Henry County, Ind., Feb. 4, 1854.
DEAR BROTHER BEEBE: - The restless wings of time have numbered with the past another year, and we are therefore admonished to renew our subscription for the SIGNS. In so doing, I will briefly state that during the past fall I was engaged in a considerable tour of traveling and trying to preach the gospel of my Master's kingdom; and in passing through parts of Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, I was solicited by many brethren to give through the SIGNS a sketch of my journeyings and some of the circumstances connected therewith. I have delayed until now, and have not complied with those requests, until some of the brethren have renewed them by private letters. As an apology for my non-compliance, I will say first, that since my return a considerable portion of the time has been spent from home, amongst the churches in our own state; secondly, whilst at home and disengaged from the association of my friends and brethren, Caesar's demands have engaged my attention to a considerable extent; and last, but not least, a consciousness on my own part of my feeble and sluggish powers to either speak or write to the profit or edification of the saints. But that I may not be tedious in my apology, I will observe that previous to my departure I visited White Water Association, which commenced on Friday before the second Saturday in August, 1853, and then Lebanon Association, commencing the Friday following.
At the former, there were many preachers from different parts of the country, (the number not recollected) where the gospel was preached, I think, "with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven," without any jargon. At the last named association, (home) I believe there were over twenty preaching brethren, and the preaching of the same kind. The same degree of unity and concord prevailed in the deliberations of both meetings. They were numerously attended with attentive hearers. On the 31st day of August, I set out on my contemplated journey, accompanied with a number of my brethren and friends, for the Conn's Creek Association, which convened with the Conn's Creek Church, Shelby Co., Ind., on Friday before the first Saturday in September. Here, too, we met quite a number of the laborers in the Master's vineyard, where the cause of truth was vindicated before a large audience of unusually attentive hearers. From thence I proceeded on my journey for the Licking Association, in Kentucky, accompanied by Eld. J. W. Thomas and others, and after attending some meetings on the way, reached the association on the second Saturday in September, where we again met many of the heralds of the cross, and for three days had a most charming interview. After attending those four meetings, I was made to conclude that the heart of a christian must be hard indeed that could feel no emotion of joy, no sense of gratitude, on witnessing such scenes of harmony, such a perfect unanimity of sentiment, where peace, fellowship and concord seemed to reign, and love abound.
I heard many preachers and much preaching at those four associations, and I think I can confidently say that I never saw so much harmony at four successive ones in my life. I do not recollect that there was one conflicting sentiment advanced during the meetings. I will here ask the dear brethren,
"From whence does this union arise,
That hatred is conquered by love?
It fastens our souls in such ties,
That nature nor time can't remove."
Can it be from a spirit of error? O no. That produces schisms, contentions, strife, divisions, every evil work. Dear brethren, may these "times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord" be long remembered and happily appreciated by us all, and may each of our hearts feel the liveliest sensation of thankfulness and the deepest of gratitude to the God of all grace and all consolation, for his unspeakable blessings thus richly dispensed to us from the liberality of his redundancy. Surely these tokens of his divine favor and tender mercy call loudly upon us for solemn praises and incessant thanksgivings.
