Clay Village, Ky., March 11, 1881.
MY DEAR BROTHER BEEBE: - After some solemn reflections this morning, I have concluded to pen some desultory reminiscences of my past life in connection with others near my own age, including yourself. In the obituary department of the SIGNS OF THE TIMES, what a large proportion of the notices inform us of the demise of brethren and sisters, near, and even over our ages. It reminds me that ere long, we too, “must go the way of all the earth.” I think of the companions of my youth, and ask myself, Where are they? Gone, gone never to return. Then I think with Newton,
“Former friends, O how I’ve sought them!
Just to cheer my drooping mind;
But they’re gone like leaves of autumn,
Driven before a dreary wind.”
Does it not seem strange to us when we look from our eighty-first year, and consider the speedy flight of time, and yet how many stirring events are crowded into that little space? When I retrospect my former life, and remember the seeming hair-breadth escapes of that life I have witnessed, it appears to be a miracle that I yet live, and can attribute it to but one thing, and that is, it pleased the Lord to preserve me. I was reckless as to danger, although I had kind and pious parents to watch over and warn me; and although I was considered rather a moral boy, never was considered profane, either in my conduct or conversation, yet I can look back and say with the poet, Watts,
“Here on my heart the burden lies,
And past offenses pain my eyes.”
My first twenty-seven years were wholly spent in vanity. After that period I began to fear that all was not right with me; and then, if all the powers of my vile nature could have dethroned grace, it would have been done; but thanks be to God, grace reigns, and will and must reign, and I humbly hope did reign in my case. But before I was through with my awfully increasing distress, I was anxious enough to implore relief from any source.
Before this I had known nothing about the exceeding sinfulness of sin, nothing about grace, nothing about religion of any kind except such as I could obtain by my own works. But such a sinner as I then saw myself to be was an awful, awful sight indeed. There I lay one night after a long struggle to make myself better, a miserable, condemned sinner, and justly condemned too, when the never to be forgotten words were spoken to my heart, [not to my natural ears] “The Master is come and calleth for thee,” thrilled through me, and all my trouble was gone. And afterward, when I saw plainly, [not with my natural eyes] the lovely face of my dear Redeemer, my joy, if possible, surpassed what my grief had been. The world and all its vanities were nothing to me then. I little expected then to encounter the doubts and fears, the tribulation and distress that awaited me. But those doubts and fears soon began to annoy me, and have still continued to harass me to this day. But sorer trouble awaited me. It was when it was impressed upon my mind to preach the gospel. I thought I knew as well as I could know anything that I never could do it, and the awful thought of such a sinner attempting so sacred a work, was it not blasphemy? And the wonder was, why could I not banish it from my mind and trouble myself no more about it? But the terrible words, “Keep not silence,” Isa. 62:6, harassed me continually. But after the church called on me to exercise my gift [if I had any,] and I made some attempts to do so, these troubles gradually wore off. The next trouble was the division of the church on the subject of “three persons in the Godhead.” Myself and a few others could not conscientiously indorse the sentiment. There had previously been much controversy on that subject in the churches and associations in Ohio and Indiana, and they had finally settled on an agreement that it should not be a test of fellowship. Finally, a candidate presented himself to the church for reception, and the pastor of the church asked him if he indorsed that article. He replied that he could not fully indorse the idea that he understood those words to convey. He was then told that he could not be received into that church. I then arose and observed that that article had caused much contention among the Baptists, and they finally agreed that it should not be a bar of fellowship; that Lebanon church had through her pastor made it a bar; and if it must remain one, put it up against me, for I did not believe it. It raised a terrible storm over me, which continued to rage for about eighteen months. At first, I suppose three-fourths of the church were opposed to me, mostly relatives or connections of the pastor. Finally, at the time of the division, out of over eighty members, twenty-two went with them, and the others remained with us. There were then mutual exclusions on both sides; but in a few months they came back, made acknowledgements, and were received, not very cordially, however, by myself and some others. Not long afterward the means controversy came up, and the same ones, with one exception only, went off with that error. The truth of the case was, they found themselves out in the cold alone in the first instance, in the second they had company to suit them.
