The following information is taken from the writings of Jesse Mercer, an early Baptist preacher and leader in the state of Georgia. These are excerpted from some of the Circular Letters and other writings. - Jim Duvall Memoirs of Elder Jesse Mercer
by Charles D. Mallary
Mr. Mercer's Opinions on Various Subjects Connected with Church Discipline, &c.
Mr. Mercer's opinions respecting matters pertaining to church order, associational jurisdiction, and other kindred subjects, were so much valued, and so often sought, that many would no doubt consider a volume claiming to be any thing like a full Biography of this eminent man, as radically defective, that did not contain some record of these opinions. The writer has therefore thought proper to present in the appendix, some of his views upon these subjects; believing that though this portion of the work may not be as interesting to the general reader as other parts, yet that there are some who will consult it with much interest, and great advantage. If the reader is not prepared to sanction every opinion of Mr. Mercer's, which is here presented, he cannot fail of finding much that will commend itself to his judgment as judicious, solid, and useful.
(From a Circular Letter in the Minutes of the Georgia Association, 1806.)
"That you may be able in this declining day, to possess your vessel in sanctification and honor before him, who has called you into his marvellous [sic] light, and in that light shine before others for his praise; we would awaken you to, and exhort you to be promptly active in the execution of discipline -- discipline, without which there can be no union, order, peace or fellowship in the church; no, nor church itself -- discipline, which, in its right use, is the church's ecclesiastical life -- bond of union and peace -- spring of order and fellowship -- and great source of harmony and love.
"To this important duty and privilege, God opens the ear. Job 36:10. And commands it to be sealed among his disciples. Isa. 3:16. 61:4. The prophet Malachi, and John the Baptist, show that Christ, in the exercise of this office, would both purge and scourge the wicked from among the righteous, so that a clear distinction should be made and perpetuated between the godly and ungodly, the chaff and the wheat. Mal. 3:1 to the 6, 16, 17, 18. Math. 3:10 and 12. And Christ discovered both the authority and indispensability of this duty, when he made a scourge of small cords and drove the wicked out of his father's house. John 2:15. Due attention to this rule will lead to prosperity, peace and pleasure. Job 36:11. Isa. 48:18. Gal. 6:16. But the neglect thereof is invariably chastened with declension and destruction. Luke 19:42. Gal. 5:13, to the 17, also read 2nd and 3rd chapter of Revelation.
"Dear brethren, in addressing yon on this subjuct, we shall use plainness of speech, and in a simple style, place before you a few very plain truths. Gospel discipline involves two very important duties equally indispensable.
"The first, is that which each member should discharge towards himself. The second, is that which relates to the whole body. These may be likewise subdivided.
"The former includes, first, That restraint which a christian, when right with God, places on the passions and propensities of the carnal heart, by which he subdues and maintains the victory over them: and secondly, that government which he exercises over the members of his body, by which he sanctifies them for, and employs them in the service of God.
"The latter embraces, first, that line of duty to be pursued in case of private or personal offence; and secondly, that to be adopted in case of public and atrocious crimes. To which. we attend in order.
"And first, to discipline the heart, diligence is enjoined, Prov. 4:23. 2 Pet. 1:5-10, to show it is a duty to be performed only by promptness and perseverance. It includes three things:
First, the detecting and crucifying all improper passions, or desires, that is, all which on examination, (and none should pass without it,) shall be found contrary to the holiness, and incapable of working the glory of God. Luke 9:55. Gal. 5:24. Heb. 3:12.
Secondly, the guarding and restraining those affections, which in themselves are lawful, but are capable of excess, for virtuous, become vicious desires in the extreme. Eph. 4:26. Col. 3:5.
And thirdly, the promoting and pursuing all gracious emotions, as leading into the knowledge and service of God. Psa. 19:14. 1 Cor. 14:I. Eph. 3:16-19. 4: 22-24.
