Lawrenceburg, Ky., July, 1868.
"Then said he unto them, Therefore every scribe instructed unto the kingdom of heaven, is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old." - Matt. xiii. 52.
Brother Beebe, my mind has often reverted to the foregoing quotation since my return from the eastern associations; but before speaking particularly of the text, (which by-the-by I do not propose to investigate at large,) I must say that I never attended a tour of meetings east, west, north or south, that I more highly appreciated or more heartily enjoyed than I did the four associations, (Baltimore, Delaware, Delaware River and Warwick) and the intermediate meetings; and if not deceived, did feel while there, and have felt since my return, a degree of gratitude to God, the beneficent giver of all good, for the high privilege conferred upon me, the instructions received, and the comfort enjoyed while listening to and mingling with the ministers, brethren, sisters and friends of former, and new-made acquaintances. I do acknowledge, that from letters received and conversation heard from different quarters before visiting those meetings, I felt some unpleasant forebodings, some probably groundless fears that I might be looked upon by some as an intruder, and confronted as a getter-up of new and strange ideas, that would spoil my enjoyment; but this perhaps was my infirmity. From the commencement to the close of the meetings, not one sentence was uttered in my presence, according to my understanding, against the sentiments that some of us had previously promulgated through the SIGNS on the subjects of "the regeneration" and the "new birth." Whether those who may have been present and differed with me, considered me unworthy their attention, or whether from some other cause, I cannot say.
Since the close of the associations a production has appeared over the signature of our excellent and mild brother E. Rittenhouse, in the twelfth number, present volume of the SIGNS, in which he seems to intimate that something may be out of place in "the several letters that have been published recently on the subject of regeneration and the new birth," and further adds: "I cannot say as yet, that I am instructed by them." I recently published two letters, one on each of the subjects named by him; and if allusion is had to them, no marvel if one having the penetration of brother R. should fail to get instructed from such a source. But I like "great plainness of speech," and "all boldness," when treating on these important matters, whether in writing or orally. Had brother R., while we were both present at two or three different associations, "Took me unto him, and expounded the way of God more perfectly," a weak and erring brother might have received instruction of him, who had failed to impart it to him. He further says: "Some long and labored articles that we have had, seem to convey the idea that Old School Baptists have always been in the dark on the subject of the regeneration of the sinner, and have never understood themselves." If brother R. will inform us where the scriptures say anything about "the regeneration of the sinner," we may be enlightened on the subject; and further, we might then have a precedent of the great work of the professing world in the various grades of schools, and theological institutions that are so rife in the world at this time for the "conversion of sinners," the "conversion of the world." But, with all his penetrating sagacity, if he will carefully scan and fully comprehend all that Old School Baptists have understood from their starting point, even from John the Baptist down to this time, he may arrive at a different conclusion on some minor points.
He says also, "By the natural birth this natural life is received." Look at that again, brother R., and think; ponder it well. Did you ever know of a case among the animal creation, or in the human family, where natural life was "received" by a birth? This expression seems to be used in illustration of your theory; and if so, in what position does that theory appear! Dead until born! This truly is making the reception of life, regeneration and the birth all synonymous - "used interchangeably." Again he has said, "We have been heretofore in the habit of using these terms interchangeably; and it is my impression that the inspired writers so used them." Then why not give us the words of those inspired writers, instead of "we have been in the habit of using," and, "it is my impression." Now, if brother Rittenhouse has reached the summit of the hill of knowledge as to these matters, I hope he will not kick us back who are struggling after him; for he may rest assured that whatever we can find that inspired men have said on this or any other subject, we will gladly embrace. But again, "Only two or three have just now got into the secret." There is a kind of veiled sarcasm sometimes used which, when discovered and properly understood, may be of the bitterest kind; but I hope that brother R. has not designed this as such; and hope also that he will not think hard of me for calling his attention to the matter.
But I will not particularly examine the communication farther, as I think that other portions of it are more appropriately replied to in the editorial of the same paper, than I can do; and I will therefore briefly refer to the text at the head of this article. I am not, however, disposed to obscure, and go into nice distinctions on this text, as has been intimated that "the brethren" have on others, but only allude to it in connection with my late visit to the eastern associations.
