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STEPS TO FREEDOM
Go from the East to the West, as the sun and the stars direct
thee, Go with the girdle of man, go and encompass the earth. Not for the gain of gold,- for the getting, the hoarding, the
“Go; say not in thy heart, And what then were it accomplished,
Were the wild impulse allayed, what were the use or the good! Go, when the instinct is stilled, and when the deed is accom
plished, What thou hast done and shalt do shall be declared to thee then. Go with the sun and the stars, and yet evermore in thy spirit
to thyself: It is good; yet is there better than it. This that I see is not all, and this that I do is but little; Nevertheless it is good, though there is better than it.”
In January, 1856, Mr. Peebles accepted a call to the pastorate of the Universalist Society of Baltimore, Md. At that time the agitation of slavery was at a white heat, and the query arose in the minds of some of his professed friends how he would shape his public utterances. Some thought he had the
gag on; ” others were persuaded that he had lost his “ Northern heart.” Writing himself to a friend about this time, he said:
“I have not lost my Northern heart, nor Northern principles. You know I can neither love nor apologize for human slavery. What I believe, I must speak out. There are open opponents of slavery here, as in New York. It was the un
derstanding from the first, that I should be a pastor free and independent."
Certain of his parishioners were very “ touchy" about introducing the topic of slavery into the pulpit, and Mr. Peebles felt constrained for a time to touch the subject lightly, if at all. To steer between “Scylla and Charybdis” was both a delicate and difficult feat. The Universalist Denomination, too, discouraged the discussion of political and secular topics in the pulpitAbout this time he also became the defender of a certain phase of Spiritualism. It was Biblical.
But being still wedded to his denomination, he was prudent in his language, and always careful to put the prefix " Christian " to his Spiritualism. Yet with all his prudence he was occasionally taken to task by the denominational organ — “ The Ambassador." Note a private epistle dated from Baltimore:
“I hear many complaints that 'The Ambassador' is filled with such trash as ‘Tangle-Town Letters!' The last two articles of the editor are down on the Spiritualists. Brother Reynolds ought to know, and Brother Austin does know, that hundreds of Universalists, and patrons, too, of 'The Ambassador,' are Spiritualists, – not fanatical Spiritualists, nor ‘freclove’ Spiritualists, but earnest, candid, Christian Spiritualists; such as are Rev. T. J. Smith and Rev. S. Cobb, of 'The Freeman.' I met several intelligent Universalists in Western New York, that have stopped 'The Ambassador,' and commenced taking The Spiritual Telegraph.' This grieved me; because I love · The Ambassador' and Brother Austin, and will continue to do all in my power for its advancement among Universalists! We have some old fogy Universalists among us, who treat Spiritualists just as the Orthodox have treated us! The truth will finally triumph, call it by what name we may. I can not be a bigot.”
Successful, he was regarded by the other churches as “a most dangerous man." He issued several doctrinal tracts, which were circulated in the city and over the country, and received with general favor by liberal minds. The Orthodox had a “committee on Sunday appointments.” Mr. Peebles, ad
dressing a polite note to the same, solicited the favor of having his vacant pulpit supplied, one Sabbath, by a Methodist minister. It was refused! He then wrote Bishops Waugh, Scott, and Rev. L. F. Morgan, a pungent, yet kind epistle, comparing them with the rabbis of the Jewish synagogues:
“Would to God that the narrow, proscriptive, sectarian spirit, so pointedly condemned in the Pharisees by Christ, had perished with them, instead of living, as it evidently does, the blight and curse of Christendom. Why not exchange pulpit services with Universalists and Unitarians? Can you not preach as much truth to their congregations as they can error to yours? Or are you so popish as to doubt the propriety of private judgment,' forbidding your people hearing all denominations, that they may form a correct judgment upon the doctrines of Christianity? If you have the light, why not let it shine' from Universalist pulpits? This reminds me of the following circumstance:
" John Adams, upon being requested to give for the support of foreign missions, made the following pointed reply: 'I have nothing to give for that cause; but there are here in this immediate vicinity sixty ministers, not one of whom will preach in the other's pulpit. Now I will give as much, and more, than any other man, to civilize these clergymen.'
