ELDER OSBOURN: HIS CHARGE OF SABELLIANISM, &c.

BROTHER BEEBE: - As the several pieces published in the SIGNS on the occasion of Elder James Osbourn’s charging the Old School Baptists of the West with Sabellianism, have raised quite a resentment against you and the SIGNS on account thereof, from certain quarters; and as I was the first to call this subject up to the notice of our brethren, I feel disposed to say something further on the matter. I shall not attempt a defense of all which has been said through the SIGNS on the occasion. And indeed those letters of brother Saunders which have been so much denounced call for no defense. If after the repeated acknowledgements published by brother Saunders for certain expressions used in those letters, and the declaration made by brother Beebe, {SIGNS, volume 8, pg.15,} that previous to the publishing of those letters, brother Saunders had requested him to correct the unguarded expressions used in them; and that he had failed to do it in consequence of being unavoidably absent when they went to press, persons will denounce the SIGNS on account of those expressions, as the Woburn and North Berwick churches have done in their letters published by Elder Osbourn in his recent pamphlet, they may as well be let alone to denounce on, until they come to a temper which will dispose them to receive a brother’s acknowledgements.

At the time I called upon our western brethren to notice the charge Elder Osbourn had published against them, I did not design engaging myself in any discussion on the subject; but as, owing to the abuse poured forth, I feel disposed to take up my pen as a friend of the SIGNS and of our Old School cause, I may, before I close, touch the whole matter in debate, and also show mine opinion. The first thing I shall notice is the very uncandid course taken by Elder Osbourn and his special friends to impress the public mind that the present excitement has grown out of an attack of I.T. Saunders and the SIGNS on Elder Osbourn, as a servant of God. Whereas the plain state of the case, as we shall further show, is that it has arisen from an attempt of Elder Osbourn to brand the Old School cause as connected with the SIGNS, through our western brethren, with the charge of Sabellian heresy, and the opening of the pages of the SIGNS by brother Beebe, to the brethren thus directly charged, to show the injustice of such charge. Previous to Elder Osbourn’s pamphlet coming out, Mr. Booth of Dayton, Ohio, wrote a communication for the DOCTRINAL ADVOCATE, in which he attempted to lead the attention of his readers off from Elder Osbourn’s unchristian like charge, to brother Saunders’ letter, which was designed originally as a private friendly communication to Elder Osbourn; and construing that letter about as uncandidly as Elder Osbourn himself has done, he has endeavored therefrom to fix upon brother Saunders; 1st, Osbourn’s charge of Sabellianism; and 2nd, censure for presuming to make any objections to Osbourn’s mode of expressing himself, and especially as Osbourn is so experimental and spiritual a man. Having noticed Mr. Booth’s communications, I will add, that apparently to settle the point in dispute, it is a little amusing that he should give an extract from Romaine which strikes a blow at the fundamental and most objectionable point of Osbourn’s system. Romaine as represented in that extract, separate from his use of the term person, and his telling more about the Eternal Three’s entering into a covenant agreement among themselves, than the scriptures do, has given quite a correct view of the design of the term Father, Son and Holy Ghost as designating the Three. His language is, “They took these names, not to describe the manner in which they exist, but their manner of acting; not what they are in themselves, but how they stand related to us in the economy of Redemption, &c.” What then becomes of Osbourn’s position relative to the term person, as on page 43 of his Calm Investigation; namely, “that it is expressive of that perfection of the divine nature whereby it subsists three different ways, as in the Father, and in the Son, and in the Holy Ghost, each of which persons possessing the divine essence after his peculiar manner, thereby becomes a distinct person;” that is, the Son being a begotten god in distinction from the others, and the Holy Ghost being a breathed forth god, &c.

