Georgetown, Ky., August, 1861.
MY DEAR BROTHER BEEBE: - In the 6th No., present Vol. of the SIGNS, was published a communication written by the humble writer of this article, respecting the divided state of Zion, and said, "To be continued." It was thought by me that the continuation would be soon; but the throng of business, and complying with requests for my views on other subjects through the SIGNS, prolonged the delay until I concluded to let it pass without further attention, supposing that all I could say on the subject would be of but little importance. But latterly a number of brethren have inquired why it was not continued; and more recently I received a letter from a highly esteemed brother and minister of Illinois, and in behalf of others, urging its continuation. So much time has elapsed, and my mind has been so variously occupied, that I fear the affinity of the two articles will be but slight. When we speak of a divided state of Zion, we mean what we say. Sometimes the Hagarenes creep in among us unawares, and have to be cast out, as their elder brother was, but that is not dividing Zion.
What is meant by a divided state of Zion, is, the separation of her own children, thus depriving them of that sociality in their worship wherein they cordially fraternize each other, "comfort one another," "bear one another's burdens," "comfort themselves together and edify one another," &c. Now, that such divisions exist in our country is very evident; and that it adds much to the dark gloom that appalls and the icy clime that benumbs is quite as evident. O that we could find the remedy that would unite the children of God, [no others] and cause them to "dwell together in unity." How good and how pleasant it would be.
My brother of Illinois, in his letter, says: "As you have observed, there certainly is a cause, there also certainly is a remedy. Hence the important inquiry is, what is the remedy and to whom shall we look for it? Dear brother Johnson, we earnestly request you to, and hope you will continue this subject, and point out the remedy; for we feel that it is a subject of vital importance to us, as a people, seeing we are so much divided and scattered, and thus weakened and discouraged. To whom does the work of filling up and healing the breaches in our ranks properly belong? To the churches or to the associations? Some of our brethren think it will not do for the churches to do anything in the premises, but we must wait until the associations move in the matter." My brother adds, "Now, I think this is all wrong;" and so say I. My brethren, I have not the vanity to suppose that I can do much in this case, but if I can contribute but a mite, even in calling the attention of other and abler ones to the subject, and thereby comfort one of the downcast children of my Father, I shall be compensated. My earnest desire is to heal, not to hurt the daughter of God's people, comfort, not to cast down, to make peace, not war and fighting among them; for the Lord knows we have enemies enough to fight without making them of each other. But to the question of my brother, "to whom does this work belong, to the churches, or to the associations? Suppose one should say, "to the associations," where will he get his rule or authority to work? Not in the scriptures, certainly. Not one word is found there to direct their action in such cases, nor even to show that they had an existence in the days of the apostles; and therefore they act in the premises under no other authority than by the commandments of men. But perhaps, before we attempt to apply the remedy, we should examine the patient, and endeavor to ascertain the nature of her complaint. Is it stupor or over-excitement? The two conditions are radically different and require different treatment. When there is much excitability we require sedatives to palliate and soothe the inflamed parts; and if a state of languor prevails, we want stimulants to rouse the system to a more vigorous; and healthy action. These two states of disease are extremes, and one is apt to follow in the wake of the other. When there is an over-excitement in the system, so as to produce disease, a proportionate degree of stupor following is a natural consequence, and either extreme is a diseased state.
Now, I think that the general state of Zion, so far as my acquaintance extends, is rather a stupor; that she is languid, chilly and drowsy, and if we search for the cause we shall probably ascertain that it is a consequence of previous over-excitement, particularly in the western part of our country, where associations exercise something nearer an administrative power in handling exciting matters than they do in the east. Hence divisions have been more frequent as well as more extensive west than east. I was pleased some years ago when a query was sent to the Baltimore Association (by a church,) when the association wisely decided that she had no authority to meddle in such cases, and sent it back to the proper place for the adjudication of such matters, the church. That perhaps closed one avenue, to a heated controversy, and a consequent division on a large scale. But let us examine the origin and progress of these inflammatory cases. Perhaps one member has become excited and inflamed; it has spread to another, and another, then to the church (it ought never to go further,) then to the association, thence to other associations, until it has finally spread over the whole body, in a large section of country, causing the death (of the religious enjoyment) of the entire body.
