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Fifty Years Among the Baptists
By David Benedict
ON RELIGIOUS NEWSPAPERS IN THIS COUNTRY AND AMONG THE BAPTISTS. — DIFFICULTIES AT FIRST. — TOO NUMEROUS AT TIMES. — THEIR SECULAR CHARACTER. — FIRST SUNDAY SCHOOL. — ON THE RISE AND MANAGEMENT OF OUR BENEVOLENT INSTITUTIONS. — ON THE DEATH OF CORRESPONDENTS AND FAMILIAR FRIENDS.
THE Religious Remembrancer was the first paper of this kind that fell into my hands. It was published in Philadelphia by a Mr. Scott, a deacon or elder among the Presbyterians. It was commenced on a moderate-sized sheet, in 1813, and was continued a few years. Complete files of the paper for four years, bound in two volumes, are among my documents of this kind.
For a long time after religious papers began to be issued, the secular journals not unfrequently spoke lightly of them and their patrons, and represented this new undertaking as a visionary project, which in their estimation could not succeed. On the one hand, these journals had nothing to fear on the score of rivalship, nor did the newspapers reply to them. At this time, I had just published my old Baptist History, and as the slow and costly methods of communication then in vogue had occasioned me much inconvenience
in collecting my historical information, a religious press was to me a most inviting project. This cheap and expeditious method of corresponding appeared just the thing in this business, in this country, where so little has been done to collate historical documents, and where so few ancestral records are to be found.
The Boston Recorder, published by Nathaniel Willis, a deacon among the Congregationalists, was the second religious newspaper to which I became a subscriber. This work assumed neutral ground, which it maintained for a time to my satisfaction; but at length, as some things in it appeared somewhat sectarian, I wrote Mr. Winchell on the subject, by way of complaint, and he, in reply, informed me, that a project was on foot for a paper of our own, and soon the old Christian Watchman made its appearance, and Deacon James Loring for a long time was its publisher and principal editor. This paper was commenced in 1819. Now I found myself at home in the newspaper line, and I gave the undertaking a hearty encouragement, both by promoting its circulation, and also by contributing to its columns. Of this favorite sheet I have files from its commencement, although in some cases, they are incomplete.
As other papers of the kind were begun, as far as practicable, I gave them countenance and support,
mostly, however, by contributions of matter, originaland selected; and when I engaged in earnest in collecting materials for my late work on Baptist history, I made an effort with a good degree of success to obtain the religious papers of all sorts of Baptists in the United States, and in the British Provinces; and, as I preserve all documents of this kind, I have a large stock of them on hand, which I would be glad freely to dispose of to those who may desire them for historical purposes, but if they must go the way of all such publications, with rare exceptions I will leave them to their fate at home.
Miscellaneous Remarks on Religious Newspapers
The secular character which these journals have more and more assumed was quite disagreeable to me for a long time, but I finally became reconciled to it as a matter of necessity, as but a few of them could live without some advertising pay. I concluded it was better to have a compound motion of a sacro-secular character rather than none at all. While religious papers have been increasing in their details of worldly affairs, those on the secular side, as a general thing, have paid an increasing attention to religious concerns. In my early day but few managers of the secular press ever referred to serious matters in respectful terms, but now they have reporters of their
own at all ecclesiastical conventions and assemblies of an important character, and in their reports may be found early and full accounts of the doings of these bodies. The same may be said of the passing events pertaining to all churches and parties in the whole of Christendom.
A ministerial friend of mine having become the owner and manager of an old temporal concern, I rallied him on the apparent incongruity of his course in the business. "O," said he, "the secular press has become about as religious as the religious, and religious papers are about as secular as the secular."
This sentiment has been very fully verified in the accounts which are found of the great revival now (1858) in progress through the land.
After religious papers became somewhat common, and their beneficial influence began to be widely experienced and acknowledged, in some cases they were started prematurely and the management of them was committed to incompetent hands. The credit system also, in a profuse manner, was the bane of these papers at an early day, so anxious were the publishers of them to spread them far and wide. But if they had been well paid for their circulation was generally too limited and their prices were too low for them to live long, and in the end losses were incurred, often by those who were ill able to bear them. "We must
have a paper for our own region," was a prevalent idea withmany, and at the solicitation of friends I labored hard for a number of years in conjunction with others to establish a small religious journal for our own little State, of a general character, the only plan which we could expect would succeed. Bat in the end I advised our people to go for the Christian Watchman, which they would find a decidedly denominational paper, and considering its size and superior quality, much cheaper than we could make at home.