But to return to the enquiry as to where the fault lies in this case, let us notice the facts as they have transpired: 1st. Elder Osbourn in preaching at the Miami Association in 1837, expressed himself in such a way as, in the estimation of brother Saunders, and others, to convey the idea that the Three were three gods. Brother Saunders believing that Osbourn did not in reality hold what his words implied, and that the using of such terms unexplained, would injure his usefulness, he immediately wrote an affectionate letter to Osbourn for the purpose of trying to show him the impropriety of expressing himself in so strong terms on that point, &c. The spirit of this letter shows for itself, as it is now published. The greatest fault in the letter, in my estimation, is its containing too much flattery; but Saunders was evidently induced to speak in the highest terms he could of Osbourn’s preaching, in order to prepare the way for touching the other point without giving offence. Now I appeal to the candor of any man who has not embraced the idea that Elder Osbourn is something higher than the ordinary gifts which the Great Head of the Church bestows for the work of the ministry, to say if there was anything wrong in Brother Saunders addressing that letter to Osbourn, under those circumstances. Was it not brotherly in him to do so? And ought not Osbourn, if he considered himself in any wise amenable to his brethren for the sentiments he advanced among them, to have thanked brother Saunders for his kindness in this, although he dissented from his views? But Saunders used in that letter some very unguarded expressions in illustrating the subject. True, he did; and Osbourn and he had shortly after an interview on the subject, and an explanation, and Saunders here considered the matter as dropped, ought not Osbourn to have so considered it? But no, Elder Osbourn treasured up those expressions for after use. He occasionally showed this letter to a few where he thought it would have effect. He also communicated those objectionable expressions, perverting entirely their application from that which Saunders manifestly designed in their use, and representing him as using them in reference to the doctrine of the Trinity, to a certain Dutch Reformed Minister, in two letters together with inferences therefrom of his own, and charges of Sabellianism founded thereon, against the Old School Baptists of the West indiscriminately. Whether he expected his Paedobaptist brother to communicate these letters for publication in some Paedobaptist journal, or not, I cannot say. But one thing I can say; namely, that the DOCTRINAL ADVOCATE having gotten into extensive circulation, and from the flattering respect it had paid to his communications and other publications, and he having flattered it and its conductor much in several communications, and apparently concluding that here was a periodical that would serve his interest, and having laid claim to it as such by asserting that “I have nothing to do with any other periodical at present, nor do I intend to have, &c.,” {ADVOCATE, Vol.2, pg.246,} he sends on copies of those letters containing the charge against the western Old School Baptists to be circulated thereby abroad. From all the circumstances connected therewith, I do feel justified in entertaining the belief that he intended by thus throwing a firebrand into the ranks of the Old School Baptists to scatter them, and draw off a party who should follow his lead, having the ADVOCATE for their flag; and those who would not thus rally around his standard, were to be published before the whole host of the Philistines as heretics, graceless professors, dry breasts, &c. Now I again appeal to common candor to say whether on the principle of his having in any way identified himself with Old School Baptists, it was christian-like or honest for Elder Osbourn thus to put afloat among a denomination on which we cannot recognize as belonging to the visible gospel church, a charge of gross heresy of the Sabellian kind against the Old School Baptists, limited only to the bounds of what he calls the far west, and afterwards to publish the same through the ADVOCATE. See the number for June, volume 2, page 367. Was not this an attack of the most wanton kind, founded as it was upon an individual’s expostulating with him upon the use of certain terms, in a private and friendly way?

And I, a third time appeal to common candor to say whether those assailed brethren ought not to be allowed to come forward in their own defense, even though it was against the eminent servant of God, Elder Osbourn? And was it anything more than common justice in Brother Beebe to open the pages of the SIGNS to those brethren to publish in their defense, seeing his paper is devoted to the Old School Baptist cause? I am well aware there are Old School Baptists, who seem to think that Elder Osbourn must be allowed the privilege of labeling individual preachers, in standing among the Old School Baptists as dry breasts, and of charging whole communities of Old School Baptists with being graceless professors and gross heretics, and no reply must be attempted lest the unity of the Old School Baptists be marred. Such may think for themselves, and I will think for myself.