I suppose that the scribes among the Jews were those who read and expounded the law, or Jewish religion to the people; and that thus Jesus spoke of the scribes "instructed unto the kingdom of heaven." Be that as it may, it is evident that the language was addressed to his disciples; for after sending the multitude away and going into a house, his disciples came and asked him to declare unto them the parable of the tares of the field. He complied with their request, and after using two or three other parables, with a short explanation, he asked them, "Have ye understood all these things? They say unto him, Yea, Lord." Then he spoke to them the words that we have under consideration; wherein "every scribe instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things both new and old." The idea of a rich and plentiful variety seems to be indicated here; and if applicable to Christ, his gospel and those who proclaim it. What a treasure! What an exhaustless treasure is brought to view in the boundless theme!
"Here's treasures that will never waste,
Here's treasures that endure;
Here's pleasure that will always last,
When time shall be no more."
No wonder they are new and old. Time, at its oldest period will be new, when compared with the old things stored up in this treasury. What a sublime, boundless and all-glorious theme to contemplate. There were the "deep things of God" treasured up in the eternal reservoir, replete with immutable and eternal love, overflowing and pouring upon his immaculate and elect Son, and all his children "chosen in him before the foundation of the world," superabundant and all-competent grace given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, to save his sons and daughters when lost in sin, legally condemned, and "without strength" to remedy their ruined state; exuberant and abounding mercy to mitigate the miseries that would be consequent upon the introduction of sin into the world, to alleviate the sufferings and soothe the sorrows of the laboring and heavy laden children; there, in short, were all the supreme attributes of DEITY, resplendent with glory and inimitable with excellence, all, all treasured up and abounding in the Lord Jesus, the Mediator, "That in the ages to come he (the God and Father of all) might show the exceeding riches of his grace, in his kindness toward us through Jesus Christ."
But how new, (although old as eternity) how bright, how blissful, beautiful and new, when first revealed and subsequently developed to his needy children. I am so much like those to whom the Savior said, "O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?" Is it because I am blind and cannot see? Or is it because of my native sluggishness and weakness, my imbecility and negligence in looking in to the treasure of these new and old things, that are so replete with admiration and full of joy to the way-worn pilgrim, the dependent, disconsolate, but improvident and "slow-to-believe" child of God? These reflections often perplex and worry my weak and tardy intellect; and I am even sometimes made to inquire, Is it because of some selfish and intolerant bigotry, some inexcusable and cruel jealousy for fear that others may go ahead of me in making new discoveries of those mysterious, new, heart-thrilling and sublimely wonderful developments? Whatever it may be, I am sure, if not miserably blinded, that when, by revelation of the Spirit in reading the scriptures and hearing them expounded by those who are in advance of me, I have been made to "rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory," when those scribes who are instructed unto the kingdom of heaven have so richly contributed to my anxiously inquiring, yet feeble and unfruitful mind, that I am made to exclaim, O Lord, deliver me from all these checks and drawbacks, these clogs and manacles that are so inimical to my progress in my spiritual improvement, my onward advancement in the divine life. But never did I visit a series of meetings like those I attended in the east, without hearing things (to me) both "new and old." Indeed, I heard many new things at the different meetings that I was really much pleased to hear, and very gladly did I receive and endorse them, when they were so obviously proved by the scriptures as they generally were on those occasions; hence it will be understood that I am not so horror-stricken at the idea of hearing and learning new things, if I cannot be foremost in discovering them; and hence my conviction that I am far, very far behind many of my brethren in making these discoveries. But, if I cannot pry into and discover those new and old things as readily as many of my brethren do, I am almost ready to arrive at the conclusion that the old brother and minister of Ohio did on a similar occasion, which was as follows: After listening to a number of able ministers, he concluded he knew as much as them all. "That is," said he, "I cannot see and tell it as they do, but when they tell and prove it, I know it as well as they all do."
After laboring and toiling for nearly the third of a century in ministerial researches, I am sometimes almost forced to blush when hearing young men and new beginners get up and surpass me so far in zeal and knowledge, relative to those new and old things. But perhaps all this may be a consequence of my native pride and vain ambition to excel. Nevertheless, I must acknowledge that should I hear the ablest preacher proclaim in the most masterly manner the excellency of those divine things, and have to follow him, I would beat him if I could in exhibiting them in their intrinsic excellence and glory. Still, should I fall far behind him, I could rejoice that he had not failed as I often do.
