Long Run Association of United Baptists, to the Churches composing her body.
VERY DEAR BRETHREN: - From the earliest history of our denominational operations, it has been customary for Baptist Associations to address the churches of which they are composed in a "Circular Letter." Possessing no legislative authority, and claiming no right to dictate for the churches whatever we say in an article like this, is to be regarded as merely advisory, or to say the most, exhortatory; and if by this means we may be instrumental of stirring you up to stronger efforts ill the cause of our Divine Master, our object in addressing yon will be effected.
The Baptists from the beginning in Kentucky, have in point of numbers far outstripped all other Christian denominations. After all the losses that we have experienced by the Antinomian heresy on the one hand and the Pelagian defection, we still number largely beyond all other; in the State. It is obvious however, that relatively, our increase of late years has not been equal to what it was formerly. Other denominations arc gaining in numbers and influence faster than we are, and if this state of things should continue, it will not he long before our boasted superiority of numbers will be among the things that are past.
Satisfied as we are that the great platform on which we stand as a church, is built according to the pattern given us in the Scriptures, it surely becomes a matter of very serious inquiry, how it comes to pass that we are not accomplishing all that the Great Head of the Church seemed to contemplate in giving us the position we occupy. Error ought not to outstrip truth in making proselytes, in as much as truth has the Divine power to sustain and propagate it. There must certainly be some deficiency in the instrumental efforts we make to propagate the truth, or we should not so uniformly have to complain with the prophet of old. "Lord who hath believed our report?"
We are not disposed to cherish a fault finding spirit, nor do we believe that you as churches or as individual Christians, are more deserving of censure than others. But our convictions are very clear that in certain elements of Christian character, many of us. aye we fear most of us are lamentably deficient; and that if we could rise above this deficiency we should renew our strength, and a great increase both of numbers and of influence would be the natural result. We cannot in so small a compass as we can here fill, enter fully into detail. We must content ourselves with specifying a few things and thus leave your observations and your leasure to fill up the outline.
We mention first, as a sign of our degeneracy from the standard of our fathers and especially from the standard of the Apostles of old, the want of constancy in our piety. Fervent piety we frequently meet with, but alas! in most cases it is fervent only by fits and starts. Sometimes and in some places, and under some circumstances, our piety burns with a flame which promises speedily to consume all the wood and hay and stubble within us and around us. But the flame is not uniform. It frequently burns so low as to suggest an apprehension that it is quite extinguished, that it never was kindled by the fire from God's altar. Can it be brethren that a periodical piety will ever successfully contend with spiritual enemies so numerous and so powerful as ours?
Another Source of decline in our capacity for accomplishing our work, is the great want of brotherly love, which is almost characteristic of the present generation of Christians, Formerly it was said of the Christians universally, and that too by their bitter enemies. "Behold how they love one another," Alas! that there should now be so little of this love seen among us! Alas! that there should now be so much of a contrary spirit, that the wicked are encouraged to say, "see how they bite and devour one another!"
Brotherly love among Christians includes much more than a mere refraining from doing each other harm. It involves, a prevailing desire to do each other good. It implies a spirit of sympathy which will bind us to our brethren, not only in the day of their prosperity but also in the hour of their heaviest affliction. How often does it happen that a brother is for one single offense proscribed and hunted down as if the glory of God demanded his destruction! That charity so warmly commended in the word of God, seeks rather to save a brother than to destroy him. Should my brother err, however grievously, it becomes me to impute his error either to his own weakness, or to some circumstances over which he had no control; and not until by repeated errors he manifests a lack of Christian integrity, am I at liberty to suppose that he intentionally departs from the right way. Acting upon this principle, dictated as it is by the law of Christian love. I may in many cases save a good man from falling, and the cause of Christ from reproach and loss.
Let it not be supposed however, brethren, that we would inculcate among you that spurious charity which dispenses with a proper regard to the character and conduct of other. While it is my duty to hope the best I possibly can with regard to my brother, it is equally my duty to watch over his ways and to detect whatever blemishes may mar his Christian character, or injure his usefulness. Indeed, faithfulness to reprove in a right spirit, the faults of my brother, is one of the legitimate fruits of enlightened Christian love; and whoever fails of faithfully reproving and kindly admonishing an erring brother, gives but poor evidence that he loves him. Many who have turned aside from the way of duty, are permitted to wander further and further, until finally they get beyond the reach of any appeals that can be made to them; while if in the incipient stages of their backsliding they had received from their brethren the faithful admonition which genuine Christian love inspires, they might have been saved from their fall.
The great secret of maintaining a wholesome discipline in the Church of Christ, lies in a conscientious discharge of our duties towards each other as individual Christians. Too often we look to the Church as a body to do all the work of regulating and controlling the lives of individual members. We expect the Church to come up to her duty, while as individuals we are slow to perform ours; forgetting that the Church as a body can do but little, while her members individually stand aloof. Let every member feel that he is a part of the body - essential to its completeness and by a faithful discharge of his own duties, he may have the satisfaction of seeing others come up to theirs; and then the Church, as if moved by the heart of one man, will indeed be "terrible as an army with banners."
We shall not here enumerate the various duties of a Christian, Go brethren to your charter - the Bible. There, in language so plain as to be within reach of the feeblest comprehension, are God's rules for holy living. Search the Scriptures - they are able to make you wise unto salvation, if you search them in a right spirit. Of all people on earth Baptists, ought to be most familiar with the Bible, especially with the New Testament. From this Book we have all our views, both of faith and practice; while we acknowledge no doctrine or ordinance that has not a "thus saith the Lord” to enforce it upon us. To be unacquainted with the charter of our Church is scarcely pardonable.
Finally, brethren, we exhort you in the name of our common Lord, that you adhere steadfastly to the faith without wavering. Possess yourselves of such a knowledge of the Divine word as will enable you to meet all the assaults of Satan, and all the sophistry of men. Then shall you make progress in your pilgrimage and at the same time exert such an influence on those around you, that many will be led to try the ways of righteousness for themselves; and so shall you win many to Christ, to shine another day as stars in your crown of rejoicing. Grace, mercy and peace be with your spirits. Amen.
W. P. BARNETT, Moderator
S. VANNATTA, Clerk,
[Long Run Association Minutes, 1850, pp. 6-7; via SBTS Archives digital documents. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
More Long Run Association Circular Letters
Baptist History Homepage