The Ministers and Messengers composing the Contentnea Baptist Association now sitting at Old Town Creek Meeting House, Edgecombe, Co. N.C., on the 20th. 21. and 22. days of October 1837; to the several churches they represent send you this agreeably to a long standing custom with us, as our annual epistle in which we shall attempt to call your attention to some of the important Truths which God in His great goodness has seen fit to reveal by His Holy Spirit in His word and in the hearts of us (as we do hope) His dear children.
Very Dear Brethren, There have been in almost all ages of the world men who by profession have denied the existence of God, and the immortality of the soul; teaching that happiness alone consists in doing what man thinks to be right agreeably to the dictates of common sense with the highest cultivation of the mind by aid of human wisdom. To such we would say in the language of Paul – Romans 1:20, “For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.” And it does appear to us while contemplating the wonderful works of nature that there could not be an rational and intelligent being so depraved, that he could not lay his hand on his breast whilst gazing on the same and say in his heart: “There is no god.” That we and all nature exist some how or other by mere chance, that nature caused itself – that happenings is alone here – that we shall not exist after death – that there is no judgment to come of the just and the unjust; no judgment seat of Christ where we are all to appear, and answer for the works or deeds done in the body, whether they be good or bad. Yet it is said in the Scriptures, “The fool hath said in his heart there is no God.” Notwithstanding there are men with such opinions we can rejoice that God has never left Himself without a witness, and to you dear brethren we can say in the language of Holy Writ – 2 Peter 1:19 - “We have also a more sure word of prophecy whereunto ye do well that ye take heed: for the prophesy came not in old time, by the will of man, but holy men spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
And there have been and still are men that deny the nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; although the Scriptures says – “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee. Therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” Likewise, there are still, as have been before, men that profess a universal salvation that all will finally be happy in eternity. The Scripture to the contrary notwithstanding - Mark 3:29, and this passage: “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to everlasting shame and contempt;” as well as many other Scriptures, if we had space to quote them. Still we have great cause to rejoice in the Rock of our salvation and to thank and adore Him, for one more privilege of meeting together in this our association, in the land of liberty, and worshipping Him in the way that seem right to us, consistent with His word.
We think it fit to attend first, to some of the important Truths contained in the word of God. It is declared in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, which we do believe to be the word of God, that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, that He created the beasts of the field, fowls of the air, fish of the sea, and also man. So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him, male and female created He them. Here we see our origin. Let the infidel say what he may, we also find that the Creator gave the creature a rule by which he was to be governed, or as it is better understood, a Law. This law is manifested by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. “Thou shalt not eat of it, for in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.” What follows? We find that man disobeyed, that he did eat of the forbidden fruit; therefore the penalty annexed to the transgression, which was death, must certainly follow. If this death, it may be considered, that our first parents did die to that created state, in which they stood before the transgression; that by the fall they brought condemnation, on themselves and their posterity, and death of the body and soul, unless made alive through the efficacy of Christ’s atonement. This is why it is said, “by one man came sin, and death by sin; so death hath passed upon all, for all have sinned.” And further, why it is said “sin is the transgression of the law; for by the law is the knowledge of sin, so Paul says to the Romans. This is what is understood by a state of condemnation, “born in sin.” “For in sin did my mother conceive me.” “I was shapened in sin, and brought forth in iniquity.” Says one of old, “And Job says, How can a clean thing come out of an unclean?”
