Lebanon, Ohio, Nov. 17, 1834
DEAR BROTHER BEEBE: – I have been a reader of your periodical for the last two years; I have found many things in it which I approved, nay admired, and some things which I thought unworthy of your columns. I have never troubled you with any of my scribbling, and in sending this sheet for inspection, I shall leave you the judge of its claims to patronage; and if you shall see proper to send it out to run the gauntlet in your periodical, I am content to see the weapons which may be raised against it.
I have just been reading the minutes of a General Convention of Baptists, which convened in the City of Cincinnatti, on the 5th inst, and am not very warmly attached to their plans and still less to their movements. Benevolence no doubt is a good things, and of course it cannot be bad to practice it; but when it is exalted to the throne and the Saviour crowded to one side or pushed off, I think it looks so mean in that place, that I am disposed to request the higher powers to change its name and christen it philosophy and vain deceit, and as it is fashionable to give several names to one child, we may add will worship and feigned words to it. Christian benevolence and pure religion seems to be nearly sinonimous; the apostle’s standard for this is to visit the fatherless and the widow in their afflictions, and keep themselves unspotted from the world. But what is now called Benevolence is to get all you can from the fatherless and widow, to gain the friendship and adopt the maxims of the world. Should not the name be changed? Indeed my brother, I can see so little resemblance to primitive christianity at the present time, and on the other hand such a rapid and zealous approximation to anti-christian antiquity, that I frequently look around to see whether I am in Babylon or Jerusalem. Plans are now laid to convert the world and introduce the millennial glory; but in what way? Surely by giving money to print tracts and circulate them, educate preachers and support them, monopolize the bible trade and distribute them, gather children into Sunday Schools and impose some creed on them, rob them of the freedom of thought and untrameled investigation, &c. I do confess, that the New Testament is to me, as unfit a book to teach any of these plans, as Voleis ‘Ruins of Empires,’ is to teach piety. Free Schools are very proper and should be patronized by every good citizen of our government; and when circumstances require it, and are well conducted, I have no objections to their being taught on Sunday – but, whether taught on Sunday or Monday, when they are blended with the business, or controlled by the Church as a sort of nursery where the young twigs are robbed of their freedom, and before they are aware of it, have their infant necks yoked to the car of some superstitious Seminary, is in my view, very far from an innocent traffic in the natural and religious rights of free people; hence I should think, that no man who is at heart a friend to either, would knowingly favor such a speculation or such crafty measures, as would rob our infant sons and daughters of their natural religious rights. It may be said that this is not the design of Sunday Schools; if not, why do we find them under the controle of the different denominations? Why have each sect plead we must have a Sunday School of our own, or the other sects by their Sunday Schools, will teach and bring into their Churches, our own and our neighbours children? Then then, is the professed design of bringing Sunday Schools under the management of the Church, and yet this device is called benevolence! Should not its name be changed? The tract business, you know brother, is another mighty outlet of this mystery benevolence; this department furnishes the libraries for the Sunday Schools. Once the different denominations were united in this department, but the publishing Committee must be so selected, as to have a proportion of the several denominations in it, and but little else than fables, naratives, novel stories, moral lectures, and painted fiction could be admitted; for an objection was always ready in the mouth of an Arian, a Socinian, an Arminian, A Predestinarian, an Antinomian, or a Calvinist, &c., if any thing was offered which could, in any possible way, militate against the doctrine, government, or ordinances of his favorite party. So they suppressed every valuable production that was offered – if any such were presented – and as might have been expected, this amalgamation of parties exploded after firing a few rounds at each other – each party accusing the other of wishing to outwit them in speculation. After this each began to prepare to bring water to his own mill, as the saying is; so the Baptists formed their Tract Society, and adapted it to the use of all the children they could embody in Sunday Schools; these Sunday Schools may purchase tracts at wholesale and establish a S. School Library, and as so many tracts are wanting, it is but reasonable to contribute something for the support of these benevolent exertions – so if the people will in their little benevolence, contribute to the auxiliary tract societies, and these throughout all America bring their several sums into one focus in the parent society, they can in great benevolence, readily find a place for it all, and will thank you for your money, as it will keep their press under way. The more Sunday Schools, the more children to be taught to the liking of the tract makers, the more tract libraries will be wanting, the more exertion to get money for the parent tract society; and in the operation of this plan, money is constantly pouring into the coffers of the parent tract society from every auxiliary, collection, Sunday School Library, &c.; and when we see our whole country engaged, both by traffic, begging, and Sunday Schooling, to raise funds to support one printing establishment, who publish little tracts and Sunday School books, who will wonder at their getting rich; by their benevolence. Ought not the name to be altered? The Bible Society, has perhaps more friends and advocates, than any one among the train which is now called benevolent; and to give the pure bible without note or comment to the poor, is in itself a work so good, that I should suppose none but down-right Infidels could object to it – and even these admit, its lessons of morality and social friendship are so excellent, as to be highly useful to all classes of men. We should not therefore, condemn so good a work as this, but still we may give a bible to gain wealth and delude the world, and although the gift may be good, there may be great corruption in the giver. Suppose for instance, I propose as a printer, that if the people of these United States, will contribute to me, one hundred thousands dollars a year, I will print books for them on the following terms: all who are able to pay for the book, must pay me, if they cannot pay full price, they must pay half – if they cannot pay half, let them pay what they can – but if they cannot pay anything, I will give them a book; and for this liberality, the people shall appoint suitable pedlars in every township, county, state, and territory, in America, to sell my books at their own expense and forward me the money, and I will send them ore books. In this way I can completely monopolize the book business, and secure the services of the whole country – and by giving a book now and then, can hide my speculation under the spacious name of benevolence. This is the light in which I look at the parent Bible Society. The money collected for bibles sold, from different sorts of life members and life officers, bequests and legacies, from public collections, from individual donations, from one dollar annually by every member of each branch society in America – add all this income to the amount collected by hundreds of men at their own expense, who are constantly hunting out families and pleading with them to buy bibles, and if they have one, to give money to make up for the bibles which have been given to the poor, or sold at a low rate. I think that the parent Bible Society may well get rich, for all these streams constantly pouring into their treasury, will surely sustain with an eminence one printing establishment of stereotype bibles. This speculation, this money making imposition, and not the giving of the bible, is what we object to. I think while the accumulation of wealth is designedly secured by the parent Bible Socieity, and the auxiliaries and individuals who are beguiled by their specious pretentions, are duped to be their tributaries, something must be wrong – and yet this imposing speculation, is called pure benevolence. – Should not its name be altered?