After the close of the association, which was held with the Goshen Church, Anderson Co., Ky., we proceeded on to Keene, had meetings, and from thence to Lexington, where, and in the vicinity of which, we spent several days very agreeably with brethren and friends, had a pleasant meeting with the church at Bryans, and from there continued our journey, visiting several churches between that and the Ohio River, crossed at Cincinnati on Saturday, the 24th of September, after spending two weeks in Kentucky with the churches, brethren and friends, in the most agreeable manner, and forming many new acquaintances, whose memory I still cherish with delight. After leaving Cincinnati we visited Mill Creek Church in Ohio, when my very heart seemed to recoil within me while I listened to the heart-chilling intelligence of the feuds and animosities that blasted like a withering mildew the heavenly union, the sweet fellowship, the social intercourse and soul-cheering amity of the dear saints who formerly composed that venerable body, the Miami Association. At her last session the relentless foe was suffered to "dash her cup with vinegar," or drench her with the bitter waters of "Marah," the sickening effects of which were now visibly portrayed among the hapless children of our heavenly Father. Truly this was like running against an iceberg, when compared with the scenes of harmony that had characterized our journey hitherto. I need not here conceal the notorious fact that it was from this quarter that the everlasting union of Christ and the church was opposed through the Columns of the SIGNS, when so many of its able advocates, with their Bible in their hands, and its truth in their hearts, rushed up to the rescue of that soul-comforting principle. May not the opposition to this truth be the predisposing, the proximate, or the legitimate cause of the anti-union that now prevails to so alarming an extent, with its heart-rending consequences, among the dear but downcast and downtrodden saints there? If so, how careful we should be to take heed to ourselves and to the doctrine we advocate. Truly a fearful responsibility rests upon us in those respects. How often, while in the bounds of that association, did I ponder in my mind the text, "For it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh." Dear brethren, let us all endeavor to take the warning, and remember that, "Thus saith the Lord concerning the prophets [teachers] that make my people err, that bite with their teeth, and cry, Peace; and he that putteth not into their mouths, they even prepare war against him." - See Micah iii. 5, and the two following verses. In visiting many of the churches of that association, I was thoroughly convinced that there was an error amongst the Lord's people, and that they erred by disregarding the seasonable warning given them in the first chapter and twelfth verse of First Corinthians. O that we all could "cease from man whose breath is in his nostrils," repair to, and know "the holy scriptures, which are able to make us wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus." May the Lord, in the plenitude of his grace and mercy, dispel the gloomy clouds that darken and make so dreary the horizon of the saints there, hush the howling and merciless tempests that are tossing them upon the billows of tribulation, and inspire them with love to his name, his cause, his truth, and to each other, that the sweet messenger of peace may again smile in their midst, and inspire them with love, and constrain them to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. I do believe that the brethren of Miami Association, generally, constitute a body of Baptists of the old order, so far as their faith is concerned, and therefore greatly desire that they should cultivate a love for each other, a spirit of forbearance, and a reverence for the truth as it is in Jesus.
After leaving the bounds of Miami Association I visited one church in the Mad River, and then proceeded on my way, visiting a number of churches in the Scioto and Muskingum Associations. Here I thought I could perceive a change for the better; yet I cannot say that the causes and effects of the difficulties below exert no influence here. But I found many able advocates for the truth in the bounds of those associations, both men and women earnestly contending for the faith once delivered to the saints, and who, I humbly hope, will exert their best faculties in the service, and sincerely pray to the God of grace for the prosperity of Zion, and that the unhallowed bane of contention and the reckless ravages of the enemy may not be suffered to blight the hopes, spoil the peace, or mar the fellowship of the careworn children of the kingdom. I would fain advise and warn them to stand steadily upon their watch-tower, as we all should do; but I feel my weakness, and consequent incompetency to direct myself aright. I thank my God, however, (if I am not deceived) that we are sufficiently advised and warned by those who are greatly my superiors, and O that we could give sufficient heed to their advice. "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them, which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple." - Rom. xvi. 17,18.
I had the pleasure of forming many new acquaintances in the bounds of those associations, also the recollection of whom I still cherish with pleasing sensations. I hope not to be forgotten by them when at the throne of grace. Unworthy as I feel of participating in the privileges and enjoying the fellowship of the saints, I am sometimes made to thank God and take courage for those inestimable blessings, and for the manifestations of his divine presence, and the power of his sustaining and reigning grace in supporting me while passing through the scenes of deep tribulation that have lately been my lot to witness, in wending my way through this (to me) lonely valley of tears. Where would I find enjoyment, if deprived of the society of the saints?
I reached and filled my last appointment in Ohio, on the 13th of October, at Timber Run Church, in the vicinity of Zanesville, and set out for Virginia the ensuing morning.
In passing through Ohio, I visited in the bounds of Miami, Mad River, Scioto and Muskingum Associations, the churches of Mill Creek, Hamilton and Rossville, Fairfield, Elk Creek, Winchester, Tapscot, Sugar Creek, Lebanon, Bethel, Mercer's Run, Caesar's Creek, Darbyville, Turkey Run, Lancaster, Walnut Creek, Pleasant Run, Union, Friendship, Jonathan's Creek and Timber Run.
