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Franklin Association of Baptists
Circular Letter, 1833

[A Time of Crisis in Doctrine]
By S. M. Noel
      To the Churches composing Franklin Association of Baptists:

      WE are admonished by the events which mark the present crisis, to, take heed to our steps. For if the time is come when judgment must begin at the house of God, what must the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. We now close a year replete with rare and unprecedented afflictions. Twice since our last interview have our people been visited by pestilence, and many of our friends are numbered with the slain. The present cheering prospect of better times, can scarcely fail to inspire every bosom with sentiments of grateful homage to Him who dispenses, according to his own good pleasure, both mercies and judgments. At the same time, the voice of wisdom invites us to enquire, without ceasing, into the grounds of these most awful displays of divine displeasure. What means this heart rending, this soul appalling controversy? Why do clouds and darkness veil his throne while the vials of his wrath are poured out upon the inhabitants of the earth? When human calculations have all failed, and when human wisdom has been baffled at all points, shall human pride remain unabased! For this extraordinary providence there must be special causes, and it becomes us to look diligently into them. These causes are not likely to be found out of the church; for there, unbelief ever odious in the sight of God, and always hostile to his dominion, might at any time provoke his wrath, and call down his fiery indignation, but for the fact, that he is slow to anger and rich in mercy. These special causes must be sought for in the church; and now let everyone, in his closet, solemnly and prayerfully institute the enquiry, what has she done, or rather what has she not done to offend Him who rides upon the storm, and who alone can say to the angel of death, "It is enough, stay now thy hand."

      The limits of a circular will not allow us to present you with the countless delinquencies of western churches; we therefore content ourselves with a few practical enquiries. Do not many valuable brethren suffer their spiritual energies to be paralysed [sic] by cherishing in their hearts doctrinal errors, such as the following?

      1st: Do not many seem to think that God's elect will be saved, whether the means and instrumentalities appointed to accomplish their salvation, be used or not? Like the farmer who supposes that his crop will reach maturity and be gathered into his barns, labor or no labor! He believes that all results are Divinely ordered, & certain, and therefore vainly imagines he cannot have a grain the loss though the means all fail! Now, for ought we know, there may he as much truth in one of these suppositions, as in the other. Surely there is great folly in both. No man living knows that

God's elect will be saved if the means, divinely appointed to effect that end, fail. Nor do we know that any soul ever was or ever will be saved, but by the very means and instruments appointed to accomplish that end. Hence we may affirm, without peril, that whatever plan or scheme of operation, has tended to the converson [sic] of one sinner, is God's own plan. For he will scarcely bless and prosper what he disapproves. In the economy of grace, as well as of nature, there is an indissoluble connexion between means & ends - such was Paul's opinion. After God had told him "There shall be no loss of any man's life," he hesitated not to say to the centurion and to the soldiers, "except these (shipmen) abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved." Even so in the gospel plan of salvation, God proposes to bring about no results or ends whatever, but by appropriate means and instrumentalities.

      2dly. Do not others appear to believe that the Devil is self existent, eternal and independent, and openly defend his rightful claim to a great portion of the human family? These (say they) are his by generation, he is their father and they are his legitimate progeny; and every effort to strip him of one is promptly and strenuously opposed by these advocates of the Devil's rights. To be consistent they must consider it the duty of these children of satan, to persecute Christians, to despise the gospel, and (if it were possible) to crucify again the Son of God: For such certainly is the will of their father who is not in heaven. Now those good folks should keep a strict look out, for generally speaking, children are better acquainted with their parents than other people; and are more jealous of their rights and their honor. Do not these errorists profess to know more about the Devil than other people? and are they not more tenacious of his rights and more jealous of his honor than all the world besides?