The Missionary Society also, has a very plausible and imposing pretext; for what christian is there who does not feel an ardent solicitude for the pure gospel to be spread every where? This is the professed object of this society: but still we know what with this same plausible pretension, the Roman Catholics subjected the world to the dominions of her anti-christian oppressions. We should therefore learn to examine all things, and hold fast that which is good. As to the present Missionary plan, I have some objections against it: first, because the love of money is the root of all evil, is so apparent and so inseparably connected with the plan, that the whole enterprise is lost the moment the money fails them. Secondly, because the plan depends for its success and perpetuity on the wealth and liberality of its friends, and not on the power and grace of God. Thirdly, because it is necessarily in friendship with the world, which is enmity with God. Fourthly, because it is not taught either by precept or example in the scripture, and of course it is a human invention, yet taught by many as a command of God. Fifthly, because it exhorts money from the poor, to fill the pockets of the rich, and supports the idle. Sixthly, because it opens a door for many hunting impostors. Seventhly, it holds out a powerful temptation to corrupt the gospel and its ordinances, in order to please the world and get their money and influence. And lastly, because it is of anti-christian origin, and a worldly speculation, which is at war with the admirable plan adopted by the King of saints for the spread of the gospel; and as sure as Christ’s plan succeeds, the present one must fall. The work of Missions in translating the holy Scriptures, is thought by many to be a work of such infinite importance, as of itself, enough to silence every objection made against Missionary enterprise. On this subject I will only add, if the translations are correct, all is well so far; but I find from the constant disposition of the different sects among us, that if the Scriptures were not to be translated into the English language by a learned man of any denomination in another state, and so on until every denomination has a translation by some learned individual of their own party. I should think when all these translations were compared, they would present such a jargon as to nullify the whole of them, and cause every honest enquirer after truth, to read all with suspicion, and all the translation must be made over again, or every different society will have different scriptures. This is precisely the case now among the heath – a Baptist is translating in one place, a Presbyterian in another, a Methodist in another, &c., and all of them disputing at home as to how words should be translated. We may expect the heathen will soon receive a Methodist, a Baptist, and a Presbyterian bible, as a standard of their faith just as the several Missionaries have translated them, and we all know how very hard such difficulties are to compromise. So brother I confess, I cannot decide whether this translation work is a blessing or a curse to the heathen – but I fear the latter.
From all the above and many other considerations, I cannot think very favorably of these plans; they all seem to be so linked together, that if you touch one, you touch all. They seem like different wheels in the same machine, and work to each others assistance; Sunday Schools prepare disciples, and demand Tracts; Tracts supply Sunday Schools, and employ Missionaries as agents; Missionaries circulate Tracts and demand Theological Seminaries to qualify them; Seminaries qualify Missionaries for Missionary Societies, and they send them out; the Bible Society print bibles, and the Missionary distributes them, the Printer gets immense wealth by his traffic of Tracts and Bibles; the Theological instructor fares sumptuously by his lucrative employments; the Missionary secures the immorality of his name, the best education for his children, and a good support through life; all of them live in style and fashion, and draw wealth from the deluded people on whom they have imposed their specious pretensions, and still constantly filching for their own agrandizement – thus the people are made subservient to their purposes by the high sounding pretext, Benevolence!! Should not the name be altered?
Now dear brother, my sheet circumscribes me, and I must close. I did wish to say a little on christian forbearance under these circumstances, but I have not the space. I have noticed the alluring and imposing pretensions under which all the wheels of this image move, and who among us all, can lay his hand on his bosom and say, this heart has never been allured in any degree, by this magic influence of pretended benevolence? If we have been enabled to see through the thick mist which environs the history of modern Babylon; and many of our dear brethren as honest as ourselves, are still in the same shade in which we were, shall we revile them, and reproach them, and speak evil of them, and shut our doors against them? Would it not be more christian like to bestow on them the labor of love, and endeavor to shew them in the spirit of kindness their errors.
I am in the best of bonds, yours,
Signs of the Times
Volume 2, No. 25
December 10, 1834