During my continuance of three weeks in Ohio, I spake, with very few exceptions, twice a day, spent many hours in the most agreeable manner, conversing with the brethren, and notwithstanding the unpleasant feelings amongst some of the brethren in the lower part of the state, if there was a single objection urged by one Baptist during the time, I was not aware of it, unless the following might be considered one. One brother asked me the question as follows: "Did I understand you to say that when Jesus laid down his life, he laid down the life of the church?" I replied that I said it. He observed further that, "Christ said he laid down his life." I replied again, His life is our life; and if the law ever required my life, and did not get it at the hand of Christ, it will have it yet; for, "Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." That ended the interview on that subject.
From Zanesville I traveled about one hundred and fifty miles before reaching my appointment in Virginia. There for three weeks more I visited my relatives in the vicinity of Fairmont, Marion County, and had many meetings with my friends, brethren, and the churches in the Tygart's Valley River Association, in that and some of the adjoining counties. There, too, I think I found many of my Father's own dear children, who appeared to be sound in the faith of the gospel, taking heed to themselves and the doctrine; surrounded by enemies on the right hand and on the left, and weak, it is true, as to numbers, yet strong in the faith, giving glory to God. The sweetest concord seemed to prevail amongst them, which brought to my mind the language of David, and of the poet,
"How good and pleasant 'tis to see,
The church of Jesus kind and free;
Appearing like a new born race,
Proving the power of saving grace."
In this region of country I found many things to call up in my memory the giddy and vain scenes of my early life. My father, after some years of residence in the counties of Culpepper and Fauquier, (Va.) removed to, and became one of the early settlers of this "Hill country," when I was but three years old. Twenty-six of my early years were spent in folly and vanity here; and surely if ever the long-suffering and tender mercy of God was portrayed in the case of a rebel, they were in mine. When raising an eye to him, I have been made to exclaim, in the language of the poet,
"When all thy mercy, O my God,
My rising soul surveys,
Transported with the view, I'm lost,
In wonder, love and praise."
What must have been my fate, had I been entrusted with my own keeping! True, I had kind and careful parents to watch over me, when under their immediate inspection; but it was easy for me to evade their vision, and ramble and revel in vanity. Still an all-seeing eye was ever on me, and an almighty and merciful hand preserved me, and a well-conducted train of his kind providence was exhibited in my preservation. When contemplating on his goodness and mercy to me, shamefully unworthy as I have been in his sight, with what gratitude should I remember that,
"When in the slippery paths of youth,
With heedless steps I ran,
His arm, unseen, conveyed me safe,
And led me up to man."
But with what additional praises should I crown his holy name, that (as I hope,)
"He saw me wandering, set me right,
And turned my darkness into light."
Although I am prone to murmur, and sometimes think that the hand of my heavenly Father has been heavily laid upon me, yet when I call to mind the multiplied mercies that he has heaped upon me, I am constrained to acknowledge that "The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble, and he knoweth them that trust in him."
On Thursday, the 10th of November, I set out for home, and traveled directly onward till I reached Wayne County, Ind., and there, on Saturday and Sunday, the 19th and 20th, attended meeting with Salem Church, and on Monday, the 21st, reached home, after an absence of eighty-three days, and having traveled about sixteen hundred miles in my buggy, enjoying the best of health, and found my family all well.
Ungrateful indeed must be the heart that can feel no emotions of gratitude on witnessing such multitudes of mercies flowing incessantly to so unworthy a recipient.
I hope that my brethren and friends among whom I traveled will accept of my warmest thanks and hearty acknowledgements for the many unmerited favors and tokens of regard afforded me during my journeyings amongst them. O that I could more fully appreciate and properly estimate the blessings of meeting with and participating in the privileges and services of the saints of the Most High.
