Brother Beebe: There have been occasionally communications in the Signs, written as relations of experience, which have occasioned in me a desire that something might be said in reference to them. And I now undertake it, although I am aware that either my former communications, or the remarks of some others, have raised in the minds of many of the brethren a prejudice against me, as though I wished to be thought a little more correct than any others on doctrinal points, and therefore that such will now think that I am setting myself up as better acquainted with experience than others. As I have heretofore tried to state in candor my reasons for opposing what I believe to be error in my brethren; I know of no better way than, if they will think thus without just cause, to let them think. Though I would not have it understood that I am, or wish to be, indifferent to the good or bad opinion of my brethren, or that I am so stoical as not to feel hurt at being the object of their prejudice. But what I mean is, that when a sense of duty, or inclination to enjoy my privilege, leads me to write, that I should not be deterred from it, because some will not receive what I advance, whilst there is a hope that others may be comforted or edified.
My objections to certain relations of experiences to which I have reference is not that I think the persons not subjects of grace, but that they have missed stating the exercises in which they were brought, first to exercise faith in Christ, and have stated other things as those which they look to as constituting their deliverance, which in themselves afford no evidence of faith in Christ. Take, for instance, the communication of Brother Burroughs in the last (or sixth) number of the Signs (1845). From some things which he states as being the ground of his trust, etc., I hope the Spirit has taught him and applied the gospel consolations to his mind. But I should not be able to draw any such conclusion from what he relates as constituting his change; namely: that he was greatly distressed, and from what he says, this distress mostly arose from an apprehension that the time was about to pass in which he could be saved, and that this distress went off and was succeeded by a pleasant and cheerful sensation. The magicians of Egypt can produce as great a miracle, or as good an experience as such would be. Mere natural men are capable of being excited to just such exercises. They can be so alarmed as to be greatly distressed at the idea that their supposed, or rather fictitious, day of grace is passed, or about to pass. And it requires but little attention to the workings of nature to know that these excited feelings are very apt to subside during a nap of sleep, or even from mere exhaustion, and that they are naturally succeeded, like any other pain, by a pleasant feeling; and it is easy for the imagination, as in the case of the front-bench converts, to draw the conclusion that this great change of feeling is an evidence that they have got religion. It is no wonder that this excites them to as great a pitch of joy as they were before to that of grief. I feel sorry to see such things given as a relation of experience among Old School Baptists:
First, because, as in the case above referred to, there being grounds to hope that they are subjects of grace, I feel sorry to see the children of God so bewildered as to their deliverance, and as having no clearer evidence to their minds, to refer to at times, of their having passed from death to life. I know how to pity them, having been in like situation; from not having been conversant with clear, experimental persons, and not having heard discriminating, experimental gospel preaching, when Christ was revealed in me to the apprehending of Him by faith as a Saviour suiting my case, I had no idea that the exercise I had at that time was a being born again, or a first believing in Christ with that faith which is the gift of God. The exercise was something new and made a deep impression on my mind, but I considered it only as an evidence given me that I was truly a subject of religion, as I had most of the time before for three or four years hoped I was. And when I went to offer to a Baptist church, I had no idea of relating this exercise as an evidence of my being a believer or a fit subject of baptism, though I think something of it was drawn from me in their questioning me. But my own statement was similar to what I had made to the church session when I joined the Presbyterians some years before; that I had been impressed with a desire to be religious and to serve God, etc., with the addition of some of my ups and downs since, and the manner of my being convinced concerning believer's baptism, etc. It was not under fifteen months after that I had an idea of that exercise being that in which I was first brought to know Christ crucified and to believe on Him; so completely had my mind been bewildered by the muddy preaching I had been accustomed to, but then it was so showed to me that the thing appeared plain. And from that day to this I have known when and how I was taught the way of salvation for poor, condemned, helpless sinners, as I then was, through a crucified Jesus; and I know that man had no hand in teaching it to me, that I never learned it from reading nor preaching. Yet I have since passed through many dark seasons as to my interest in Christ, and to this hour have many doubts, from the awful corruptions within me, whether I can be a subject of grace, or whether my spot is the spot or exercises of God's children.
I feel sorry because such relations unnoticed make it appear as though the experience of Old School Baptists is nothing more than that of camp-meeting converts.
Because such unexplained statement are calculated to deceive inexperienced persons as to what an experience of grace consist in. Yet, I blame not this brother, nor others similarly circumstanced, seeing he is located where he can have but little intercourse with such as know what gospel experience is, for embracing the privilege of stating, through the Signs, what he had been led to look to as his conversion, doing it, as he evidently does, with a desire to be instructed in the way of God more perfectly, or, if he is deceived, to be undeceived. But in such cases I think it important that some one should be ready to act the part of Aquila and Priscilla; and my volunteering to do this is what may subject me to the charge of setting myself up as the standard of gospel experience. And it might have savored a little more of humility for me to have waited for some other one to step forward; in other similar cases which have occurred, I did wait, but in vain.
