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Written by David Benedict   

 

ON THE RISE OF THE FOREIGN MISSION CAUSE AMONG THE AMERICAN BAPTISTS.

JUDSON AND RICE BECOME BAPTISTS. — THE TRIENNIAL CONVENTION. — THE MISSIONARY UNION. — RICE BECOMES AN AGENT. — THE COLOMBIAN COLLEGE DIFFICULTIES ABOUT MISSIONARY MONEY. — DEATH OF RICE. 


ABOUT FORTY YEARS AGO the dormant energies of our denomination in this country began to be aroused in favor of some systematic efforts in favor of sending the gospel to the heathen. The cause of this movement may be traced to the conversion of Adoniram Judson and Luther Rice to the sentiments of the Baptists, while on their way to India as missionaries, under the patronage of the Pedobaptists. This unexpected change in these two young men, as a matter of course, made no small stir in the Pedobaptist ranks, as might be naturally expected. Mr. Judson at the time of his baptism, in Calcutta, preached a sermon on the baptismal controversy, which was republished and widely circulated in this country. This became the subject of much comment among his former associates, and laid the foundation of an extended controversy between the advocates and the opponents of the Baptist cause. A copy of the original Calcutta edition of this discourse is among my documents of this kind.   

Mr. Rice soon returned to America to solicit pecuniary aid for assisting in establishing a Baptist mission in the East, and to select suitable persons for an undertaking to which the attention of the American Baptists was now directed in a sudden and unexpected manner.

Up to this time, this large and increasing body seemed to have had no idea that they had either the call or the ability to send out missionaries to foreign lands. The maximum of their doings thus far in the enterprise in which they have since so largely engaged at home and abroad, consisted in the support of a few feeble societies for the promotion of domestic missions.

It ought here to be mentioned, however, that amidst the general apathy and neglect of our people thus referred to, something had been done in a few locations in the early part of the foreign mission enterprise, in the following manner the reports which frequently came to this country of the successful operations of our British brethren in India, under Carey, Marshman, Ward, and others, and particularly of their wonderful progress in the translating department, had excited a generous sympathy among a portion of our brethren in Boston, Salem, Philadelphia, and a few other places, which led them to make liberal collections for that age, in favor of their distant denominational friends. But still neither this portion of our community, nor any other, then contemplated the undertaking of sending out missionaries on their own account to the East, the West, or in any other direction. Nor as yet was it considered possible to adopt any feasible plan for commencing missionary operations amongst the numerous tribes of the American Indians. Dr. Carey, then in India, wrote to Dr. Baldwin, of Boston, on the subject, at an early period, and inquired why the American Baptists did not direct their attention towards the bringing of the aborigines of our western wilds under the influence of civilization and Christianity. Dr. Baldwin, in reply to his distant friend, named, among other things, the want of a written language among the red men, as one of the greatest impediments in the way of all attempts in their favor, and little did he, or any of his co-workers in the cause of benevolence, expect that in so short a time after this correspondence, this then insurmountable difficulty would be surmounted. Very remote, in their view, was the period when the untamed and wandering red men of our distant and uncultivated forests would advance to the positions which they now occupy as an enlightened and Christian people.   

Mr. Rice becomes a successful Agent in the Foreign Mission Cause. Soon after his arrival from India, this zealous and laborious young man commenced the most successful agency, the circumstances under which he commenced it being considered, that was ever performed among the American Baptists. His native eloquence, his unusual affability of manners, and his untiring assiduity, made him at once a distinguished favorite with his new denominational friends, and secured for him unusual attention and respect from many who were out of the pale of the Baptist communion. Young people, old people, and all people hailed his approach to their firesides and the pulpits of their churches, as a young apostle in the foreign mission cause, which was always on his lips, not only in his public addresses, but in public houses, in public conveyances, in the family circle, and wherever he traveled or sojourned. Being a man of a robust frame and of vigorous powers, both of body and mind, he was enabled to perform an unusual amount of labor in his new vocation. At that time, railroads were unknown, steamboats were comparatively few, and stage-coaches were costly and uncomfortable; and as his business led him in all directions through the country, to be present at associations and public gatherings of all kinds, where he could tell his story and make known his wants, he generally traveled in his own one-horse light conveyance, and he often astonished his brethren with the rapidity of his movements and the suddenness of his transitions from one place to another.

