Tuesday, December 12, 2017

All bets are off, and other links

The posting of links does not constitute an endorsement of the sites linked, and not necessarily even agreement with the specific posts linked.

Monday, December 11, 2017

A hope and a future

When our children were graduating High School, Jeremiah 29:11 was a popular verse used with graduation cards, gifts and so forth. It may still be popular. The text, probably quoted from the New International Version of the Bible, reminds graduates that God has “plans to give you hope and a future.”
Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
While this Scripture is true and still speaks to us today (Romans 15:4), the contextless verse often “says” to the reader “God has a great future for me” (with “great” meaning “what I want and expect”). The context straightens the meaning out for us, which is deeper and fuller than the “verse on a card” or “verse on a cup” approach. Here also is the reading from the King James Version of the Bible:
Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you,[i] saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
The words of verse 11 are part of the prophecy of Jeremiah “to all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon” (Jeremiah 29:1).  Prophets rose up in Babylon to speak falsely in Jehovah’s name (Jeremiah 29:21). Among those who remained in Jerusalem, Hananiah said that within two years God would break the yoke of the king of Babylon, bring back those who had already gone into captivity, and restore the vessels of the Lord’s house to the temple (Jeremiah 28:2-4). Into this lie Jeremiah must speak the truth. Not only will this not happen, but those who are still at Jerusalem will also go into captivity! The yoke will not be broken in two years, but Israelites will remain captives in a strange land for seventy years.[ii] Do not spend the next two years expecting to come home, but settle down for the long term in the land where you are – “And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.” (Jer. 29:7). This is the context and meaning in its context – God knows the thoughts and plans he has for Israel (Cf. Isaiah 55:9). Those to whom he has not revealed those thought are liars (Romans 3:4). The Lord has thoughts of peace and prosperity in their future. Even their captivity, though a judgment, is for their good (Jeremiah 24:5). Their history is not concluded – it has a future – and there will be an ending in fulfillment of their expectations.[iii] God knows – he does not forget what he purposes to do.

To us this speaks today, within the context of Jeremiah and the general principles taught in the Bible. We look not for the fulfilling of all our desires. We know not all the thoughts God has, but we know that even in the midst of that which is disappointing, depressing, and distressing, God is working all things for good to them that love him, to them who are the called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).  

[i] “I alone” – not the false prophets who pretend to speak for me.
[ii] This had already been expressed by Jeremiah, as recorded in Jeremiah 25:11-12.
[iii] The “expected end” must be understood in the context of God’s work among his people Israel more than applied to individuals. The current generation – “the elders which were carried away captives” – would never return to their homeland, but their hopes could be fulfilled in their children and grandchildren (Cf. 1 Chronicles 22:7; 1 Chronicles 28:6).

War a good warfare

1 Timothy 1:18-19
“This ‘good warfare’ is carried on against three principal enemies—the flesh, the world, and the devil; and each of these enemies so closely allied to ourselves, and each so powerful and so hostile, that they must surely overcome us, unless we are ‘strengthened with might in the inner man’.” – J. C. Philpot

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Blessed Jesus, at Thy word

1. Bless├Ęd Jesus, at Thy word
We are gathered all to hear Thee;
Let our hearts and souls be stirred
Now to seek and love and fear Thee.
By Thy teachings sweet and holy,
Drawn from earth to love Thee solely.

2. All our knowledge, sense, and sight
Lie in deepest darkness shrouded,
Till Thy Spirit breaks our night
With the beams of truth unclouded.
Thou alone to God canst win us;
Thou must work all good within us.

3. Glorious Lord, Thyself impart!
Light of light, from God proceeding,
Open Thou our ears and heart;
Help us by Thy Spirit’s pleading.
Hear the cry Thy people raises;
Hear and bless our prayers and praises.

4. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
Praise to Thee and adoration!
Grant that we Thy Word may trust
And obtain true consolation.
While we here below must wander,
Till we sing Thy praises yonder.

Stanzas 1-3, Tobias Clausnitzer (1619-1684), Stanza 4, Anonymous; Translated by  Catherine Winkworth

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Holy Father

John 17:11 And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.

Last week I heard a preacher on the radio speak of the words “Holy Father.” He noticed that these two words suggest our distance from and proximity to God. Our distance from = He is holy. Our proximity to = He is our Father.

