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Circular Letter
The Georgia Association of Baptist Churches
By Jesse Mercer, 1806

"Gospel Discipline"

     The Ministers and other Brethren, who compose the Georgia Association, to the Churches, for whom they are in particular concerned, wish Grace, Mercy, and Peace multiplied.

     Dear Brethren: - Being once again assembled, for the express purpose of consulting your well-being: We think it our duty, and take upon us to excite in you a more close attention to the things, which make for the peace and prosperity of Zion. Time has been when, indeed, this would have been unnecessary; for you had, fresh in mind how ye ought to walk and please God. Then, as obedient children, you did not fashion yourselves according to the fainter lusts, in your ignorance; but being transformed by the renewing of your minds, you perfected holiness in the fear of God. But alas! Those happy days have passed away in haste, and it has become necessary to stir you up by way of remembrance.

     That you may be able in this declining day, to possess your vessels in sanctification and honor before him, who has called you into his marvellous light, and in that light shine before others to his praise; we would awaken you to, and exhort you to be promptly active in the execution of discipline - discipline, without which there can be no union, order, peace or fellowship in the church; no, nor church itself - discipline, which, in its right use, is the church's ecclesiastical life - bond of union and peace - spring of order and fellowship - and great source of harmony and love.

     To this important duty and privilege, God opens the ear. Job 36:10. And commands it to he sealed among his disciples. Isaiah 8:16. 61:4. The prophet Malachi, and John the Baptist, shew that Christ, in the exercise of this office, would both purge and scourge the wicked from among the righteous, so that a clear distinction should be made and perpetuated between the godly and ungodly, the chaff and the wheat. Malachi 3:1. to the 6, 16, 17, 18. Math. 3:10 & 12. And Christ discovered both thee authority and indispensibility of this duty, when he made a scourge of small cords and drove the wicked out of his father's house. John 2:15. Due attention to this rule will lead to prosperity, peace, and pleasure. Job 36:11. Isaiah 48:18. Galatians 6:16. But the neglect thereof is invariably chastised with declension and destruction. Luke 19:42. Galatians 5:13, to the 17, also read 2d and 3d chapter of Revelation.

     Dear Brethren, in addressing you on this subject, we shall use plainness of speech, and in a simple style, place before you a few very plain truths. - Gospel discipline involves two very important duties equally indispensable.

     The first, is that which each member should discharge towards himself. The second, is that which relates to the whole body, These may be likewise subdivided.

      The former includes, first, That restraint which a christian when right with God, places on the passions and propensities of the carnal heart, by which he subdues and maintains the victory over them; and secondly, that government which he exercises over the members of his body, by which he sanctifies them for, and employs them: in the service of God.

     The latter embraces, first, that line of duty to be pursued in case of private or personal offence; and secondly, that to he adopted in case of public and atrocious crimes. To which we attend in order.

     And first, to discipline the heart, diligence is enjoined. Proverbs 4:23. 2 Peter 1:5-10, to shew that it is a duty to be performed only by promptness and perseverance It includes three things: First, the detecting, and crucifying all improper passions, or desires, that is, all which on examination (and none should pass without it) shall be found contrary to the holiness, and incapable of working the glory of God. Luke 9:55. Galatians 5:24. Hebrews 3:12.

     Secondly, the guarding and restraining those affections, which in themselves are lawful, but are capable of excess; for virtuous, became vicious desires in the extreme. Ephesians 4:26. Colossians 3:5.

     And thirdly, the promoting and pursuing all gracious emotions, as leading into the knowledge and service of God. Psalm 19:14. 1 Corinthians 14:1. Ephesians 3:16 to the 19th, 4:22, 24.

     Secondly: Your bodies are the members of Christ, and Temples for the Holy Ghost. 1 Corinthians 6:15 and 19. Your whole deportment, therefore, should correspond with this consideration; and all the members of the body be presented as living sacrifices to God, and solely employed in his service: Or, as a modern Poet teaches:

A cov'nant with your eyes be made;
Your words be few, or fitly said,
And season'd well with grace;
Be deaf, or only hear aright;
Your footsteps planted in the light,
To run the Christian race.
Your hands be pure and rais'd to God;
Your taste delighted with his word;
Be every member his;
Delight to smell his rich perfume,
Which balms the air -- will death o'ercome,
And adds new charms to bliss.

     To be able to decide correctly on the affections of the heart, or the right use of the members of the body, it will be incumbent to cultivate an acquaintance with the laws of nature, grace, and providence; by which the natural, spiritual and moral fitness of things will appear; so that you may approve the things which are excellent, and be without offence till the day of Christ. Philippians 1:9, 10, 11.

     The second part of discipline teaches the rules of procedure in cases of public or private offence; which should be pursued with great exactness, without partiality or hypocrisy.

     And first, in case of private offence. Be sure to follow precisely the directions of Christ given in Matthew 18:15, 16, 17. Taking especial care that you do not make that public which is, and should be kept private, or that you do not make yourselves guilty, in conversing on private subjects to indifferent persons, there by becoming the sowers of discord, or idle mischievous tale bearers so offensive to God, and destructive of human happiness. Leviticus 19:16. Proverbs 11:13; 18:8; 20:10; 25:9, 10; 26:21, 22. This rule is particularly binding on the offended, commanding him to immediate conciliatory measures: But let not the offender think himself secure in idleness, nor carelessly wait for his grieved brother to come and deal with him; but let him attend to the counterpart of this rule in Matthew 5:23 to the 26, which shows it to be the duty equally of the offender to go and be active in the adjustment of all differences. The sooner the better. Romans 12:10, 11.

