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Fifty Years Among the Baptists
By David Benedict
A REVIEW OF ALL COLLEGIATE INSTITUTIONS AMONG THE BAPTISTS IN THE UNITED STATES. — A REVIEW OF THEIR THEOLOGICAL SEMINARIES. — THEOLOGICAL DEPARTMENTS IN CONNECTION WITH OUR UNIVERSITIES AND COLLEGES, TO A NEEDFUL EXTENT, RECOMMENDED IN PREFERENCE TO SEPARATE SCHOOLS.
A LIST of all our public establishments for literary and theological training to a late date, has already been given. I have also stated that I have lived to see the rise of them all, save one, namely, that which I call my alma mater. That institution, now called ancient, was about forty years old when I entered it as a student, in 1804. Six years of this time, however, were lost for the purposes of education, while the premises were occupied for a hospital and barracks by the French and American troops in the war of the Revolution.
Now, instead of one solitary school of a collegiate character, we have about thirty-one third of them are styled universities. But a few of those which are thus distinguished, however, have any thing like a university of teaching on their premises. This term, university, seems a very favorite one with the Baptists in many places, while that of college is more appropriate
for small literary undertakings, in their incipient movements. Should they increase in their dimensions they may in time be justly entitled to the first distinction.
Rhode Island College was the humble designation, for about forty years after it was founded, of the institution which for a somewhat longer period has been known by the name of Brown University. At first there was but one college building, where now there are four.
When the buildings, the professors and the general facilities for educational purposes were about to be increased, and the dropping of the old cognomen began to be discussed, the managers of the growing concern specified a certain sum which should entitle the donor of it to the privilege of conferring a new name. This sum was forthwith advanced by one of the most munificent patrons of the institution, and to it his own name was immediately added, where for all coming time it will no doubt remain.
As scarcely any of our literary institutions have ever had any aid of a public nature, unusual efforts have in all cases been needful, on the part of their projectors and patrons, to found them and carry them forward to self-sustaining positions. This was the ease even with Rhode Island College for a long course of years, during its early operations. Not the least
assistance did it ever receive from the State from which it took its name. And little do our people of thepresent day understand what an amount of calculation and labor were necessary in early times to keep the wheels in motion on College till, where they now move forward with so much steadiness and strength. In those times, the old Philadelphia Association made annual contributions "for our college in Rhode Island."
Accounts somewhat similar might be given of the difficulties which have been encountered by most of our young colleges in their early days. Tuition fees were small; students, in most cases, have been few; and as for liberal patrons, as a general thing they have been, like angels' visits, few and far between.
As yet, the more modern practice of planting funds for the support of college operations, was but little known, and in addition to the scanty income from a few students, mostly of the poorer class, current expenses had to be borne by the annual collections of agents sent out for this purpose through a wide extent of country. The salaries of the officers were set at a low figure, and often poorly paid at that. But the worst of all was, that these feeble concerns would generally set out with debts of embarrassing amounts, which would accumulate from year to year, to the great hinderance of their prosperity.
Fifty years ago the Baptists and Methodists were about alike on the subject of ministerial education. Among both parties their preachers were numerous and active, and performed a great amount of ministerial labor, while as yet but few of the most successful laborers in either society had acquired any thing more than a common school education on the limited scale which was then in vogue. This state of things continued with these increasing communities until they had attained to great numerical strength and were spreading rapidly through the country, and both the ministers and the people, as a general thing, seemed satisfied thus to remain. Indeed, it was no uncommon thing to hear passing remarks of a disparaging nature on college learned ministers, in the language of the times, as greatly deficient in the pathos and unction of their ministerial performances. Comments of this kind respecting a portion of the educated ministers of the old societies were too well founded, and as the people of the New Light class ascribed the dullness of ministers of what was called the standing order, to their kind of training, the whole collegiate system excited their suspicion and dislike. Such was the state of things, and such were the feelings of the new and rising parties in a wide extent of country, and especially of a large portion of the American Baptists towards all that pertained to colleges, when
I began to think of attempting a college course. And this unfriendly feeling was strengthened and kept alive by the severe comments of many of the old priesthood on the illiterate character of the new men, who, without any proper training, according to their rule, had suddenly emerged from their farms and shops, and other secular employments, to become the spiritual guides of the people. As the men, thus lightly esteemed bythe old clerical dynasty, as a general thing, could preach much more acceptably to the great mass of our people than their opponents, these good old Baptists could not see the need of spending so much time and money to learn how to preach, and they held on to the skirts of the garments of the young brethren with great tenacity who showed any disposition college-ward. A kind of inspiration in the business of preaching was a favorite idea with these people. To have the sentiments they uttered, come right down from above, that was the kind of preaching for them. “If the Lord has called men to preach, they will and must preach;” “Open your mouth and I will fill it,” were terms frequently heard in my easy years. But as these old members passed off the stage, and a new race took their places, who required more cultivation in their preachers, and as these preachers themselves became more and more sensible of their deficiencies in mental culture, they began to
cast around them for the best means of attaining it. Some of them engaged in a course of self-teaching, some obtained the aid of ministers and men of other callings near them, while others went to neighboring academies, and a few, by dint of effort, pursued a college course, even after they had become settled pastors, and had families growing up around them.