"Secondly: Your bodies are the members of Christ, and temples for the Holy Ghost. 1 Cor, 6:15. 19. Your whole deportment, therefore, should correspond with this consideration: and all the members of the body be presented as living sacrifices to God, and solely employed in his service: or, as a modern poet teaches:
A covenant with your eyes be made;
Your words be few, or fitly said,
And season'd well with grace;
Be deaf, or only hear aright;
Your footsteps planted in the light,
To run the Christian race.
Your hands be pure and rais'd to God;
Your taste delighted with his word;
Be every member his;
Delight to smell his rich perfume,
Which balms the air -- will death o'ercome,
And adds new charias to bliss.'
"To be able to decide correctly on the affections of the heart, or the right use of the members of the body, it will be incumbent to cultivate an acquaintance with the laws of nature, grace, and providence; by which the natural, spiritual, and moral fitness of things will appear; so that you may approve the things which are excellent, and be without offence till the day of Christ. Phil. 1: 9, 10, 11.
"The second part of discipline teaches the rules of procedure in cases of public or private offence; which should be pursued with great exactness, without partiality or hypocrisy.
"And first, in case of private offence. Be sure to follow precisely the directions of Christ given in Matt. 18 :15. 16, 17. Taking especial care that you do not make that public which is, and should be kept private, or that you do not make yourselves guilty, in conversing on private subjects to indifferent persons, thereby becoming the sowers of discord, or idle, mischievous tale-bearers so offensive to God, and destructive of human happiness. Lev. 19:16. Prov, 11: 13. 18:8. 20:19. 25:9, 10. 26:21, 22. This rule is particularly binding on the offended, commanding him to immediate conciliatory measures: but let not the offender think himself secure in idleness, nor carelessly wait for his grieved brother to come and deal with him; but let him attend to the counterpart of this rule in Matt. 5:23 to the 26, which shows it to be the duly equally or the offender to go and be active in the adjustment of all differences. The sooner the better. Rom. 12:10, 11.
"But secondly, in case of public and scandalous sins. The first step to be taken is to reprove, admonish, and in a christian spirit, endeavor to reclaim the apostate brother from the error of his ways. Lev. 19:17. Gal. 6:1, 2. Eph.5:11. 2 Thes. 3:15. 1 Tim. 5:20. Heb. 12:13, 14, 15. James 5 :10, 20. This duty we fear is very much neglected from some cause -- the want of zeal -- or perhaps from a prevailing notion that it would be improper to heal a public offence, by a private conversation: but however improper this might be, we conceive it would be highly proper to heal a public offender by any means the gospel directs. The design however or such reproof, &c., is not to cure the offence, but him who gave it; that he may be prepared to remove the offence in that way the gospel requires. But should he fail to be reclaimed by this measure, and not come to the church to meet, and in the best manner in his power, atone for his disorders; then it will be the duty of whoever is concerned in the case, when the church is setting in her official capacity, to bring such person before her bar, or make report of the case to her, whose duty it will be to call for, and reckon with him according to Matt. 18:24 and 31. But in case of gross enormity, under which the cause of God and the church particularly suffers, it may be expedient to proceed more promptly according to the case decided in 1 Cor, 5th chap., which seems to have been done without sending for, or attending to the delinquent in any way.
"The great object of discipline is holiness to the Lord. With a view to ecclesiastical holiness, it commences cautiously in the reception of members; and ends gloriously in consummating them in the beauties of practical holiness. In receiving persons carelessly, or at the instance of passion, you may corrupt the church, dishonor God, and involve yourselves in much distress, confusion, and sin. Be careful, therefore, to receive none but those to whom the gospel gives a right; Matt. 18:3. 5. Acts 5:13, 14. 1 Cor. 6:17. That the church may be visibly what it is really, THE PILLAR AND GROUND OF THE TRUTH, and be presented a chaste virgin to Christ. 1 Tim. 3:1, 2. Cor. 11:2. But we are aware that discipline may be so managed as to defeat its own design, and instead of unity and peace, produce divisions and strife. A government by majority naturally tending in important matters, to make parties, and breed confusion, should be studiously avoided. Rather be of the same mind and judgment; espouse the cause of the weak, or be invariably on the part of the aggrieved, whether major or minor; and let UNANIMITY be the bond of your peace. Psa. 133:1. 1 Cor. 1:10, 11, 13. Eph. 4:2." (pp. 441-4.)
