Lipscomb on the Urban Poor II

Lipscomb’s response to the notice in the Apostolic Times did not go unchallenged. The Apostolic Times quickly replied and Lipscomb reprinted the article in the May 19, 1873 Gospel Advocate under the title “Preaching to the Poor” (pp. 508-509).

However, the question is quickly diverted. Instead, it becomes a discussion of how best to send “preachers” among the poor.  The Apostolic Times supported the role of societies to fund and send preachers. Lipscomb, of course, opposed such societies.  Is the ministry of the gospel best funded by institutions or by churches? Does institutional support encourage the wealth and often laziness of preachers or does the urgency of the mission–empowered by churches–best situate preachers for reaching the poor?

Here is the response of the Apostolic Times as Lipscomb reproduced it:

In the remark, that “the only poor in this broad and who have not equal access with the rich to the blessings of the gospel, are the poor in the great cities,” we were a little unguarded in expression. We meant that the class specified are the only poor who have not equal access to the gospel when it is preached in their communities. We did not intend to compare the advantages of poor communities in the mountains and on the frontiers where preachers are seldom seen with those communities where preachers are more abundant. With this qualification, however, we still maintain the correctness of our paragraph, not withstanding the strictures of the Gospel Advocate.

We know that Christ came to save sinners, “the worst, the lowest, the most depraved sinners.” We know too that of the worst and most depraved class he saves a few. But we still hold, that the extremely poor of the great cities, who are “besotted by vices of all the baser sorts” are about the only class of poor people among whom the gospel does but little good when it does reach them.” [sic on quotation marks]  In saying that they are the only class of poor people among whom it does but little good, Bro. L. should have seen that by implication we affirm that it does great good among every other class of poor people. He should not, therefore, have construed the remake as tending to discourage preaching to the poor. We only intended to discourage a morbid zeal in behalf of a particular class of persons, among whom, as far as my observation and experience extend, religious labor yields comparatively poor results.

As regards preaching to the “industrious, sober, and comparatively moral poor,” I believe that among them the very richest harvests of the gospel are to be reaped; and I suppose that the only difference between Bro. L. and myself in regard to them concerns the best method of preaching. He, if I mistake him not; would have the preachers go at their own charges, poor though they themselves be, and preach to the poor as they can spare the time; while I, by means of our missionary co-operations, am in favor of taxing the rich for the benefit of the poor, and sending the preacher with a competent support to give to the poor his entire time and energies. In tis way we might get some ‘educated preachers’ to preach among the poor,–a thing so difficult, according to Bro. Lipscomb’s observation, though not at all unusual according to mine.

I need scarcely add that the alternative which Bro. Lipscomb gives me of either preaching to the besotted poor of the cities or to the rich, I do not accept. The very rich, according to my observation, are about as hard to reach by the gospel as the very poor. I find the richest fruits of my labors, and consequently my most preferred field of labor, among those who belong to neither extreme: and I think the prayer that Solomon offered in his day on this subject is still a wise one: “Give me neither poverty nor riches: feed me with the food convenient for me.” Prov. xxx:8.

Lipscomb replied (pp. 509-12):

We publish the foregoing from the Apostolic Times in response to our remarks on [sic] article copied from Times. We believe the Savior did not go only to industrious, sober and comparatively moral poor. These are not the poor. But to the immoral poor, the sinners, so immoral that the religious and moral classes would not recognize them, would not eat with them, despised him because he went to them. He reached those possessing demons, the adulterers and adulteresses. The chief success of the Christian religion was in the cities, and among the poor of those cities. They are not more besotted in vice, now, than then. They can be reached now, if approached in a spirit of true sympathy for them. When approached by those representing the rich in a patronizing, self-righteous style, by those so delicate and refined that they cannot eat a morsel of hard bread with them, or sympathize with their trials, they reject the approach. Had the Son of God approached them in such a style, he would have failed too.

That kind of approach ought to be rejected and spurned by the poor as a counterfeit of true religion, that will benefit neither rich nor poor. We believe the tendency of the age is to adapt religion to the rich and drive off the poor. We believe the influence of the article, whether so intended or not, is to foster that spirit and justify the tendency. It seemed to me a catering to it.

One other point. The writer says, “He, (myself) if I mistake him not; would have the preachers go at their own charges, poor though they be, and preach to the poor as they can spare the time, while I, by means of our missionary co-operations, am in favor of taxing the rich for the benefit of the poor and sending him the preacher with a competent support to give to the poor his entire time and energies.” It has been an old axiom that “no man can have faith without evidence.” Now this writer has stated that I was opposing the sustaining of preachers to preach among the poor. That is the meaning of his language if it means anything. Neither he nor any one has a particle of evidence that we ever held or intimated any such position. We do not suppose the brother intended to wrong us, but the statement is false and slanderous in the extreme. We challenge any man to refer to a single act or expression, written or spoken that gives the slightest countenance to such an idea. It is wholly false, gratuitously false.

A few weeks ago Bro. Hawkins published to the world that I made an illnatured thrust at the church at Murfreesboro because it would not let me dictate a preacher to it. He had not one particle of evidence for such a statement. He furthermore intimated we opposed him because he was from Ky., when the truth is, the encouragement he received from the Murfreesboro church was based chiefly on our recommendation of him. But we so habitually do these things that when he wrote his article it did not occur to us, until the member who had inquired concerning him, reminded us of it.

