The “Old School Baptists” In America
Gospel Standard Magazine
No. 102 — June, 1844 — Vol. 10, Pages 161-165
[The letters below were written to our departed friend W. Gadsby, and would have appeared earlier but from the pressure of other matter. Mr. Booth’s letter will, we think, be found to contain an interesting account of our American brethren. We do not mean to say that we approve of all that is contained in it; but we did not consider ourselves at liberty to alter or omit. It is to the “Old School Baptists” that James Osbourn, whose experience we have reviewed, belongs; and in several of his works which we have read, (and we believe we possess them all,) he frequently speaks of them, and seems to be fully united in spirit with the ministers and churches..—Editors.]
Dear Brother Gadsby,—I write a line by way of introducing Mr. Booth, a messenger from the church of God in Miammi County, State of Ohio, in North America. His having spoken among our people, I give my judgment of him as a man that fears the Lord, and that what information he gives you relative to the churches there is a truth, which I thought would be pleasing for you to hear.
Hoping you are well, I remain, your affectionate brother in Christ Jesus,
Russell-Street, Bermondsey, Jan. 14, 1844.
My dear Sir, [Brother Gadsby]—Mr. Gunner’s kind introduction will supersede the necessity of my saying much about myself; but, lest his using the term “messenger” should convey a wrong impression, I would state that my visit to England is on private business, not as a delegate from the American churches, bearing with me only a “travelling letter.” The error was unintentional on Mr. G.’s part; but, as it has been common for the popularity churches in America, in carrying out schemes of carnal religion, to appeal to their brethren in England by begging deputations, I feel the more anxious to disavow a character of that kind, believing, as I do, that the “Old School Baptists” of America will never adopt such a course—at least while the Lord keeps them true to their professed principles. At the same time, I think they would be glad to enjoy a fraternal correspondence and intercourse with English churches of like faith and order, that they might be comforted together with you, by the mutual faith both of you and them.
“The Lord reigns,” and has a people to serve him “in all the earth.” I do not refer to mere professors, hut to those who, being the subjects of the same almighty, distinguishing, sovereign, free grace, “worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh;” in whom “the same afflictions are accomplished in the world;” and who not only “love Him that begat, but also love all those that are begotten of him;” proving, by these “fruits,” that they are all equally the objects of everlasting love, and part and parcel of the same heavenly family. Yet perhaps it is too much the case, that the people of God located in one part of the world are apt to act, and speak, and think as though themselves alone composed the household of faith, and were unmindful and unconscious that there are “brethren beloved of God” elsewhere. Whether it was so in the apostolic time; I cannot presume to decide; though it seems highly probable that the churches in Jerusalem, Antioch, Corinth, Rome, Spain, &c., not merely were aware of each other’s existence, but had and cultivated reciprocal intercourse. It is in the hope of paving the way for such an intercourse between the churches of the living God in England and America, that I wish, through you, to introduce the latter to the knowledge of the former, not to make a fair show in the flesh, and a noise in the world, but that each may he filled with joy and thanksgiving to the Lord, by hearing of the grace of God manifested in the other.
The body of Christians of which I undeservedly am a member, is commonly known by the term “Old School Baptists,” to distinguish them from those who advocate indefinite atonement, and who are called “New School Baptists.” The “Old School” men are also honoured by several nicknames, as “Hard-heads,” “Iron-jackets,” &c., from their unflinching adherence to ancient Baptist principles, and their uncompromising hostility to modern doctrines and inventions.
Roger Williams laid the foundation of the Baptist denomination in America, about 150 years ago; and, notwithstanding severe and repeated persecutions, their principles spread, and they became one of the most numerous bodies in the country. After the Revolution, when the nation began to prosper, and the churches had increased, and were exempted from outward trials, they fell into worldliness, imbibed the sentiments of Andrew Fuller, and adopted the expedients for popularity and display which have ever marked a carnal, Arminianized church. Into this snare nearly all the churches fell, especially those in cities and towns, only a few here and there “contending for the faith once delivered to the saints;” and these, finally, were constrained to “come out from among” the corrupt Baptists, “and be separate,” suffering loss of property, and being “evil spoken of everywhere.” They were few in number, generally poor, and much scattered; and, as may be readily supposed, their ministers were still fewer and farther between. They still remain in nearly the same condition, comparatively to the new party; but there are indubitable evidences, from time to time, that the Lord is mindful of them, exhibiting his sovereign grace in converting sinners, restoring wanderers, and raising up young Timothys to supply the place of the aged Pauls whom he is pleased to remove from the church below.