      3dly. How shall we understand those who say that God requires nothing spiritual of a sinner? "That he requires natural duties of natural men, and spiritual duties of spiritual men?" What can all this mean? Can any service whatever be acceptable to an infinitely holy Being which is not spiritual? Or can such a Being require of a sinner duties, which, when strictly performed, are not acceptable to himself! Will he require that to be done which he must condemn when done? Now suppose the sinner should perform all these natural duties to a jot or tittle, could God accept of such a service? Would not such a sinner, notwithstanding he had done all that God requires of him still go to perdition? Most assuredly he would, unless natural men get to heaven. Why does God reject this sinner's service? One reason and only one can be assigned. The service is sinful, and this is reason enough. It is sinful because done in unbelief. Without faith it is impossible to please Him. God's glory was not the motive. To say then that God requires of natural men natural duties only, is to say that he requires of sinners sinfuI duties, sinful services, sinful actions only; which they are ready enough to perform without being required. Now what think ye? Will the Devil raise any objection

to such a sentiment? Will he not consent that natural men perform natural, i. e. sinful duties, and every other sort of duty, not spiritllal? To spiritual duties alone the Devil objects, and these alone God requires of both saint and sinner. This is the very point where heaven and hell join issue. In a mere moral point of view we may speak of natural obligation and duties, such as appertain to the social relations, between parents and children, masters and servants, &c. &c. which a sinner may perform acceptably in the sight of men, and however praiseworthy such actions may be in this sense, he who supposes that they are rightly performed, so as to be approved of God, before they are spiritually performed, takes a shallow view of the subject. It is only when such duties are done as unto God, (with a view to his honor,) with the spirit and with the understanding, that they acquire high moral worth, and meet the divine approbation. Shall the most devout exercises of saints demand the cleansing power of Christ's blood, to reach the ear of Him who hears prayer, and can we indulge, even for a moment, the idea that the Bible recognizes & enjoins a class of duties which sinners may perform while their hearts continue filled with enmity against God! Tell it not in Gath! Is not holy love a high spiritual exercise of heart, and is it not required of all men? Or has it come to this, that the law, as well as the gospel, has lost its claims upon men? Then indeed may the ungodly despise and reject both, and be guiltless. The plain truth is [blur] this: God does not require of the sinner either thoughts, words, or actions that are unholy; on the contrary he prohibits them - so far as sinful qualities are found in human actions, just so far are they prohibited by Him who cannot connive at sin. The phrase sinful duty, is a solecism in language, and the thing itself would be a most frightful anomaly, either in religion or morals: and yet if natural duties only, as contradistinguished from spiritual, are required of the ungodly, this anomaly, strange as it may be, must have, not only a place, but a very prominent place, in the divine arrangement. Why should this dogma be so largely insisted on by some excellent brethren in one of our associations? For no other purpose, we presume, than to make void that great gospel article, which makes it the duty of every hearer of the gospel, to believe it, to obey it, and be saved. Remove this pillar from Christ's spiritual edifice, and you shake it to the centre. To this end however, many expedients have been devised, and last of all, this notion about natural duties. So far all have proved unavailing; how can it be otherwise wherever the authority of the Bible is conceded! Until his truth, his holiness, his honor and his written word, all fail, God will require, as he has ever done, the natural man to become a spiritual man - the wicked man, to be a righteous man - the bad man, to be a good man - the impenitent unbeliever to be a penitent believer - and his enemies to become his friends. All this, and nothing less is required of men; nor is the requirement: in the slightest degree, abated on account of the sinner's inability.
Wherever this truth finds a lodgement, there is spiritual (not sectarian) energy and enterprise: - Cast it out and the soul withers, the church languishes, and finally she must die; because she has rejected a valuable portion of God's truth.

      You have now before you our views in relation to three leading doctrinal errors. They are submitted frankly and without reserve, not meaning thereby to impugn or to question the purity of intention, or the piety of those, who may have unfortunately imbibed either or all of them.

      Brethren, suffer a word of exhortation. Be ye steadfast and unmoveable in gospel truth; and stop not there but at the close of every day be ready to show your aboundings in the work of the Lord; and be careful to have them registered, not in good wishes and fair speeches only, but rather in praise-worthy actions. Be ye faithful unto death, and then receive the crown of life.


[From the Minutes of the Franklin Association of Baptists, 1833, pp. 4-7; via SBTS Archives digital documents. The title is supplied by the editor. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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