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My Days and My Ways

An Autobiography

by Robert Roberts


CHAPTER  TWENTY-SIX:  Polemics: David King.


I remained on The Birmingham Daily Post for about 15 or 16 months –from the middle of 1864 to well on in 1885.  During this time I brought out the first two volumes of The Ambassador –in monthly numbers of 16 pages each –mixing up the writing and proof reading often with my newspaper work.  It was a poor affair, looking back upon it; but it was the germ of what came after.  This that came after has never been anything to think of with particular satisfaction; but such it has been, it came out of the lean, bald, and ungarnished; crude, raw, and impulsive monthly effort of 16  pages of heavy article in long primer, brevier, and nonpareil put forth at a time when no one seemed to care for Zion, but everyone put forth what talent they had with secular and personal objects.  To everything there must be a beginning, and a great deal is done when a start is made, provided there is any power of continuance behind –which I greatly doubted in this matter.


I relied chiefly on the progressive exposition of the first principles of the truth for keeping up a supply of editorial matter from month to month.  As a foundation for this, I drew up and published in the first number a series of over 20 propositions under the heading “The things concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ,” undertaking in future numbers to “systematically expound the elements of truth comprised in this important phrase.”  My first decided snub arose out of this proposal.  I was formally charged with presumption in undertaking to “systematically expound” Bible truth.  What right had I to “systematically expound” anything?


The challenge was from a professor of Bible truth for whom, in my juvenility, I had nothing but feelings of profoundest respect, and for countenancing whom in the list of names appearing at the close of the first edition of Twelve Lectures, I had received such a smart rap from Dr. Thomas –as stated in a previous chapter.  I felt the challenge was quite unreasonable.  I had embraced the truth of God, which was free to all, and it seemed to me the merest matter of course that I should do the utmost I could for its diffusion, as I expected every one else to do in a similar position, and which I felt nobody could do me a better turn than by doing.  This rude growl was therefore unintelligible to me.


But I lived to understand matters a little better afterwards.  The emitter of the said growl became an enemy of Dr. Thomas and the inventor and purveyor of various half-fledged crotchets, which acted as an obstacle to the currency of the delightful unsophisticated truth.  His chief bane lay in a turgid intellect, of some vigor, combined with an active sense of self-importance, which is fatal to all true spiritual life.  I have suffered much in my time from this type.  When men are “lovers of their own selves,” everything they handle catches the ignoble bias.  The best work shines with a yellow light in their hand.  Or is it green?  They suspect other men of their own infirmity.  They cannot understand disinterested service.  They cannot see things except through the diffracting and discolouring atmosphere of their own jaundiced state of mind.  It may be a while before the disease is declared.  They may run well to all appearance for a while.   But sooner or later the bread comes, and lo, there is a frowning and intractable diabolos where imagination had pictured the features of an angel.  The diabolos in the case of the growl referred to has vanished into the invisible –the hades where all diabolism will at last disappear.  Some lovers of God are left in the land of the living: but of the other sort there is still an abundant supply, which will continue to be the case till the grand holocaust that awaits the devil and his angels.  I used to think Dr. Thomas too severe and too suspicious.  It is the mistake of all children till bitter experience makes them finally aware of the sort of world they are living in. 


My first editorial polemic saw light with the fourth number of The Ambassador.  It arose out of an incident that occurred some months previously.  In the house of a Campbellite, who was looking into the truth, I met a member of David King’s congregation, with whom I had a long argumentative, conversation on the Kingdom of God, said member maintaining that it was set up on the day of Pentecost.  This friend was unable to deal with my questions, but expressed his confidence the Davie King could do so.  I said I should have no objections to meet David King on the subject.  He said he was sure Mr. King would be ready to do so, and it was agreed that he should convey the proposal to him, and if possible bring about a debate.  Afterwards, I wrote Mr. King, formally making this proposal and explaining how it had arisen.


Mr. King sent a curt refusal.  One or two other letters passed; and thinking the incident might serve to draw attention to the truth a little, I published the correspondence, and had it distributed among his friends.  The led Mr. King to write and article, headed “Thomasism,” in  The British Millennial Harbinger, the organ of Campbellism, at that time published at Nottingham.  Some one sending me the number containing the article, I made it the occasion of a counter blast in The Ambassador, such as I would not write now had I to do the work over again –not that there is anything wrong with the matter or the argument, but the style is altogether too highly spiced.  I had inevitably taken my style from Dr. Thomas, and his style was not suited to my thinner mentality.  There was too much personal stingo; too much denunciation; too much high horse and swashbuckler flourish to go suitably with the mild discernments of a stripling of 25.  An extract or two from the article will illustrate: --

                “Mr. David King, editor of the periodical, and agent of the party in Birmingham, takes occasion to relieve his envenomed soul by attacking a faith which, notwithstanding the numerical feebleness of its adherents, and the constitutional decline which Mr. King loudly professes to believe is everywhere preying upon its vitals, seems strangely, thorn-like, to prickle his sides, and disturb the equanimity of his spirit.   We could have afforded to let the unholy lucubration –unrelieved as it is by a single gleam of Christian courtesy or a single touch of that dignity and moral earnestness which pertain to the vocation to which Mr. King professes to belong –find its way unnoticed and unknown to the literary abyss where piles of previous tidingless Harbingers have found their merited oblivion: but as silence is justly interpreted to mean consent, we cannot allow its mis-statements and cunning misrepresentations to pass unnoticed and uncorrected.


