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Circular Letter
The Georgia Association of Baptist Churches
By Silas Mercer, 1795

"Religious Declension"

The Georgia Association of Baptist Churches, holden at Shoal Creek, 17, 18, 19 and 20th of October, 1795, to the several Churches they represent, send Christian salutation: Beloved Brethren, -

There is no true religion but among Christians; and as God is unchangeably reconciled to them, their state, as considered in a Covenant relation, must be always the same. The zeal and engagements of Christians depend, not so much in their standing in the Covenant of Redemption, as in the Lord, making known the riches of his grace, and giving them from time to time, such discoveries of the glorious plan of salvation, as will keep their faith in exercise. These lively acts of faith, often fill the Christian with such engagements, as will cause him to break out powerfully, in doctrine, exhortation, thanksgiving, prayer, or praise; which often has a very glorious effect both upon saints and sinners; this effect is commonly called the life and power of religion, a declension of which is the subject we have proposed.

Although Christians be new creatures in Christ, yet they have a corrupt nature, or old man, whose affections and lusts are contrary to the mind of the new man, by which a warfare is commenced. And if he would be victorious, he must put off the old man with his deeds, crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts, and live above himself by faith in Christ Jesus. Should these things be neglected, he will lose the divine presence; and if so, in all probability, he will sink into a state of carnal security, in which the things of the world will be apt to engross the mind, and cause him to neglect his duty to God. First, his private devotion, then perhaps, his family worship, or to perform it in so cold and formal a manner, as not to answer the intended purpose. In the next place, it is very likely he will neglect public worship, particularly church meetings, by which means he becomes nearly unacquainted with the discipline of the church, and so his affections to the brethren, and theirs to him, grow cold, till Christian fellowship is nearly lost. If he be a preacher or exhorter, in such a time as this, his gift will be either wholly neglected, or exercised in so cold and insipid a manner, that those who would willingly go forward, tire and faint for want of spiritual nourishment, and instead of rejoicing, they become mourners in Zion.

But it appears to us, that another great cause of the declension of religion is, that not only the adherents who depend on such a minister or Ministers for all their instructions, but also a great number of the church members do nothing, or very little towards the support of religion, or for the maintenance of those whose business it is to minister in holy, things. Many of the Lord's ministers set out with souls full of seal for God's glory, and the good of poor sinners, who were willing to spend and to be spent in the glorious cause, in which they have embarked; but they have soon found, by sad experience, that except the Lord would feed his ministers by the ravens, and clothe them like the lillies, they must labor at some worldly employment, or bring a disgrace on religion. The poor minister is now brought to a sad dilemma. His horse tired, his clothes worn thread-bare, his money gone; what must he dot Perhaps his friends or congregation promise him assistance, by which he is encouraged, and depending on it, he runs in debt for present necessaries. He fails in his expectations, nothing, or very little is collected, and he finds himself surrounded now, with almost insurmountable difficulties, which cause him to cry out with Paul, "It seems as if God hath set forth us Apostles last, for we are hungry, and naked, and have no certain dwelling place; yet wo! is me if I preach not the Gospel." (If he be a man of a family, his wife will be discouraged, and perhaps broken hearted, when she finds herself surrounded with poverty and want, her children hungry and naked, her husband drowned in debt, and she cannot tell what way is to be taken to supply the he necessaries of life.) And now the zealous man of God, as his last shift, like Saul, begins to labour with his own hands to support himself and those who are with him. He industriously engages in the arduous task of paying his debts, and supporting his family, and gaining time enough to supply saveral congregations with the Gospel. But alas! his worldly engagements take his mind, his ideas grow rusty, his religion declines, his spirits are dried up, and he, worn out with fatigue, soon loses his zeal, and the word of truth comes like ice from his frozen lips; and as like will beget its like, so the religion of his congregation will decline.

These are some of the things, which we think most likely to bring on a declension in religion. In the time of such a declension, you will scarcely hear Christians rejoicing, or sinners under conviction, cry out what shall we do that we may be saved? and so poor Zion is in the dust.

But why are these things so To which we answer. The great Governor of the Universe does not always work by miracles, neither offers violence to the human will. It cannot be thought, but that he could have made his people perfect in soul, body and spirit, at the same time when he converted their souls. But it appears to us, that Jehovah, in his wise providence, saw proper to continue them in connection with an old corrupt nature, in order to properly discipline them, that by the various combats between flesh and spirit, they may be weaned from sensual delight, and learn to trust their all in him. But again: in a lively time of religion, hypocrites and formalists are apt to creep into the Church, therefore, a time of trial is necessary to purge these, as dross from the pure gold or real Christians. And further: the Lord intends, it may be, by this way to prove that salvation is by grace alone; for in a time of declension no man or set of men, no, not all the people in the world, can make a stir of religion. So this proves that religion is of the Lord.

And now to conclude, dear brethren, the long continuance of the present declension of religion makes us feel for the precious mourners in Zion, whose eyes are gushing out with water, because men, yea many of their brethren keep not the law of the Lord. When they hear the word preached, the unconcernedness of the people, the carelessness of their children, the hardness of sinners, the backslidings of professors, all conspire to make them cry out, all these are against us. But, remember that the God, of our salvation will make all these things work for our good. The more severe the winter, the better is every thing prepared to receive the spring. So in the winter, in a religious point of view. When many of God's dear children are faint, on account of the barren state of Zion, and cry out, our hope is lost, we are cut off; only let the sun of Righteousness arise with healing in his wings; let the sweet breezes of the Spirit blow upon His people, and the warm showers of grace descend, quickly will every plant in Zion bud, blossom and bring forth fruit, to the praise of the glory of his grace. Ministers shall be clothed in power, their voice shall be as the voice of the Almighty God when he speaks. Christians shall rejoice, and converts roll into Zion as the drops of dew from the morning womb, until the Redeemer shall see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied.

O brethren! In order to avert the present decline, search for the good old way and walk therein; and you will have great delight when you have respect to all the Lord's commandments. Be sure to bring in all the goods to the Lord's store-house, that there may he meet in his house, and prove him therewith, and see, if he will not pour you out from the open windows of heaven, a blessing which there shall not be room to receive. If you would be blessed in this world, keep not back any part of that price which the Lord requires of you, for the support of religion. And, remember the cake, which the widow gave, the Prophet caused no less in her barrel, and was the very means which the Lord made use of to the saving of her life and the life of her son. May the Spirit of the living God be with, and bless you in all things, while we subscribe ourselves your loving brethren, in Gospel bonds.
Signed in behalf of the whole, by
SILAS MERCER, Moderator.
JESSE MERCER, Clerk.
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[From Jesse Mercer, A History of the Georgia Baptist Association, Washington, GA., 1838, pp. 91-92. - jrd]


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