[The author is not mentioned. A committee of John Chilton, A. B. Rees, H. P. Montgomery and B. Garnett approved the Circular Letter.]
The Concord Association of Baptists
CIRCULAR LETTER, 1863
"The causes and remedies of religious declension"
The Concord Association of Baptist[s] to the Churches composing her body:
Dear Brethren - In presenting you this our Annual Letter, we desire to call attention to a subject intimately connected w1th your present as well as future interests, viz: the causes and remedies of religious declension. This subject has been suggested to us from the spirit of your communications for several years, and more particularly from the sad state of the Churches at present.
In these degenetate times that "try mens' souls" when "iniquity abounds and the love of many waxes cold" we know of no subject which can more appropriately engage your attention than the one proposed. It can not be a matter of indifference with Christians whether they stand still, retrograde or advance in the divine life. We need not traverse the fields of art or science to qualify us for the important work of discovering our condition as Churches of the living God. We have only to compare the present with the past to determine the state of religious declension into which we have backslidden. In making this examination we cannot fail to see plainly the causes which threaten to destroy the vitals of Church usefulness. "Know thyself" is a work that we cannot enter upon with too much industry. This is applicable to both the physical and spiritual man. It is not difficult to persuade men generally to apply the proper remedies when disease invade the body; but how few, when compared to the whole, can be induced to believe that the spiritual man is diseased, which may spread like a contagion till the whole Church partake of its contaminating influences. The cause, then, may be set down as a want of spiritual life and that accustomed zeal and mauifestation of the graces of the spirit that characterized the Churches - "When the candle of the Lord shone round about us;" a want of a harmonious proportion of all the parts of their spiritual organization. This is true of all classes of professed Christians, "to babes in Christ" and those of riper years. Such is the lack of spirituality, that we fail to realize the indwelling corruption of the heart and the evil tendency of human nature. 'Tis not enough that our calling pertains to spiritual things, but the frame of our minds should be spiritual. The real life and requirements of pure and undefiled religion are neglected, and we have contented. ourselves with a cold formality in the discharge of all our religious obligations. If, then, as the "Salt of the earth and the light of the world" we are required to fill the measure of our usefulness, let us examine the means to be employed to restore us to spiritual enjoyment. They are many, but only a few will be referred to.
Self-examination is an important remedy. we are exhorted to examine ourselves, whether we be in the faith. It is impossible for God's people to know their sp1ritual state unless they engage faithfully in the duty of self-examination. - When they examine themselves they detect what is wrong in their hearts, and discover the imperfections of their religious character, and resolve to make improvement. They see they are but dwarfs, spiritually, which produces abasement of heart and a desire to aspire to Christian manhood. Relying on divine aid, they determine that the period of their spiritual infancy shall not be protracted, but they will "Grow in grace and in the knowledge of truth."
The study of the Bible may be regarded as an indispensable remedy. It is God's will; and if we would know the treasure laid up in heaven for us, let each apply himself lo a careful study of all its provisions; for in it, "Life and immortality have been brought to light." Jesus said to the Father, on behalf of the discipies, "Sanctify them through thy truth." It is the instrument employed in the beiever's sanctification; not by bringing it ln contact with the heart, but a careful study of it, and practicing of it in our lives. We must not peruse it carelessly, but "Desire the sincere milk of the word that we may grow thereby." When we see one growing in grace, the conclusion is inevitable that he is being guided by the laws governing his spiritual nature. Let all make the Bible a daily companion in prosperity and adversity, that they know what God would have them do. - Make its instructive contents the theme of conversation. It points to the sure haven of rest. 'Tis the weary pilgrim's guide, and in the dying hour will point him to that world where separation will ne'er be known.
Holy Bible! book divine!Prayer is another means appointed of God to promote spiritual life. It is the medium through which we receive divine blessings. It impresses us with our own inability, and constant dependence upon God. It opens the way between the blessmgs of heaven and the wants of the soul,- and how could the w Christian live without such communications of divine aid? Inasmuch, then, as we are so dependent, how indispensable such communion with Him. In answer to prayer, the Christian is made strong in the Lord; and in the exercise of this most solemn and important work, the character and beauties of true religion impress the world. That it is the duty of every lover of the Lord to pray, we need not labor to convince you. Prayer honors God. He is the source of all spiritual blessings, and we the objects of His daily care. Our wants and necessities continue. We are ever in want, ever dependent, and can only be supplied through the medium of prayer; and, as our dangers and probation continue, our prayers must be parallel with them. There is no scriptural direction in regard to the number of timies we should pray; but the dirction is "continue instant in prayer." Neither is there a specific place for prayer; but whenever we feel its need, the place is appropriate; if not in public assembly, the lonely spot may witness answers to our petitions. The duty of secret prayer is apparent to all Christians, and such prayer often brings answers of peace. - there we've nothing to excite to a vain show, but only to pour out our burdened hearts to the Giver of of every good and perfect gift. The utility of public prayer is equally enjoined: "Many were gathered together praying;" which was a special Christian prayer meeeting. It is then a part of public worship. "My house shall be called a houose of prayer." Let all be urged by the low state of religious enjoyment in their own hearts - by the condition of the zion of God, and the wants of a dying world, to make it the business of life to frequent the mercy seat.
Precious treasure! thou art mine;
Mine to teach me whence I came;
Mine to tell of joys to come.
Another means of carrying out the mission of the Church and to enjoy more rapid growth in grace is to visit the house of God. Hence we are exhorted "Not to forsake the assemblying of ourselves together, as the manner of some it." In God's house His honor dwelleth. What is there more comforting than to meet the children of the King, and talk of trials, and speak of our hopes? May we all strive to be more heavenly-minded, examine ourselves daily, study the word of life, pray more fervently, and "Dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of our lives, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple."
[From Minutes of the Concord Association of Baptists, meeting in Owen County, KY. Document via SBTS, Boice Digital Repository, Adam Winters, Archivist. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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