“The memory of the just is blessed, (Proverbs 10:7).”
The depths to which the enemies of truth will sink to vilify those servants of God who hold fast that which is good has ever been a source of amazement. Gilbert Beebe died 115 years ago, yet there are those who continue to rail against him and knowingly lie concerning him. We should not wonder at these things since the servant is not greater than his lord and if they called the Master Beelzebub, how much more shall they call the servants evil. Elder Beebe does not need our pen to vindicate him; his work as proprietor, publisher and sole editor of the “Signs of the Times” will stand when our poor scribblings will have been long forgotten. However, we, in affirming our doctrinal unity with the Old School Baptists (among whom Elder Beebe was a shining light), feel compelled to state our appreciation of him as one of the greatest expounders of Gospel Truth this, or any other, country has ever seen.
Gilbert Beebe was never self-aggrandizing. He wrote little of an autobiographical nature, but from his brief notices we can glean a little of his life. He was born in Norwich, Connecticut, on November 25, 1800. He joined the Baptist Church in that place in 1811 and was baptized by Elder John Stipp. He moved to New York City in 1816 and joined Ebenezer Church by letter. He was licensed to preach the Gospel in 1818 and spent several years traveling, supplying the Third Baptist Church, Baltimore, Maryland for a time. He was ordained pastor of the Baptist Church at Ramapo, New York, in 1823 and continued there until May, 1826. He was then called to the pastorate of the church at New Vernon, New York, becoming the second pastor of the church since its constitution in 1786. This, and the Middletown and Wallkill Church, was to be the scene of his pastoral and publishing labors except for three years in Alexandria, Virginia, also serving the Broad Run, Virginia, Church and Shiloh Church in Washington, D.C. He continued, however, during this time to go to New Vernon which he served until his death in 1881.
Elder Beebe was evidently held in high esteem by his contemporaries in the ministry. Why do we suggest this? In 1832 the call went out from the Baltimore Association for all those who were opposed to the modern religious schemes (mission boards and societies, Bible societies, theological schools, tract societies, etc.) to meet at the Black Rock Meeting House, Butler, Baltimore County, Maryland, to discuss these things. Elder Beebe was the youngest minister present, being only 31 years old. Despite his youth, he was selected to serve on the committee to draft an address concerning these innovations. Many people think, since Elder Beebe became so well known through his periodical, the “Signs of the Times”, he wrote what has come to be known as the Black Rock Address. This, however, is incorrect. Elder Beebe disclaimed authorship of the document, though he was in agreement with it, and stated the entire address was the work of one man. That one man was Elder Samuel Trott, another burning and shining light in those times and a close friend of Elder Beebe. The only modifications made to the document from the way it was submitted were on the suggestions of Elder William Gilmore, who later went back to the Missionary Baptists. Since 1832 Old School Baptists (of whatever group or faction) have endorsed this Black Rock Address as a statement of their doctrine and practice.
It is important to notice at the end of this meeting a new periodical, the “Signs of the Times”, was recommended to the brethren by the meeting. What did this paper stand for? Obviously, for the principles of the Black Rock Address, but what else? The articles from the Prospectus are still printed for all to see; the second of which is “The absolute predestination of all things.” Some who deny this doctrine have made up stories about Elder Beebe and say he invented this doctrine in the senility of his old age. Here, however, we see this 31 year old minister publishing seven letters from Samuel Trott entitled, The Image of the Beast Illustrated, before the Black Rock meeting in 1832 and on the back cover was the Prospectus for the new paper to be titled, “Signs of the Times” along with the articles to which the paper was pledged. Rather than being brought up in an old man’s senile mind, it was part of the statement of faith written in the prime of life and endorsed by the strongest original gathering of those who would be called Old School, or Primitive Baptists. Indeed we can find no opposition to this doctrine from within the Old School camp. The opposition came from those who were without; Missionary Baptists who were rapidly embracing Arminianism as they had rapidly embraced the doctrines and practices of Andrew Fuller and William Carey, the theological and practical leaders of the new mission system. Elders Beebe and Trott wrote on the articles of the Prospectus in the early years of the “Signs”, and both of them wrote on the absolute predestination of all things. Indeed, if you were a Baptist of the Old School, it was assumed you were an absolute predestinarian. There were only two groups: Missionary Baptists who were Fullerites or Free-willers, and Old School Baptists who were absolute predestinarians. There were no other camps in which to be included.
Even the first division among the Old School was not concerning predestination. During what was called the “Clark Division” in 1851-1855, absolute predestination was not an issue. Elder John Clark of Virginia and Elder Grigg Thompson of Georgia told numerous untruths and half-truths about Elders Trott, Beebe, Dudley and others, but none of them ever declared absolute predestination to be heresy, nor even an error in reasoning. Thompson and Clark, though in error themselves on many things, were not Arminians, and they could rightly see that the only choices they had were absolute predestination or free will. There was no middle road between the two. In Hassell’s History of the Church of God you can see the first rumblings of a denial of this truth. Writing in the 1880s, Hassell did not say that absolute predestination was the new way, but rather that a denial of it was. The Old School had stood for over 50 years on the truth of absolute predestination and the actions of a few who desired a broader doctrine were taking the new position. This truth stands today as it did then: unassailable by the enemies of God.
Elder Beebe stood grounded by the grace of God in the truths for which we continue to contend today. He was not infallible for he was just a man. He did, however, set forth principles and expositions which have stood the test of time. Most of his writings are as applicable now as when they were written. It has been said we glory in him. I hope we rather glory in the revelation of the grace of God in and to him. He was raised up at that time for God’s good and wise purpose. He was gentle to friends, tough on enemies, but he never lost sight of the cause in which he was engaged. May we be blessed with a measure of that same Spirit by the Grace of God.
Elder Robert N Lackey
Volume 10, No. 4