Distance, God is holy.

God is holy. The Hebrew word for holy is “qodesh” and the Greek word for holy is “hagios.” Most likely we immediately think of sacred or pure. The most distinctive thing about the word in relation to God is “apartness” or “otherness.” God is before, above, and apart from all his creation and his creatures. He is the Holy One of Israel (Psalm 89:18). Holy and reverend is his name (Psalm 111:9). On his throne he is thrice-holy before all in his glory and his eternity (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8).

At a distance, man is unholy. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God; all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6). Our iniquities separate us from God, and there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not (Isaiah 59:2; Ecclesiastes 7:20; 2 Timothy 3:2).

Proximity, God our Father.

Those who are born of God have God to their Father (John 1:12-13). He is our Father (Philippians 1:2) and the one who prayed “Holy Father” in his prayer taught us to pray “Our Father” (Matthew 6:9). By the Spirit within us we cry out to our dear Daddy (Romans 8:15) and have dear fellowship is with the Father (1 John 1:3).

Not very far.

God from heaven reaches down to our broken separate distant condition and brings together both “Holy” and “Father” – brings us to him, remaining just as the justifier of sinners (Romans 3:26). We may be holy, for he is holy (1 Peter 1:16); and are holy in the first resurrection that escapes the second death (Revelation 20:6).

Friday, December 08, 2017

I always wanted to be, and other quotes

The posting of quotes by human authors does not constitute agreement with either the quotes or their sources. (I try to confirm the sources that I give, but may miss on occasion; please verify if possible.)

"I always wanted to be somebody, but now I realize I should have been more specific." -- Lily Tomlin

"Faith is not jumping to conclusions; it is concluding to jump." -- Westlake T. Purkiser

"Unless you are simple in your sermons, you will never be understood, and unless you are understood you cannot do good to those who hear you." -- J. C. Ryle

"What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are." -- C. S. Lewis

"Forgiving is leaving justice to Jesus." -- Deborah Pegues

"The measure of a pulpit ministry isn’t its width, but its depth." -- Jaime Owens

"Marriage is a Grace is grace at work and grace in constant motion." -- LeRoy Wagner

"In 1859, Southern ports paid 75 percent of federal tariff revenue. However, the majority of the tariff revenue generated was spent on projects that benefited the North. Tariffs being a contributing cause of the Civil War is hardly ever mentioned. Using the abolition of slavery as an excuse for a war that took the lives of 620,000 Americans confers greater moral standing for the Union." -- Walter E. Williams

"With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts." -- Eleanor Roosevelt

"In prosperity our friends know us; in adversity we know our friends." -- John Churton Collins

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Jesus is all we need

Jesus is all we need. Whatever our predicament, Jesus is the escape. Whatever the question, Jesus is the answer.

Are you hungry? He is the Bread of Life, John 6:35.  Thirsty? He is the Living Water, John 4: 10.  Doubting, distrusting? He is Faithful and True, Revelation 19:11.  Fearful? He is our Peace, Ephesians 2:14.  Abandoned? He is the Good Shepherd, seeking (and keeping) his sheep, John 10:11.  Accused? He is the Great High Priest, the Advocate with the Father, Hebrews 4:14; 1 John 2:1.  Unsuccessful? He is the Author and Finisher of our Faith, Hebrews 12:2.  Treated unfairly? He is the Judge of all, Acts 10:42.  Detached? He is the True Vine, John 15:1.  Lowly, unworthy? He is the King of Kings, Revelation 17:14.  Victimized? He is the Lamb of God, John 1:29.  Insecure? He is the Rock, the sure Foundation, 1 Corinthians 10:4; 3:11.  In danger? He is the Saviour, Luke 2:11.  Shut out? He is the Door, John 10:9.  Overlooked? He is the Word, the Alpha and Omega. John 1:1; Revelation 1:8.  Deceived? He is the Truth. John 8:32.  Lost? He is the Way, John 14:6.  Sick? He is the Great Physician, Luke 5:31-32.  Blind? He is the Light of the World, the Bright and Morning Star, John 8:12.  Dead? He is the Resurrection and the Life, John 11:25.  Isolated, defeated? He is Emmanuel, God with us! Matthew 1:23. 