Do these brethren consider the making of such unfounded statements, so damaging to the character of others, with a view too to injure the influence of brethren, consistent with Christian truthfulness and brotherly love?

But on the subject of preachers and preaching to the poor, so far from the statement being true, we have always contended, that after the unscripturalness of the “plan” our greatest objection to it is in its practical work. All the support is taken from the humble, unpretending preachers, who do preach to the poor in true sympathy with them, and is conferred upon some official who visits the rich churches. Nine tenths of the means are wasted before it reaches the man who goes to the poor. I have said, I repeat it with increased emphasis, if possible, the preacher who will not preach he is able, pay or no pay, is not fit to preach at all. Especially he is unfitted to preach to the poor, God’s elect. Will the writer above, say, he thinks differently? I have said often, I repeat it now–the preacher ought to preach publicly and privately, to the poor as he may be able, whether he ever gets a cent or not. I have always been cautious to couple with this statement my conviction on the other hand, that the church that would permit a humble and faithful preacher to be hindered in this labor for lack of support or let him suffer wile laboring, is unworthy the name of a church of Christ. Does that look as though I wished the preacher to go at his own charges, and merely preach to the poor as he can spare the time? Now brethren, I want a little of the ground on which you make such statements as the above. I will furnish any man who will undertake to find any foundation for it, with every word I have ever published, and challenge any one to state I have used a single expression indicating such an idea. I am entitled to some shadow of justice from men professing to be Christian brethren.

This statement has been made in precisely the same spirit and from the same motive that caused the sects to charge, that we, as a people, deny spiritual influence. Because we deny that the Spirit operates as they teach it does, they say, we do not believe in his work. They tell it to injure us with the people. Many have heard it until they believe it. They tell it not intending to falsify or slander. It is none the less a slander upon us, and injures us none the less. So far from its being true, I believe we are the only people in the world that each, practically and truly the work of the Spirit. Because I have opposed the plans and inventions of the brethren for supporting the preachers, because I honestly believe those “plans” unscriptural, and offensive to God, and furthermore that they are impractical and will thwart the very object for which they are professedly invented, brethren recklessly, with a view to excite prejudice, state that I am opposed to sustaining preachers to preach to the poor. Some may hear this until they believe it to be true, and so tell it. This we trust is the case with the writer of the preceding article. It is none the less on this account a false and slanderous charge, (we can apply no softer language to it with truth,) and injurious to me. No Christian has a right to take up and publish an evil report of his brother unless he has evidence of its truth. I have never been forward to speak of my own acts, but I will venture to assert that I have done more to aid those preaching to the poor, and to secure aid from others for them, than any ten men that ever utter such slanders against me.

Brethren may think my language severe. Nothing but severe treatment will ever drive this spirit reckless of truth and character from the church. Exactly what impression our author intended to make of his quotation from Solomon we cannot see. Solomon says, “He desired neither riches nor poverty;” but that doe snot say it is wrong to preach to the poor–“the immoral, besotted poor.” Indeed if wedesire this condition, we ought to wish the very poor to enjoy it too. As a means to this, the Gospel ought to be preached to them and they brought to a moral life by which they can attain that position. But Solomon does say, “He that despiseth his neighbor sinneth, but he that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he.” Prov. 14:21. The context here shows the reference is to the poor neighbor. Again, “he that oppesseth [sic] the poor reproacheth his Maker, but he honoreth him that hath mercy on the poor.” Prov. 14:31. “The rich and poor meet together, the Lord is the maker of them both.” Again, “the righteous considereth the cause of the poor, but the wicked regardeth not to know it.”

The Savior himself declared his sympathy with the poor when he came as the poorest of the poor. “The foxes have holes, the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head.” Again he did it by going to the poor, preaching to the poor, striving to benefit the poor. He showed his mission was to the wicked poor when he went to sinners, the outcasts, and ate with them. He received her with seven devils and cast them out. The poor adulteress was not spurned by him, a kindly word of sympathy was spoken, her self-righteous accusers were condemned and she tenderly bade to sin no more. To teach that certain classes are so degraded that the Gospel of God’s love cannot reach them, is certainly to despise them, and is nigh akin to oppressing them.

Our brother will not accept the alternative of preaching to the besotted poor or rich. Christ came to call sinners, not the righteous, the worse the sinner the greater his need of the Gospel. The Savior gave as the crowning work of his mission, the perfect evidence of his Messiahship, the poor have the gospel preached. The sinners, the worst of sinners, the poor, the hungry, naked poor, were those to whom Christ came. I know we preachers, who have been fed and kept by the wealthy at their own homes of comfort and elegance, whose education and refinement are shocked by the ignorance, the dirt, the coarseness of the poor, and wicked, find it a severe trial to be compelled to go among them. But it is much more manly and Christian, just to acknowledge that our training, education, habits of life disqualify us to do this Christian work than to throw the blame of the failure on the religion of Christ, or unjustly degrade the poor. If we cannot do the work ourselves let us not discourage others from doing it.

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