Lawrenceburg, Ky., Feb., 1867.
BROTHER BEEBE: - I have not written for the SIGNS OF THE TIMES recently as in former times, because I have felt that my productions have been no considerable acquisition to the paper. I hope, however, that neither yourself nor your readers will conclude from the fact of my not writing, that my esteem for our medium of correspondence, or my desire for its perpetuity or usefulness, is in any degree abated. I rejoice to hear so many of the afflicted children of Zion express (through the SIGNS OF THE TIMES, isolated as they are from their companions in tribulation) the comfort they receive in reading the communications from yourself and correspondents. I am glad, too, to find that many new communicants, and some of them young, with profitable gifts to the church, have taken up the pen and so richly contributed to the pages of the paper. But when I reflect on the obituary department of the past volume, a gloom enshrouds my mind. Some of the ablest ministers of the New Testament that I have known, with others who were near and dear to me, have been called away to reap the rich reward of the righteous. How often have their wise counsels and consoling administrations instructed and comforted us, both viva voice and with their pens. But on the other hand, it is encouraging to learn through the SIGNS OF THE TIMES, and otherwise, that the good Shepherd is calling and sending into his vineyard young and faithful laborers, the sound of whose significant voices, like the bells and pomegranates upon the robe of Aaron's ephod, indicate that the High Priest still lives, and that the plenitude of his grace is still abundant. My whitening locks admonish me that, like my fathers in Israel, I too must soon "lay my armor by;" but the many testimonials that we have that the Lord God omnipotent reigneth, and that he will never leave nor cease to provide for his Zion, the reflection of which seems to fill me with a spirit of resignation; and I do not desire to pass in this poor world one step beyond the bounds that my Father has assigned me. Fearful and momentous events have characterized the flight of the past few years, and perhaps more thrilling and important ones to the church will soon follow in their wake. But, as the Lord ever has, in like manner he ever will provide for his bride. Whether quaffing the bitter waters of Marah, or drinking the refreshing streams of the smitten Rock; whether weeping in the furnace of affliction, or shouting from the top of the mountain; whether buffeting the billows of tribulation, or feasting in the house of Bethel, he will raise up an Ebenezer for his people, spread a table before them in the presence of their enemies, and prepare for them "A feast of fat things, of wines on the lees well refined."
"In every condition, in sickness and health,
In poverty's vale or abounding in wealth,
At home and abroad, on the land, on the sea,
As her days may demand shall her strength ever be."
But while the clouds of war have so angrily scowled over our political horizon, and while their direful contents have stained with crimson the once fair face of our country, and darker and gloomier ones may seem still to lower around us, let us not forget to extol the wondrous love and beneficent care of our kind Father, that through the dread gloom he has deigned to send a ray of light, or drop a refreshing shower occasionally, to cheer and replenish his way-worn children; for although he has been bidding the old veterans of the cross to lay aside their armor, he is raising up younger ones to buckle it on and fight the battles of the Lord. And while he has been calling many others of our companions from their toils and labors, to return to their rest, in many parts of our country he has been saying "to the prisoners, Go forth, and to them that are in darkness, Show yourselves." And with joy we have witnessed their obedience to the heavenly call.
Within the past year I have baptized twenty-eight in the four churches I serve, and I think I never witnessed clearer exhibitions of the reign of grace than have been portrayed here in the past summer and fall. Our houses have been crowded with attentive listeners, and sometimes would contain scarcely half the attendance.
Elder Strickland inquired through the SIGNS OF THE TIMES sometime back whether there was a church to be found in prosperity, where the doctrine of election and predestination was harped upon. For his edification and comfort, (if he will accept it as such) this may inform him that there are some in this vicinity that we consider in a prosperous condition; and if their humble servant is capable of preaching those fundamental, and, to the saints of God, heart-cheering points of doctrine, they are usually dwelt upon here. It is known in ten or twelve of the United States, as well as in Canada where I have traveled, that it is not my custom to evade them. I have, not shunned to declare them to the churches here that I have served for from four to near seven years, knowing not how to preach the gospel without them; and I do know that "All the counsel of God" cannot be declared without them. And furthermore, I have no idea that any well informed and faithful servant of God will evade or speak lightly of the doctrine of election and predestination. We have had a time of uninterrupted peace since I have been here, and the Lord has been adding to the church such as should be saved. It is our custom to inquire for the peace of the church at each of our church meetings, and there has not been one solitary response to the contrary since I have been with the churches here; and taking all this together, we call it prosperity. I admit that more proselytes can be made by getting up "protracted meetings," exciting and harrowing up the depraved natural passions of men and women; but what are they when made, and where to be found afterward? Go to the tippling shops, dancing parties, &c., and there many of them may be found; but where children are "born of God," when he has "brought them to the banqueting house," when he has delivered them from the power of darkness and translated them into the kingdom of his dear Son; or, when saved and called with a holy calling, not according to their works at protracted meetings or elsewhere, but according to his own purpose (predestination) and grace which was given us in Christ before the world began; then they are disposed to adorn the doctrine of God their Savior in their conversation and conduct, and,
"Dare to defend his noble cause,
And yield obedience to his laws."