Jesus is all we need – at every moment, in every manner, for every matter.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Sandy Valley -- It’s lightning that kills

We haven’t visited Sandy Valley lately, but they’re still there plugging along.

Sandy Valley just called Elder Rube Askew to help them in a week’s meeting. He came and he livened things up with his preaching – which was much more “old school” than that of the pridefully prepared Reverend Peacock. Askew seemed to get louder and louder as the week grew on. Perhaps he was heard for miles around. He hammered home his timeless theme – the sovereignty of God and the sinfulness of man. By the end of the week he was positively thundering! At the close of the meeting the grateful congregation gave Elder Askew the parting hand. On this occasion Deacon Goodnews embraced him, pulled him close, and whispered in his ear, “You know, it’s lightnin’ kills and not thunder.”

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

What's your first thought?

Awhile back I posted in several venues the following sentence, with a question:

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John...And Herod sent, and beheaded John in the prison. (John 1:6; Matthew 14:10)

With it I asked: "Read this and tell me what is your first thought." There were/are no right or wrong answers, and there was/is no "hook". I was sincerely curious what thoughts/reactions are elicited by this information about the beginning and end of the life of John the Baptist. Here is a sample of responses I received.

  • Current English doesn't use send intransitively in this way.
  • 553 Denson for the first part.
  • John the Baptist....
  • How sad!
  • ISIS!
  • John was not that light.
  • More like "And Herod sent for John, and had him beheaded."
  • Self sacrifice.
  • It can be dangerous to be sent by God. [Jesus and most of his leading followers suffered death at the hands of the authorities.]
  • The truly righteous often suffer at the hands of power.
  • Accept the cost of discipleship.

John the Baptist was an intriguing individual as the one sent by God to prepare the way for his son. He was courageous, clear, certain (that is, he was definite in his words and toward his audience), confrontational, precise, prophetic, ominous, significant and secondary. The main ingredient I initially saw in putting those two sentences together as the beginning and end of John's life is how unexpected are the ways of God.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Blessing in Brokenness

“Observing communion recently with our local assembly, I was so ‘blessed’ in considering our precious Redeemer ‘giving thanks’ for his own ‘broken’ (given) body, soon to be ‘offered’ in propitiation on Calvary’s cross. There indeed is blessing in brokenness! The great blessing of the gospel is the blessing of Christ himself.” – W. F. Bell from “Blessing in Brokenness”

Sunday, December 03, 2017

With high delight let us unite

1. With high delight let us unite in songs of sweet jubilation.
Ye pure in heart, all bear your part, sing Jesus Christ, our salvation.
To set us free forever, He is ris’n and sends to all earth’s ends
Good news to save ev’ry nation.

2. True God, He first from death has burst forth into life, all subduing.
His enemy doth vanquished lie; His death has been death’s undoing.
“And yours shall be like victory o’er death and grave,” saith He, who gave
All joy and full consolation.

3. Rich is the saints’ inheritance in Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior. 
Your lips employ, speak forth the joy that shall be yours now and ever. 
Ye shall as one shine like the sun; forever bright, through Christ the light. 
Forget this, ye saints, O never!

4. Let praises ring; give thanks, and bring to Christ our Lord adoration.
His honor speed by word and deed to ev’ry land, ev’ry nation.
So shall His love give us above, from misery and death set free,
All joy and full consolation.

Written by Georg Vetter (1536—1599), translated by Martin Franzmann, et al.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Philadelphia Association history

Below are random excerpts from A. D. Gillette's compilation of the minutes of the Philadelphia Association (1707-1807), which I copied and saved while working on other projects.

October 1753, p. 70: "Concluded, that any brother called by any of our churches to exercise his gift, when approved of at home, should, before his ordination, visit other churches, and preach among them, and obtain from those churches concurring evidence of their approbation, that it is proper and convenient that such may be ordained."

October 1755, p. 72: "Appointed, that one ministering brother from the Jerseys, and one from Pennsylvania, visit North Carolina: the several churches to contribute to bear their expense."

October 1766, p. 97: "After prayer, it was moved and agreed: That it is most necessary for the good of the Baptist interest, that the Association have at their disposal every year a sum of money. Accordingly it was further agreed: That the churches, henceforth, do make a collection every quarter, and send the same yearly to the Association, to be by them deposited in the hands of trustees ; the interest whereof only to be by them laid out every year in support of ministers travelling on the errand of the churches, or otherwise, as the necessities of said churches shall require."

