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Circular Letter
The Georgia Association of Baptist Churches
By Rev. E. Shackelford, 1814

A Summary of Privileges and Duties

     "The Georgia Association, to the Churches whom they represent, desire that grace, mercy and peace may abound.
Beloved Brethren, -- Through the never failing mercies of our Heavenly Benefactor, we are again permitted to assemble at the time and place of our annual meeting, for the purpose of adjusting those things which pertain to the honor and glory of the Redeemer's Kingdom. We are sorry to hear in your communications, of the cold lax state of religion among you but unite, notwithstanding, with you in the strongest expressions of love and thankfulness that peace and harmony abound. We hope you will ever endeavor to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace, all speaking the same thing, being perfectly joined together the same mind, and in the same judgment.

     It is usual in our Circular addresses, to select a subject for your entertainment and edification -- at present we are almost at a loss for one, that would be appropriate and avoid repetition -- and indeed, the pen would fall from our hand and lie in forgetfulness, if a practical use had been made on those subjects which have already been insisted on; but it is to be lamented that we are forgetful hearers, and therefore require repeated solicitations to those duties in religion which are of a practical nature. We, therefore, call attention to a summary of privileges and duties, which are no less important, yet we fear, not so promptly attended to as some others.

     Remember our Lord says, "if any man will come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." 'This is of universal import, and requires that we follow his examples with precision, and adhere to his precepts invariably; and not think that we may omit this and violate that with impunity; for he that offends only in one point stands justly accursed before God. Too many who name the name of Jesus indulge in the omission of those duties which are of divine institution, and a commission of those evils which are strictly forbidden in the precepts of the gospel. It is solemnly enjoined on all men to pray, and especially on professors of Christianity; but how is this important command and inestimable privilege neglected among us! Both the family, and the closet, are too seldom frequented in this respect; notwithstanding the Lord has said on the one hand, "that he would pour out his wrath on the families that call not on his name;" and on the other promises "to reward them openly who pray in secret." 'Tis too, to be lamented that there are so many futile ex and apologies made for the omission of family devotion. The man that neglects it entirely, pleads his weakness and ignorance in justification: of his conduct; (which we fear are other names for pride and selfishness) awl has forgotten, or is indisposed to, the direction which says, "If any of you lack wisdom let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him."

     Remember brethren, that prayer does not consist in a multitude of fine words, nor eloquent addresses. -- Many such have flown from polluted lips, and Judas-like hearts, and were abhorrent to God. While the prayer of a blind Bartimeus, a dying thief, or a converted Publican, clothed with simple style, and flowing from a heart of contrition reached the cars of a gracious Redeemer; who speedily returned an answer of peace to the afflicted conscience. And David says, "the Lord is nigh to them that are of a broken heart, and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit." There are others who ran well, in this respect, in their commencement of christianity; but have by degrees fallen off and now contribute but a very small part of their time to family worship, (and analogy says to closet devotion also.) These, surely, have forgotten that all-important injunction "as ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him." O ye backsliders in heart and practice, are ye less dependent on the Lord now, than formerly ye were? Are the sacred and tender ties which united you at first, bursted asunder, and so left you free of obligation to his sacred name? Let such remember the state of the Laodicean church and tremble, and strictly adhere to the solemn admonition given to the church at Sardis. "Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, and are ready to die; for I have not found thy work perfect before God. Remember, therefore, how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore, thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief; and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee." Take heed, brethren, lest there be in arty of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God. We need not enlarge on the benefits that result from a close, prayerful application; they are clearly stated in the sacred oracles, and well known by all the practitioners thereof. Cowper justly and beautifully remarks, that:

"Restraining prayer, we cease to fight,
Prayer makes the Christian's armor bright,
Gives exercise to faith and love,
Brings every blessing from above."

     We exhort you, therefore, to be prompt in this duty, both in your families, and in your closets; and though it merit not, yet it is a divine appointment: And the Lord hath said, "Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find." -- He will be sought unto by his people.