Since those divisions I have lived in peace with the churches where I have labored without an exception. Have had the pastoral care of thirteen or fourteen churches in Indiana, New York and Kentucky, but have always made a rule never to accept a call from any church if I knew of one member in good standing in the church that objected to me as pastor. Of four churches which I have served for from seventeen to twenty years, if there ever has been or is now a solitary member opposed to me as the pastor I have never known it, but attribute it more to the forbearance of the brethren than to my own merits. I have always thought too, that they placed a higher estimate upon my poor labors than they deserved.
How thankful I should be, for the sweet union and fellowship I have enjoyed with the dear saints, not only about home, but where I have so extensively traveled; for I suppose that since the beginning of my ministerial labors I have traveled a distance that would reach more than three times around the globe.
Notwithstanding the trials and tribulations I have passed through, I can say with the apostle, “We are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren, beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.” II Thes. 2:14. What could I enjoy in this sin-polluted world if deprived of the companionship and social worship with the saints.
I suppose it has been forty years or more, brother Beebe, since I became first acquainted with you, and it has been truly a very pleasant, and to me, a very profitable acquaintance. I believe there is but eighteen days’ difference in our ages. I very well recollect the first conversation we had together; each one of us had four sons and three daughters. Now, each of us have a son that is a preacher of the Old School Baptist order. So far as I have discovered there has been a happy oneness in our religious sentiments. I hope we have learned at the same old school and under the same Teacher. We have traveled and labored considerably together, and that has added much to the interest that I have felt in the acquaintance, for I have learned much thereby, and also have received much comfort as well as instruction. How many thousands of the dear saints have been comforted, encouraged and instructed by your editorials and through the correspondence of the SIGNS OF THE TIMES. Your paper has been of incalculable value to the Old School or Primitive Baptists. Your arduous labors have no doubt bound you to thousands. I know it has been thus with me, and the unanimity that has seemed to exist between you and me makes me hope that we are bound together with inseverable ties. What can separate us?
You have been assailed too, by some very small fault-finders. But what has that amounted to? Simply to bind you closer to your brethren. Some of them seemed to try to make a considerable show, and raised a fog or dust, and perhaps thought they did. I have heard of a bull that was pawing up the dust at a wonderful rate, while a fly that sat on his horn was crying out, “See what a dust I have raised.” May God sustain you, my dear brother, as long as it is his will that you should feed and instruct his children; and when he bids you to lay your armor by, may he enable you to say with Paul, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”
I wish to say a few words to the patrons of the SIGNS OF THE TIMES. Brethren, I fear we are not doing as much to sustain our family paper as we should. There are many indigent brethren and sisters to whom brother Beebe sends the paper gratis. Might not many of us do the same? When divided among many it would be but a small matter to each one. I pay for two such brethren besides my own subscription, and perhaps that is not as much as I should do. Now, dear brethren, let me entreat you to send on remittances for one or two, or more of your poor brethren if you are able to do so; it may aid brother Beebe very much, and not be perceptibly felt among so many. Remember what your Savior says: “Inasmuch as ye have done it to one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
It has been my high privilege, too, to have had the acquaintance of my venerable and very highly esteemed brother T.P. Dudley for more than the fourth of a century. I think I can safely say that I have never discovered a fault in him, and that is saying a good deal. His ability, amiableness, brotherly kindness and christian deportment have endeared him to many, very many. It would be hard to find a more companionable brother anywhere. Many of his brethren and friends who have heard of his almost hopeless condition as to health, will be glad to learn the word I had from him last was he was about well. I think he will be eighty-nine years old on the last of May next, and an able and faithful minister of the New Testament for more than sixty years.
I believe that the two venerable brethren that I have named, are the only gospel ministers with whom I have been so long and intimately acquainted that are now living; and when I consider the affliction through which we have been called to pass, and the tender, parental care exercised toward us, it makes them feel very near and dear to me; though it does not lessen the esteem I have for my younger brethren in the ministry, nor the appreciation of their labors. In years that are gone by I have been acquainted with many brethren in the ministry that were near my age, but where are they now?
“As the annual frosts are cropping,
Leaves and tendrils from the trees,
So my friends are yearly dropping,
Through old age and dire disease.”
“Where are those we counted leaders?
Filled with love, and zeal, and truth?
Old professors tall as cedars,
Bright examples for our youth.”
My dear aged brethren, let us patiently abide our time while the flickering taper of our mortal lamp continues faintly to glow; and when it shall have gone out, may we fall asleep in the arms of Jesus, awake in his likeness, and so ever be with the Lord.
J. F. JOHNSON.