October 1771, p. 119: "A motion being made in the Association, relative to the appointment of an Evangelist, it was universally agreed that such an appointment promised much advantage to the Baptist interests. Five ministers were put in nomination for the office, viz : Rev. Messrs. John Gano, Benjamin Miller, Samuel Jones, David Jones, Morgan Edwards. The choice fell on the last, which he accepted on the conditions then specified."

October 1772, p. 124: "The thanks of the Association were returned to brother Morgan Edwards, for his services in travelling and visiting the churches to the southward ; and the interest of the Association fund, for the last year, voted him, together with £6 more, made up by the brethren present, and sent him by Mr. Samuel Jones."

October 1772, p. 124: "A certificate was given to Brother David Jones, who intends to visit the western tribes of Indians the next winter, to ascertain his good standing with us. Also, at his request, a motion was made to recommend his case to the respective churches, as he must be at the expense of paying his interpreter £5 per month ; and the contribution made to be sent by their messengers to the next Association. If not wanted, the money will be returned to the donors."

October 1773, p. 128" "Also a letter from the Quekuky Association, in North Carolina, thanking us for our care in sending messengers among them..."

October 1773, p. 130: "The usefulness of a travelling minister on this continent appearing more manifest by trials, and Brother Morgan Edwards declining the office, it was agreed, that Brother John Gano be a messenger of the churches for this year ; and that the treasurer do pay him the interest of the Association fund, to help defraying his expenses."

May 1774, p. 135: "A motion being made, that Brother John Gano should give an account of his travels to the southward: he accordingly did, by which it appears he has been indefatigable in his labors, and that a minister, travelling annually, according to the plan proposed, may answer very valuable purposes."

October 1774, p. 142:  "Voted, That Brother Gano be paid by the treasurer the interest due on the Association fund, towards defraying his expenses in travelling the last year: accordingly he received £12."

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Shock-Absorbers and Servants, and other links

The posting of links does not constitute an endorsement of the sites linked, and not necessarily even agreement with the specific posts linked.

The only people who get better, and other quotes

The posting of quotes by human authors does not constitute agreement with either the quotes or their sources. (I try to confirm the sources that I give, but may miss on occasion; please verify if possible.)

"The only people who get better are people who know that, if they never get better, God will love them anyway." --  Steve Brown

Prayer is not a conveyor belt from heaven to get the things one wants. Rather prayer is the means whereby the mind and heart of the sons of God are reconciled unto God's will. -- Mike McInnis

"Every gift which is given, even though is be small, is in reality great, if it is given with affection." -- Pindaros

"I call God to record against the day we shall appear before our Lord Jesus, that I never altered one syllable of God’s Word against my conscience, nor would do this day, if all that is in earth, whether it be honor, pleasure, or riches, might be given me." -- William Tyndale

"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it." -- William Arthur Ward

"People can’t drive you crazy if you don’t give them the keys." -- Mike Bechtle

"Learning how to ignore one’s conscience is a terrible thing to learn."

"A good beginning makes a good end." -- Louis L’Amour

"Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our Thanksgiving." -- Westlake T. Purkiser

"Our rural ancestors, with little blest, 
Patient of labor when the end was rest, 
Indulged the day that housed their annual grain, 
With feasts, and off'rings, and a thankful strain." -- Alexander Pope

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

B. W. Nash printing

Bushrod Washington Nash was an editor and printer in addition to being a preacher. He began a religious periodical called the Baptist Review in the summer of 1873. He started publishing in La Grange, NC, but later moved to Goldsboro in 1882. In addition to printing the Baptist Review, Nash’s Baptist Review Job Office also printed association minutes books – at least from the Cape Fear Free-Will Baptist Conference in 1884, to the Vernon Freewill Baptist Association in 1904 and the Jasper Freewill Baptist Association in 1905. In 1876 B. W. Nash published a hymn book titled  Baptist Harmony: a New Collection of Hymns and Spiritual Songs (La Grange, NC: The Author, 1876), and which was released in a second edition in 1884 (Baptist Harmony: a Collection of Hymns and Spiritual Songs, (2nd edition, Goldsboro, NC: Baptist Review Job Office, 1884).