As to the size of our religious papers, the form of them and the method of publishing them, different customs have prevailed, but generally they have begun small, and those that have lived have gained in amplitude by degrees, till in a few cases they have become much too largo for the convenience of the readers and the profit of the publishers. A Kentucky paper was the most remarkable for its size of any of our denomination that has come into my hands. This sheet approached the bed-blanket standard, but ere long it was cut down to a medium size.
The folded form for binding has been sometimes adopted, but very few of them, I think, are ever bound.
Companies, conventions, and individuals have, at first, been the owners of our religious papers, but so
far as I have observed, they generally do the best under personal ownership and responsibility. On the whole, I recommend for these journals the folio form, the medium size, and as little disputation as possible.
My Experience in the Business of Sunday School
Fifty-four years ago, when I began my ministry in Pawtucket, being then a licensed preacher, and student in college, I found a quiet little company of poor factory children, under the care of the village school master, who had a moderate compenstation for his services from a few factory owners, for the children all were free. The main object of this juvenile seminary was to impart the rudiments of common school-education, but from the day on which it was kept, it was called a Sunday School. This benevolent undertaking was set in motion seven years before this time by the late Samuel Slater, of cotton mill notoriety, for the benefit of the poor, ignorant, and neglected children who had gathered round his mill, then the only one in the place. Pawtucket at this time was a small village, with but few meeting-going people in it, without any church or settled minister on the ground. The first Baptist church was formed in 1805. We had heard of Raikes' enterprise in England, in the Sunday School line, and his plan was copied by this new American institution, which still
lives on an improved platform in a numerous pedigree in Pawtucket and vicinity. This sacro-secular concern was moulded into the shape of modern Sunday Schools about forty years ago. By this time the little one had become two bands, with two masters, one of whom is now an aged deacon in a neighboring Baptist church. By degrees Bible reading and a moderate share of religious instruction had been introduced into our unusual but very useful establishment, until by mutual agreement the old system was dispensed with and a new one was adopted. The main body of the school went to the first Baptist church, then under my care; a large branch of it was taken up by the Episcopal church, then newly instituted; and as the Congregational, the Methodist, and other churches arose, their Sunday Schools had in their composition relics of this old peculiar band, now under review, some of whom are yet to be found amongst the aged citizens of the place.
This old first day school, as it was called by its patrons of the Friendly order, who were among its liberal supporters in its most enlarged operations, required a good deal of attention from some quarter; books were to be procured, stationery supplied, incidental expenses to be defrayed, and the masters to be secured and paid; and as I was the only minister on the ground, most of this labor for many years came on
me at an early day, and so it continued until about the time of the dissolution of the old confederacy. As my labors increased I proposed to one of the firmest friends of the cause either to retire from my post or to have one or more associated with me.
"Friend B.," said the good old Quaker, "thee does the thing very well; no new hand could take a hold of it as readily as thee does. We will supply the money, and if thee does a good deal of work, we will give thee a good deal of credit for it."
I ought to mention, that serious scruples were entertained by many of our citizens as to the propriety of common school keeping on the Sabbath. These scruples operated strongly on my own mind when I first fell in with the school, and whether to favor or oppose it, was a serious question. The condition of the factory help was deplorable. They had been collected from the highways and hedges, and such were the prejudices against the cotton mills, in early times, that no others could be obtained for them. By the means of this school, the minds and morals of these children of misfortune were improved. They were kept from roving and mischief on the Sabbath, and as Sabbath services increased, they were induced by degrees to attend them.
I have thus given a brief account of my early connection with Sunday School operations, under circumstances
of a very peculiar kind. After the transformation of this old concern into modern shape, it soon became very prosperous, and now, it is doubtful whether many places can be found, of equal size, which do more in the business of Sunday Schools notwithstanding the abundance of natives, and the superabundance of foreigners, in our various manufacturing establishments, who altogether neglect the ample supply of schools and churches and reforming institutions, on the ground, which was souncommonly destitute of every thing of the kind when the peculiar school now under consideration was commenced. Indeed, at that period, the age of benevolent operations had scarcely dawned upon any portion of the world, and not at all on this region.