Under these circumstances, by degrees, without any formal action, or the adoption of any conventional rules, our people began more generally to favor a systematic course of ministerial education. The absolute necessity of a change in the policy of the denomination respecting the literary qualifications of its spiritual guides was becoming daily more apparent, so much so, that a good portion of our leading men, both among the ministers and the laity, readily concurred in promoting it, and soon a new dispensation in this business was introduced among us.
The first institutions which were commenced under this favorable impulse had respect wholly to the training of theological students; and a partial course, so called, was the principal thing aimed at in these new undertakings. Most of these seminaries, however, thus begun, were afterwards moulded into collegiate form, with theological departments on the same ground, and many young ministers, and some
of maturer years, derived essential benefit from the aids thus placed within their reach, and were enabled to occupy more important stations than they could otherwise have done.
"Better late than never," "a little learning rather than none," were then prevalent maxims among our people, whose interests were suffering prodigiously for the want of ministerial help; and I see no better way now, for replenishing our ranks with preachers and pastors, in the wide-spread regions of destitution in some parts of the country. I speak now of those churches which do not make it a condition, that, before they will present a call to a minister he shall be able to present one or two literary diplomas. “Has the manbeen to college?” in former times was the only question that was asked respecting candidates for settlement, by our people, who began to make inquiries of this kind, but now they want to know if he has been to Newton, or some other theological seminary. This rule of action has been steadily gaining ground for many years past, in certain quarters. This may do very well for those who measure young ministers by their diplomas, but I apply to them all, and especially the mediocrity class, the rule of Young in another case,
"Pigmies are pigmies still, though perched on Alps,
And pyramids are pyramids in vales."
As our little colleges sprung up in quick succession in different places, and as one set of officers would suffice for the students in a number of them, the plan of consolidation has in some eases been suggested, with which, for the following reasons, I have not been well pleased. Small colleges seem to be an American idea, and although the training in them may be less thorough than in large institutions, yet it suffices for the great mass of American students, who, as a general thing, are destined to an active rather than a studious course of life, whether in the ministry or in secular pursuits. As our small colleges have grown up spontaneously, to meet the wants of our people, in the regions where they exist, and as their friends will continue to nourish them where they are, to greater maturity, but would fall off from their support of them in other locations, my judgment has been adverse to the removal policy.
In favor of small colleges it is said that the cost of carrying students through them is considerably less than in those of larger size. They are generally far enough from each other not to interfere in their operations, and great advantages are enjoyed by students in being so near their homes that they can visit them without much expense, and be cared for by their home friends.
From the small colleges of different names, after
all, have gone out many of the most eminent men of the country.
On the best Method for Theological Schools among the Baptists.
Until within a few years past I have fully believed that seminaries by themselves, after the model of the one at Newton, and others of less note, were the perfection of planning: for the promotion of ministerial education for our people, as well as others among whom they are in successful operation. But in the language of one of our aged ministers, with whom I lately conversed on this subject, "I am a good deal disappointed. The plan does not prosper as I expected it would, and I am in doubt about its being the best one for us."
My reply was: that I now go for theological departments in connection with our secular institutions, as we find them at Hamilton, Rochester and elsewhere, and I would be glad to see the Newton School transferred to Brown University: officers and all: as a distinct department; and I believed it might be carried on with much less expense and equally as well. In this conversation I pointed out some of the advantages which would result from the changes just named: and among those which I specified were the following: The theological company would be surrounded by a
literary atmosphere; they might have access to the ample library of the university; those who graduated there would be pleased to pursue their professional studies on the premises of their alma mater; the cost of two sets of buildings would be avoided; a less number of professors for the theological students would be needed, as all knowledge purely literary might be imparted by professors on the ground, at a great saving of cost over the present plan.
Our colleges have always done well for us, without the departments in question, and with them, in as many cases as are needful, I am confident they will still continue their good offices to the denomination.
In the business of our seminaries, I remarked, we have copied after other communities, on the presumption that, with our more strict requirements of our students, and the very different state of feeling among our people generally, we could fill up divinity schools and support them as easily as they do. But this was a mistaken calculation, as long experience has shown. We must lower our standard. "That will not do," said my friend; "it is low enough now." "Then," continued I, "my prediction is, that for a long time to come, the number of our candidates for the ministry, who go through college, and then go through another course of study of the usual length, will be too few to support separate institutions for them. And
as our colleges must go on, let the plan in question be adopted, and let the secular and theological tuition for Baptist use be performed on the same ground."
One master for a school was the custom in the most ancient times, but we will allow double that number for our theological schools; and why is not that sufficient, since the main business of these masters is to teach men how to preach and perform pastoral duties? If we must prepare men for presidents of colleges, professors, etc., let there be finishing houses, expressly for this purpose.
[David Benedict, Fifty Years Among the Baptists, 1860; rpt. 1977, pp. 294-304. -- jrd]
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