New Castle, Henry Co., Ind., March 4, 1847.
BROTHER BEEBE: - It is high time that we present you our annual remittance for the SIGNS, and in so doing I will communicate to you, and (if you think this scribble worthy of a place in your columns) to the saints and faithful brethren scattered through the length and breadth of your correspondence, some of the trials, conflicts and joys to which we are made incident in this western valley.
It seems to me that the little flock in this part of the Lord's vineyard has need of the whole armor of God. The enemy "truly appears to have come in like a flood against the little company, being rigged out in hostile array with their carnal weapons, such as anger, malice, calumny, backbiting, smiting with the fist of wickedness, and falsehood, together with locks and keys, and nails and bars, to prevent us from attending our places of worship, and then guarding them with clubs and guns, and threatening to shoot us if we attempt to enter. Such are the means that some of Means Baptists [so-called] use in this country to accomplish their ends, and, if possible, to fulfill the general Arminian prophecy, which is, that the Old School Baptists will soon be extinct.
Truly we may say, "The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means." - Jer. v. 31. The Campbellites, Methodists and other Arminians are rejoicing that so many have left our ranks and come over to their sentiments. Some of them say they feel like taking them in their arms; others, that they now see nothing to prevent them from all uniting. I was told, not long since, by an intelligent Campbellite, that the Means Baptists in his neighborhood preached precisely the Campbellite doctrine. The general cry is, that there are but few of those old hard-heads left, and they will soon be out of the way. Think you, my brethren that it is a matter of discouragement to us thus to be grinned at, mocked and called few by these modern Ishmaelites? Nay. Let it remind us, of the days of Gideon, and of the language of the Captain of our Salvation. “Strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” - Matt. vii. 13. And again, "Fear not, little flock," &c.- Luke xii. 32. The “remnant according to the election of grace” is safe, because “kept by the power of God.” Though prowling wolves may range the forest, and greedy dogs infest the road, and hungry lions thirst for their blood, and false teachers crying, Lo here, and, Lo there, shall deceive many, and although we “are everywhere spoken against,” and persecuted from place to place, let the wolves howl, the dogs bark, the lions roar, false teachers cry, evil speakers lie, and let persecution rage with a ten-fold vengeance, the little flock is forever secure; for the eternal God is her refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. We have a strong city: Salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks. Watchmen, listen to this: "Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell the towers thereof; mark ye well her bulwarks; consider her palaces; that ye may tell it to the generation following."- Psa. xlviii.12,13. Then stand upon her wall, as a faithful watchman; fear not the enemy's darts; “keep not silence,” but “cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet;” but be certain to “put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. Stand, therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness, and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." But be sure not to mistake the use of the sword, as the Means folks do; think not that it is to be the means or instrument of giving life to the dead. The weapons of our warfare are mighty, (through God) to pull down strong holds, and cast down imaginations. Fear not while you have that sword; it is a well-tempered, well-tried Jerusalem blade. One sweep of it, coming in contact with them, will dash in ten thousand atoms a thousand Arminian earthly weapons, so that not one that is formed against you shall prosper. Therefore use it well, wherever there is an enemy creeping round the walls of Zion. And when they have retreated, some to the New School, some to Campbell, and some to Means, and all is peace, and quietude, and fellowship, and brotherly love, and unity, as appears to be the case with us in this region now, then turn to the household of faith that has been engaged in the conflict, and refresh them with the bread of life that sustains, and the wine that makes glad their sinking spirits; for you will be certain to find them hungry, thirsty, weary and heavy laden. O what a rich banquet you have to set before them! What a rich treasure in poor, helpless, earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us!