Some of B. W. Nash’s sons also learned the trade, and at one time ran Nash Brothers Printing business in Goldsboro.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Lark O'Neall of South Carolina

Lark O'Neall was the moderator of the Southern Baptist Association (not SB Convention) when it met in Williamsburg County, South Carolina in 1878. He was a veteran of the Florida Seminole Indian war of 1836. Following that, he was a law student until he abandoned the legal profession to become a Methodist preacher. At some point (at least after 1848) he left the Methodists for the Baptist Church (possibly being converted on the doctrine of immersion baptism). Originally with the close communion Baptists, he adopted the view of open communion and preached that several years before his death. I would be interested in finding more biographical information. Any help appreciated!

From The Newberry Weekly Herald (SC), April 13, 1881

Monday, November 27, 2017

Taking men from the fishing net

“We can see no good reason why God can not take men from the fishing net, workshop or plow and make efficient ministers of them now as well as thirty, forty, fifty or eighteen hundred years ago. We can not see why a proud hireling priesthood is not as injurious to the church in these present times as in former years when Freewill Baptist preachers were not permitted to preach in school houses or meeting houses if they could possibly be prevented...We think, as far as our knowledge extends, that those ministers most intimately connected with that institution (the theological school in New York) are doing most to change the former customs and usages of the Freewill Baptists, and that the time is not far distant when a man to be a Freewill Baptist minister will be necessitated to pass through all the various institutions of learning and obtain certificates from the various authorities, as do the Congregationalists...Such a state of things we can not give our aid to bring about.” – Excerpt of a reply of the Canterbury, New Hampshire Freewill Baptist Church to a call for financial assistance to the theological seminary in Whitestown, New York (History of the Town of Canterbury, New Hampshire, 1727-1912 (Volume 1), James Otis Lyford, Concord, NH: The Rumford Press, 1912, p. 331)

Sunday, November 26, 2017

A parting hymn we sing

1. A parting hymn we sing (A hymn of joy we sing)
Around Thy table, Lord,
Again our grateful tribute bring,
Our solemn vows record.

2. Here have we seen Thy face,
And felt Thy presence here;
So may the savor of Thy grace,
In word and life appear.

3. The purchase of Thy blood,
By sin no longer led,
The path our dear Redeemer trod
May we rejoicing tread.

4. In self forgetting love
Be our communion shown,
Until we join the church above,
And know as we are known.

Aaron Robarts Wolfe, 1858

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Hero Who Stopped Texas Church Shooter, and other links

The posting of links does not constitute an endorsement of the sites linked, and not necessarily even agreement with the specific posts linked.

Friday, November 24, 2017

T. W. Springfield: Alabama preacher and music teacher

I find it exciting when my research interests (in this case Baptist history and Sacred Harp singing) intersect at the same place. I’m searching for information on a “unity meeting” called by Free Will Baptists in 1889 to organize in the South “Baptists who believe in free will, free salvation and free communion.” Woods Springfield was a Free Will Baptist preacher of the Mount Moriah Association in Alabama, who also supported the unity convention. I thought his name was unique enough to garner some special hits while researching. In doing so I found he was also a Sacred Harp singer and music teacher!

Pickens County Herald and Alabamian, September 22, 1886

The Lamar Democrat, May 24, 1922

And from The Guin Gazette, April 2 1897:

