A Partial Index of the Circular Letters
of the Mississippi Baptist Association
By T. C. Schilling
1808 The first "circular letter" to be published in the minutes was written by Thomas Mercer, his subject being the "Barren Fig Tree."
1810 The venerable Moses Hadley wrote the circular letter of the body on "Religious Declension," an able document, in which he treats the causes and the cure in a forcible manner.
1812 Moses Hadley wrote again, on "Union of Churches."
1824 Mr. John Smith had prepared the circular letter on "Contribution for Religious Purposes," and it is published in this year's minutes. The letter makes a strong plea for greater liberality in the cause of religion, and especially for pastoral support, as the following interesting extract will show:1825 The circular letter was on "Christian Zeal," and was written by Elliott Estes.
"The minister of Christ has a work of infinite value committed to his trust; a work which he cannot neglect without wounding his own soul and dishonoring the cause of his divine Master. To this work he feels it his duty entirely to devote himself. This he is unable to do, however, unless his labors are reciprocated by those to whom he ministers. Ministers are earthen vessels to whom this treasure is committed, men of like passions as others, formed of the same clay, fed with the same aliment, clothed with the same raiment as others, and this clay must be nourished, this food provided, this raiment furnished to them as to other men. The Apostles and early ministers thought it not good for them to leave the Word of God to serve tables; and so in the present day, when the minister of the Word is compelled to abandon the holy calling six days in the week for the sustenance of the body, and to procure himself the means of traveling and preaching on the seventh, the church must be neglected, and languish in consequence. He has had no time during the fatigues of the week for study, for pious contemplation or retired communion with his God. His mind is unfurnished to convey instruction; his heart cold and languid. He cannot arouse his sleepy audience by feeling and pathetic exhortation, for he cannot feel. Discouraged in spirit, he cannot strengthen the weak hands and confirm the feeble knees of his brethren, for he needs the same kind offices."
1827 The custom of having "circular letters" published in the minutes was continued by the Convention; but, the appointee having failed to prepare one for this year, the body substituted an address by S. M. Noel, of Kentucky, on the subject of "Creeds," from which the following extracts are taken:1831 The circular letter this year was written by Ezra Courtney, his subject being the "Omniscience of God," and beginning as follows:
"Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! Standing fast in one spirit, with one mind, speaking the same thing -- of one accord, of one heart, and of one soul -- acknowledging one Lord, possessing one faith, practicing one baptism; speaking the truth in love, growing up into Him in all things which is the head, even Christ, making one body in Christ. Not one in name or theory only, but one in their religious experience, one in their views of the plan of salvation; animated and encouraged by the same hope, while observing and practicing the same duties. Such is the unity and symmetry of the church of Jesus Christ as described by the pen of inspiration. * * *
Can a church, a New Testament church, keeping the unity of the Spirit, in the bond of peace and love, be found in that miserable babel composed of Trinitarians, Unitarians, Hutchinsonians, Universal Restorationists, Rellyan Universalists, Destrovetionists, Swedenborgians, Mystics, Dunkers, Jumpers, Shakers, and all others who profess to take the Bible for their guide?"
"The book of nature and divine revelation declares the infinite wisdom, power and goodness of God. The starry heavens, moving in the most profound order for thousands of years without varying from the divine appointment, declare an infinite Creator who made them. God comprehends every inch of space and minute of time, with every creature and action, whether good or evil, that has been or may be, from the beginning of the world to the end thereof. * * *
"With God there is no progression of time or succession of thought; but all His decrees and determinations are coeval with Himself, and according to His good pleasure. He decreed to have a church or kingdom in the world of holy men and women to obey and serve Him in love. The number of these subjects with God are definitely known, from righteous Abel to the top stone that will be brought in with shouting, saying, 'Grace, grace unto it'; and they are in the all-comprehending mind of God, the future with the past; their names are written in heaven in the Lamb's Book of Life, and they are known with more accuracy than ever a military officer numbered his troops." After writing along this line at some length, Mr. Courtney discusses heresies and divisions, and finally draws his sword on Alexander Campbell and his followers in this robust fashion:1838 The Circular letter was written this year by H. D. F. Roberts on "Gospel Order." "When Alexander Campbell first came before the public as a writer his religious views and feelings were thought to be identified with the Baptists. Some thought him a champion in Israel; but it was not long before some discovered a want of stability in him. Like clouds that are carried about of winds, like a wandering star, he has gone from the highest views of Calvin to the lowest grade of Arminianism. Poor man! How desperately he has fallen! When Mr. Campbell announced that historically believing that Jesus Christ was the Son of God was the only requisite to baptism, and that baptism was regeneration itself, the Baptists knew too well what these heresies had done, and would do again, if admitted. They withdrew their fellowship from Mr. Campbell and his followers. Though he thought to have escaped being noticed by crying out against popery and priestcraft, he has entirely failed. He is like the nurse that cries out against the child that she daily nurtures; he cries out against what his principles have produced and naturally lead to. Because the Baptists did not choose to build meeting-houses for their worst enemies, and hold in their communion those that were laboring to divide and destroy their churches, Mr. Campbell charges them with being the worst persecuting sect in Christendom, the Roman Catholics in Spain only excepted. This charge he knew was not true when he made it; but evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. (2 Tim. 3: 13.) Those Campbellites that have come among us, saying that they were Baptists and were not, we have found to be deceivers, railers at our faith, our associations, Christian experience, and the special operations of the Spirit of God on the soul. These schismatics have produced discord and schism between those that had long lived in unity. Some of them have shown no regard to the civil nor religious rites of the church, but have made their way to our pulpits with violence, in one instance forcing off the weatherboarding of a good house, and going in with impunity and speaking reproachfully of us. From the overbearing conduct and language of Campbell and his party, what would be the consequence were five-eighths of the United States of their faith?"