The claim of Pawtucket, of having started the first Sunday School in America, for a long time remained undisputed; but of late years, a number of rival claims of priority in the business have been set up. Most of these claims, however, are in favor of old catechising operations, which we do not admit can be fairly brought into competition with our school.
Pawtucket people are not very sensitive or ambitious in this matter, and if living witnesses can be produced, of a Sunday School more than sixty years ago, which still lives in a dozen or more branches, and the whole history of it is attested by such testimony
as they can show, they will relinquish their claim.
On the Rise and Management of our Benevolent Institutions
It has so happened that the getting up of these institutions has always been in advance of public opinion, or in other words, a few active and influential men set them in motion, and then labor to arouse a public sentiment in their favor. They do a good deal of special pleading themselves, and soon a company of agents is sent out, with special instructions to perform the same special service. These men traverse the churches in search of funds to sustain the new enterprises, and annually this course must be pursued. But to begin at the right end, the churches themselves ought to take the lead in all new undertakings which must be sustained by them, and keep them immediately under their control. If this course had been originally and strictly pursued, much of the difficulty which we have witnessed in the management of our benevolent efforts might have been avoided.
In the commencement of our foreign mission cause, which was taken hold of more earnestly and generally by the whole denomination than any which it has since been engaged in, it was confidently believed that the work would soon be carried on by voluntary contributions
of the churches, and that soliciting agents would not long be needful. But how different has been the result of this experiment, and how far short has this most popular cause among our people, for upwards of forty years, been from being sustained without the aid of the more and more unpopular system of special agents. A similar infelicity has attended all our societies for benevolent objects. And this state of things, in all probability, must continue until a radical change is effected in the manner of their support or the amount of their expenses. The churches must more generally learn to go alone in their doings for benevolent objects, as well as forother matters. The number of such as follow this rule, though small, is probably increasing, and when all of them have learned how to bring it into practical operation, then the costly and much complained of agency system will be superseded. And my theory for a long time has been, that the going alone policy should be more assiduously and earnestly urged upon our churches, than it has hitherto been. At present, the great mass of them wait for agents to come around, and after their departure, they wait again till another year. And it is most likely that the loudest complaints of the bad policy of spending so much on agents come from churches of the above description, whose pastors very quietly throw all the
labor and responsibility in this business into the agents' hands, and then wonder why the support of our benevolent institutions should cost so much.
Among the American Baptists of the regular or associated class, we find some six or eight societies for different objects, of a general character, and in none of them have I observed any very serious troubles in the management of their internal concerns, except the one which is devoted to the foreign mission cause; and the difficulties in this body, which have been exceedingly disagreeable to the great mass of our people, appear to have risen and existed principally between the managers at home and a portion of the missionaries abroad. This institution, formerly called the Triennial Convention, now the Missionary Union, for many years at first had no missionary rooms; the labors of its officers were gratuitously performed; and the few men then in the foreign field, with Judson at their head, regulated their own affairs pretty much in their own way. The churches, which gradually arose under their labors, were settled on our denominational platform, and were regarded by us in the same light as if they had been planted on our own soil. The pastors of these churches also, whether of home or heathen origin, stood on a level, in our estimation, as to their official powers, with Baptist ministers of every land. Both ministers and churches
might be advised, but not compelled, in the ordinary operations of their missions, about which it was presumed they were better able to judge than their distant patrons. Such was the state of things in our foreign mission concerns in its early stages. And in it, as I understand the matter, we have an exhibition of the primordial and genuine principles of the Baptists from time immemorial, relative to all that pertains to their churches and ministers, under all circumstances, and in all locations. This policy has always worked well with our people. Under its influence there has been but little trouble among us, in the management of our churches, associations, conventions and ecclesiastical and benevolent institutions, of whatever nature. From this policy, in my judgment, it is both unwise and unsafe for any of our managing boards and committees to swerve in any direction. And if by chance they find an excuse for doing so, in constitutional rules in their platforms, which have been borrowed from other parties, whose customs differ from ours, they should ignore them, as spurious interpolations, and stick to the good old Baptist doctrine.