     But secondly, in case of public and scandalous sins. The first step to be taken is to reprove, admonish, and in a christian spirit, endeavor to reclaim the apostate brother from the error of his ways. Leviticus 19:17. Galatians 6:1, 2. Ephesians 5:11. 2 Thessalonians 3:15. 1 Timothy 5:20. Hebrews 12:13, 14, 15. James 5:10, 20. This duty we fear is very much neglected from some cause - the want of zeal - or perhaps, from a prevailing notion that it would be improper to heal a public offence, by a private conversation: But however improper this might be, we conceive it would be highly proper to heal a public offender by any means the Gospel directs. The design however of such reproof, &c. is not to cure the offence, but him who gave it; that he may be prepared to remove the offence in that way the gospel requires. But should he fail to be reclaimed by this measure, and not come to the church to meet, and in the best manner in his power, atone for his disorders; then it will be the duty of whoever is concerned in the case, when the church is setting in her official capacity, to bring such person before her bar, or make report of the case to her, whose duty it will be to call for, and reckon with him according to Matthew 18:24 and 31. But in case of gross enormity, under which the cause of God and the church particularly suffers, it may be expedient to proceed more promptly according to the case recorded in 1st Corinthians 5th chap. which seems to have bees done without sending for, or attending to the delinquent in any way.

     The great object of discipline is holiness to the Lord. With a view to ecclesiastical holiness, it commences cautiously in the reception of members; and ends gloriously in consummating them in the beauties of practical holiness. In receiving persons carelessly, or at the instance of passion, you may corrupt the Church, dishonor God, and involve yourselves in much distress, confusion and sin. Be careful therefore, to receive none but those to whom the Gospel gives a right. Matthew 18:3, 5. Acts 5:13, 14. 1 Corinthians 6:17. That the Church may he visibly what it is really. THE PILLAR AND GROUND OF THE TRUTH. And be presented a chaste virgin to Christ. 1 Timothy 3:15. 2 Corinthians 14:2. But we are aware that discipline may be so managed as to defeat its ewe design, and instead of unity and peace, produce divisions and strife. A government by majority naturally tending in important matters, to make parties, and breed confusion, should be studiously avoided. Rather be of the same mind and judgment; espouse the cause of the weak, or he invariably on the part of the aggrieved, whether major or minor; and let UNANIMITY be the bond of your peace. Psalm 133:1. 1 Corinthians 1:10, 11, 18. Ephesians 4:2.

     Another fruitful source of contempt and disaffection is the refusal of all testimony, from without. This never fails to excite contempt of you, in your observers, and to suggest to them, that you thus artfully withheld yourselves from the power of their research that your evil deeds may not be reproved. And thus you will bring on yourselves the just reproaches of those before whom your whole department should be open, respectable, and fair. It also will produce disaffection among yourselves, for instance, you are acquainted with many whose veracity you cannot doubt, should those say seriously that they were eye-witnesses to some gross immorality in one of your Brethren, you would -- you could do nothing else, but believe it: Proportioned to the credit you give the report, will be the loss of fellowship towards such a Brother. But you could not deal with him, the witnesses are of the world, they cannot be received in the Church.

     In this case, the Church is not in union, and of course not in communing -- not in Gospel order. The internal bond is broken, the outward pretention is specious hypocrisy. Receive therefore, and judge of all testimony, as existing circumstances require, that you may be found to honor and praise. Leviticus 19:15. Deuteronomy 1:17. John 3:20, 21. Titus 2:8. Suffer no disorderly persons to pass unnoticed amongst you. Adopt just measures to induce, or if that cannot be done, to enforce the attendance of your members in your conferences; that you may know their standing, and lead them to greater degrees of glory and virtue. It is a time of great worldly grandeur and extravagance. Look to yourselves; take heed lest there be amongst you some hurtful mixture - some undue conformity to the world - some, root of bitterness - some cursed thing in the Camp, as the cause of the present painful complaints. As saith the Apostle, we stand in doubt of you, lest we have bestowed on you labor in vain: and commending ourselves to your consciences in the sight of God, we make the following enquiries. When the people of the world are ambitiously seeking honor one of another - are you not pushing for popularity too? When they are at frequent and great expenses to support a grand parade - do you not increase your bills to be like them, When they change their modes of dress - do not some of you alter yours too? When their women clothe themselves so thinly that the shame of their nakedness does appear - do not some of yours clothe themselves, or their daughters, in the attire of an harlot? If to these enquires you answer no: then we ask, whence are the ensigns of mere grandeur in your houses? The intemperate use, or rather abuse, of the conveniencies, but especially the luxuries of life? The frequenting wicked, though called polite assemblies and other places of public resort, mixed with the rabble or the guilty great of the world? Whence is it that there are among your women, bare elbows - naked arms - exposed breasts - shorn heads - ruffled, or shamefully tight dresses, connected with a light airy deportment, and vain carnal conversation?

     Dear brethren, these things ought not to be once named among you as becometh saints: But be ye rather transformed by the renewing of the holy Ghost. Cleanse yourselves front these vanities, and keep your garments unspotted from the world. Search the scriptures that you may know what the will of the Lord is, with full purpose of heart to do whatsoever he has commanded you. We hope you will not only read this our epistle, but the scripture references, and compare them one with another, and other correspondent passages; that you may be instructed in righteousness, edified and comforted in the knowledge of the truth. You profess to be Bible Baptists, be Bible Christians. Let the spirit be in you which also was in Christ Jesus, and let the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit be in your eyes, what it is in the sight of God; of great price rather than the baubles and gewgaws of the world. Be harmless and like the Redeemer, separate from sinners, that you may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. And so an abundant entrance shall be ministered to you into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the Church, by Jesus Christ throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.

      ABRAHAM MARSHALL, Moderator.
      JESSE MERCER, Clerk.


[From Jesse Mercer, A History of the Georgia Baptist Association, Washington, GA., 1838, pp. 107-112. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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