I speak particularly of the “Old School Baptists” in the State of Ohio, who, I think, may be considered as fairly representing those throughout the United States, as to condition and circumstances. In that State there are nine associations; i.e., the Miami, the Muskingum, the Scioto, the Mad-river, the Greenville, the Sandusky, the New market, the Clover, and a recently-formed one, whose name I forget; to one or the other of which every church is attached. I send you the last minutes of the Mad-river Association, which held its anniversary a fortnight before I left home. You will see that it embraces seventeen churches and three hundred and fifty-eight members, including seven ordained ministers and six licentiates. Only one of those ministers (S. Williams) is devoted wholly to the ministry; another (J. Morris) is very aged, as is also one of the licentiates; all the rest have to labour (generally in farming) for their living. As the licentiates have no ministerial charge, the actual number of efficient ministers is only six; each of whom has the care of three or four churches, often from ten to thirty miles distant from his home, besides making frequent preaching journeys through the country, sometimes extensive; during which he generally preaches every day, once or twice. The churches meet statedly once a month (so arranged as to suit the preachers), transacting business (after preaching) on Saturday, and attending public worship twice on Lord’s day. At any of their meetings, should a visiting minister be present, he is expected to speak as well as the pastor; so that it is not uncommon to have two sermons in succession. Of the above associations, the Muskingum is three times as large, the Miami and Scioto twice as large, all the rest not half as large, as the Mad-river. The Miami, Muskingum, and Scioto, are better supplied with ministers than the Mad-river Association; the others not so well.
Most of the “Old School Baptists” are quite plain-taught men, and so are their ministers. They are often objects of contemptuous remark by the “New School” men, who consider a college education essential to make an efficient preacher of the gospel. Our brethren are far less favoured with outward privileges than English Christians, being frequently without the public ministration of the word, and very deficient in books of sterling character. Here and there a tract of Huntington’s, &c., is met with; but most of the precious works common in this country they know nothing of. In New York State, two “Old School” periodicals are published; one entitled, “The Signs of the Times” and the other, “The Christian Doctrinal Advocate, and Spiritual Monitor.” With the editor of this last (Elder D. E. Jewett) I have the privilege of personal acquaintance. He is a most excellent Christian, a good scholar, and a decided champion for special, sovereign grace experienced in the heart; withal, suffering much from carnal professors and pecuniary embarrassments. He would be highly pleased, if the Gospel Standard could be forwarded to him as published.
With regard to the doctrinal sentiments of the “Old School Baptists” of America, they “contend earnestly” for particular, unconditional election, man’s total depravity and helplessness, particular redemption, effectual calling by sovereign grace, justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ, the final perseverance of the saints, &c. &c. A personal experience of these doctrines in the heart, by the teaching of the Spirit, they deem essential. Any profession of religion, however fair, which falls short of this, they consider the work of nature, and not of grace. They also strenuously maintain believer’s baptism by immersion only, strict communion, the Bible the only rule of faith and practice, &c. They reject all the so-called benevolent institutions of the day, as not warranted by the word of God; viewing them as engines of Satan, to foster and build up the kingdom of antichrist. They receive none to baptism but on a relation of experience, at a church meeting, to the satisfaction of every member present. A consistent walk is insisted on; and when cases for discipline occur, they endeavour to carry out the rule laid down in Matt 18.
