header image
Home arrow Writers arrow David Montgomery arrow About Old Writings
About Old Writings PDF Print E-mail
Written by David Montgomery   

Dear Friends, 

I would like to share a few things that I have learned after spending years reading our old father’s writings. About eight years ago, I came into possession of some old Primitive Baptist books and papers which kindled an interest in me of our church history that has not abated. The blessing I received from these writings was incredible…so much so that I thought it would be good for our people to have this same experience so I began to share publicly the things which interested me. I began an Internet list server dedicated to presenting these articles and then I became involved in republishing old books that have been out of print for years. I have done  about 25 books so far, that were once out of reach to our people. I express all this not to boast, but rather, to indicate my love for these old writings. After receiving a large amount of feedback and several questions from various readers, I feel it would be good to share some guidelines and observations that I have learned in eight years of study in this area. 

As we read these old books, articles, letters and experiences, we need to remember that we are reading the opinions of only one person. One book, one article or one periodical does not represent the thinking of the entire Primitive Baptist church. It is not wise to allow just one or a few to speak for all the churches. This point is just good common sense and does not need to be further dealt with.  

The spiritual battles our brethren were fighting were particular to their time and we need to keep this constantly in mind when we read them. These battles certainly gave the writing a certain slant and emphasis. This might cause us to misinterpret the writing and charge the writer to have believed a tenet that in reality they did not believe so it could be detrimental for us today to use some of them to fight our own particular battles. Additionally, we may be reading a “knee-jerk reaction” to a particular problem, and in the heat of the moment, the writer may have reached over the top in their defense. This happened especially in the absoluter wars that plagued the church in the early 1900’s. Some went into the thought that God predestinated all things including sin, and some went too far the other direction. Extremism also occurred in the Whole-Man vs Hollow-Log wars in Texas of the 1920’s. Circumstances pushed people into camps; views were twisted into extremisms and passion won over logic. Thus, a mess was created where folks didn’t know who believed what or what anyone was really saying.  Said “mess” is only borrowed into our times when we mistake these writings as the platform for all Old Baptist thinking and try to serve them to Old Baptists today.  

The periodicals (i.e. The Gospel Messenger, Primitive Monitor, Zion’s Advocate, Signs of the Times, Primitive Baptist Signal, Baptist Trumpet, The Primitive Baptist) were published by men of great influence. That being the case, their thoughts and opinions were not only read by a great many, but because of the writer’s stature among the Baptists, the opinions were readily accepted by a great many. I have not heard this danger expounded before and so I shall do so now by giving a case in point… 

Elder John R. Respess of Butler, Georgia, was in my opinion, one of the greatest men to ever preach for the Primitive Baptists. Few have ever exceeded him in moral integrity, devotion to the cause and usefulness to the church. His humility went to the point of self-depreciation. He has been a champion to me for a long time and I have tried to read everything he published. I would have loved to have known and studied with him and my hope is to see him in Paradise some day.  

Elder Respess was a lawyer and gave up a thriving practice to preach the gospel. Trained as a lawyer and naturally bent toward a legal mindset, his interpretation of the Scriptures was likewise bent that way and this certainly came across in his writings. In short, Elder Respess was a legalist, or at least, he had a tendency in that direction. I think it is vital that we understand this about him when we read his articles. Should we throw his writings away and never read after him? I do not think so; in fact, I am currently preparing a book that will contain a large collection of his writings. There is more than enough “chicken” there to justify the “bones.”  We all have a few bones, if not whole skeletons, in our own view of the Scriptures. 

But let us delve a little further with Brother Respess. As editor-in-chief and owner of The Gospel Messenger, which had a circulation of over 10,000 subscribers, he influenced a lot of people; one of whom was none other than Elder Sylvester Hassell. These two great men had a tremendously close friendship. Brother Hassell stayed with Brother Respess for long periods of time, often for three month stretches. He preached at Butler church repeatedly; he preached a meeting there only three months before Brother R died. It was thru Brother R’s intense lobbying through The Gospel Messenger that the huge debt Elder H incurred from the printing of The History of the Church was retired. Elder R was a father figure to Elder H and so naturally, Elder R’s thoughts and interpretations would have a significant meaning and value to Elder H. After Elder R died in 1895, the ownership of The Gospel Messenger passed to Elder H (Brother Hassell had been an assistant editor for a few years before). We see in the beginning years of his editorship, Brother H penned articles with the same theological bent as Brother R had before, but as the years passed, things changed. In the last decade of his life (1920’s) we read Elder Hassell writing articles advocating time salvation, conditional blessings and curses on God’s elect, and other subjects along the same lines. Why this shift? I will list a few possibilities: 

1.       He was more open to listen to other views.

2.       He saw the specter of absolutism begin to creep into North Carolina.

3.       Age and experience can go a long way in changing even the most ardent of opinions. Brother Hassell watched his first and second wife pass away, he watched his beloved daughter pas away, he saw his three sons’ disinterest in the church. Blows like this can knock the strongest from their lofty perch. 

All this goes to prove that we should always read the writings of men with a degree of skepticism. The Holy Scriptures are the only thing that be read with absolute assurance that they are free of error.  As Elder George Walker wrote in a recent email, “If you were wanting to read the inspired word of God, would you read the writings of past gone Elders, or would you read the word of God?  I too have great respect for our past gone elders, but when I am looking for the truth I go to the bible as our only rule of faith and practice.  There have been many of great men that have preached for us down through the years and I enjoy reading what they have to say, but we need to keep in mind that they were just men like we that are subject to error.  If I was still living 150 years from today and I begin to read past Banner of Love papers and find that Elder Hulan Bass done a large percent of the writing in it; could I say that all the Texas Primitive Baptists believed just like Brother Hulan on every point?  Don`t think so, but that does not change the fact that I love Brother Hulan Bass and appreciate what he stands for.  If we live long enough, preach long enough we will be able to look back and see so much error in our preaching and in our studies.”  I am in complete agreement with Elder Walker. 

I hope that I have helped and not hindered. I am not trying to discourage any from reading the old fathers but I do want us all to read them intelligently and informed. We need to be as careful as the noble Bereans who searched the Scriptures to see if these be so. May the Lord bless us all. 

In His service,

David Montgomery

 

< Previous   Next >

Purpose

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.