Private Labors Should Generally Precede Church Action.
(From the Circular of the Georgia Association for 1816.)
"It has been a custom pretty widely practised, to bring all cases of a public and offensive character, whether facts or reports, first before the church, that they might be met and treated in a manner correspondent with their general and infectious consequences. This rule we think exceptionable.
"1st. Because it is defective: for while it provides a remedy of the public effects, it proposes no means for the removal of the cause of offence.
"2d. It fosters neglect: 'Tis founded on the suspension of personal intercourse, and consequently on the suspension of brotherly love and christian care. -- The duty commanded by Paul and James to 'convert and restore such an one,' is totally neglected and set aside by this rule. What the Apostles make to be the proper burden and duty of an individual, is hereby thrown on the church, while the members content themselves individually, to be of the number who live in error.
"Perhaps it may be asked, shall we all go? Indeed, brethren, that might be the better state of the case. For admit 'such an one' should be among you; and you all, one by one, should make him a visit, 'in the spirit of meekness,' on that account, in the course of a few weeks, would not his heart be broken for his sin? or would he not be left without excuse? And would not that be much better than to pass him by, or treat him with neglect? Surely you will answer, it would be better.
"3d. It is uncharitable: it is so distant -- so cold -- so unfriendly, that it is more likely to disgust than reclaim -- to harden than soften -- to exclude than restore. But,
"4th. It promotes tale-bearing. In the spirit of the rule con[t]ested, you feel at liberty to speak freely of such cases among yourselves, and even to others; by which you become 'tattlers, whisperers' find the sowers of discord, rather than 'peace-makers.' We need not tell you that in modern, as well as in ancient times, there are many who say, 'report and we will report it.' -- That many false and virulent tales are often circulated, with celerity, to ruin the characters, and hinder the usefulness of the best among men. By the rule in question, you may become the abettors, and forward the designs of the most cruel and inveterate men. _____________________
"Exclusion should never be regarded as the result of our endeavors. Every idea of union -- the best feelings of the heart, recoil at the shocking thought. 'Tis the resort of despair -- the dreadful alternative in case of incorrigibleness, like the amputation of a mortal limb, to save the body from its ruinous consequences.
"There are, however, a few cases which justify and require a resort to this severe measure, with much less ceremony than others: as when a man brought before the church for some notorious crime, makes great pretensions to humility and godly sorrow; and being forgiven, goes out and in similar cases, carries himself with ingratitude and hardness of heart towards his brethren, or in any other way proves his acknowledgments before the church to have been hypocritical, he may be presented to the church without any personal regard shown him, because he has destroyed all confidence in himself. As suggested in Matt. 18:23, to the end. Also when a hypocrite among you does what proves him so, like Simon Magus, in the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity,' he may be cut off without any endeavors to reclaim him, because there is nothing, properly, to which he can be reclaimed.
"Likewise, when a man forms any illicit connexion, or commits offences which prolong their effects, and which no sudden concessions can remedy; as in the case of the incestuous man, he should without waste of time be 'delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,' and that his reformation and the proofs of it might be made manifest." (pages 444-5.)
Are All Cases of Discipline to be Managed and Settled by Matthew 18:15-17?