                “We do not quarrel with Mr. King for speaking of the truth as ‘Thomasism’.  We take it that he honestly supposes in his ignorance that the truth of God is the unauthorised and self-evolved sentiments of a man who happens to be called Dr. Thomas.  WE make allowance for his conscience, on the supposition that he believes Campbellism to be the truth, and the truth to be Thomasism; but the allowance we make for his conscience is fatal to our estimate of his judgment.  We pity the spiritual incapacity exhibited in such a lamentable confusion of ideas.  The man who sets himself to be sure that he possesses the enlightenment necessary for the one, and the competence necessary for the other.


                “Jesus has warned us of the consequences of blind leading.  No amount of sincerity will save the blind from the ditch: both the imperious high-looking leader and the humble deluded lambs of the flock will fall together.  Mr. King may think he has settled this point; but the evidence before us conclusively proves the contrary, showing him to be a wandering star, a vapid cloud, a man in the deepest ignorance wherein he thinks himself wise; scouting the teachings of the word of God, under the derisive designation of ‘Thomasism.’


                “No doubt, in this he sins ignorantly, seeing he has not the remotest conception of the truth he reviles, and did he confine himself to his spiritual blasphemy, we could let him alone, remembering the caution which Jesus has given with reference to the porcine class of which he shows himself to be the representative; but when he misrepresents contemporary fact, we feel called upon even at the rise of being rent, to step out of the usual incog. which we observe with reference to personal questions, and call him to order….


                “Mr. King seems to find special delight in dilating upon the smallness of Antipas’s number.  True, the Antipas relatively are not numerous, but in this they only resemble the Antipas of all recorded times.  No doubt there were many bold fronted defiant scoffers to twit Noah as he hammered away in single and unpopular faith for 120 years, at the end of which Antipas only numbered eight persons out of a world’s population; but though the time was long, the scoffers were at last destroyed by the flood they derided, and the Antipas were justified and saved.  Even so, the break up of the existing order of things with judgment, and the subsequent establishment of David’s throne in Jerusalem, will ere long justify the Antipas and put to silence the ignorance of wicked men, who speak evil of the things they know not.


                “The way of life has always been ‘narrow’ and unpopular, and only a few –courageous enough, and conscientious enough, to take the position of Antipas, have been found treading its rugged path.  The other ‘way’ can always rejoice in plenty of company.  Its attractions are palatable to the carnal mind.  A wide door facilitates access to the enticing display within, and the solicitations of a thousand plausible gate-keepers –some in lawn and surplice, others with holy neckerchief and differing name, and others still in the plainer evangelistic garb –make the temptation irresistible, and once in, it is very difficult to get out again.  The people are crowding in, and the man who once passes the seductive portals is apt to be carried with the throng which streams down the picturesque promenade with song and triumph to death, and to find himself at last in the gulf in which the flowery incline terminates.


                “We can afford to let Mr. King have all the joy of numbers, and can bear, with good grace, the numerical inferiority in which he jibes the ‘Antipas.’  It is an easy thing to make Campbellites.  They are ready made to hand.   They are manufactured in teeming thousands in the spiritual factories of the old mother and her daughters, which abound in all the cities of Britain.  They only require the Campbellite trade mark.  Let them say they believe in Jesus Christ as the Savour (and who is there in the legion denominations that would not make this confession?) they may believe anything else they like; they may expect to go to heaven when they die, or they may expect to lie in the grave till the resurrection; they believe man has no pre-eminence above a beast; they may believe Christ will come to sit on the throne of David in Palestine, and enforce the Abrahamic covenant of blessing for all nations, or they may expect him to come and plunge the globe in annihilating judgment fires and take his redeemed to celestial glory; all they require is an aqueous dip, and the come forth in all the distinctive glory of full-fledged Campbellism, duly qualified to sit down and participate in the felicities of brotherly unity in the one faith, the one hope, and the one baptism ….


                “He thinks we lack the opportunity of submitting our convictions to the public except in a collision with his influential self.  If this were  not too small to deserve notice, we might invite him to Ann Street, Birmingham, any Sunday evening, to behold the fallacy of his arrogant suppositions.  The truth is not popular enough to draw a large ‘house’, nor will it ever be, seeing its ecclesiastical accessories afford no scope for the display of purple and fine linen, and no opportunity for the gratification of the flesh in the thousand fashionable ways that make a chapel attractive to even the giddy tastes of frivolity and youth.  But, thank God, there are some who relish the plain truth as prophetically and apostolically delivered; and among these, we assure Mr. King, we find as much scope for labour as our secular avocations will permit us to avail ourselves of, without having recourse to the adventitious excitement of a discussion.  But we do not shirk from discussion where the enemy is audacious and self-confident, and flings his boasted strength, as in the case referred to above, into the arena in default of argument.  We are willing is such cases to take up the sword, even against a King who has defied the hosts of clergydom, and to fight for the unpopular interests of the truth, against the assaults of a system which with much pretension of Reformation is as vapid and powerless as the apostate faith of which it pretends to be an emendation, but of which it is really a sister growth.  Mr. King, however, refused the encounter provoked by one of his own admirers, and skulked behind his entrenchments under pretence that we were too insignificant a foe for his steel.  We commend the prudence of his tactics, but cannot admire the principle displayed.  He c an revile ‘Thomasism’ while secure behind his editorial breastworks, and make large boast of his powers among his household, who are so credulous of his valour; but when challenged to an open canvass of the faith he so sedulously vilifies in private, he refuses the opportunity on the inconsistent plea that we are not numerous enough –not numerous enough to be worth his while trying to save us by showing us our error.  Considering the ecclesiastical nature of his aims, we do not wonder at this; only we would have it known that the challenge he refused was a challenge originated in the boastful confidence of his own party, and not from the paltry motive to which he naturally imputes it.”

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