These are some of the Truths contained in the word of God relating to man’s fall and his present state by nature. Notwithstanding so much that has been and still is said to the contrary by these that try to place mankind through the death and sufferings of Christ where He was before the fall; that is, that Christ by His death has done away original sin by His atonement, has made salvation possible for all mankind, that man is now condemned alone for actual sin, condemned alone for not believing in Jesus Christ. How does this agree with the word of Truth? Which declares that by man came sin, by the disobedience of one, many were made sinners – not by the disobedience of many. And again, was Adam condemned for not believing in Jesus Christ? Or for transgressing God’s Law? What say you? Not being believers in Christ proves that we are in a state of condemnation. Christ came not into the world to condemn the world; it was condemned already. And again if not sin, how can, or how do they die? For death is the punishment for sin. And again, if not sinners, how are they saved by Christ? For He came to save sinners, not the righteous. And again, if they are cleansed from sin it must be by an application of the blood of Christ. Therefore they cannot ever after come into condemnation; if they do Christ’s blood avails them nothing. If once holy, they must remain ever holy; for His seed remaineth in them, and they cannot sin. The word of Truth and daily experience prove the saints everlasting holiness for the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses from all sin. Do we not see the carnal heart is enmity itself to God – not subject to the law of God, neither can be?
We would direct your minds, brethren, to the time soon after the fall when, it is said, the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head. Here we have the first promise of a Savior. Also see John 1st chapter. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” In the first of these passages, Christ is revealed; in the second made manifest in the flesh - Psalm 40:7, “Lo, I come, in the Volume of the book it is written of Me.” And again in the fullness of the time God sent His Son into the world. He came under the law to redeem them that were under the law. And here let us again examine the word of truth where we will see plainly – manifested, in the two first children that were born the effect of faith with works, and of works without faith, which is still manifest to this day in the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. Let us endeavor to travel on in the good old way, the way of truth, stopping at here and there a place, and taking a look at the directions.
See the effect of faith in old Enoch: for he walked with God, and he was not, for God took him; let us as much as in us lies, to walk likewise. See Noah and Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord, and was a just man. And see at the same time the wickedness of man in general. For God says, “Behold I will destroy them with the earth, saith the Lord.” Was it not for their wickedness? But to Noah a just man he saith, “Make thee an ark.” And when it was completed after the precise pattern, which God gave him, the Lord said unto Noah, “Come thou and all thy house into the ark.” It does not say as some say now a days, Take anybody with you, the ark is large enough for all, if they would only come.” But we find it to the contrary. The call was to Noah and all his house only, a definite number. No conditions are named. And do you not think that Noah and his house entered willingly? But what made the beasts, fowls of the air, and creeping things come in? Was it of their own “freewill and accord”, or was it of the power of God? What say you? We think the latter. The same power that brought us into the spiritual Ark, Christ. We believe according to the working of His mighty power.
Let us go on to Abram afterwards Abraham and see the dealing of God with him. Was Abram the cause of God’s calling to get out of the land of his fathers to a land which God promised to him and his seed? Was it not God working after the counsel of His own will, as saying, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee.” We see when God called Abram, he heard, and believed too; and now when God calls a sinner, He makes him live and hear. Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Will you say Abraham was justified by works? I say not. For if he was, he hath whereof to glory, but not before God; for Paul says, “To him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.” So we see that he could not be justified by works in the sight of God as a sinner, but justified in believing God as a righteous act. And here we see the effectual call proved. A word here is sufficient: Jeremiah 6:16 - Read this chapter and see if you can find any thing that agrees with the present times. “Then saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways and see; and ask for the old paths where is the good way and walk therein, and ye shall find rest to your souls. But they said, We will not hearken.” What was the consequences? Examine for yourselves.
We must for the present pass by many important places, omitting to notice Isaac, Rebecca, and others. See God’s people carried to Egypt notwithstanding God’s promise to Abraham of the promised land. And come on to God’s delivering them by Moses. Here we have a most striking display of God’s power in which we find something to help the poor minister of God on. See the wonderful preservation of Moses. And when God’s time came to deliver His people, He said, “I have seen, I have seen, the afflictions of My people and am come down to deliver them. No conditions. He came down to deliver them and Moses was His choice by which to affect it. Hear Moses’ language: “Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh?” God said, certainly I will be with thee; and say to them, I Am hath sent me unto you. Did any thing prevent God’s effecting His purpose? We are told in these times they might or could have come out, if they would. But to the contrary, we find them under hard masters, and Pharaoh at the head who would not let them come out. See the same situation now of sinners: they are taken captive of the devil at his will. And again, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do.” So it would seem to be a bad chance for them to get out unless by the power of God. When God called Moses to the work, what did Moses say? What some do nowadays, “Pay me so much or first send me to a theological school that I may be taught what to say, and then I will go.” We think not.