Although we cannot, and do not wish to boast of great “revivals,” after the manner of our “New School” neighbours, some of whom boast they can get up a “revival” whenever they please; yet we can say that the Lord is pleased to manifest his presence in our midst, to the rejoicing of his people, and, during the last year or two, has poured out of his Spirit, in a remarkable manner, when unlooked for, and at places distant from each other; so that “numbers have been added to the Lord, both of men and women.” But, generally, it must be confessed that our churches are in a dull, stand-still condition, though, I trust, waiting to “see the salvation of the Lord.”
I have been much gratified and edified in hearing Mr. Gunner, Mr. Cowper, Mr. Godwin (of Wiltshire), &c., during my sojourn in London. Such preaching would be highly acceptable to the “Old School Baptists” of America; and should such men, or any of their brethren, ever visit the United States, I hope they will try to find us out; but let them beware of the “New School” folks, who often profess to be “Old School,” to deceive the unwary and increase their numbers.
In Philadelphia, I preached for brother Lewis, who is pastor over a small church in that city. He is, I believe, known to you, as he offered me a letter of introduction, if I expected to visit Manchester. In New York city there is also a small church, under the pastoral care of Elder Goble.
Any further information which you may wish, I will, with pleasure, give, as far as able to do so.
Sound works being so scarce with us, I take the opportunity to say, on my own responsibility, that should you feel disposed to send the brethren a few pamphlets, tracts, or Standards, I will gladly take charge of them, if addressed to me by the end of January.
I remain, dear Sir, yours very sincerely in the bonds of the gospel of a precious Jesus,
London, Jan. 10, 1844.
 This extended footnote is added by Jared Smith, purposed to provide a historic and doctrinal context for the Strict and Particular Baptists in England and the Old School or Primitive Baptists in America.
The Fullerite Controversy which broke out in England during the latter half of the eighteenth century quickly surfaced among the Baptist churches in the United States. In the early part of the nineteenth century, several American Baptist Associations separated from all groups subscribing to Fullerism, whether it be in principle or practice. These churches became known as the “Old School Baptists”, or, the “Primitive Baptists”. The Fullerite churches became known as the “New School Baptists”, or, “Missionary Baptists”.
Mr. Gilbert Beebe, a well-known gospel preacher, was one of the men who represented the Primitive Baptists. In 1832, he started a magazine in America called the “Signs of the Times”, which espoused similar teachings to that of the Strict and Particular Baptists of England. Mr. William Gadsby, another well-known gospel preacher, was one of the men who represented the Strict and Particular Baptists. In 1835, he started a magazine in England called the “Gospel Standard”.
Mr. Booth, the author of the above letter, made reference to the “Signs of the Times”, whose correspondence was subsequently published in the “Gospel Standard”.
Mr. Booth’s letter was sent to Mr. Gadsby in January of 1844, but it pleased the Lord to take Mr. Gadsby to glory on the 27th of that month. Interestingly enough, Mr. Beebe published Mr. Gadsby’s obituary in the March issue of the “Signs of the Times”, 1844. The explanatory note reads:
“DEATH OF ELDER WILLIAM GADSBY, OF MANCHESTER ENGLAND. Since the outside form of our paper, on which we usually insert obituary notices, went to press, we have received intelligence of the death of that distinguished servant of our Lord…The above extract [Obituary of Mr. Gadsby from the “Manchester (England) Times”] was kindly furnished us by our sister Nelms, whose accompanying remarks we are compelled for want of room to defer until our next.”
In the April issue of the same year, Mr. Beebe includes an Editorial Reflection on Mr. Gadsby, together with the personal letter of Sister Nelms, who sent to Mr. Beebe the “Manchester Times” obituary of Mr. Gadsby.
Editorial Reflection, by Mr. Beebe: “ELDER WILLIAM GADSBY:-In our last number we copied the obituary of this distinguished servant of our Lord and of his church, from the “Manchester (England) Times,” but for want of room in that number of our paper, deferred making any remarks upon the subject.
Were we able to give a full biography of our departed brother, it would be read with interest by thousands in our country. It has been our privilege during the last twenty-five years to become acquainted with many who were personally acquainted with the deceased; some of whom were members of the church were Elder Gadsby was the pastor; and it is but justice to the dead for us to say, that we have found those who have set under the ministry of Elder Gadsby, among the most sound, circumspect, and intelligent Baptists we have ever met with from the old country.
