Timing Is Everything

Timing Is Everything

By Nick Kersten

 

In 1843, two famous works were penned and published which still have a wide readership: Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart. Another publication appeared that year, nearly 170 years ago, which did not have a readership so wide.

At General Conference sessions in 1843, two adopted resolutions began a new trek for Seventh Day Baptists in the dissemination of their distinctive beliefs:

Resolved, That in view of the imperious duty devolving on us to publish the truth of God to the world, it is advisable to make an appeal to the various orders of Christians in reference to the Sabbath of the Bible, urging them to a thorough examination of the subject, as one of great importance to the cause of God.

Resolved, In accordance with the object of the foregoing resolution, that a committee be appointed to prepare an address to our brethren of the Baptist denomination, to be issued under the sanction of the General Conference. –SDB Anniversaries (yearbook), 1843, pg. 8

 

As a result of these Conference actions, Thomas B. Brown, Paul Stillman and Nathan V. Hull were selected to write the appropriately titled, “Letter to the Baptists.” After its completion, the letter was printed up as a tract, distributed, and forwarded to the 1844 sessions of the Baptist conference.*

Baptist historian H. Leon McBeth (in A Sourcebook for Baptist Heritage, Broadman) notes that the letter is a tremendous piece of work as it, “is calmly stated, biblical in emphasis, and fraternal in tone.” Though the letter was well written and argued the case for the Sabbath well, it never gained the full attention of its intended audience. In 1844, controversy over slavery ripped through the Baptist denomination. The issue was fought out in their sessions, culminating in the separation of the Southern Baptists from the Northern Baptists in 1845. The letter arrived just in time to be ignored.

The most obvious lesson we could draw from this? Timing is everything. We could posit hundreds of “what ifs” that would have led to different outcomes. How are we to interpret the leading of our Conference to produce such a letter (the vote of the delegates at Conference was unanimous in favor), now that we know it never reached its target audience?

No doubt some contemporary readers would see this as providential—that it was God’s will that the Sunday Baptists contend with sin in their midst rather than debate the merits of Sabbathkeeping. Others may see this as God directing SDBs back to “the Gospel.” At least one group of readers, Seventh-day Adventists, look at this letter as part of the series of events which led to the founding of their denomination.

All of these interpretations leave much to be desired, and assume too much about the wisdom of our hindsight. The significance of the letter may relate to some of the other resolutions of that 1843 Conference session, which include the action to create the first “Expose of Sentiments,” as well as to form societies to send missionaries and publish tracts.

It may be that the same impulses that caused them to reach out to the lost world also caused them to be secure in their identity and unafraid to share it with other Christians. If that’s the case, then the printing of the “Letter to the Baptists” is no missed opportunity—it was perfectly timed.

As Christians, we share what we are. Just as our forebears were unafraid to share who they were and how God had worked in them, we also should not only know our identity, but be unashamed to share it. It is always the right time to reach out and share what God has done in and through us, even if it does not reach the audience we intend. Is it time for you to share with the world what God has done in your life?

 

*The letter can be found at the General Conference webpage (under Historical Resources) and at the Historical Society’s webpage (under Resources).

 

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