I knew two gentlemen in Indiana; each one received a mere scratch on his finger, producing inflammation, which was communicated to the other fingers, the hand, the arm, and then the body, resulting in the death of both men. These little inflammatory cases should be strictly watched and well attended to; use emollients to soothe, palliate and soften the inflamed parts. Such applications are generally found to be the best, and therefore should be used first, and the inflammation arrested in that way if possible. But if that course proves ineffectual, recourse must be had to more stringent remedies. Sometimes practitioners have recourse to caustics to arrest certain kinds of inflammation; but if all other remedies fail, amputation is the last resort. That is a trying case, yet, better have recourse to it than that the whole body perish, even should it be the right hand, or foot, or any other member, however valuable it may have been. Take a retrospective view, brethren, and mark the progress of similar cases to a scratched finger. One member has been disaffected, and has affected others; then the case has been carried to the church, where first sedatives (gentle measures) should have been used; they failing, next the cautery (sharp rebuke if necessary); and both of these applications failing, then amputation (exclusion), and thus stop such cases within their legitimate boundaries, for they ought never be suffered, under any circumstances, to go beyond the bounds of the church in any other way than by exclusion.
But, alas! by the inventions of men there has been a way sought out to carry them up to the top of a would-be higher mountain, whence they have been flung to the winds and drifted like a cloud of famished locusts, galling and devouring the reciprocal enjoyments of thousands, and that by a high-handed usurpation, too, for we repeat, there is no authority given in the Bible for carrying offenses outside of the limits of the church, but by throwing them out (with those who cause them) into the world where they properly belong. But scenes of high excitement having done their work, have rather passed away, and a morbid, debilitated, chilly stupor prevails to a great extent, as the legitimate result, requiring something to stimulate, brace up and rouse to a healthy action all the different parts of the body, producing a medium state or equilibrium between those two extremes. But where are the curatives and who is to administer them? We will all agree that they are to be found in the good Physician, the great repository in whom "dwells all fullness," "all spiritual blessings," with "healing in his wings," in whom is found also "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" - wisdom not only to apply himself in every time of need, but to supply his people with in every emergency - knowledge that fully comprehends and surveys every calamity that can threaten or afflict his people in any age, clime, country or condition, together with all the aims, means and artifices that their subtle enemy can use against them or distill into the minds of his cohorts to be so used. There, brethren, are all the necessary curatives for his people, and he has successfully applied them so far as their eternal release from the dominion and condemning power of sin is concerned, by living for them, dying for them, and rising for their justification.
He ascended on high, led captivity captive, received and gave gifts unto men. He set up his kingdom, or church, gave her prophets, apostles, teachers, &c., with a perfect code of laws, rules and precedents, containing everything necessary or profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction or instruction in righteousness. Who ever heard of such a setting up or furnishing of any synod, conference, council or association? No assemblage, no organization, either political or ecclesiastical, beneath the heavens, has a shadow of authority afforded them in the scriptures to meddle in the smallest degree with the administrative affairs of this spiritual kingdom, save the church. She has undoubted and exclusive authority to act in the premises - verbally from the sacred lips of the KING, who reigns in righteousness, and from the PRINCES who rule in judgment - holy men of God who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
But no longer do we hear his verbal voice to cheer and instruct us, no longer have we men in the flesh thus inspired; but, blessed be his name, he has bequeathed to us that code contained in the scriptures, and we are to read them, search them, study them, and we should appropriate, appreciate and apply them. Preparatory to this he opens our understanding, that we may understand them. Dear brethren, let us try to attend to them as spoken verbally by Him who spake as never man spake, as well as by inspiration. Go to the 28th chapter of Matthew, read and reflect, and you will see, first, that humility is a requisite ingredient. There offenses are pointed out, with a woe pronounced upon the perpetrator. If he trespass against you, go to him, not to another. If he will not hear you, take one or two more, only enough to give the church sufficient evidence, carefully avoiding to give the matter unnecessary publicity. If he neglect to hear them, tell it to the church, and remember, brethren, that there is where the case should meet its last, its final destiny. Though it be a right hand, a foot, an eye, cut off or pluck out rather than let the whole body perish. Don't suffer the matter to be taken up to any other tribunal on earth; the vigilant eye of the good Shepherd has left no opening in the pale of the church leading that way, and any member or members that will not bow to the laws of Zion, instead of being permitted to carry their case up, as some may suppose, to another professed ecclesiastical body, should be cast down from the judgment seat and out of the hallowed pale of the church; for that is the only way of egress from the sanctuary that the King has ordained, when offenders and offenses cannot be adjusted inside. But suppose a church becomes affected, then what? Take it to a court of appeals, an organism composed of parts of churches, to deal with churches as churches do with individual members? No, my dear brethren, never, never let it be said that the church of Christ, furnished as she is with a perfect set of laws and rules, which properly executed and applied, will adjust every difficulty that is properly brought before them - we say, never let it be said that she will suffer matters that her sovereign King has placed under or consigned