Having mentioned my belief of Elder Osbourn’s intention to make the DOCTRINAL ADVOCATE the flag of his party, it is but justice to add that in this I imagine that he is mistaken; and that Elder Jewett, by the impartial course he has pursued relative to this affair, since the first error of admitting such unqualified charges against the Old School Baptists, and which was undoubtedly occasioned by the confidence he had reposed in Elder Osbourn, will find himself a sharer with Old School Editors in Elder Osbourn’s resentment. Elder Jewett has admitted communications into the ADVOCATE on the Trinity, far more liberal than Elder Osbourn would allow, and giving I think a better view of the subject than his. See the sermon of Mr. Burder’s furnished by Elder Herrick, in the number for February, 1840. Mr. Burder says, “We are not bound to adopt the mode of expression used or enforced by any particular divines or churches. Some good men in their attempts to explain the doctrine have rather perplexed it. Some good men have said the Father is the fountain of Deity, that he communicated his whole essence to the Son, that the Son is eternally begotten of the Father, and that he is very God of very God, &c.” See pages 186 & 187. Is not this passage directly opposite to Elder Osbourn’s high stand, that all must be held as Sabellians who will not adopt his mode of expression that there are Three proper and distinct persons in the Godhead? And does not Mr. Burder think those persons, rather perplex the doctrine of the Trinity who talk of the Son being eternally begotten, that is, as God, that he is very God of very God? And yet this is a prominent point in Elder Osbourn’s adopted theory. Again, whilst Mr. Burder would justify the use of the term person in relation to the Divine Three, he admits that it is not scriptural and that it conveys an idea somewhat too gross. He adds, “But we contend not for the word, but the thing. It is enough for us to say with the text, There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost.” How does this comport with Elder Osbourn’s denouncing all as heretics and unregenerate, all who will not say the Three in the above text are Three persons, or with Mr. Booth’s pre-judging that brother Saunders is a Sabellian on the supposition that he will not admit the Three to be Three persons? Again on page 188, he gives a similar view of the import and design of the names Father, Son and Holy Ghost, with that given by Romaine in the passage already quoted as furnished by Mr. Booth.

But in addition to these pieces published in the ADVOCATE, Elder Jewett, in his editorial on the Tri-unity of Jehovah, in the May, 1840 number, correctly recommends an adherence to simply facts of revealed testimony as the only correct premises for discoursing on this sublime subject, and as being better than all the decisions of wise men and councils. Very different this, from Elder Osbourn’s tying us down to the terms he has borrowed from the school-men.