How is it that it is in earthen vessels? Because Christ is in them. Then, should we be asked, Where are all those blessings, those inexhaustible riches? We answer, All, all treasured up in Christ, the great repository. Are we asked, What do they consist of? We answer, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him: but God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit; for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God." Here then is deep, unfathomable love and grace; love centering upon its objects, chosen in Christ before the earth's foundations were laid, the sea spread forth, or the blue ethereal canopy hung over them; ere the gems of night decorated the stately covering, the moon exhibited her silver face, or the golden sun let fall his illuminating rays to gild and beautify the whole; ere man was formed of earth, and ere he fell, this love lay bountiful in the womb of eternity, embracing all its objects. And although he sinned in league with Satan against his Sovereign, and entailed death upon all his offspring, and though the poisonous, killing stream flowed upon all his progeny, so that a long list of black, unhallowed crimes have been, and will be perpetrated through all the lapse of ages, against the righteous law, and in the sight of God, yet heinous, aggravated and numerous as those sins have been, and may be, they have never been, nor will they ever be sufficient to stop the current or change the course of that love from its chosen, objects. O! Tell them of that love, and tell them that it changes not, and therefore the sons of Jacob are not consumed. Surely it is a rich repast when tasted by his hungry children. What wonders have been wrought in the exhibition of that love! The great Redeemer in consequence of it, bowed to visit this abode of sin and misery, that he might bear the sins of all his people in his own body on the tree, and put them away by the sacrifice of himself. It is strong as death; for when the monster made his appearance in his most hideous form, when the sword of Justice could no longer slumber, when the weighty storm from Sinai’s burning, trembling, smoking summit must break in fearful vengeance, his spotless soul was made the receptacle of all its deadly darts, to screen his guilty children from impending ruin. He died for their sins. But it was not possible that he should be holden of death. On the set time of Jehovah, the third morn, death and the grave must yield up their prey. He rose for their justification. He ascended on high, and is now exalted a Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. What dainties are here for the craving appetites of his regenerated children! And yet all this has no more charms for the soul that is dead in sins, than a jewel has for swine. But the eye of faith beholds it, and feeds upon the rich repast. His children, by faith, eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, and have eternal life.
Christ is in them the hope of glory, and he is eternal life. Brother Beebe, I was about to close my poor communication, but the last number of the fourteenth volume of the SIGNS has come to hand, and in it I perceive another long communication from Dea. I. Sperry; and seeing him so entangled in an Arminian snare, I think it indispensably necessary for some one who has been an eye and ear witness to their (the Means folks) proceedings and doctrines here, to develop the matter a little for the relief, not only of brother S., but of all other Baptists that may be bewildered in the same labyrinths, notwithstanding the candid, scriptural and unanswerable reply that followed it.
In looking over the above named communication I have been made to ask, Is it possible that this is from the hand of brother S.? I can say with brother Ambrose, he has been to me a precious brother. For although we are situated far from each other, we have been acquainted for a number of years. He has been frequently at our church, and we were, always glad to see him. I have also had meeting at his house and at his meeting house. Often have we taken sweet counsel together, and seemed to rejoice in each others company. I now say to brother S., Dear brother, let me admonish you to retrospect every step, and mark well the distance you have rambled from the apostolic, or old Predestinarian Baptist track, before you proceed farther. Suffer a weakling to reason a moment with you upon this subject. We are perfectly safe while we have positive scripture language to support us in our argument; but when we go beyond that, all is uncertainty. We may confidently say, “It is the Spirit that quickeneth;” but when you say that he does it through men, or the gospel, either as means or instruments, you go beyond what is written, and should feel the force of your own admonition, “Be not wise above what is written.” Who ever heard the scripture say anything about the Spirit going through one man to quicken another, or through or in his words either? What are words more than the vibration of the air upon the fleshly organs of speech, and by them so modulated as to be recognized by an intelligent mind as signs of ideas? The hearer must be in possession of intelligent powers, otherwise the sound of words would be no more than the tinkling of a cymbal; and the eloquence of Demosthenes or Cicero would be wasted in the empty air, without minds capacitated to receive and understand it. Now the Lord created man with his natural faculties, and then addressed and taught those faculties in relation to natural things. Will any man in his common senses conclude that revelation or teaching had anything to do as a means or instrument through which man received his natural existence? Any child could solve the question. Did all or any of the laws, institutions, ceremonies or carnal ordinances that were imposed on the Jews literally, have anything to do as a means through or by which they were made Jews? Or were they first made and born living Jews, with mental powers, and then those revelations made to them as such? Again, words spoken by men as explicative of spiritual things have really no more spirit in them than words spoken on other matters. They are formed of the same air and modulated by the same fleshly organs of speech; and we are told positively with regard to this quickening, that, “The flesh profiteth nothing.” What then constitutes the difference in the hearing? It is this; words spoken by one whose mind is under the influence of the Spirit are calculated to hold out correct signs of spiritual ideas; and those words, though spoken in the most animating strains of eloquence, would be wasted and lost unless the mind of the hearer is spiritually capacitated to receive them; for “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” Then, while natural men we receive not, nor can we know spiritual things. We must first be made spiritual; and that is accomplished by being “born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God,” who is a Spirit, and in no other way.