Moses seems fully sensible of his inability for the work, and asks of God what to tell them. Now what was the effect? Did he say, “I will go and stay as long as they will give me $20.00 or $40.00 per month?” We think not. He went, and Aaron with him, and God gave deliverance to His people out of the hands of their enemies. So He does yet, and will continue to do so. Was all the host of Pharaoh delivered with them? Say no; for if they had been, there would not have been any to follow after and pursue them, nor a mixed multitude to be with them.
See another display of the power of God at the Red Sea; the sea before, the host of Pharaoh behind. What was to be done? Destruction to all human appearance was certain! What does Moses say? Does he say all hope is gone; prepare for death? No such thing falls from the man of God. Hear him saying “Stand still and see the salvation of God.” The sea divided, the Israelites pass through dry shod – Pharaoh’s host attempted to follow, but are drowned. God is always with His people; but many times they cannot see in what way or how they are to be delivered.
Brethren, did you ever experience any thing like this? If so, you have great reason to rejoice, as the children of Israel did. But remember they had a wilderness to pass through, as you have and remember how soon and how often they forgot their God by forsaking His laws, and following other gods, by which they brought sore judgments on themselves; which certainly will be our case if we walk in like forbidden paths. See how God displayed His power with Joshua, in taking possession of the promised land.
We must hasten: We have a long journey before us beset with snares and traps. Still we have a prize in view, which will not admit of delay. Next we would call your attention to the prophets, which God raised up to instruct His people and to warn them. Yet notwithstanding all we see how often they strayed from the right way and thereby brought distress on themselves. And Brethren, can we escape if we do the like? Let us examine the directions, and endeavor to keep in the way. But in all these times we see God had some faithful ones to instruct and warn His people. And what should we do these cold and trying times if it was not for a few faithful ones that stand firm on the same foundation of the prophets and apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ?
We will pass on to the time God saw fit to speak to the world by His Son Jesus Christ. In the fullness of the time, Jesus Christ, God manifest in the flesh, makes His appearance in the world - the long looked-for Savior. What was the then state of the world? Was everybody faithful, ready to receive Him as the Christ, or were they mostly wicked idol worshippers? Alas, even the Jews that boasted of being Moses’ disciples seem only to have had a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof; as Paul proves, nevertheless God’s time had come for Christ to come in the flesh. For Peter proves it when he says; (speaking of Christ,) “Him being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye by wicked hands have seized and slain.” And if delivered according to His counsel, certainly He came according to the same. For God sent His Son into the world, and He could not have sent Him, without first determining to do so. Now there was a cause for God sending His Son, and a purpose to be effected by it. The cause was God’s eternal love, the purpose was some men’s salvation. The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. It is one thing to be justified by the law, and quite another to be justified by Jesus Christ. For if there had been a law that could have given life, then verily righteousness would have come by the law. Then Christ would have died in vain. But Christ is the end of the law for righteousness unto every one that believeth. Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us pause for a moment to contemplate the advent of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ into this world to the few and faithful that were looking for Him, agreeable to the prophecies and contrast it with the feelings of those self-righteous Pharisees and idol worshippers who were expecting righteousness by the law. Let us have it in the language of the angel sent for that purpose: “Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people; for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior which is Christ the Lord.” A Savior – what a precious word that is to a poor lost trembling sinner, that sees no way for his escape, condemned and justly so, a sinner against heaven and in his own sight as well; lost and undone forever! We say how often have these words been balm to his sin-sick soul, and good tidings of great joy – a Savior able and willing to save, a Savior able to save all His people from all of their sins- His people! Now here arises an inquiry, Who are His people? Some will tell us that the people here contemplated are all and every body that may, if they will believe; they may and can be saved. But we do not believe so; for the text does not say so. It says, He shall, in the