The first session of the Marion County Music Teachers Institute was held at Guin commencing on Saturday March 20th, 1897.
Institute was opened with singing by the class and prayer by Rev. T. W. Springfield, after which the following order of business was transacted.
Election of Officers
J. A. Hamilton was elected President.
M. A. Springfield Secretary
Address of Welcome - by T. W. Springfield
The need to a Musical Institute - by Prof. J. T. Allen, M. A. Hamilton, and J. L. Smith.
A Blackboard Illustration - by J. L. Smith and T. A. Vaughn.
A Musical Measure - by A. M. Stanford and J. T. Allen.
The use of Flats and Sharps at the beginning of a Composition - by T. T. Vaughn, J. L. Smith and T. W. Springfield.
Is Punctuation observed in Music as indicated literally - by J. T. Allen and J. L. Smith.
How many real kinds of keys - by J. T. Allen, J. L. Smith and A. M. Stanford.
Should votes culture* be taught in Primary Singing Schools - by J. L. Smith and J. T. Allen.
Why is minor music not used at the present time - by T. A. Vaughn and J. T. Allen.  Adjournment until 9:30 a.m. Sunday
SUNDAY 9:30 a.m.
Institute met and reported as follows A. M. Stanford, J. T. Allen and J. H. Holcomb conducted the music 15 minutes each.  Recess 15 minutes.
House called to order and music conducted by J. H. Holcomb, A. M. Stanford, J. L. Smith, and J. T. Allen. Guin was selected as the place for holding the next Institute commencing on Friday before the third Sunday in July 1897.  J. H. Holcomb, J. L. Smith, and A. M. Stanford were appointed committee on program, adjourned until 1:30 p.m.
1:30 p.m.
House called to order and the music was conducted by J. A. Hamilton, A. M. Stanford, and J. H. Holcomb. After prayer by Rev. A. A. Smith, the Institute adjourned.
M. A. Springfield, Secretary

* perhaps “vocal culture” is intended?

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Let All Things Now Living

Let all things now living a song of thanksgiving
To God the Creator triumphantly raise;
Who fashioned and made us, protected and stayed us,
Who guides us and leads to the end of our days.
God’s banners fly o’er us; God’s light goes before us,
A pillar of fire shining forth in the night,
Till shadows have vanished and darkness is banished,
As forward we travel from light into light.

“Let all things now living” was written by Katherine Kennicott Davis (1892-1980) in the 1920s to fit the Welsh tune Ash Grove (

A shape note arrangement of The Ash Grove

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Baptist History and Newspaper Research

Discovering Baptist History through Newspaper Research
By Robert L. Vaughn

This article is a revision of “Recovering Sacred History through Newspapers,” which first appeared in the Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter in December 2015 (Vol. 4, No. 2)
The general principles are the same, whether the topic is Baptist history, Sacred Harp, etc.

Baptist history is a field that has occupied much of my interest and research time for over 40 years. Louis Asher and J. W. Griffith were important mentors to me, each of whom was my pastor at one time – one when I was baptized and the other when I was ordained. They were historians and seminary professors. They nurtured my predisposition toward things historical.

Many facets of our Baptist history may seem hopelessly lost, like pieces of a puzzle misplaced and missing over time. Many churches, associations and conventions have been disbanded for years. Their records are gone. Many individual Baptists are gone and forgotten. Hopes of uncovering their stories may seem dim, but there are resources available that can offer surprising glimpses of the history of our tradition. Newspapers, correspondence, family histories, county histories, and genealogists can be sources of otherwise hidden information about our Baptist past. In this essay I offer some tips for recovering Baptist history by searching historical newspapers online, with a word on why I think this work is important.

Empty Spaces – the Need for Recovery

There is a need to recover Baptist history. There are empty spaces in the facts of our Baptist past. Knowledge is loaded in some areas and light in others. Often the focus has been on the major players to the disinterest in others. Denominational histories are useful, but evidently emphasize their own interests, understandings, and biases. Thus, a purported “History of Texas Baptists” likely is not a history of all Texas Baptists generally, but only a specific portion of them.

People, places, churches, and events are forgotten – maybe even entire denominations.[i] Time is passing away. Each passing day is one day farther away from our Baptist past, regardless of the area in which we live, or whether its history in that area dates from 1639 or 1939. Waiting increases the likelihood that meaningful data will not be recovered. Much information is missing. Records have been lost, destroyed, or are otherwise decaying. Memories fade.

Yet some things associated with the passing of time are helpful! The rise of the Internet made much information available that was previously inaccessible. The continued interest in and compilation of historical and genealogical materials gather many resources in a single, accessible place. Cemetery enumerations, such as Find-a-Grave, often are surprisingly comprehensive.[ii] Old newspapers are digitized and find their way onto cyberspace. Association proceedings, Fifth-Sunday meetings, revivals, announcements, building dedications, and obituaries have all found their way onto period newspaper pages. All is not lost. Hope arises.

Surprising Places – the Way of Recovery

Recovering our history requires research—intensive research. Don’t let that scare you. If you like history and love Baptists (or vice versa) the research can be a labor of love rather than a chore. The discovery of information can come from surprising places. One of those places is the medium of newspaper. In this article I will focus on discovering and recovering history through newspapers and other digital media.

