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The Rise of the American and Foreign Bible Society
By David Benedict, 1860

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
[p. 214]
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


[p. 215]
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
[p. 216]
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.
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[David Benedict, Fifty Years Among the Baptists, 1860; rpt. 1977, pp. 213-216. jrd]



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