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Fifty Years Among the Baptists
By David Benedict
A NEW BAPTIST REGISTER BY I. M. ALLIN. — A LIST OF SMALL LITERARY INSTITUTIONS. — MANUAL LABOR SCHOOLS. — AMERICAN AND FOREIGN BIBLE SOCIETY.
MORE THAN TWENTY YEARS AGO a compendium of Baptist history, under the title of an Annual Register, was presented to the Baptist public by the late Irah M. Allin, which work, I am inclined to think, has not been sufficiently appreciated by the denomination at large. Mr. Allin commenced the preparation of his Register about twenty years after the publication of my old History of the Baptists, and in it he has given a summary view of all that pertained to the progress of the society, its extension, the formation of its various institutions for missions, education, and other useful objects. The whole work was prepared with great care, and in a very intelligible manner, and from it we learn that there were then of Baptist members upward of five hundred thousand in all America, including the Freewill, the Seventh Day, and Six Principle Baptists.
Twenty years ago, according to Allin's Register, there was an abundance of young institutions in different
parts of the country, which were designed by their friends for the aid of young ministers, in connection with common education. Such institutions were then found at Kennebunk, Maine; at Rockingham, Hampton Falls, and Hancock, New Hampshire; at Brandon, Ludlow, and Townsend, Vermont; at South Reading, Massachusetts; at Brunson, Michigan; at Brockport, New York; at Plainfield, Newton, and Burlington, New Jersey; at Haddington, Pennsylvania; and in a number of the southern and western States schools of this character had been established, and were in operation. But so few were the theological students who attended them, that a portion of them in a short time fell into disuse, others became wholly secular in their character, and in a few cases, from these small beginnings, respectable and permanent seminaries, both literary and theological, arose.
The foregoing list of seminaries, then newly started, exhibit pleasing evidence that our people, at the time, were wide awake in the business of education, and especially in that of their rising ministry.
Manual Labor Schools
Under this head there was suddenly introduced, and for a short time it went with a rush, a new plan of assisting indigent students for the ministry,
to defray the expenses in their educational pursuits. The practice of the ancient Hebrews in their schools of learning all at once became a favorite idea with the Baptists, and they tried the experiment on an extensive scale at the North and the South, but mostly in the southern regions. Preparations for working operations, either on the land or in shops, were almost simultaneously made in a large number of our young institutions, with great confidence in the utility and the ultimate success of the new system. Lands to a greater or less extent were set apart for the use of the students, on which it was expected they would work like farmers, and near by the schools shops were erected, where they might employ a portion of their time in the trades at which they chose to labor, or in which they had formerly been employed. In this way it was expected that a considerable part of the expense of the students, who would become working men, would be defrayed. The theory was a very good one on the score of health and economy, and for a few years very favorable reports were made of its success in different directions.
Three hours in a day for five days in the week was the rule adopted in the seminary of this kind, in Richmond, Virginia.
The Mercer Institute at Penfield, in Georgia, the
precursor of Mercer University, in its early operations made much dependence on its manual labor department for the aid it might afford their theological students, who, as a general thing, were in need of pecuniary assistance from some source or other. This Baptist establishment was at first more amply endowed than generally falls to the lot of similar undertakings amongst our people. About a thousand acres of valuable land were set apart for its use, where a large farming business was carried on for the benefit of the concern. Ample grounds were devoted to the use of the students, and besides this facility for those of the working class, there was a workshop on the premises for such as were inclined to mechanical pursuits. Here I suppose a good deal of work was done at the commencement of the manual labor system, in connection with literary training, but when I looked into the place, a number of years since, I saw no one at work, nor did it appear to be the seat of much industry or skill.
Unhappily for the projectors of the system, now under consideration, it did not succeed according to the expectation of its promoters and friends, and it soon fell into disuse to the detriment of the health of the young men who were depended on to sustain it, and to the disappointment of its patrons. It soon appeared that manual labor was not much in vogue
with college youth, neither at the North nor the South.
A List of Baptist Institutions twenty years ago, which then, or soon after, were invested with a collegiate character; also the Names of the Presidents at that time: —
Brown University, … F. Wayland.
Waterville College, … A. Babcock.
Hamilton Seminary, now Madison University, … Nathaniel Kendrick.
Columbian College, … Stephen Chapin.
Georgetown College, … J. S. Bacon.
Virginia Baptist Seminary, now Richmond College, … Robert Ryland.
Wake Forest Institute, now College, … S. Wait.
Shurtliff College, … Hubbell Loomis.
Mercer Institute, now University, … B. M. Sanders.
Granville Institute, now Denison University, … John Pratt.
Franklin Institute, now College, … ____
Furman Institute, now University, … ____
Greenville Institute, now Howard College, … D. P. Bestor.