Mr. Rice, in his public performances, dwelt but little on sectarian matters, but the deplorable condition of the perishing heathen was his principal theme; and although he had resided but a short time in a heathen land, yet he had seen and heard enough while there, to impart a vividness to his descriptions of the darkness, wretchedness and cruelty of that land, far superior to those which are made from mere reports. It was expected at first, by himself and friends, that he would return to India after he had made arrangements for a regular and adequate support of a mission there, under the patronage of the Baptists in this country. This plan was always uppermost in all his public addresses and private conversations, and added greatly to their interest among the people wherever he went. He soon traversed the whole of the United States, and formed an acquaintance of great extent, and at an early day, by means of printed circulars, which were scattered broadcast over the land, and letters of his own writing, this industrious man opened a correspondence with all who had shown any sympathy for the cause in which he was engaged. Soon societies of various kinds arose in all directions, for the promotion of this new undertaking, and thus a foundation was laid for the formation of

 

The Old Triennial Convention.

This body was organized in Philadelphia, in May, 1814, and under its direction all Baptist affairs pertaining to foreign missions, for about thirty years, were managed, when the name of the body was exchanged for that of the

 

American Baptist Missionary Union.

This change was made in New York, in May, 1845. This was a time of great trial and difficulty with the old Convention, which was seriously threatened with dissolution, on account of questions which for a number of years had been agitated in a very unpleasant manner. The perplexing discrepancies which arose between the northern and southern wings, of a body which was spread over all the States, was the principal cause of the troubles here alluded to.

The Missionary Union came into being in a very amicable manner at first, but soon objections, from some quarters, were started against some parts of its constitution, as not conformable to Baptist principles and usages, and these objections still exist in the minds of many; and added to these, complaints from various quarters against the management of the men at the missionary rooms have become loud and widespread, and now, March, 1857, very serious difficulties are apprehended at the approaching anniversary of this important Baptist institution.

Mr. Rice connected other Objects with his Missionary Agency.

These were two periodicals, and a college at Washington for Baptist use, with reference, in the first place, I believe, to fitting men for the missionary service. In this place it may be proper to give a brief account of these three undertakings of Mr. Rice.

  The Latter Day Luminary was in pamphlet form, and was continued six years. It was under the patronage of the General Convention, as the organ of that body, and for the first two years of its existence it was published in Philadelphia, when it was removed to Washington. Staughton, Allison, H.G. Jones and Rice constituted its publishing committee at first, but Rice was the life and soul of the concern. He calculated, when he undertook the work, that it would require about one fourth of his time.

The Columbian Star was in the newspaper form, and it is still alive in Georgia, under the name of the Christian Index. It was transferred to this State many years since by the late Dr. J. Mercer, the liberal and untiring helper of the foreign mission cause. While this paper was published in Washington, the place of its origin, among its editors in succession were J. D. Knowles, late of Newton, and Dr. Stow, now of Boston.

But the Columbian College, now in a flourishing condition at Washington, D.C., was the greatest labor of Mr. Rice's life, and one which for many years involved him and his friends in much embarrassment and perplexity. "This institution," says Mr. Taylor in his memoir of its founder, "was never completed according to its original plan. All the buildings, in the language of the superintending committee, were intended to range with the cardinal points of the compass, and to exhibit the best possible view from every direction, combining economy, utility, convenience and magnificence."

Thus we see that Mr. Rice in a few years after he commenced his agency for the foreign cause, had his hands full of appendages to his main employment. All admitted that his projects were praiseworthy and promising, but many complained that they absorbed too large an amount of the funds which had been contributed for mission purposes only. As pecuniary embarrassments came on, much of the attention of the managers of one wing of the Convention was engaged in examining and setting right the alleged stretches of power in the diversion of funds by the other. Every new project had its advocates and opponents, and in some of the meetings, which I attended, it was about as much as those who had no cause, or other interests at stake could do to calm the troubled waters, in which they found themselves most disagreeably involved. A number of the meetings now had in view were scenes of trial rather than enjoyment. The sacredness of missionary funds was always most strenuously insisted on by men on one side; and this doctrine was fully conceded by those on the other; and if at any time the treasury had been drawn upon for secondary objects, the explanation was, that it was in loans from the main department, in aid of those of minor importance, which were soon to be repaid by the commanding eloquence and herculean efforts of a hitherto most successful solicitor, in favor of his various undertakings, all of which promised well for the missionary cause and the Baptist community at large. New periodicals might be useful in their way, if they would support themselves, which was the doctrine of their friends; and a new institution for literary and theological training was greatly needed for a vast range of our country; and its being located at the capital of the nation was considered a most auspicious arrangement, and all parts of Mr. Rice's complicated machinery seemed to work well and to general satisfaction, until an empty treasury and unsatisfied demands upon it to an alarming amount stared the whole denomination in the face. Most of these demands were for the collegiate institution, and poor Rice, on account of his position and agency, had to bear the blame of his coadjutors and confederates. "It can not be concealed," says Taylor in his memoir, "that others who had the management of the institution greatly erred in allowing him to sustain so much of the burden incident to the erection of the buildings, the support of the faculty, and the payment of the debts. And at the time when a system of retrenchment had just been commenced; when vigorous efforts were about to be made by him especially to raise funds in the South for the entire extinguishment of the debt, such was the strong feeling against him that he was called home and detained there for a series of months in the investigation of his accounts."

