. Within the last few years past, I have traveled in ten different states of the Union, the District of Columbia and Canada West; heard much preaching, and conversed freely with the brethren; and if there is a material discrepancy amongst us on any important point of doctrine, my judging faculties have been too weak to discover it. But those disposed to give heed to our enemies, may soon see mole-hills rise into mountains, and prepare themselves for biting and devouring. May the Lord fill the hearts of his children with that love which hides a multitude of transgressions, and deliver them from that spirit which causes them to make an offender for a word, and that is calculated to alienate them in their feelings toward each other. Then, should there be errors and wounds among us, we shall be in a condition to attend to them as we should; probe them to the bottom, but probe them tenderly. Effect a permanent cure if possible; let it be done by the rule and in the spirit of the gospel, but, "Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph." We are daily admonished that we are yet in the flesh that "lusteth against the Spirit;" that we carry with us a body of death, an old man that is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts. We are admonished in the scriptures, too, to crucify the flesh, with its affections and lusts, to keep under the body, to put off the old man. The deeds of the body, the actions of the old man, are all inimical to the cause and kingdom of Christ. The works of the flesh and fruit of the Spirit stand in hostile array against each other, as two belligerent armies; and we would do well to mark and consider them, particularly in our church and associational actions and intercourse with each other, as portrayed in Gal. v.19 - 23.
If we retrospect carefully the course of those individuals who have risen up among us, speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them, and examine particularly the edifice they have reared in their own names, by their own means, for their own aggrandizement, to give notoriety to their own persons and secure popularity to their own boasted intellectual powers, our eye is met with emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies and envyings upon the frontispiece of each superstructure, and especially upon the Babels of those that have gone off within the range of our recollection from the going off of the New School Baptists, down to the anti-christian ones of later days.
O that the christian could shun, as he would a deadly poison, all such as assemble in those unhallowed conclaves, concocting their mischievous designs, and then, with the false zeal of infuriated pharisees, endeavor to allure the wayward pilgrim into the devious wanderings marked out by them.
Dear brethren, although this state of things has existed in a greater or less degree heretofore, and perhaps must while we are in part the subjects of mortality, a brighter prospect awaits us. The exaltation of our all-competent Mediator upon his triumphant throne, the Spirit of the living God of Israel, the sufficiency of the gospel, and the gospel salvation, immutability of the sure promises there contained, simplicity of the laws and ordinances that should govern and instruct Zion in her militant movements, the rich treasury of spiritual blessings that constitute the incorruptible inheritance of the saints, are admirably calculated to secure to us the final and triumphant victory, soothe our downcast spirits, encourage hope, strengthen our faith, illuminate our pathway, and so to fill us with love, joy and admiration, as to cause our hearts to overflow with gratitude, thanksgiving and praise to the matchless name of our dear Deliverer. While these bright prospects beam before us, those heart-cheering anticipations buoy our desponding spirits, while we look forward to the final dissolution of all terrestrial objects, the final overthrow of all powers that can possibly conflict with our eternal interests, and the downfall of every spirit of seduction, "what manner of persons ought we to be in all conversation and godliness?" How essentially necessary it is in order to our consolation here, while in an enemy's domains, that we should seriously consider how Jesus has wrought, and what he has done for his younger brethren. What a paternal, filial and fraternal relation we stand in to our God and Savior, and to each other.
Children of the same heavenly, and consequently heirs of the same celestial inheritance. How should we love one another with a pure heart fervently, bear each other's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Watch over each other for good, and particularly, take heed to ourselves and the doctrine. Brethren, if we know these things, happy are we if we do them. Then we need not fear what man can do to us. But a little while and we shall be freed from mortality and all its perplexing cares. May we all remember that Jesus also, that he might save the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth, therefore, unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach; for here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come. By him, therefore, let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to his name. But to do good, and to communicate, forget not; for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. Brethren, farewell.
Yours in truth and sincerity,
J. F. JOHNSON.