exclusively to her jurisdiction, to go before a tribunal having no right to touch them besides what it has received from men. But even should a church become disaffected, we have a precedent on record to reach the case, in the 15th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. A church was planted at Antioch, and a discrepancy was found there which created a difficulty that caused "no small dissension and disputation," and as there did not happen to be an association of delegates from churches, organized in the days of the apostles, that church sent Paul and Barnabas, with others, to another church at Jerusalem. The matter was investigated in the light of revelation and adjusted satisfactorily. Thus we have a scriptural example for the reciprocal action of churches in the management of grievances, and one that proved successful not only in that case, but in a number of others in which your humble servant has participated. I have known a number of instances where the united action of churches in the management of difficulties has been followed with the best of circumstances. But, such results, proceeding from the action of associations, have been "few and far between," (so far as my observation has extended) to say the least I can of them. They have generally been more fortunate (?) in giving them more wide-spread notoriety and influence, by flinging them abroad like burning firebrands, blighting every bud of peace that may have made its appearance, and effecting the most extensive divisions that have been known in the land. A difficulty originates in a church, the delegates take it to the association, and that body disseminates it to the different churches belonging to the association. The delegates from other associations take it to theirs, and thence it goes down to all the churches belonging to them, where it works like leaven till all is in a state of fermentation. Now, if I should "put on my studying cap," and try a whole month, I do not think I could invent a plan that would be more antagonistical to the peace, quietude and unity of Zion, or better calculated to produce widespread havoc and accomplish extensive divisions. It is a well known fact that by misrepresentation and exaggeration, minor matters have acquired importance, force and efficiency in the accomplishment of their abominable work in proportion to their notoriety. Thus mole-hills have swollen to mountains, and rivulets to angry and fearful deluges. Dear brethren, permit me earnestly to entreat you for the sake of the peace of Zion, who is thus "scattered and peeled," to keep your differences at home, circumscribe them within the narrowest possible limit, for the wider they spread the worse they grow. The whole truth is, that associations have no right under heaven to touch or tamper with them. Let those who think they have prove it if they can. Don't suppose now, brethren, because I oppose the idea of associations meddling with offenses, that I object to holding annual, semi-annual or quarterly meetings when properly conducted. Let so many churches as are conveniently situated agree to hold an annual meeting for worship, and, if they choose, take alternately the expenses, send greetings, statistics and other information from each other if they wish, correspond with others if they see proper to do so; but if a matter of grievance comes up, say, "Brethren, the proper times and places to attend to these matters are on our church-meeting days and at our churches. This is a meeting appointed for worship simply, not for the litigation of offenses, for we have no authority to touch them." O that the churches would awake from their slumbering stupor, and assert their inalienable right to govern and control their internal matters according to the rules and examples given them in the scriptures; and if there is nothing in their faith or order that should prevent, nothing more than that their associations do not correspond, come together in peace, love and amity, fraternize each other cordially, and labor together for the mutual comfort and instruction of all, and acquaint their creatures, the associations, that the watchwords of the churches are, "Touch not, hands of," &c., and if they will persist in usurping authority by reaching forth unhallowed hands to widen breaches and give extension to affairs that they should have no business with, if nothing else will prevent the withering consequences of their action in such cases, wipe them out of existence at once. I have been grieved to see churches going to those organizations like supplicants, asking letters of permission to leave one and join another. "How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle." I wish it always understood, that I have no desire to see sound and orderly Baptists unite with or fraternize those will-worshipers or work-mongers who differ radically with us in faith and practice. As well might we attempt to mingle oil and water, and it is well known by those who are best acquainted with me that I have not shunned to use the sword according to the best of my feeble ability, to cut asunder such extraneous elements. But no discerning Old School Baptist who has traveled among the churches to any considerable extent can fail to have seen that there are numerous sound and orderly churches, as well as ministers, whose religious interchange has been cut off and the reciprocity of their fellowship destroyed, and for no other reason than that associations have dropped their correspondence.
In conclusion, I beseech you, my dear brethren and the churches everywhere, to lay aside the commandments and traditions of men - fling your prejudices to the winds (if you have any) and take up your Bibles, and endeavor by the ample rules therein given to adjust your seeming difficulties. O that the Lord would demolish the barriers, dissipate the dust and tear down the scare-crows that have been raised to bar asunder, bewilder and alarm his children - cause them to lift up their voices together, dwell together in unity, work together like a company of horses in Pharaoh's chariot, causing peace to flow like a river among us, with our hearts so cemented together with the bond of love as to defy all the artifices of the enemy to sever them.
Brethren, should we not all unite and endeavor to consummate so desirable an end? May the Lord direct and sustain us in every good word and work. Brethren, strive for the peace of Zion. "Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the children of God."
Your brother still in the best of bonds, and in much tribulation,
J. F. JOHNSON.