Newspapers can be researched in physical and digital formats. Physical searching involves paging through hard copies of newspapers or microforms (film reproductions requiring a special reader). This is a time and labor intensive process that can be tiresomely challenging. To cut down on the tedium and increase the chance of success, searching through physical newspapers should begin with an idea of the time and place where relevant information might lie. Digital searching includes online newspaper archives and search engines such as Google that can lead to digitized newspaper articles. At least a few libraries have begun to digitize their microfilm holdings to make them searchable. Others have digitized hard copies of newspapers in their collections. Digital searching vastly reduces the time and labor, but introduces the problem of Optical Character Recognition not reading or recognizing what the human eye can and will.[iii]

Here are some tips for (mainly digital) searches, most of which I have learned by trial and error.

  • Take advantage of free online newspaper archives, such as the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America or state-based archives such as the Portal to Texas History. publishes a list of online newspaper archives, including both free and subscription (pay) archives.
  • Read newspaper microforms at the library, where they’re available for free. You can also purchase newspaper microfilm (from the Georgia Newspaper Project for example), but this can become expensive.
  • Subscribe to an online newspaper archive. Many of the most comprehensive archives only sell subscriptions to academic libraries.[iv] Most archives that offer subscriptions to individuals have newspapers of interest to Baptists, since Baptists are spread widely across the U.S. Before signing up for a pay site, be sure that the given archive has papers that are specific to the time and location you are researching. (I subscribe to, which offers a complete list of papers that they have available. Most other sites should do the same.)
  • Vary your searches
    • Search without quotes. This opens up the largest amount of results, though often with much peripheral or unrelated material through which to wade (sometimes necessarily).
    • Search with quotes. This narrows the results to the exact phrase that is placed within quotation marks and makes the finding more likely to be relevant. (Be aware that quotation marks do not always function the same in all types of searches.)
    • Use “advanced search” for resources with this capability, in order to be specific and narrow findings. At times change and browse by newspaper, location and date.
    • Vary search engines for online searches (e.g. Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo, Yahoo). Sometimes one will find something another will not. Sometimes a search engine such as Google might search a site better than that site’s own search feature!
    • Use variations of a person’s name. Searching for information on the founder of Free Will Baptists in Texas, I searched for “A. M. Stewart,” “Angus M. Stewart,” “Angus McAllister Stewart,” and “Rev. A. M. Stewart.” Even variant spellings or misspellings – such as McAlister or Stuart – should be considered. Older preachers often went by their initials rather than their names, so this should generally be the most common method of searching. But just because we know “J. R. Graves” doesn’t mean he won’t show up in a newspaper as “Jas. R. Graves.” Start simply. Search for a name, then narrow by time or place from the results page.
    • Search for the common first, and then the uncommon to narrow results (as a general rule). When researching people, search for uncommon names over common names when it is possible that either one might yield the relevant information. If you are researching a Baptist association of which John Smith was the moderator and Mordecai Fowler Ham was the clerk, try searching for Mordecai Ham first!
  • Remember that many search results are based on OCR text. In material where the image is not clear, OCR processing might read words incorrectly or miss them altogether. Finding nothing doesn’t mean there is nothing. Revert to old fashioned search methods when you believe you should have found something.
  • Understand that some sites are more user friendly than others, and develop different techniques for different sites as you realize what works best in each place.
  • Even misinformation can help. A genealogist might not get some detail right, but get it close enough for you to sense that you are on the right track or have found the right person.
  • Record what you’ve searched, when, where and how—so you don’t duplicate your efforts by searching for the same terms over and over in the same context. (But do go back and search later; material is always being added to the web and newspaper archives; just because you don’t find something today does not mean you won’t find it next month or next year.) Save your results. Some sites go down, never to return to the World Wide Web.
  • Create a good filing system. I’ve learned this the hard way. I’m always looking for something that I filed away who knows where! Keep insignificant bits of information. They might initially seem worthless now, but may help create an “aha” moment when you find another piece that fits this piece of the puzzle.
  • Be sensible. Don’t let your preferences and prejudices trip you up. We don’t use the title “Reverend” in our church – but you can expect journalists did in their writing! Adding “Rev.” before the name of a preacher both narrows your search and enhances your finds. Also don’t forget the titles Elder/Eld., Dr. and maybe even Bishop.
  • Realize that just because something is printed in a newspaper doesn’t mean it is correct. Learn to discern what can be relied on and what cannot. For example, if you find someone’s obituary in a paper it is most likely that they really died, but the obit may get other facts wrong—the day of death, when and where they were born, etc. Materials submitted by an organization (such as minutes supplied by an association clerk) are generally more reliable than those traced to a newspaper reporter; a journalist’s opinions and observations are just that. Verify from other sources if possible.
  • Search, search, search. Persistence can be the mother of discovery. “If at first you don’t succeed: try, try, try again.”