The idea is being much insisted on at this time, by some, that opposition to the sentiments advanced by Old School Baptists should not be allowed in the Old School periodicals, and some have denounced Old School papers {without naming any} on this ground, in more severe language I think than I have seen used on any other occasion by Old School writers against the Old School, excepting in Elder Osbourn’s denunciations of our western brethren. But their remarks, if correct, will not apply in this case, for Elder Osbourn has never come into the Old School ranks. His doctrinal views, on many points are the same with those generally advanced by our brethren, and he has ever opposed and been severe against the New School party and measures, but he has never attended any of the general Old School meetings, though held near Baltimore and published long enough beforehand for him to have so ordered his arrangements, had he wished to attend; yea, he has been known to leave Baltimore for a tour on the very week such meetings were to be held in connection with the Baltimore Association. He has manifested nothing more like regarding the principles of fellowship towards the Old School than towards the New School. I do not mean this in reference to controverting their sentiments, for that can be done where fellowship is maintained, but in denouncing them. He has allowed his communications to be published in Old School papers, apparently for the sake of advertising his books, and has himself communicated for the DOCTRINAL ADVOCATE, and professed to admire it. This has no doubt led many to suppose he belonged to the Old School ranks. But the fact is, he is and ever has been one by himself, with the exceptions of his keeping a membership in some church, and being associated with certain individuals, without distinction of denomination or regard to church relation. See his correspondence with his Dutch Reformed Brother. I have considered him as more directly identified by himself and them, with a certain peculiar sect who have ever valued themselves on their soundness in doctrine, according to the standard of a class of English authors esteemed high-toned Calvinists. Their peculiarities are; 1st. Strong assurance of their own gracious state, and having more than ordinary unctions of the Holy Spirit; 2nd. Claiming to have special revelations made to them by the Spirit; 3rd. A neglect or disregard for the ordinance of baptism and church relation; 4th. A confident denouncing as graceless professors all who do not warmly approve of them and their standard. The first knowledge I had of this sect was in 1811; it was then composed of six or seven females, among whom was Mrs. Ann Fradgely and Mrs. Bogart, whose names have appeared in the DOCTRINAL ADVOCATE; with Mr. Doughty as their leader. They professed and appeared to have the strongest assurance, as they said communicated by the Spirit to them, that they should live to see the millennium brought in; and that Mr. Doughty was to be, under Christ, the leader in introducing it, as he professed to have his commission, if I recollect right. He used to attend public places, to make known as opportunity offered the speedy approach of the special reign of Christ and the down-fall of sects and governments, &c. I recollect of being at a place where two or three of these ladies were at tea, and hearing them assert that they had the same assurance of living to enjoy the millennium as they had of being subjects of grace; that the knowledge of both was communicated by the same Spirit; if they were deceived in one case they were in the other. So I understand Mr. Doughty contended. They mostly, if not all of them, had separated from Paedobaptist churches; Mr. Doughty and perhaps the others from the Dutch Reformed. They acknowledged believers baptism to be right, but said they were not to submit to it until the coming of the millennium. They, I believe held stated meetings for Mr. Doughty to expound the scriptures to them, but had no church relation. But after several years Mr. Doughty died without introducing the millennium; I do not recollect in what year, but when I removed back from the West in 1821, he had thus left them in extreme disappointment. They however after a length of time, as I understand, became reconciled, having an explanation wherein Mr. Doughty had been mistaken. About this time one G.H., formerly a member in the 1st Baptist church, was trying to be recognized as a leader among them, though I believe without effect. Sometime between 1824 & 1826, two or three men who had on one account or another separated from Baptist churches, united with the remaining followers of Mr. Doughty in procuring a place for worship, and Elder Osbourn located himself among them as the preacher of this mixed company of baptized and unbaptized persons and continued with them a year or more, his family remaining in Baltimore. After he left New York they became, I expect, pretty much scattered; though some of them I find, especially Mrs. Fradgley and Mrs. Bogart keep up an intercourse with certain of the Old School party of the Dutch Reformed church, as appears by a correspondence between Mrs. Fradgley and minister C.Z.P., published in the DOCTRINAL ADVOCATE, for April 1839; and I presume in conjunction with Elder Osbourn, as he has an intimate intercourse with the same party of that denomination, as evinced by a considerable portion of his correspondence as published in the ADVOCATE. Mrs. Fradgley, after Elder Osbourn made the ADVOCATE the special medium of his correspondence, sent on a letter which was published, but the number containing it I cannot now find, in which she professed that by a vision or special revelation of some kind she was introduced to the knowledge of that periodical, as a cloud from which she would derive some refreshment.

