By Elder Brice Fields
DEAR BRETHREN. -- From the former practice of this association, you are not doubt expecting to hear from us, through the medium of a circular, something of a different nature, and we are not disposed to disappoint you on your expectation on this occasion.
After referring you to our minutes for what we have done while in session, we shall proceed to call your attention to the great subject which we stand approved or condemned before God in his Gospel, to wit: Faith. But in doing this we cannot afford to enter into a discussion of the peculiarities of this principle, but of the faith itself, which in general terms, is a belief of all things whatsoever the scriptures testifies. It is in this sense of the word that we, by faith, know that the heavens and the earth now existing with all things pertaining thereto were created by the hand of God -- that they are upheld and prescribed by his power and providence -- and that he causeth his Sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and bringeth his rain on the just and the unjust. On this subject we design to offer a few thoughts in a more different manner. -- Faith, we are told, is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. In this sense, it is a belief in the promises of God, relying on the testimony of the Apostles and prophets having Jesus Christ for its peculiar object; and notwithstanding there is such a great difference manifested among believers in point of faith, yet that difference is not in the substance of things hoped for, but in point of degree; and we cannot be ignorant brethren, that there is both great and little faith brought to view in the Scriptures: for to one, Jesus said, "O woman great is thy faith." -- and to another, "O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?" Take for example brethren the physical powers of men, and what degrees of strength do we discover amongst them? Some by reason of their nervous strength, are capable of carrying a ponderous load -- while others are trembling beneath the pressure of their own bodies. Yet no difference exists in the nature of essence of their physical powers as men, for in that respect a stripling from the sheepfold was one with Goliath, or Sampson. -- Even so, faith though sometimes called strong and sometimes weak, on great and little faith is the same in essence. That faith with which Thomas tremblingly sought an evidence of a risen Saviour, was the same in substance with that by which Job was enabled to say in strong and nervous language, "I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand upon the earth in the latter day."
Here we find that the faith of each had Christ as its peculiar object -- and through him, aspired to a glorious immortality. A weak faith, like a small stream emanating from its source, winds along its channel in the valleys, turning aside to many hindrances , and sometimes meeting with obstructions -- but by a law of economy, in the constitution of that element, it rises above, and passing on, makes its way to the great ocean, from whence it came -- while a strong faith, like a mighty torrent, emanating from the mountains, rolls along, prostrating all hindrances, overpowering all opposition, forcing its way to the mighty deep by which it was produced. Of this latter degree of faith was Abraham possessed, when against every human prospect, he believed God; that he was able to perform what he had promised, and was herein said to be strong in faith, giving glory to God -- nor can we for a moment question the weakest saint, being firmly persuaded that God is able to perform every promise he has made. But the mournful difference is on this ground. A strong faith applies all the promises of God, and continues rejoicing in hopes of the glory that shall be received, while a weak faith will stand aloof and fear, unless strongly invited by some special promise to come to Jesus. Thus, we have laid before you brethren, a few thoughts on the subject of faith, for your consideration.
To this we may further add, that a difference in point of faith, is not more clearly manifested, than a difference of sentiment. The present state of Christians are such, as to forbid the expectation of entire uniformity; owing in part, to their different opportunities together with the prejudices of their education, they differ on many very essential points, which under the influence of a misled zeal, too often tends to marr the peace of one another, and injure the cause of God. Seeing then, brethren, that such a difference exists, how cautious ought we to be, that Satan does not get an advantage of us, who are strong, and lead us to despise the condition of the weak, and thereby wound the tender feelings of such as are tremblingly alive to their own weakness and misgivings. We should not be rash nor impotent, in imparting the superior knowledge we have received from the Lord, nor weary in bearing so much of the burdens, as will make their strength equal to ours. Have we been led on from strength to strength? Has the candle of the Lord so illuminated our path, that we have attained to a more perfect knowledge of the mystery of God? -- A greater degree of understanding in his word, his will, and worship? Let us carefully consult their strength and capacity, and endeavour to prepare their minds for its reception -- so that in hearing they may believe, practice and love the truth for truth's sake; their souls be edified, and built up together with us in the faith of the gospel.
Dear Brethren: -- Through lack of conformity to this heavenly rule of forbearance amongst the sons of God, how many churches are this day lamenting their divided state? and while their minds have become unfruitful in the knowledge of God, their prejudices have become deeply rooted, and hold them back from healing the breach thus made wide by a fiery and untempered zeal; and thereby making weak the hands of such as are seeking the Saviour; giving sinners cause to stumble, infidels to rejoice, and Satan to triumph. These things, brethren, ought not to be. While on the other hand, it is to be lamented that the weak too often condemn the strong, and arraigning their pious and well meant exertions at the bar of their more feeble judgment, suspect their motives and labors of love as unfavorable to the honor of God and the prosperity of his Church; and thereby labor in ignorance against the medium of counsel and dwell in darkness while light is at the door. Let such remember that in the Lord Jehovah, are stores of boundless wisdom and knowledge, and none by searching can find him out to perfection.
In offering to you these counsels, brethren, with the necessary caution to avoid consequent evils, we are not under the necessity of averting to facts exclusively beyond the limit of our own association -- how painful (yet how necessary) to reflect on the cause of these things. Is it not because we have too much neglected to examine our motives to action, by the standard of truth; seeking too much the things of our own, and not the things of any others, too much contention about the peculiarities of the faith, while the influence of the faith itself on our hearts, is not closely examined.
Dear Brethren, let all watch -- and let so many of us as have been suffering leanness of soul on this account, begin again to take up the cross of Christ without reserve, and deny ourselves of every sin; draw near to God in prayer, and in his word live constantly in the examination of ourselves, and remembering that past experience will avail us nothing in the day of desolation, should we then be destitute of a comfortable enjoyment of the presence of God. How inconceivably precious is an approving conscience in the hour of death. Having this, with an abiding evidence of divine favor, we shall be enabled to sing with the triumphant poet:
"Where is thy boasting victory, grave,
And where's the monster's sting."
Finally, brethren, farewell; -- have compassion one for another; love as brethren; be pitiful; be courteous. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you; with all malice; and be ye kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake, hath forgiven you.
============[Taken from the Minutes, 1829, pp. 3-4. The author was from the Lamont Church. Churches in this association were from IN & IL. jrd]
Return to Illinois Circular Letters Index
Return to American Circular Letters Index
Return to HOME Page