As the result of these investigations, which were made by a committee appointed for the purpose, a long report was drawn up, which is among my historical documents, which exhibits a heavy balance against Mr. Rice.

To this report is appended a certificate that it was unanimously accepted. Signed,

B. S., Secretary.

Directly under this is the following:

I certify that the foregoing report was not unanimously accepted. O. B. B., President.

Too much of the feeling and cross firing here indicated, had at an early period unhappily become somewhat common among some of the managers of this then embarrassed concern.

Mr. Rice's heavy indebtedness to the Convention resulted from his assuming personal responsibility in all his doings in behalf of that body. No one to my knowledge suspected him of appropriating any of the moneys he collected to his own use.

The following extracts from a letter of Dr. Baldwin, of Boston, to Mr. Rice, exhibit his views relative to the diversion of missionary funds from their original design:

"BOSTON, November 22, 1819.

"* * * You mention the unfavorable impression which the result of the late meeting of the Board in New York had on the minds of our friends, at the South and West. I do not perceive in what way it should affect them. I have been apprised of Dr. Furman's dissatisfaction with the proceedings relative to the institution generally. * * * It must be evident to Dr. F. and to every other person, upon the slightest observation, that the institution was not set in motion in conformity to the principle established by the Convention, viz., 'when competent and distinct funds shall have been raised for that purpose, the Board shall proceed to institute a classical and theological seminary, etc.' It will not be pretended that competent funds distinctly assigned for that object have been raised, either before, at the time, or even since the establishment of the seminary. This hasty, unauthorized procedure is probably the ground of Dr. Furman's objections. For my own part, though I would not adopt the principle that the end sanctifies the means, yet if the institution can be supported without resorting at all to the funds of the society, I shall wish it success with all my heart. But there is an extreme tenderness with respect to these funds manifested from all parts of the country. Indeed, they ought and must be held sacred for the object for which they were given.

"I suggested to Dr. Staughton, some little time since, and I will now take the liberty to mention the same thing to you respecting the Luminary. The blending of this with the missionary concern, you probably know, has given much uneasiness to many of the friends of the mission. It was so different from what we had reason to expect that we hardly knew how to account for it. * * *

"I am, dear sir, very respectfully your fellow laborer in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ,

THOMAS BALDWIN."

About this time a long letter was addressed to Mr. Rice by the late Judge Tallmadge, of New York, then in Charleston, S.C., relative to the grounds of Dr. Furman's dissatisfaction, etc., which were much the same as those expressed by Dr. Baldwin and others.

But notwithstanding the objections alluded to above, such was the demand for the institution in question, that its prosperity was earnestly desired by the denomination at large, and very liberal contributions were made for its support, and for the liquidation of its debts, which was finally accomplished. *

--------------------------------

* Among these debts was a loan of $10,000 from the late J. Q. Adams. For the payment of this sum, at my insistence, while I was a member of the Board, a mortgage was given on the college premises. My argument was, that as Mr. Adams loaned this large sum in good faith, to a denomination with which he had no connection, in the crippled state of the institution, he ought to have as good security as could be given him. This fact I had the pleasure of stating to the President in his own house in Washington. This business was finally settled to the satisfaction of this distinguished benefactor.

In process of time the college was entirely separated from the Convention, both as to its government and its pecuniary concerns, and a large number of agents entered the field, which was then the whole United States, to collect funds for the one, while Mr. Rice devoted all his time and energies in favor of his favorite literary institution. And as he was never married, to this object of his kindest affections, in his own familiar language, he was wedded for life; for it he lived and labored mostly in the southern States, and in its service he finished his laborious, peculiar, and earthly career, in South Carolina, in 1836, at the age of fifty-three.

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The Primitive or Old School Baptists cling to the doctrines and practices held by Baptist Churches throughout America at the close of the Revolutionary War. This site is dedicated to providing access to our rich heritage, with both historic and contemporary writings.