Yes, and when the Lord forms his people for himself, they shall show forth his praise." His ways and works are not like man's; men may make scores of proselytes at protracted meetings, but it often "happens to them according to the true proverb." - See Prov. xxvi. 11. But when the Lord prepares his people for himself the work is like himself - eternal. "I know that whatsoever God doeth, it shall be forever." Our enemies are often taunting us with being but a mere handful, very few, just ready to dwindle away. How is it that we make any kind of a show with them? We have no manufacturing establishments where we make preachers; no nursery, as they sometimes call their Sunday School, to prepare our children for church membership; hold no "protracted meetings" for the purpose of making scores of proselytes. I think we can explain the matter. If the Lord would make as many Old School Baptists as they make proselytes, they would soon be far behind us numerically, but as it is, if their proselytes would remain steadfast as the Lord's people do, they would soon be like grasshoppers in multitude. But when we consider how flighty, fickle minded and evanescent they are, we need not wonder that they are so tardy in converting the world. So much work to do, and so much to "do over again;" no wonder they call much for indefatigable, "indomitable laborers." We have heard of the preacher in Ohio, perhaps, who said on a certain occasion, "One year ago a hundred sinners were converted, and thank God, they have all held out faithful but ninety." Ninety per cent per annum is a heavy loss, and as all now depends upon their own exertions, (the Lord having done his part as they say) it will probably be some time yet before they realize their "millennial glory." But all this perfectly coincides with the brief existence and imbecile nature of fallen man; his works are like himself.
David says his days are as a hand-breadth, and his age as nothing; that every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Then why marvel at the instability of his religion, the vacillating nature of all his works? Can we expect one whose days are as a hand-breadth and whose age is as nothing, to perform work that will endure eternally? Both revelation and reason would answer, No. On the other hand, the Lord's works are like himself. "He speaks and it is done, he commands, and it stands fast." He is eternal, his works endure. The Father says of his first-born, "His seed will I make to endure forever, and his throne as the days of heaven." He is immutable; his works are unchangeable, they stand forever. Then may the people whom God has formed for himself, stand with ecstatic amazement on their immutable basis, and in their enraptured contemplation, run back to the birth of time, and leap from thence into the vast expanse of eternity, view there with joy-inspiring rapture their standing in Christ their living head before the world or time was, retrace their flight to the brink of time, and droop the wing there in view of their dreadful fall in, and by virtue of a relation to an earthly parent, all seeming to have been lost. But hark! A cheering voice is heard from their first abode assuring him that the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head. He sees the dread dilemma into which his ever loved children are hurled, with a weighty debt upon them, assumes that debt, and in the fullness of time bows down to this sin-benighted world, is "made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law."
"He raised them from the dreadful pit,
The gates of gaping hell,
And fixed their standing more secure,
Than 'twas before they fell."
Yes, he came to redeem, he did redeem, and that was an eternal redemption. He came to save; he did save, and that was an eternal salvation. He came that they might have life; he gives them life, and that is eternal life. He bequeaths to them an exhaustless portion, and that is an eternal inheritance, it "fadeth not away;" all are like himself.
How wide the contrast then, while they stand unmoved upon their immovable Foundation and with an eye given suitable to the occasion, see with serene composure the man-made proselytes, with all the other works of man, bearing the impress of mutation and decay in all their lineaments and features passing away, and view with ecstatic wonder their own high, happy destiny, sealed with blood, and hear the thrilling voice of him who has said, "His seed will I make to endure forever, and his throne as the days of heaven."
Your brother affectionately,
J. F. JOHNSON.