     The second particular to which we invite your attention, is a strict, practical use of Gospel discipline. Where this is executed, in faithfulness and love, it never fails to effect its designs; which are to glorify the Great Head of the Church; reclaim from error; and strengthen the bands of mutual affection. Never let your pity, on the one hand, make you relaxed in this duty; nor pride, nor prejudice, prompt you to go beyond its limits, on the other; but let the cause of God lie uppermost in your hearts, and his glory be your polar star. Then you shall be as an army with banners, striking terror through your enemies, and proselyting many to the cross of your Saviour. How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!

     The third and last duty, to which we admonish you at this time, is a strict attention to the moral education of your families. We have been too justly reproached by many in this respect. Surely it behooves all, to whom Providence has committed the care of youths, to cultivate early in their minds the sentiments of morality and religion. Do you wish the present and future interest of your children? Teach them to revere the name of God, and love his word. Guard them against those little vices to which they are liable in minority; and suffer them not to associate with those, whose morals their parents take no care to cultivate. Expose error in their presence, and recommend religion and virtue, both by example and precept. "Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord," was an apostolical injunction. Youth is a period, when the mind is most receptive and tender; and generally the first impressions are the most permanent and lasting. It is therefore of the last importance, both to us and them, that we be careful to impress, in this season, the sentiments of religion and virtue on their minds. To neglect an opportunity so favorable to so desirable an end, must be an abuse of our privilege, and a disregard of that duty we owe to God, to society in general, and the present (and in some respects) the future felicity of our rising posterity. Were parents more particular in the education of their children, we should have less disorder in our families, neighborhoods, and religious assemblies: Yea, and we presume to say fewer political divisions and altercations in our government. We are all born with that little demon in our breasts, LOVE OF POWER, or preeminence, so destructive to harmonious society, and the moral principles of the soul; especially when fostered by indulgent, yet unwise, parents and teachers, it roots out almost every trace of humanity and truth; and leaves the mind in possession of every reverse sentiment. Men, therefore, become malicious, overbearing, and self-confident; and are unfit in the best sense, for public utility, or civil society. Let it then Brethren, be your chief care to heighten the sentiments of virtue and humanity in your rising posterity. Teach them to feel a general interest in the lawful prosperity of all men; and to commiserate the cases of the distressed. The laws of nature, and of God, announce that all men ought to be equally free both in civil and ecclesiastical governments. They know no difference between the rich and the poor, the wise and the simple. Therefore, suffer not those committed to your care, to tyrannise over and reflect on those, who, in other respects, may be their inferiors, because they are such; but teach them the equal rights of man, and the love of liberty, according to the golden rule, "do unto all men as ye would that they should do unto you." It is deplorable, indeed, that parents and teachers are so regardless of this duty, in this respect. While too many neglect entirely the education of their children; others, lost to a sense of their better interests, crowd on their young and tender minds, worldly and selfish principles, until they become proficients in the school of vanity; so that by the time they are capable of articulation, they unite with the giddy world in "Who will shew us any good?" If this unwise and soul-destructive conduct., terminated in the circle of the ungodly, then the admiration would cease; but whorl we see little or no difference between them and some of those who profess christianity, the wonder greatly increases; and we are ready to exclaim, How can these things be? How can he, who has seen the emptiness of this delusive world, and has had his heart broken for his folly, take his beloved offspring by the hand and lead them in the same destructive paths which he has professed to renounce? O, how inconsistent is such conduct, and how widely different from the imitable examples of our Saviour! Brethren, these things ought not to he so. But we hope better things of you, and things that accompany salvation. May the spirit of the living God, be in, and abide with you, to direct your ways in the paths of duty, and strengthen your hearts in every religious enterprize. Finally, Brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace, and the God of love and peace shall be with you. -- Amen.
     A. MARSHALL, Moderator.
     ESSE MERCER, Clerk.


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

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