He was one of the most indefatigable and laborious ministers in England. Beside the pastoral duties devolving on him, in the care of a very large church, and frequent excursions into other parts of England, where he was favorably known as a minister of Jesus: he has written and published many valuable little works, which have done much for the instruction, edification and comfort of the saints in England and in America. His “Everlasting Task for the Arminians,” is a puzzle for which old Hagar’s children will never forgive him.
But his days on earth are numbered, and he is now gathered with those who have gone before. His course is finished, his race is run, his conflicts are over, and henceforth, we trust, he wears a crown which God has not prepared for him alone, but also for all who love the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Below we subjoin a copy of the note of Sister Nelms, which accompanied the notice from the Manchester Times, and was crowded out of our last number. Sister Nelms has set under his ministry when in England, and, if we mistake not, now holds her membership in the church of which he was the pastor; with her and with the bereaved church we do most heartily sympathize.”
Personal Letter, by Sis Nelms: “Astor House, N.Y., March 4, 1844. DEAR BROTHER BEEBE:- With heart-felt sorrow I write to inform you of the death of Elder Gadsby: sorrow, not for him, but for my own loss and that of the bereaved church over which the “Holy Ghost had made him overseer.” No, not sorrow for him, for he has “fought the good fight, he has finished his course,” and gone to receive his “crown”. He is gathered like a “shock of corn fully ripe” into the glorious garner above: he has gone to enjoy that blessed rest that remains for all his Father’s children, and has entered into those mansions, of which his “brother born for adversity” said, “I go to prepare a place for you.” I had hoped again to sit under his ministry on my return to England, but the Shepherd of Israel has willed otherwise. May he teach me submission. I did not know Elder Gadsby’s age; to me he appeared to be over six feet high, with a frame large in proportion, and though he has been long a sufferer from shortness of breath and difficulty of breathing, a stranger who only heard him preach would never perceive it, for he preached with as much energy and animation, and walked as erect as if he were but five and twenty. There was very rarely a sleeper in his congregation. Elder Gadsby was certainly quite as much a “a son of consolation,” as a “son of thunder”. The burden of all his discourses was “Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
The first intimation I had of the melancholy fact was yesterday morning, when Elder Curtis announced it from the pulpit, expressing his intention to refer to it in his afternoon sermon. Our English papers had been sent to Washington before we had read them ourselves, or I would have sent you one containing the obituary, and it is possible you may have received one; but lest that should not be the case, I send you an exact copy of a copy taken from an English paper by a Baptist just before he left England, in the last steamer and lent to me by Elder Curtis. I do not think the obituary was written by a Baptist, nor does it exactly please me. I send it as it is; it may possibly furnish you with some information should you think proper to write on the subject yourself. It is yours, however, to do with it as you please.
When it shall go will with thee, remember me.”
I freely quote from the “Signs of the Times” for the purpose of establishing the clear sentiments of the American Primitive Baptists towards their distant cousins, the English Strict and Particular Baptists. However, by the year 1900 (see, the Fulton Confession of Faith), the Primitive Baptists had divided into two distinct groups. Those who belonged to the Gilbert Beebe camp, subscribing to the absolute predestination of all things, became known as the “Absoluters”. Whereas those who belonged to the James Oliphant camp, subscribing to limited predestination, together with the dichotomy of an “eternal salvation” and a “time salvation”, became known as the “Conditionalists”. To be clear, therefore, Mr. Booth, Mr. Beebe, Mr. Jewett, Mr. Curtis and Sis Nelms shared the same views on the doctrine of absolute predestination as that of the Strict and Particular Baptists in England. Neither did they subscribe to Mr. Oliphant’s partition of God’s decree into “eternal salvation” and “time salvation”. Rather, they understood that the salvation decreed by God from eternity, is experienced by the elect in time, insomuch that the one is the realization of the other.
 A friend of ours, who lived six years in Philadelphia, has more than once told us that there was no truth preached in that city.—This footnote belongs to the Editor of the Gospel Standard