The complaints against our men at our foreign mission rooms, of a departure from Baptist usages in some of their theories and enactments, are too well known to need repeating. Amidst all the painful
discussions which have followed, I have pondered and mourned, and the more so, as I have never seen the time., since our eastern mission commenced, when there was so much encouragement for prosecuting it with renewed vigor, especially among the Karens, that numerous, peculiar, and, in some respects, anomalous race of orientals, among whom our missionaries have had, and are still having, a success almost without a parallel in more modern times.
While many of my brethren have made a free use of the pulpit, the press and the platform, in commenting on the disagreements between some of our missionaries and their opponents, I have carefully avoided them all. I have never fallen out with our disagreeing men on either side. If I have seen what I regarded as mistakes among any of them, I have attributed them more to errors in judgment than to hurtful designs; and if I have noticed non-Baptistical ideas in any official documents, I have traced them to a too literal construction of rules lately alluded to. And while the parties, who by their protracted discords have so essentially retarded the progress of our oldest and largest institution for the support of missions, have often treated each other in a somewhat unbrotherly manner, I have nourished a brotherly feeling for them all. Some remarks, which in my retirement
I have recorded on this family difficulty for insertion here, I have concluded to omit.
And now if I could act for all who may have been implicated in the discussions and jars above referred to, whether at home or in the foreign field, they would at once cease; the hatchet would be buried in deep oblivion; the dispersed missionaries would return to their work; and thus a new impulse would be given to our foreign mission cause. And if our new Baptist interest in the far East, with its growing strength, its numerous churches, its increasing associations and other institutions peculiar to our denomination, should exhibit signs of verging from colonial dependence to independence of action, let us favor such a manly effort, is my decision; and so far as it is successful, our churches will be relieved at home by such an auspicious measure, and will be encouraged to engage in new enterprises in other regions. And I look forward to the time when the great and increasing body of American Baptists, with their abundant means, and with the capacity which they have shown that they possess for the work of evangelization among heathen nations, shall plant the gospel standard in the opening fields of China and Japan, in the newlyexplored regions of Africa, and in many other distant and benighted realms.
On the Death of Correspondents and Familiar Friends
As this list was considerably extensive, the solemn tidings of their departure have quite frequently arrived. As my historical pursuits were commenced at an early age, I became familiarly acquainted then with many who were in middle life, or else were far advanced in years. This class has long since been gone to their rest.
When I set out in the ministry, such men as Baldwin, Gano, J. Williams, Staughton, Rogers, Scruple, Furman, Mercer, and men of their rank, were in the meridian of their strength and activity; all of them have long since ceased from their labors. The same may be said, with a very few exceptions, of a large company, who were about my equals in age, and were my associates and coadjutors in the various plans, for general good and for the special benefit of the Baptists, which they were either newly devising, or to which they were beginning to pay more earnest attention. Among the men of this second class, I might name Bolles, Sharp, Winchell, Going, Gammell, Davis, Galusha, Brantley, Peck of the West, and a long list of others. And very many young men, of unusual promise, who commenced their course when mine was nearly run, have in succession, and often unexpectedly, been called from their various posts. On many of the men above
named or referred to, some of whom were in remote regions, and were little known by the Baptist public at large, I had made much dependence in my historical pursuits, and how to supply their places with correspondents, has often occasioned me no little embarrassment and concern. Although they were, for the most part, men of humble pretensions, yet they could afford me great assistance for their own regions, so that I had a double reason to mourn their loss, and the report of their deaths, has often been a funeral knell in a twofold sense.
For a long time past there has been a strangeness in the appearance of the large gatherings of our people. A new set of men are on their platforms, and are in their councils; and when I look around for the old leaders, very few of them are to be seen.
And now, 1859, on the octogenarian list, I seem almost alone, as to the brotherhood of my early days, and to belong to a bygone age.
Amidst the crowd of a younger race, I often say with Young,
"I've been so long remembered, I'm forgot."
But when these new men recognize the old man, and recount their recollections of former years, this feeling is in some measure dispelled.
[David Benedict, Fifty Years Among the Baptists, 1860; rpt. 1977, pp. 305-321. -- jrd]
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