A Corresponding Letter was sent from one Baptist Association to others who kept in touch annually with the associations near them. Usually it was delivered by an assigned messenger and read to the addressed association as they met. It was a common practice to do this for many years. - jrd
Corresponding Letter of the
Shaftsbury Association, VT
BELOVED BRETHREN: As the indulgent Guardian of men has preserved our lives, and brought us together at this our annual meeting, we have now an opportunity of addressing you in our collective capacity. It is a saying of the wise man, that "two are better than one, and a threefold cord is not easily broken." From which we learn that the great design of Heaven, manifested by nature's great law, as well as revelation, is that men should be helpers of each other. The feeble state of infants, the unwary paths of youth, the decrepitude of old age, the want in each sex of the other to make life agreeable, and, indeed, the inability of individuals to execute business of agriculture and arts of mechanism, all evince the utility of society in civil life. Nor are arguments less conclusive or pungent in matters of religion. But how are the laws of Heaven (in some sort) frustrated by sin! rather, we express it, the plum is gathered from the thorn, the rose from the brier, and. the honey from amidst the stings. How has sin, how does self-love and self-importance, torment and chafe our minds among those very persons, our partners, our nearest connections, whom Heaven has appointed for our comforters, and without whom we are more forlorn than the beasts of the wilderness. But is there no antidote, is there no way to escape all the snarls of social life? O, gracious Heaven! show us the way -- the hidden way, to obtain all the blessings of society without the disadvantages thereof. But here, again, we check the language of our hearts; for the voice of revelation promises, neither to individuals nor societies, in this world, good without evil, peace without contention, a crown without a cross, nor profit without incumbrance. Seeing, then, that this world is a mixture of good and evil, and men are in a middle state, between the consummate holiness of heaven, and the entire deformity of hell, let us wait patiently till our change comes; nor be so overcharged with the evils of life, as to neglect the use of those talents and means that God has assigned us in our pilgrimage here on earth. In this point of light, we joyfully embrace this opportunity of corresponding with you, by letter and delegates, wishing that we might suggest a little to you, (at least two mites,) for your furtherance in the gospel, and that, in return, we might receive much from you, for our reproof, instruction and comfort.
We conceive that the church of Christ, which is the kingdom of heaven, is not governed by the laws of men, but by the laws of Christ; not by the acts of parliament, but by the acts and epistles of the apostles; not defended by carnal weapons, and instruments of death, but by spiritual weapons, and instruments of righteousness. "Not by might and power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord." This kingdom forms no alliance with the kingdoms and states of this world, but is distinct from them, yet containing subjects in all of them, to be redeemed from among them. The negotiations, failures, violations, ratifications, or punctual compliances of treaties between earthly kingdoms and states, no wise affect the church in its spiritual standing, which is secured in the great treaty between Jehovah and the Mediator. "The council of peace was between them both;" in which covenant the persons and blessings of Christ's kingdom are both made sure. The offspring and vessels all hang upon this nail.
Dear brethren, if such is the security and happiness of the saints, oh, let us never forget the price of our redemption. The blessed Jesus came into this world, not to teach men husbandry, or the mechanical arts -- not to instruct them, in politics, or any of the branches of science or natural philosophy; he never taught man the use of the magnet, or the mariner's art. No; these things are good and profitable among men, but infinitely beneath the cause that Jesus came to espouse. He came to do the will of him who sent him, and to finish his work -- to magnify his law, to clear his amiable character, to make a display of his excellent perfections, to build up truth, to expose sin, conquer Satan, and save sinners by his blood. Oh, how immense the love! how free the grace! how inexpressible the kindness! how painful the conflict! how interesting to us, and how triumphant to himself, the victory! The bleeding victim, slain under the Mosaic institution, the blood and smoke of the Jewish altars, but feebly pointed out the great offering of Christ, to make atonement for the sins of men.
Let Arians, Socinians, or any others, undervalue the bloody sacrifices and vicarious sufferings of the God-man, Christ Jesus, yet on this foundation we trust our souls, and humbly hope to spend a long eternity in finding out this knowledge of witty inventions, and adoring the wisdom, love and grace, which we never expect, nor ever wish to comprehend.
Since our last association, our dear brother, Rev. Joshua Morse, of Sandisfield, has departed this life. He began the work of the ministry in his youth, has followed it with unwearied zeal, solemn devotion and practical piety, to a good old age, and died in the triumphs of faith. We have gospel grounds to believe that, while we are associating here on earth, and see his seat empty among us, he is associating with the saints in heaven, and filling his seat among the servants of the Lord, and has heard and received the blessed plaudit: "Well done, good and faithful servant; because thou hast been faithful over a little, I will make thee ruler over much. Enter thou into the joy of thy Lort." Oh! may all of us, who are called upon to minister in holy things, be faithful unto death, that we may receive a crown of life. And may the Lord raise up and send forth able, wise, spiritual, and faithful laborers into his vineyard.
As to the state of our churches, there is nothing very flattering, nor is there anything peculiarly discouraging. A worldy, careless spirit too much abounds in general; but there are some revivings. Upon the whole, we can say "the Lord reigns," and his word of revelation recommends itself to us with satisfactory evidence. The preceding minutes will give any curious inquirer the number of our churches, and what alterations have taken place since our last anniversary.
In this present session, moderation and good order have presided, and some quickenings of the Holy Spirit. And may the word and spirit of the living God be our guide and comforter forever. Amen. * ____________________
* It is possible some alterations were made in this, and perhaps, also, the other associational letters, by the bodies for which they were prepared; but what these changes were, we have now no means of ascertaining.
[From The Writings of the Late Elder John Leland, L. F. Greene, editor, 1845; reprint 1986, pp. 319-321. - jrd]
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