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Circular Letter
Miami Baptist Association (OH)

By Stephen Gard, 1833


DEAR BRETHREN -       Our former custom, together with our affectionate desire to promote your spiritual welfare, prompts us to address you on the Subject of the necessity of the Holy Spirit's work in the hearts of the children of men, to love and obey God as subjects in his spiritual kingdom, or to partake of its ordinances. And as God is a pure spirit and accepts only of pure and spiritual worship, we need only to show that the character of man in his natural state, is an opposite to God, to show the necessity of a change by his spirit in the hearts of mankind to conform them to his own image.

      The doctrine of the total depravity of mankind is disowned by all, in effect, but those who are able to look into the spirituality, purity, and extent of God's holy law, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. The doctrine not being congenial to the natural feelings of the unregenerate heart, there has been and yet are many objections brought against it in various forms, by many that profess and many that do not profess religion. But the narrow limits of a letter will not permit us to follow their objections in their various windings, in argumentative form: we shall rely on Divine testimony to prove the doctrine a truth; though it is a sad and soul-humbling truth, it must be acknowledged. The Scriptures say, that man being in honour, abode not, but sought out many inventions, that they do not possess any part of that moral rectitude they did possess in their primeval state. We hear an account of them previous to the deluge. God saw the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually - Genesis 6, 5. There is no account of any moral improvement since the deluge. All the Lord's prophets since have borne testimony against the wicked practices of men as so many polluted streams issuing from a corrupt fountain. If we would hope to find or hear of any remains of original purity, we should look for it in such eminent men of God, as Job, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, or of some out of many of the Lord's prophets, who, being inspired by the spirit of God, unitedly testify the total depravity of mankind. Job saith, chapter, 42 v. 56, I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye seeth thee, wherefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes. David also testifieth, Psalms 51: 5, 10, Behold I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. - Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. - Isaiah 1:4-5-6, says, concerning God's national Israel, "Ah sinful nation laden with iniquity, a seed of evil doers. Children that are corruptors, they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel to anger, they are gone away backward; why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more, the whole head is sick, the whole heart faint; from the sole of the foot even to the head there is no soundness in it." Jeremiah, in his prophecy, 5 chapter 23 v. says of the same people, they have a revolting and rebelious [sic] heart; they are revolted and

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gone. - Chapter 17, v. 9, the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? Ezekiel 37, chapter 1, 2, represents human depravity by a vision of dry bones, very dry, which represents their helpless and hopeless state without the quickening energy of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ sustains the testimony of all his prophets, by adding his own. To the self-righteous religionists of his day, he says, they are a sinful and adulterous generation, hypocrites, a generation of vipers, and adds, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? and exposes the depravity of mankind by teaching a master of Israel, "Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." The apostles follow his testimony, and unite with Christ and his prophets in declaring the same truth. Paul in is 3d chapter to the Romans, from the 9th to the 19th verse, draws a striking picture of human depravity, that Jews and Gentiles are both under sin. Also Ephesians 2:1, and you hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins. 1 Epistle of John, 5:12, gives in his testimony thus: he that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God, hath not life. Are not these evidences sufficient to prove the lamentable fact that unregenerate men are totally depraved, or is it necessary yet to say, the natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, neither can he know them for they are spiritually diecerned. No man knoweth the things of God but the spirit of God, and without faith it is impossible to please him. The carnal mind is enmity to God; it is not subject to his law, neither indeed can be: they that are in the flesh cannot please God. Many more can be adduced from the same source, but we will rest the subject on those already brought forward. The hearts of the unregenerate possess the following black shades of total depravity. Ignorance, corruption, revolting, rebellion against God, deceitfulness, adultery, hypocrisy, venom of serpents, poison of asps, murder, destruction, misery and death, with many more of equal magnitude. Can any person have a due respect for the above witnesses, and yet doubt the necessity of the spirit to regenerate them, that they may serve God with reverence and Godly fear, while in their natural state they are every way disqualified? May we not inquire, can these dry bones live? and answer in the language of the prophet, O Lord God, thou knowest. May we not inquire further, on what principle can God be just, and justify and purify unto himself a people zealous of good work from such materials, or say how can it be? The Scriptures answer these interesting queries, upon the principles of grace and not of works. -

      It has been God's good pleasure to reveal in his new covenant his purposes of grace towards those whom he has predestinated unto the adoption of children, how he can be just and justify them in Jesus Christ. In this covenant he has made provision both to justify and purify them as follows: I will put my laws in their hearts, and in their minds will I write them: I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people; they shall not teach every man his neighbor and every man his brother, saying, know the Lord, for all shall know me, from the least unto the greatest. I will be merciful unto their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. Agreeable to the articles of this new covenant, Christ the Mediator and surety of this better testament, secures its blessings therein promised to all included in its promises, by interposing himself in their behalf, one with them, he and his people making but one body, he the head and they the members: in this connection he lives, he dies, he rises from the dead, ascends to his and their father, to fill his office