positive, save His people from their sins. Again it is said, They are His people when they believe. The text don’t read so; it says, “He shall save His people.” We will admit all are His people by creation and preservation. Further, it is contended by some that all are His by redemption: which we cannot admit. For if so, then He must save all without exception; or He cannot “see the travail of His soul and be satisfied,” which would lead to an universal salvation, to which we cannot give our assent; as the word of truth is so plain on the point. Well then, what are we to understand by the people contemplated in the text? We believe they are the same people contemplated in the passage where it is said, “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” We believe it to be the same people, whose sins He bore in His own body on the tree. We believe it to be the same people mentioned in Ephesians: “According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy, and without blame before Him in love;” not chosen as some say, because they were holy, but we say because they were unholy, and that they might be made holy; which agrees with the text that says, “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost.” We believe it to be the same people given to Him in Covenant which is proven by many Scriptures – see Hebrews for one: “Through the blood of the everlasting covenant.” We believe them to be the same people given to Him by the Father: for Thine they were, and Thou hast given them Me.” Now if He has bargained for them, and paid the price (for it is said, “bought with a price, redeemed not with corruptible things as silver and gold, but His own precious blood,) and if has all power in heaven and in earth, do you not think, Brethren, He will save His people from their sins. To conclude this part: We say, Christ has paid the debt, did in the stead of His people; and now it only remains for them to be brought to a knowledge of the same to be saved from their sins experimentally, born again, brought into the Ark of safety, brought into the promised land, saved from condemnation, saved from the power and dominion of sin, saved from the love of sin, killed to the love of it; for how can they that are dead to sin, live any longer in it?
We now speak of the effect of the Holy Ghost upon the hearts of sinners. God says, “Behold the days come when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah; not according to the one made with their fathers when they were brought out of the land of Egypt,” but it is after this way: “I will put My laws in their mind, and write them in their hearts and I will be to them a God, and they shall be My people.” And again, “the hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live.” We believe this is the office or work of the Holy Spirit, for it is said, “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God;” and again, “born of the Spirit.” And now, Brethren, for the evidences in your own breast, have you ever felt any of the operations of the Holy Spirit in your own souls? Such as, being born again, born of the Spirit, dead to sin, striving against sin, warring against it? Have you died to it and been made alive to holiness; and felt love to God; and love to saints? For love is the fulfillment of the law; and an evidence that you have passed from death unto life, and have the witness in your own heart. If so, you are an heir of God, and a joint heir with Jesus Christ His Son; kept by the power of God, through faith unto salvation. And if God be for you, who can be against you? Is not this enough? We think we hear some of you saying, I once thought I felt and knew something of these things; but now it seems to be all gone; it is so dead and cold with me. Suppose you were to let us make some inquiry of you: Perhaps you are like Israel of old, strayed from the covenant; from the right way and too much in love with the things of the world. Is this world a friend to us, to help us on to God? You must say not. Perhaps you may feel and say, I can hardly contain myself reading a chapter in the Good Book, rather than read almost any thing else. I find I can read, or take much more time in reading newspapers, or other works of the day that the Scriptures of Truth, it might be said of these, that it is well enough at times; but be sure not to neglect the more important matter. “Search the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they that testify of Me.”
Brethren, in the ministry, is this the case with any of you? Is there any neglect in reading the word of God? If so, no wonder that you are often so much at a loss for a text to prove the doctrine you are striving to maintain; not because there is not a text to prove it, but because you cannot recollect it. But perhaps the poor preacher will say, This is not the worst: It seems I have no life even to sing, or hardly return God thanks for the blessings which I daily enjoy, have no spirit of prayer; yea, and when it comes time to go to preaching, it seems that I can’t preach, and that everybody wants me to quit, and in fact it seems that I had as well quit.