There is then a spiritual revelation made in the gospel to a spiritual seed or generation, and to that generation exclusively. Not to everybody indiscriminately, for the very first clause in the New Testament contradicts that idea. It is: “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ,” and no others. Now, to suppose that spiritual revelation, either written or oral, has anything to do as a means through or by which these spiritual characters receive their spiritual existence, would be as vague and absurd as to conclude that any natural revelation made to man is the medium or means through which he has received his natural existence. The gospel, therefore, “is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth, [not to unbelievers] to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” And why? “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith,” &c. Faith then is the faculty by which we receive every spiritual blessing, or to which every spiritual revelation is made. It is peculiar to God's living children, and is therefore called “the faith of God's elect.” And to those who have, not that receptacle, the preaching of Christ is a stumbling-block and foolishness.
The Means people here say that it is a small matter that we are disputing about; that it is splitting hairs. I cannot see that it has split any. It may be the means of dividing hair and bristles from wool, for the bristles have been very manifest in the investigation of the difficulties that have existed amongst us; but they have been divided off, and the disposition of the lamb is now manifest amongst us, dressed in its native fleece, for which we desire to be very thankful, and I am made, for one, to see what a poor, short-sighted creature I am. All my exertion that I was master of was summoned up to prevent the storm that appeared to be gathering and blackening around us. I endeavored in my feeble way to expose the fallacy of the doctrine and enormity of the practice of the Means party. Some indeed who have gone off with them appeared fully to acquiesce with us in doctrinal sentiments, and who, if I am not a poor, deceived wretch, I love dearly for the truth's sake, and I have not yet found that we differ in doctrine; but it was their unhappy misfortune [as I think] to stand connected with others; for I believe all are connected in a natural relationship who stood with the Means party that went from our church, except one, who has appeared to be filled with jealousy for years, and determined if possible to rend the church, whose course I feel it my imperious duty to publish to the Old School Baptists, not because it is a pleasure to me, but to show them what kind of people they are uniting with when they follow the Means dreamers, and because they have from our church violently taken off the church records and refused even to grant us a transcript, thinking thereby, I suppose, to keep concealed their former acts, which have been too flagrant and outrageous to be imposed on the name of Baptists.
Now, as stated above, these people are ever crying out that it is a small matter that is dividing us; and yet, in consequence of it, they have, in the church to which I belong, declared non-fellowship with us, and vowed that the church must split. The clerk was taken under dealing for endeavoring to cause division in the church, and declared non-fellowship, and while his case was under investigation, left his seat abruptly, and forcibly taking with him the church-book, telling us that we should not meet there any more; and on being asked how he would prevent it, he said that he would fasten up the door, and if it was broken open there would be a lawsuit. The church proceeded to deal with, and exclude him for his conduct. A few of his connections met on the following morning (which was Sunday) and professed to restore him to fellowship, without giving the church any previous knowledge of their designs, and called themselves Lebanon Church. During the investigation, which had lasted for several meetings, while speaking, I was called by name and told in an angry tone that I must hush, by one of the same connection, who, after raging for a considerable time at the door, came into the house with an open knife in his hand, as I am told by those who requested him to shut it up; but he refused. This I got from those who talked with him, though I did not see it myself. I wish to be very particular in the statements I make, for this, should it be published will be critically examined, and every subterfuge resorted to, to seek an occasion against me; I therefore present it in a form that I am willing should be subjected to the closest criticism; yet the truth of the above statement need not be doubted. It is true that I paid but little attention to what the individual said or did, and should have paid less, had it not been for the confusion occasioned in the house, particularly on the part of the ladies, who had previously had a proof of his character and temper; for on a former occasion, and while he had the name of a member in the church, I had been seized by him, and violently dragged from my seat in the meeting house, grasped in his arms with such force that several of my ribs were considerably injured, and then, endeavoring to thrust me out of the house, he was met by some of my friends who came to my relief. He, then struck at me probably two or three times with his fist, and, on being spoken to very calmly by one of them, he struck him with such force that the blood flowed freely from his forehead, and he would have fallen to the floor, in all probability, had not the seat prevented it.