"To this question we answer no, because other scriptures require a different treatment. It is evident as there are different causes of offence, so there must be a variation of management and termination. The above rule, we conceive, provides only for personal and entirely private offences; or cases which lie alone between two brethren. For why should secrecy be enjoined in a case, which is known openly? Here private intercourse is enjoined in the first step, and only to be made public as the case might require. And we are of opinion, that if this rule was strictly regarded in all such offences, many of those cases would be nipped in the bud, or healed in the first intention, which, for the want of it, break the peace, and distract our churches with confusion and party strife. But we think it would be manifestly for the dishonor of Christ and contempt of religion, to attempt to settle cases of public and scandalous offences by this rule. However, we are fully persuaded that all cases, as a general rule, should commence in personal labors. The following texts lay this down clearly. Gal.1, requires, that, if a brother 'be overtaken in a fault,' (i.e. caught) the other members should restore him. And by what follows it is plain that it must be done in a tender, careful, sympathizing manner, which cannot be done without personal endeavor,
"This is also inculcated in the allusions made by Paul to the mutual sympathy and care which God has given to the members of a natural body. 1 Cor. 12: 25, 26 which cannot be fulfilled, but by the most careful and prompt attempt to remedy the cause of suffering, according to the laws of brotherly kindness. To this endeavor to restore an offending brother, the Apostle James encourages in his Epistle, 5:19, 20. Here the work of converting an erring brother must require personal labor. But though every case must be begun in personal intercourse; yet it is not to end there. Should the labors of brethren succeed in restoring the offending brother, he will as a matter of course, seek to redress the evil consequences of his sinful course, which will require him to come before the church to answer publicly to the charges against him, so that the scandal may be removed from the church and the cause of Christ. Should the well timed, and well meant endeavors of the brethren fail, the delinquent must be hailed before the church to answer for his offences. This is clearly indicated in Matt. 18:32. In 1 Tim. 5:20. The Apostle directs that, they that sin (openly doubtlessly, as private sin is otherwise disposed of) are to be rebuked before all, that others may fear."
"There are few cases which may be pleaded as an exception to this rule. They are cases of such enormity as makes a speedy execution of discipline necessary to sustain the honor of the cause and the church, by making the offender an example of summary punishment. The instructions to the church at Corinth in regard to the incestuous man are in point. But we think the cases are few and very peculiar, which would justify a personal neglect of the offending brother, to restore him to his forfeited standing and lost comforts." pp. 445-6.
May a Church Receive Testimony from Men of the World ?
"It should be kept constantly in mind, that the Church of Christ is a body of light, whose office is to shine to those who are without. The Apostle tells us that whatsoever maketh manifest is light. But how can the church shine unto them, if she shut herself up from them, and refuse their testimony without reason? Would such a course be walking towards them either honestly or in wisdom? The object for which testimony is received at all, is to ascertain the truth; but if a church refuse all testimony from without, she will in many cases refuse valid evidence, and so obscure the truth, and injure the cause of union and fellowship in herself. We will state a case. Suppose a member is accused of drunkenness and blasphemy, under circumstances which, if true, would break fellowship with all the other members, but the witnesses are two of the most respectable non professors in the neighborhood, whose veracity has not been questioned by any -- but because they are not members they are refused. Now, does this refusal do away the effect of their testimony from the minds of the church? Not at all. Then the fellowship of every member in the church is lost with this man, but he cannot be excluded, because there is no admissible evidence against him. This would be an intolerable case. The better way is to hear all, and hold fast to that which appears just and good. The church is by no means bound to believe all the testimony which may be brought in, but should act wisely in weighing the evidence, in ascertaining the truth of the case on trial, and coming to a righteous decision." [pp. 446-7.]
Have Females a right to vote in the Church in matters of Discipline?
"To the law and to the testimony then let us go. In 1 Cor. 14 :34, 35, Paul lays down the following order: 'Let your women keep silence in the churches; for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but to be under obedience; as also saith the law -- And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.' And again he saith, 1 Tim. 2 :11-14: 'Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, or usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was the first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived; but the woman, being deceived, was in the transgression.'