Now to the point of Elder Osbourn’s being identified as of this peculiar sect. 1st. As to his soundness according to the standard of certain English authors, and his professing great assurance, like that sect, of being in a gracious state, and of enjoying extraordinary unctions of the Spirit, his writings abundantly testify. 2nd. To his confidently denouncing as graceless professors all who dare to differ from him, his writings and his resentment towards the SIGNS bear full testimony. 3rd. His disregard for the ordinance of baptism in common with that sect, is showed from the following instances. 1st. Previous to his ordination he confessed to the pastor of the church to which he then belonged that he was in favor of mixed communion; hence this pastor would take no part in his ordination, and has from that time been the object of his denunciations. 2nd. In his preface to his first bound volume; {the book I have not, and therefore quote from memory,} he, speaking of others contending for the ordinance of baptism, says, let them give themselves to the tithing of mint and anise, whilst I will attend to the weightier matters of the law. Thus, he contemptuously compared a contending for the ordinance of baptism to the Pharisees tithing mint and anise. 3rd. His consenting to settle down as the preacher to that mixed company in New York is another proof to the point, as his brotherly inheritance with those Paedobaptist preachers is a fourth. 5th. I shall mention, is this: At the time of the division in the Dutch Reformed church, about 1826, a family residing in New Jersey, who had separated from the New School church in that place, had thoughts of joining the Baptists, they were evidently enquiring on the subject. Baptist preachers were invited there to preach. Elder Osbourn being at that time with his party in New York repeatedly visited them and preached; I by invitation once visited them and preached. After this I enquired of a relative of this family on whose information I could rely, whether they had concluded to join the Baptists, and she said no, they had given it up, that Elder Osbourn advised them so to do, the ordinance he said was not material, and in the present state of the church, they would be more comfortable out of connection with the Baptists, than in it.

4th. That Elder Osbourn, in common with that sect, believes in special revelations communicated to him aside from the scriptures, is evident from his letters to C.B. Hassell, published in the SIGNS, Volume 3, numbers 14 & 15. In these numbers he represents the church to be in a sickly and famished state, and makes the positive assertion that this state of things is to last for many years, and that there is to be no persecutions by the sword during that time, and this without giving one scripture as proof, but gives as his authority in the case, this declaration, “I know and am persuaded of the Lord, that my mind has been led into those things by that very Spirit which testified of Christ to my soul many years ago.” See Vol.3, page 226. If this is not a plain declaration of having received a special revelation in the case I know not what to make of it; and this aside from the scriptures, for he in the same piece pronounces it a “whim for to undertake to find out this secret by calculations of numbers, times and seasons, &c.,” which are given in the scriptures. Does not this then come up to Mr. Doughty’s revelation concerning the millennium, and like Doughty, his confidence in it, rests upon the same ground with that of his knowledge of Christ. If the same spirit made both revelations, he must have been mistaken in one case, for the views given concerning the prospects of the church by the two are very different, and how can we know that he was not mistaken in both cases; as Elder Osbourn shows us no miracles in confirmation of his prophecy. If they are allowed to have been different spirits, one is as liable to have been mistaken as the other, from all we know. We have no evidence in favor of Elder Osbourn from a comparison of the spirit and lives of the two men. Mr. Doughty was, separate from his delusion, an example as to a conscientious deportment and amiable walk, with whom Elder Osbourn would not bear a comparison, as I could show, if disposed to run a parallel on certain points.

Hence, as the Old School stand; if I rightly view it, is on the scriptures as a perfect and only rule of faith and practice, Elder Osbourn, and his sect with their new revelations, are as far removed from that stand, as are the New School with their new measures. The Old School brethren profess and gladly feel a dependence on the Holy Spirit to lead their minds to an understanding of the scripture revelations, but not to give them new revelations. And the moment we get beyond the scriptures, we have no standard by which to try the spirits, whether they be of God or not. I noticed Elder Osbourn’s special revelation formerly in the same volume of the SIGNS and somewhat to the giving of offence to Elder Osbourn and his friends; but I wished then to test the point whether the SIGNS were to be the medium of new revelations. This if published, may give greater offence. I do not wish to give offence, but as Elder Osbourn has given notice in his pamphlet of making a division in the Old School ranks, if any who read the SIGNS are disposed to follow him, I wish to let them know who they are about to follow, at least in part.

Thus much for Elder Osbourn.
S.TROTT.
Centerville, Fairfax County, Va., July 6, 1840.