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as their mediator and intercessor, and on the grounds of his own merits his intercession is heard; he cannot be turned away; he prevails in their behalf; the holy spirit is given. He descends and bears testimony to the truth that Christ has put away their sins by his own sacrifice; he takes the things of Jesus and shows them to be theirs, thus they are taught of the Lord, his laws are written in their hearts, they are circumcised to love the Lord their God; the gospel has come to them not in word only but in power and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance. - Thessalonians 1:5. - They having received not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God that they might know the things freely given to them of God. - 1 Corinthians 2-12. Being born again not of corruptible seed but of incorruptible, by the word of God that liveth and abideth forever. - 1 Peter 1: 23. Who hath sealed us and given us the earnest of the spirit in our hearts. 2 Corinthians 1:22. Not by works of righteousness which we have done but according to his mercy he hath saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost. - Titus, 3:5. They are washed, sanctified and justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the spirt of our God. Thus they are prepared to obey God in his new written law of love; the love of God being shed abroad in their hearts, they love him, love his word, his worship and his children, they enjoy communion and fellowship with God and his people, each esteeming others better than themselves; such and such only are proper materials to build up the house or kingdom of God, and except a man is thus born again, he cannot see this kingdom. The king is spiritual; the Lord from Heaven; all the subjects are spiritual born of the spirt; the ordinances are spiriual, the laws and services are spiritual, their food, their apparel, their riches and their pleasures, with their future bright prospects, are all spiritual; the spirit of their king reigns in them, which makes them loyal subjects, and cements them together in the bonds of union; they are not forgetful of their native poverty, so as to declare independence from him, but cry day and night to him who holds the keys of Heaven's treasures, to supply them from that river, whose streams make glad the city of God. Therefore brethren, though this kingdom is set up in this world for a dwelling place for the King of Heaven, and a home for his children, yet it is of this world, and its doors are not to be opened for the access of strangers, nor to mingle itself with or to compromise with, the world; therefore it well becomes all that keep the doors of this visible house of God, to look to it, not to give entrance to any until they prove by their language and by the spirit they possess, that they are the lawful heirs of the King; for imposters ever have been and yet are trying to thrust themselves in from some sinister motives; they are willing to eat their own bread and wear their own apparel, only to bear the name of Regular Baptist, which proves them strangers, not belonging to the royal family. It is but too apparent that the doow of the church have been too often opened to such characters; therefore watch close for the honor of your Lord, and close your doors against all intruders, however strong their claims may be on account of their zeal, their religious performances, their reformations, their attachment to benevolent institutions (so called,) though they have descended from as pious ancestors as Abraham of old: all this and as much more from the same source ought never to gain them admittance. To open to such illegal members is a perversion of the ordinances of the Church and open an inlet to schims and dissentions. By such innovations the Church will become mingled with the world, until she will again be captivated
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and led away from apostolick purity and beauty; then her light and glory as the mansion house of God, will again be shrouded under the instutions and doctrines of men, as it has been in the former dark ages of the world, and again become a stepping stone for the man of sin to mount the throne of infallibility. Every exertion that is made to unite this pure kingdom with such a depraved world, whether it be worldly men, worldly docirines, or worldly institutions, let them bear what name they may, as far as they prevail in this work of amalgamation, is carrying us on to a similar vortex.

      Shall we not profit, brethren, from what has already passed before us in the history of the Church? Let us not attempt to veil the glory of our fair habitation, by uniting to it the worldly institutions of the day known by the name of benevolent institutions; they have their origin, support & government from the world, & let the world have them with all the benefits they can derive from them; but let them not serve to unite the Church and world, for together they cannot live. And the Church needs them not, neither or helps or for ornaments; no such appendages can add to her native comeliness; we think them unauthorized by the Scriptures, and we wish them not mentioned in future in our solemn assemblies. One thing more, brethren we would mention for your consideration. However desirable it may be to see a revival of pure religion amongst us, and to see the Redeemed of the Lord brought home to Zion, yet even on this subject it becomes us not to give the ark of the Lord an unwarrantable touch, by mingling human means and devises [devices] with Gospel institutions, be not over anxious to multiply your numbers; be not impatient for the Lord's promised favor; resort not to unwarrantable and worldly means to obtain them, or you will meet with old Sarah's reward, when she became impatient to see the promise of God fulfilled towards her; instead of accomplishing her design by her means, she obtained an Ishmael to mock and persecute her promised Isaac. All unscriptural means resorted to, to gather inio the Church, will serve only to fill the Church with Ishmaels, who will turn upon the legitimate promised children of Zion, to mock or persecute them, saying the doctrine of the Gospel is unprofitable. They are hard sayings. Who can hear them? They fail not to scoff, reproach, and speak contemptibly of those that preach it.

      Brethren, is it not hereby manifest that there are too many of Hagar's bond children in the Church already? Therefore what we say unto one we say unto all - Watch.

      Lastly, a few words to those that God hath called to stand on Zion's walls as watchmen: Brethren, seeing that the world of mankind are ingulphed [sic] in such a state of rebellion and ruin, let it excite your charity and compassion for them, and tell them the truth of their case, and lay open the corrupt fountain of human depravity to them in as plain and unequivocal language as the Scriptures direct, that they may not be deceived in this important truth, that their case is helpless and hopeless without the spirit of God should graciously breathe upon them and quicken them from death to life; and when convicted of this truth, present to such the Good Physician, with the precious balm of the Gospel for a healing to their wounded souls; present him with his fulness of grace and truth; exibit the rich stores of salvation treasured in him for the lost, the poor and needy. The more you exhibit the unsearchable riches of Christ, and feed the flock of God on the Heavenly manna, the more eminently you will fill your several stations as good stewards of the mysteries and

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manifold grace of God. Although by such a course you should incur the displeasure and frowns of a sinful and depraved world - though you should not receive the applause and approbation of the gay and the giddy and though you should not receive from the treasures of the opulent and the rich, remember you are not to look to the world for your honor or reward; and the apostle James says the friendship of the world is enmity with God, and he that will be a friend of the world, is an enemy of God. You and the world stand as opposites, and no compromise is to be made with it at the expense of one gospel truth. Therefore, like the Apostle Paul, count not your lives dear to yourselves, so that yon may finish your course with joy, and the ministry that you have received of the Lord Jesus to testify the Gospel of the Grace of God: That when the chief Shepherd shall appear, you may receive a Crown of Glory that fadeth not away.
STEPHEN GARD, Moderator.

[From Miami Baptist Association Minutes 1833. Document from the Miami Baptist Association Office, Cincinnati. Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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