1839 The Circular Letter was written on "Christian Communion," by Thomas M. Bond.
1847 A circular letter on the "Resurrection of the Body" is published in this Minute, written by Elder Chas. Felder a short time before his death. A few quotations from the old preacher's parting message will be read with interest.
"For our knowledge of the resurrection of the body we are wholly indebted to divine revelation. Our faith in this doctrine rests entirely on the testimony of God. It is not analogous to any known law of nature, that animal bodies, once dead, should be reorganized and reanimated. These effects, however, can be produced by Onmipotence, and require no greater power and wisdom than were employed to form the body at first.
"The Athenians mocked when they heard of the resurrection of the dead; and the Sadducees, not knowing the Scriptures, rejected the resurrection as an unreasonable doctrine; and even the Corinthians drank more or less of the same poison. But however supernatural the work may be of raising the dead, no doctrine is more unequivocally asserted in the Bible -- none more emphatically and explicitly taught.
"Mr. Brown says, in his Bible Dictionary, that 'the law of God is given to our whole man, and is violated by our soul and body in connection. The body as an open part, admits of hints of good and temptations to sin. The carnal affections depending on the body, corrupt and mislead the mind. What outward actions the soul designs, whether good or evil, the body executes. When the heart is filled with hatred to God, the tongue and other bodily members are instruments to execute it. When the renewed soul loves and cleaves to the Lord Jesus Christ, the tongue utters his praise, and the other bodily members labor and endure suffering for his sake.' If these different parts of human nature share thus in actions of good or evil, it is reasonable they share together in the everlasting reward or punishment. Hence, the body must be restored to life and runited to the soul, never more to be separated.
* * *
"Our assent to the resurrection of Christ is to be governed in part, though not exclusively, by the testimony of those who were eye-witnesses. In this respect the account given by the evangelists and apostles carries irresistible conviction. Their conduct in asserting the resurrection of Christ is utterly unaccountable on any supposition except that of a firm belief, founded on the resistless evidence of their own senses. Like plain, honest men, they simply declared the fact. They persisted in declaring it. From what motives did they act? Did they seek for ease, or fame, or wealth, or honor? No. In asserting the resurrection of Christ they sacrificed everything usually esteemed among men; they exposed themselves to reproach and persecution, to poverty and distress. Would they have done these things if they had not had the most incontestable evidence that Christ had risen from the dead? * * *
"That the same body will be raised, is evident from the very nature of a resurrection; for if the same body was not raised, it could be no resurrection, but a new creation. It is their bodies that were once vile and mortal, diseased and dead, that bore the image of the earthly Adam, that shall be raised, and changed into the image of the heavenly Adam, and suited to that spiritual and immortal felicity to which they shall be admitted. Although death and the grave will retain their captives until the morning of the resurrection, the Captain of our salvation has vanquished death, and by his burial sacrificed the grave to all believers; and his resurrection assures them that their bodies shall be raised in their triumphs of glory; their victory over death and the grave will be honorable and complete.
* * *
It is worthy of remark that all men will be considered in that day either as in Adam or in Christ; and the righteous being in Christ, who lived and died and rose again as their surety, representative, and intercessor at the throne, they being one in union with Him, will consequently rise to the resurrection of life, and be admitted into the full fruition of glory. But the wicked not being found in Christ and with his righteousness on, but in Adam, that is to say in his depravity, corruption and guilt; will be raised by the power of Christ, as Judge of the universe; but it will be to the resurrection of damnation, by which we are to understand everlasting shame, contempt and endless torment. While hell shall give up its, departed souls, the earth and sea shall produce their bodies, and soul and body will exist eternally under the wrath of God." =============
[From T. C. Schilling, Abstract History of the Mississippi Baptist Association From Its Preliminary Organization in 1806 To The Centennial Session in 1906, 1908. -- jrd]
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