As to a standard, my wish is to make the Scriptures the standard of Christian experience, as I have ever aimed to set them forth as the only standard of gospel doctrine. As I have freely objected to the relation this brother gave of his experience, it is incumbent on me to show what it is that makes one manifest as a subject of salvation, according to the New Testament. For brevity's sake I shall touch only those points which might be questioned. A coming to Christ is admitted as necessary by all professors. I will, therefore, here show that Christ has said that none can come unto Him except they are taught of God. The words are, "No man can come to Me except the Father which hath sent Me draw him, and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard and hath learned of the Father cometh unto me, etc.," (John 6:44-45). Thus He evidently represents the drawing and teaching as the same thing. Teaching has to do with the mind, not the animal feelings; it is an instructing of the judgment, or a giving of understanding to the thing taught. But God's teaching is not like man's, a mere enlightening of the head whilst the heart is untouched. It is a revelation of truth in the heart, so that the affections are arrested; there is a heart-feeling of the truth taught, and a heart-love for it. To come to Christ, or to be believers on Him, we must know Him in His true character as the Saviour of sinners; as said he that had been blind: "Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on Him?" (John 9:36). Thus to know Him, we must know what it is to be sinners in God's account. "By the law is the knowledge of sin." "The law is spiritual." Spiritual life is, therefore, first imparted to give spiritual discernment or understanding, and the commandment then comes, that is, the person, under the divine teaching, is made to understand its force and special application to himself, condemning him and all his seeking and doing; and ultimately he is made to know (if not, as in some cases, at once) its spirituality and exceeding broadness to the thoughts and intents of the heart. He then knows why he is distressed; the curse of God's law stands against him; all his former hopes and expectations of doing anything to obtain the favor of God are cut off, and he lies helpless and dead under the righteous sentence of the law. Were it not that the Spirit in that case helpeth his infirmities, making intercession for him with groanings which cannot be uttered, that is, leading him to lift up his heart to God in desires for mercy, if it can be extended to a wretch so vile, he would be silenced in dead despair. Ask this person now what distresses him; his answer will be not that his time for obtaining salvation is passed, but that he is such a sinner against God that he sees not how any salvation can be for him, consistent with justice. Nothing which he has sever learned of Christ from reading or from hearing of preaching reaches his case. He cannot believe on Him, for he knows not His fullness of grace and truth, neither can he know Him till God teaches him the knowledge of Him. But when the Father thus teaches him, or the Spirit takes of Christ's and shows to him, he understands the mystery of salvation through Christ crucified, views Him as the Lamb which God had provided for a sacrifice to His justice in the room of the guilty, condemned sinner. He now sees how he can be saved consistent with justice and how the mercy and promises of God can come to a wretch like him; and from this time his trust is fixed on a crucified, risen Jesus, and he has hope towards God and approaches Him as a Father (Ephesians 1:13 and 1 Peter 1:3). Now he will rejoice even unto tears, and knows what occasion he has for rejoicing in God his Saviour. The knowledge he now has of Christ as the Way of salvation is altogether different from what he had before conceived of; and the purpose of God, as he now sees it, of saving polluted, helpless sinners, instead of such as can help themselves, and the salvation of Christ being so fully and exactly adapted to the case of such, is all new to him and all lovely and glorious, reflecting a glory upon all the ways and works of God around him. Can a man be taught these things of God and not know that his views of himself and his views of Christ and his expectations of acceptance with God are all new, all different, from what they once were, and that they are what he never learned of men?
The Spirit had probably implanted in Brother Burroughs the principle of life, causing a desire after God before the exercises he speaks of; but it may not have been till some time after this that he was truly drawn to Christ. I think if he will review his past experience there will be brought to his recollection a time when the awful depravity of his heart was so laid open to his view as to make him feel the justice of his condemnation, and the utter impossibility of anything good or acceptable to God coming from him; so that all idea of seeking salvation on his part was excluded; "Lord, save or I perish", was his cry in substance. Again, that in reading the Scriptures, or in hearing preaching, or in some passage of Scripture being presented and opened to his mind, he had a view of Christ crucified as a foundation just suited for such a condemned and helpless sinner to lean upon and trust to for salvation; and that since that time his hope of acceptance with God has not been from his determination to seek, but wholly through Christ and His finished work; and since then, it has been that he has known something of the God of Israel's opening rivers in high places, etc., for the poor and needy when everything else fails and they cry to Him. This revelation of Christ in him may have been at once by an opening up of the Scriptures to him, or it may have been more gradually that his mind was enlightened to understand the way of salvation.
The exercises which he related are such as are frequent with persons under a work of grace, by which Satan tries to settle them down on something short of Christ. Besides, being led by a way we know not, we are apt to look for a resting-place short of the proper one.
The position I have taken relative to this subject will, I think, be admitted by every reflecting Christian as the Scriptural one when he considers that the promises of salvation run alone through faith in Christ, "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him" (John 3:36 and Mark 16:16). And that faith implies a knowledge of Christ, and this knowledge evidently is only from being taught of God. "No man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son and he to whom the Son will reveal him" (Luke 10:22). I hope this brother, on a re-examination, will be able to tell us something of what he has learned of Jesus and of His saving power.
Elder Samuel Trott
Centreville, Fairfax County, VA