Newton Theological Seminary, ... Irah Chase.
This seminary was the only one of the kind among as. Our people have done well in moulding a number of the infant seminaries above named into a collegiate form, but, as I shall hereafter attempt to show, it was not good policy to provide no substitutes for the schools thus superseded, in which multitudes of our young ministers, and some not very young, derived essential benefit in their struggles to prepare themselves for greater usefulness in the vocation without going through a college course, which their ago and incumbrances in some cases, and their indigence in all cases, hindered them from doing. In the early efforts of our denomination to encourage ministerial education, neither those to be taught, nor the people whom they were to serve, wore at all particular about the means of obtaining it. Diplomas were of but little account among our plain old-fashioned churches of that age. Where or how long studies had been pursued was then of but little importance. The scarcity of ministers for the increasing churches was almost everywhere felt, and the calls for such as would meet the moderate demands of the people were urgent and pressing. Men of but a moderate share of education, if their qualifications in other respects were promising, soon found places for labor in most parts of the country.
The Rise of the American and Foreign Bible Society
Before I attempt an account of the origin of this institution, which now occupies a prominent place among the American Baptists, it may be proper to say a few things respecting their connection with the American Bible Society,which body for a long time was patronized to a considerable extent by a portion of our people, and, in one case, one of our members left it a legacy of ten thousand dollars. The Baptists often united with others in forming auxiliary societies of a mixed character, and in various ways they contributed to the funds of a general society, of a nonsectarian character, which was engaged in publishing the Scriptures without note or comment. On this ground, our people could cordially unite in helping forward such a needful and important enterprise — a society in aid of which was formed in my own place, with which I had considerable to do for about a quarter of a century. I generally attended the anniversaries of the mother body in New York, which to me were always welcome and interesting. Thus far all things went on smoothly, and, as far as I know, to the satisfaction of our community, who, by the way, had not much to do with management of the institution, nor in the regulation of its affairs; but still they seemed willing to go on in this way, and no efforts were made in favor of a separate organization
until an incident occurred which in the end led to the formation of a new society. As a matter of equity and friendship, in consequence of the confederacy and cooperation above described, funds had been occasionally granted to our missionaries in the East, to aid in their translating operations, in an unconditional manner; but at length, while a grant of this kind was pending, of five thousand dollars, a clause, very offensive to many of our people, was added, namely, that the versions thus made should conform to the English standard. This new rule stimulated the Baptists to set about a new Bible enterprise, which was organized in 1838.
Some of our strong men held back at first, and doubted the expediency of a separate organization, similar in its general character to the old body, for the promotion of the Bible cause among American Christians. Those men either did not feel the evil of the restraint which had been imposed upon Baptist translaters on missionary ground, and the dilemma in which the old society had placed them, or else they may have looked forward to the abrogation of the rule, which by most of our people was considered needless and unfair. But most of these men by degrees fell into the ranks of the new institution, and are now its firm friends and supporters.
As about twenty years have elapsed since the society
in question arose, and as but few of the present generation may be familiar with its origin, I have thought the brief details given above might not be amiss.
Although I am against multiplying benevolent institutions without urgent demands for them, yet in this case I approved of the formation of the American and Foreign Bible Society, for the following reasons:
Economy was my first argument, being persuaded that the Baptist denomination at large, throughout its wide extent, would do much more for the Bible cause with an institution of their own, and under the management of men of their own persuasion, whose names were familiar to them, than they had yet done or would be likely to do for the old society, however impartially its affairs might be managed. That society was then, in fact, a Pedobaptist concern, with a liberal provision for all parties united in it, to participate in its doings, none of which, by a general understanding, were to be of a sectarian character. And I know of no instance of the violation of this pacific principle, except in the case just referred to. But as the Pedobaptists of different names were overwhelming in their number, and but a very few Baptist names appeared in the list of its officers, the thing had but a feeble hold on a large portion of our community, who I
knew were much too remiss in their support of benevolent undertakings which were wholly managed by their own men.
The unrestrained liberty of our missionaries in the business of translations, and their freedom from all dictation as to what terms they should employ in making new versions of the Bible into oriental tongues, had much to do in swaying my mind in favor of independent action in our Bible operations. I wished the men who were engaged in the arduous and responsible work of preparing the Scriptures for the use of the heathen among whom they labored, to be under no control from abroad, and especially from men of different creeds.
I saw but few of our people engaged in any of the secular employments of the society. And this could not be reasonably expected while nearly the whole management of the concern was in other hands; and I looked forward to an increasing business for all future time, of a secular and semi-secular character, pertaining to the Bible cause in all its parts, at the rooms, and in the whole country, in which our people as yet have hardly made a beginning.
[David Benedict, Fifty Years Among the Baptists, 1860; rpt. 1977, pp. 207-216. -- jrd]
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