I made a recent significant newspaper discovery while researching the history of Free Will Baptists in Texas. The traditional view is that Free Will Baptists in Texas were a product of the Northern branch of Freewill Baptists. Founder A. M. Stewart’s newspaper obituary clearly points to his roots in the Free Will Baptists in Georgia. Armed with this information, I found other sources (censuses, association minutes) that enhanced and supported it.

Leaving Traces – the Goal of Recovery

Discovering, recovering and recording facts can help us learn things we did not know and better understand things we already knew. Finding previously unsearched and unknown Baptist history brings new data to the Baptist field of study. New facts can be considered in the framework of present working knowledge, and pooling this data can help grow the reservoir of easily accessible information on Baptist history from which future writers and researchers can draw. Understanding who we are as Baptists is one of the higher goals of recovering our history. Knowing our past gives us a sense of our present and a guide for our future.[v]

If you have filled in some empty spaces in Baptist history with information found in surprising places, you must leave traces of what you have found for those who follow. Contributing to this communal project means sharing the results of your research! Posting information to a Baptist listserv or discussion group are ways to dispense information. It gets the attention of the wider community, where others may offer information, insight, and interpretations. An individual can start a Baptist-history related website or offer the information to existing sites of Baptist historical societies or a site like Jim Duvall’s “Baptist History Homepage.”[vi] Writing is another way to preserve some of our history. You could write an article for a Baptist periodical, historical journal, or genealogical newsletter. They are usually looking for good material. 

What about the long term? Keep discoveries and documents as long as you need them for your continuing research. For all items, plan ahead. You may want to pass down sentimental-value materials through your family.[vii] For everything else, look into options for a permanent repository. Placing Baptist materials and research with such an institution will typically grant broader access to the items and ensure their preservation using proven techniques. Consider these possibilities:

Many of the online materials we find will lack appeal for archives and museums, but they might find a nice home in the vertical files of your local library’s genealogical or historical department.

However you decide to go about it, let’s start discovering and recovering the missing pieces of our Baptist history. By combining our efforts, we can make a valuable contribution to this important effort.[ix]


[i] I use “denominations” in this piece to refer to sub-groups or sub-denominations of Baptists – such as ABCUSA, Bible Baptist, Free Will, Missionary, Old Regular, Primitive, Seventh-Day, and Southern.
[ii] Often offering biographical information on Baptist preachers, deacons, and laypersons, and sometimes pointing to sources of such information.
[iii] Optical Character Recognition, or OCR, is a technology in which computers attempt to automatically recognize text and reproduce it.
[iv] If you have access to an academic library, Baptist Museum conservator and historical consultant Christopher Sawula recommends the following databases, which include a number of local and regional papers: 19th Century U.S. Newspapers, America’s Historical Newspapers, African American Newspapers, 1827–1998, African American Newspapers: The 19th Century, America’s Historical Imprints, American Antiquarian Society Historical Periodicals, American Broadsides and Ephemera, Accessible Archives, and ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
[v] I mean this in terms of historical considerations. The Bible is the final and authoritative source for our faith and practice.
[vi] Baptist History Homepage is a great resource for old and original Baptist documents.
[vii] For example, an association minute book containing an obituary of an ancestor or relative might be of great interest for family members to preserve.
[viii] Baptist Studies Online has a more complete list of Baptist Archives.
[ix] Research efforts ought to reach across Baptist denominational aisles. The history of Baptists intersects and intertwines in various dissenting and divided groups. We should not reject sincere offers of historical help and insight from others with whom we differ theologically. We will learn together (and better) by observing this suggestion.