"From these verses, it is generally agreed that women are debarred any participation in the public ministry, (and this is the uniform practice with one solitary exception) of all the denominations. But are they not as fairly debarred participation in any exercise of authority, or government, which would even put them on a par with male members? There is a sense in which women are not permitted to speak in the churches; and yet there is a sense in which they may speak. Now in what may they not speak? In teaching and governing. For these obvious reasons: 1. The law requires it. 2. Adam was first formed, then Eve. This gives the man the rule and government. 3. The woman, being deceived, was in the transgression; indicating her weakness, and affording a reason ever afterwards for her being under obedience with all subjection. But in what may they speak? In praying and prophesying, see 1 Cor. 11:5. Acts 21: 9. But this prophesying, when used by women, must not be teaching, but only for edifying. FOR IT IS NOT PERMITTED to a woman TO TEACH. Now, then, if women are not permitted to teach and exercise authority in the churches, how can they vote in matters of discipline which is government? We are (and have been long) of opinion, that women are in the verses above, debarred the right of voting in the churches in all matters of government, because they cannot use this right without being on a par with men, and in many instances taking the ascendancy, which is at palpable variance with the obedience and subjection which is required of them.
"We suspect it is the general practice in the churches of our order, to allow women this use. But whenever a case of this kind has come under our observation, we have noticed an obvious reluctance in adopting it. And within the sphere of our administration they have modestly declined it. We have never had any difficulty on this subject with us, und we hope for the sake of the female christian character, women in no churches will ever make a difficulty of it; and if men should attempt it, in view of honoring them, they will have grace enough to rise up with one consent, and pour the waters of pious, modest, and humble contempt upon it and quench it at once." [pp. 447-8.]
Is it Gospel or duty for one Church to receive persons excluded from another Church
simply on account of their being friendly to Benevolent Institutions?
"On the above query we have endeavored to reflect with cool deliberation, and the result of our thoughts leads us to answer it in the negative. Exclusion from a regularly constituted church, is in itself right. It is the execution of a sentence on the authority of Christ, by the only authorized body, and ought to be respected by all orderly churches. But as in all human affairs there is a liability to err, even churches may become disorderly, and abuse their power, which was given for edification, by using it for purposes of destruction. The power to exclude may be used improperly in two ways; first it may be executed on proper subjects without a proper cause; and secondly, it may be exercised on those over whom there was no jurisdiction. In either case the act is disorderly. In the case before us, it should seriously be inquired whether exclusion for the causes above stated, is legitimately gospel order? If it shall be judged, (and we think it must be) that exclusion cannot rightly lie against any member, otherwise orderly, for uniting with such societies, or being friendly towards them, then it must be disorderly to exclude persons for such causes. The case, then, upon this hypothesis, presents an act of violence and disorder in its origin; and as one act of disorder may excuse, if not justify another, we are led to the conclusion in this, and such like cases, it wou1d be to choose the least of two evils, to receive such persons, not as an orderly, but as a necessary act of indemnity against oppression." [pp. 448.]
What is the Minority of a Church to do when the Majority (or a part of them) become notoriously immoral?
"In reply to this question, we are constrained to say that such a state of things in a church, once regular, is the sheer neglect of a godly discipline. For if, when the church was in order, the members all sympathizing with each other, the first buddings of immorality in the enormities stated, had been plucked off by the gospel rule, such a state of misrule should never have existed. So that the pious minority must be deeply involved in the guilty causes of such a case. Now, therefore, they, repenting of their past negligence, should address themselves patiently to the work of reformation. In this, they should be encouraged, by the promise made to any member in the Laodicean church (when in a similar state of decline) to enduring, persevering efforts. If these efforts sufficiently tried, fail, let the neighboring churches in good order, be called on to labor, to secure the desired end: but if, after all, the majority remain incorrigible, and refuse to be corrected, then let the minority come out and be separate from them, as not being worthy to be acknowledged a church of Christ; but rather as a synagogue of Satan."
======[A work in progress.]======
Georgia Circular Letters
Baptist History Homepage