My journey was a more pleasant one than I anticipated, when considering my present condition. One reflection remains, however, as a damper on my feelings, and that is the variance alluded to in the foregoing remarks, amongst some of the brethren in Ohio. Alas! What multitudes of circumstances there are in this imperfect state of existence, to spoil the peace and mar the fellowship of the saints. And in our researches for the real cause, it is not infrequently the case that suspicion falls on some leading preachers, (as they are termed) and consequently a war ensues amongst the brethren, each one advocating the cause of his favorite man. It is not my design here to undertake to justify the preachers in all cases, for they, like others, are but men, fallible men, and it is a lamentable fact that they often cause the people to err. It is greatly to be feared that a thirst for popular approbation, pecuniary emolument, or some other selfish motive, often leads the preacher astray. But could churches and individuals always pursue a commendable course toward them, their wiles would be as harmless to the churches as the tinkling of a cymbal. I am much mistaken if I have not clearly seen of late that an unjustifiable confidence in, and an undue degree of forbearance toward a preacher, is a source of serious evil among brethren. Now, confidence and forbearance, when deserving, and properly reciprocated, are blessings that cannot be too highly esteemed, virtues that ought to be cherished by every christian, without which their social enjoyments would at once cease, and fellowship be but an empty name. But suppose a man attacks some vitally important point of doctrine, such as the everlasting unity (some object to the word union, because it is not in the scriptures) of Christ and the church, or the doctrine of election, or the existence of the Mediator for four thousand years of the world, and then assumes a dictatorial authority over the churches in baptism, and consequently in the reception of members, and because others oppose his dogmas, and will not tacitly submit to his diction, charges the whole of the Old School Baptists with leaving the tract, on the one hand, and the Arminians on the other, sets himself and his followers up between, as the only ones who are right, and then proclaims that he will quit fighting Arminians, and commences war with the Old School Baptists, and accordingly turns his artillery against the advocates of truth. Does not such a course at once betray all confidence, and does not forbearance cease to be a virtue? Is not such a course calculated to sow among brethren the seeds of discord? Is it not to be lamented that Baptists will close their eyes and stop their ears against everything and everybody that will not join them in setting up their favorite man above all others? Is he not causing divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine of the Bible? Should we not "mark" and "avoid" such? Or should we heedlessly trample upon the holy commandment, and turn a deaf ear to the voice of inspiration? Who amongst us have not seen, in by-gone days, the sad consequences of an undeserving confidence in, and an unjustifiable forbearance toward men? Often have the dear saints been thus led off from the simplicity of the gospel, and been made to wander in solitude, as aliens from their brethren, and thereby deprived of that social intercourse and soul-cheering fellowship, the loss of which is that of one of the richest boons with which heaven has blessed us while pilgrims in this lonely desert. O that the God of all consolation would dispose us all to judge with righteous judgment in those important matters, and stop the merciless hand of the enemy in propagating error and producing discord, jealousy and evil surmisings among his dear children. My dear brethren, let us all be careful not to suffer our creature affections, prepossessions of mind, fancies or notions, to check our zeal and reverence for the word of truth. But let us rather study the holy scriptures, pray sincerely to the Lord to open our understanding that we may understand them, and be enabled by divine grace to yield a strict conformity to their holy dictates, in our doctrinal sentiments and practical performances.
When aspirants for the mastery undertake to pull up the stakes or remove the landmarks of the Old School Baptists, they are not aware of the Bible proof that can be brought to bear upon their theories; and when the sword of the Spirit is drawn upon them, it is not infrequently the case that the cry of persecution is raised, to enlist the sympathies of the populace; and if this fails, to render them as popular as they anticipated, or draw as many disciples after them as they expected, and they find that it will better subserve their interests, they can tack about, perform a retrograde or craw-fish motion, and then protest that they have not been any place. This kind of a course is only calculated to make the matter worse. How different the course of the humble christian. The best are liable to err while here, where we can only see in part. And how nobly it portrays the christian character to frankly and openly confess our faults to God and to each other. This is calculated to increase confidence, encourage forbearance, restore fellowship, subdue dissention and cause peace to abound among brethren. Surely then we should with gratitude remember that, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
In conclusion, dear brethren, it should be remembered with thanksgiving by all those who are "looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God, and our Savior," who love his word, his ways, his people, and the gates of Zion, that the all-wise God is not to be deceived by all the wily freaks, capricious whims and fantastical machinations of designing men, and that the period is fast approaching when, by the brightness of his coming, he will dispel every gloom, every intervening cloud; and although it may be our legacy while here to wade through deep tribulation and endure sore trials, in filling up the cup of our sufferings in a militant abode, those tribulations and trials will soon be over. O what a contrast then will be developed to our admiring vision! Instead of meeting the billows of trouble, the buffetings of the old enemy, the bane of contention and the continual din of war, we shall hail with transport of unsullied bliss the friend of sinners, the fountain of joy, where uninterrupted peace and eternal repose shall abide everlastingly in the paradise of God.
In the bond of love I remain,
J. F. JOHNSON.