The reader may have concluded by this time that this is Means with a vengeance. Well, on the last day of our difficulties, and while we were investigating the clerk's case, he and the most of his party had left the house; the church proceeded in their business, when an inquiry was made whether we should meet at the meeting house on the ensuing morning, or at a comfortable school house in the neighborhood. The most of the brethren had been so sickened at the scenes they had witnessed there, that they preferred repairing to the school house, believing that if they kept the house they must either defend themselves with carnal weapons or take their case before unbelievers, and they dared not do either. It was published that we would meet at the school house the next day, and that one of their preachers would preach at the meeting house. The next day we had a large congregation; they had but one individual. The neighbors were disgusted with their conduct. O may we be reconciled to bear joyfully the spoiling of our goods, rather than dwell in such confusion.
Since the storm has blown over we have lived in uninterrupted peace, and can witness “how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.”
Brother Beebe, (if I may claim relationship) I think that of all the beings that ever the Lord suffered to live upon his footstool, I have reason to be the most thankful not only for the numberless blessings which he has so lavishly heaped upon me, and with which each of my days has been continually crowned, notwithstanding all my unworthiness in his sight, and rebellion against his dignity, but for his restraining grace and preserving power also; for I think I can safely say that while undergoing the few little trials related above, the miserable old man was so curbed and kept down that his temper was not suffered to rise so as to be perceptible to myself or to any one present; and this I can only attribute to the care and keeping of my kind Shepherd.
Here we are, a few, (though a considerable majority of the church) that have not bowed at the shrine of the image MEANS. And after visiting and hearing from many of the churches in our association and corresponding associations, I rejoice to say that there is manifested more unanimity of sentiment, more brotherly love, more christian fellowship, in a word, more real health amongst them, than there has been for the last ten years. O that the Keeper of Israel may still enable us to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
How wide the contrast when we turn our eyes the other way! Some of the softs as they are here called by their Arminian friends, extol brother S.’s letter very highly. Others say that it will not do, and that he had better quit writing. I think, myself, that there is danger of their losing by it, so long as there are Baptists among them. The multiplicity of opinions among them reminds me of the time when the children of men met on the plain in the land of Shinar to build the city or tower of Babel, and the Lord came down and confounded their language. One will contend for a principle with all the zeal of an exasperated scribe or pharisee. Anon, another, and not infrequently the same one, on a different occasion, will deny that anybody believes such an idea; so that there is scarcely an Arminian notion extant but what has advocates and opposers amongst them. Among the opposers of such sentiments, I think, are some of the lambs of Christ, who have probably rambled off with them in consequence of a natural relationship or some base misrepresentation; and in their capering, prancing, scampering and flouncing round they have kicked up such a dust that their eyes seem to be almost entirely blinded with it; hence they seem to be groping almost like a blind man for the wall. And well I know that there is but one Optician that can successfully operate upon them to clear the fog and mist from their eyes. O that he who commanded the light to shine out of darkness would shine in their hearts, to give them the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, that they may not be looking for it in the faces, of men as means or instruments.
It is strange to hear them talk of splitting hairs, when from MYSTERY to MEANS they all have been, and are still contending for the very same tenet, which is, in substance, that there is a God at some local distance operating upon people through men who are his honored vicars, vicegerents, means or instruments; while the Old Baptists, from the apostles down to the present time, have uniformly and continually contended that the God of Israel shines and works in his children to will and to do of his good pleasure.
That he may there shine and work until he dispels all their gloomy clouds and subdues all things to himself, is the sincere prayer of an unworthy brother and companion in tribulation.
J. F. JOHNSON.