But I have daily evidences that I am but an humble learner, if indeed a learner at all, and as yet have attained to but a very superficial knowledge of the transporting and heart-cheering treasure. But all these impediments and clogs demonstrate daily to me that I am wholly dependent upon, and can do nothing without my heavenly Instructor. If I have wisdom afforded me by which to search into any of those new and old mysteries and hidden treasures, he is my wisdom. If righteous in my conclusions, deductions, principles or practices, he is my righteousness. If sanctified or set apart to the solemn work of the ministry of the word, or any other service of the Lord, he is my sanctification. Have I an interest in that precious, efficacious blood that cleanses from all sin, perfects forever his people, he is my redemption, he is my all. "I have nothing whereof to glory;" my "boasting is excluded."
I am conscious of my insufficiency, my negligence and slothfulness; for I have continual every-day proof of all this. If in no other way let me apply all my energies to read and understand, comment on and explain a portion of the scriptures, and let the Lord afford me no light, then I feel and know my weakness.
But, notwithstanding all this, yet will I, while the Lord affords me opportunity, and so far as I am able, strictly scrutinize every new and old thing to which my mind is led; and do believe it to be the privilege and duty of all who love the truth for the truth's sake, to measure and weigh all by the unerring standard, "Prove all things, hold fast that which is good." I know not but there is as much danger in clinging to errors because they are old, as there is in embracing new ones. Error never improves by age. The first falsehood that was ever propagated in the world is no better to-day than it was in the garden of Eden; and the latest truth that has been discovered in the history of revelation, (for none of us know all yet) is as brilliant now as though it had been known and fully understood by all our sires and grandsires a hundred generations in the past. I know full well that I as an individual have suffered more bitter persecution from so-called brethren in consequence of their tenacity in clinging to sentiments and terms, simply because they had been so long in the habit of using them, when they had no warrant whatever in the scriptures. Yes, I have reaped the bitter fruits of this Spartan tenacity, have been told in the meeting-house that I "lied," an attempt being made to put me out by force; a friend by my side struck with the "fist of wickedness," and made to stagger upon the seat, all because of the zeal of the brethren in maintaining the doctrine of "three distinct persons in the Godhead." Its advocates contended that it had been long in use and generally received; and I for one am willing to admit that it was an ancient idea, old enough to have been born from the womb and dandled upon the knee of Mystery Babylon. On another occasion a large knife was drawn from the pocket upon me, and flourished in the church, in vindication of the "means doctrine." That too was of old standing. Dr. Gill's works, old circular letters, and almost all the old writings (except those of inspiration) that could be found, were ransacked to prove that it had been long and habitually used, believed and received.
It was my fortune, or misfortune, whichever it may have been, to oppose those principles, and the spirit that usually accompanies error, or rather the fruits of that spirit, were wreaked upon me with a vengeance. The idea of the preaching of the gospel, or gospel preachers not being used in the regeneration of the sinner could not be tolerated. But we have lived to see the former of these tenets almost if not altogether abandoned by Old School Baptists, and the latter consigned over to the tender mercies of Arminians, where it originated and legitimately belongs.
I know it is humiliating to our natures to yield sentiments that we have long entertained and often expressed; but when we fail to find them sustained in the record that God has given us, such humility is a noble trait in the christian character. Then whether our own ideas or those of our brethren be to us either old or new when our minds are directed to them, let us scrupulously compare them with, and try them by the UNERRING STANDARD; and if they are found wanting according to that rule, the sooner we yield, the better it is for us. Is it not possible at least for us to be found in a category similar to that of the doe spoken of in Esop's Fables? Having but one eye, she is represented as keeping it constantly directed toward the forest for fear of the hunters; but a shot from a vessel that was coasting near by, pierced her on the blind side. While we should not slacken our vigilance in detecting error in new things, it may not be amiss to keep an eye occasionally to old opinions, impressions and practices; for there are none of us that have yet arrived to a state of perfection.
But permit me, dear brethren, to admonish you, and to heed the admonition myself also, to withhold hard words, and endeavor to suppress, should they arise, and keep down all feelings of vain jangling, strife, envies, jealousies, &c., and let us condemn or justify all that can be condemned or justified by the scriptures. And should a brother advocate an idea that we can neither condemn nor justify by revelation, let it remain in the peaceful possession and as the personal property of its author, until we can prove its truthfulness or fallacy. If it be of men, it will come to naught; but if it be of God, we cannot overthrow it.
Your brother sincerely,
J. F. JOHNSON.