"The venerable Adams, with a severity that I would not employ, thought the civilizing of those Massachusetts clergy a pre-requisite to Christianizing them.
“But to the original inquiry, Why refuse a preacher for our pulpit? The apostle says that ‘Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.' ' And how shall they hear without a preacher?' And yet you declined sending us one, when you certainly must have had nearly three hundred in the city unemployed, idling away their time. Had the Master visibly stepped into his vineyard on Sunday, would he not have repeated his language of old, 'Why stand ye here all the day idle?' And then how can you give an account of your stewardship at the day of 'final adjudication?' May not these neglected Universalists (who are to be damned, admitting
your theology true) confront you with the telling words: “No man hath cared for my soul;' 'Our blood be upon your garments;'. The harvest is ended, and we are not saved '?
“I believe in God, in Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit, in the inspiration of the Scriptures, the necessity of faith, repentance, the new birth, 'experimental religion,' personal piety, and that, without holiness, no man shall see the Lord.' I believe in moral freedom, in man's accountability, in a just punishment for sin, the teachings of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and the restoration of all men, during the mediatorial reign of the Son of God. And, in all my ministrations, I press the importance of obedience to God, a compliance with the conditions of salvation, and a more thorough consecration of all the powers to the love and service of the Father.
" And yet I am not recognized as a Christian, nor permitted to receive the civilities and courtesies of civic life from the Methodist clergymen of Baltimore. * Father, forgive them.' God looks not at denominational names, but the heart. I cherish no malice toward you. The spirit of my faith, with the Master's lessons, induce me to return love for hatred, good for evil, blessing for cursing, and to pray for those who despitefully use me.' I close by renewing the former request to the Conference, to supply my pulpit next Sunday morning and evening. Yours in the gospel of Christ,
"J. M. PEEBLES." One orthodox minister, ashamed of his Baltimore brethren, Rev. H. C. Atwater, of Providence, member of the Methodist Conference, voluntarily supplied Mr. Peebles's pulpit with
power and eloquence," and we trust,“ with the approbation of God."
The young minister was now wrestling with a serious problem, — the relation of the priest to society and the church. He daily realized that its methods contravened the divine procedure. His good genius bade him say to his people: “ You are groping in the dark. Come, rally on the soul's side. Cast off these chains of conventionality. Stand free. I can not promise to preach the accepted dogmas. I must preach what
I see or keep silence." Yet withal, the mistletoe loves the old oak. Notwithstanding the soul of this young minister was struggling to be free, the pride of position still held him in a fashionable deadlock. He loved the applause of the world. His inmost being reached out to grasp the divine realities, but his outer life was held fast in the bond of custom and churchal conventionality. He was not yet self-reconciled; and for such the gods institute trials to compel the soul's emancipation. Moreover, he was still young, volatile, sanguine, companionable and playful. His excess of good nature bubbled forth like a mountain brook. His society was generously sought after and his personal favors courted. All this excited the jealousies and envyings of prudes and busy-bodies. “He is a mischief," said the staid old women; very unministerical,” said the old denominational iron-clads;" "too radical," said the political conservatives,- and yet all loved the genial sunshine of his soul.
The deepest ice that ever froze
Can only o'er the surface close;
And flows, and can not cease to flow.”
Free, jovial, heretical, affiliating with Spiritualists, of course, unwarranted suspicions sprung up. He even exchanged pulpit services with a Spiritualist lecturer. He also distributed Greeley's Tribunes and Fremont's anti-slavery tracts in this slave-holding city. “ Stories," like snow-balls rolling down hill, gain in volume and momentum. The poor man was unprepared for this first trial: disheartened, he sank into an alarming sickness. Under the circumstances, he resigned his pastoral charge. The Boston Trumpet thought “all was not right.” The Ambassador paid the following just compliment:
“We learn that Brother J. M. Peebles has tendered his resignation to the society in Baltimore. He does not consider his health sufficiently good to enable him to perform the very great amount of labor required in Baltimore. For several