Brethren in the ministry, remember Moses: God told him to go. And go you must if God has sent you. Examine the old way spoken of and see if you cannot find some circumstance or case that suits you. Perhaps you have gone in forbidden paths lusting after the things of the world to much, Brethren one and all, we find we are swelling this epistle too far; and must come to a close. We of this Contentnea Association profess to be a people taught of the Lord. If so the Scriptures will recognize us as Christians. The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch. We shall examine the word Christian in a twofold sense: First, the term Christian is applied generally to all those nations and people that profess Christ. Secondly, and as we would be understood to mean, to those and those only, that are born again, born of the Spirit of God; those that walk in newness of life, that are really and truly believers in Jesus Christ, that are dead to sin. These we consider and no other are Christians and fit subjects for baptism, and that by immersion; and for members of Christ’s church here on earth. Such we consider were this first Christians contemplated in the text.
Now Brethren, let us see what were this characters. We find them Christ-like, always doing good and although in the world, the world professing but little of them. See them as ministers of Christ earnestly contending for His Truth even to death. Hear the Savior to Peter: “Feed My lambs, feed My sheep.” Hear Paul, Acts 20:21-28. “I go bound in the Spirit to Jerusalem not knowing the things that shall befall me there.” And to the brethren in the ministry: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers; to feed the church of God which He hath purchased with His own blood.” Mark that, Brethren, the Holy Ghost, not man, or boards of men, but the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers; to feed the church of God. If these were the only preachers among us, do you not think we should be better off? Hear Paul, further in this same chapter: “Knowing this, that after my departure shall grievous wolves enter in among you not sparing the flock.” Of these wolves, Christ also warns us to beware. And now, Brethren of the Contentnea Association, we by profession have protested, as we think, against the work of these wolves; for we think we have seen their tracks, notwithstanding they have the sheepskin on, and have felt some of the effects of their teeth. The church in the Scriptures is compared to many things – a woman, a garden, a city, and many others, among which sheep is one. See Christ to Peter “feed My sheep;” Contemplate for a moment the difference in sheep and wolves. What a striking difference. On the character of sheep, we would be glad to comfort you a little before we leave you; and in doing so what can we say more and better for your consolation, than to refer you to Christ’s own words: see John 10: “I am the good Shepherd. The good Shepherd giveth His life for His sheep.” Contrast this with the hireling: see the difference? The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. Christ: “I am the good Shepherd, and know My sheep, and am known of Mine.” Contemplate for a moment what we once were, and what we hope we now are. Once dead in trespasses and in sin, now dead to sin; once out of the fold, now received into the fold; once enemies to God, now friends to God; once unreconciled to God, now reconciled to Him by the death of His Son. See the everlasting love of God: “I have loved thee with an everlasting love, and therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee.” God is love. We love Him because He first loved us. God so loved the world, that He gave (not offered) His only begotten Son; Christ so loved sinners, that He gave Himself – He gave Himself for us, that He might purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. See the love of Christ. He that was rich became poor, that we through His poverty might be rich. John says, “Love one another.” Brethren we ought to love one another, and Christians under a right exercise of faith do so love one another. Once more the character and nature of sheep: they are harmless inoffensive animals, feeding on green pastures in the Spring, and Summer have a natural disposition to be together; but are subject to many diseases; often get their fleece torn with briers, thorns; are easily scattered by wolves, and dogs, and often killed; and very often get so much frightened, that they run from the shepherd himself; but in due time, by right management they get back again. We notice that sheep chew the cud. We often see them after feeding on the pasture for a while, lying under the shade apparently happy, were it not for the flies, chewing the cud or food again. In the winter we see them feeding on buds, and the old dead straw of the pasture and when they can get it; on grain from the hand of the shepherd. So Christians like to be together, unless torn apart by wolves and dogs, they in spiritual Springs feed on green pastures of heavenly frames, and on the sincere milk of the word, but are often beset with difficulties, torn with briers; and evil thoughts like flies, when they are meditating on a good sermon or Scripture reading, which they have heard or read, or are hearing, meditating on the dealings of God with their souls. But in a spiritual winter all seems cold and lifeless with them; if they walk over the pasture and attempt to feed therein, it all seems as dry, straw – no substance in it. But when they can shelter under some of the precious promises, get a grain or so from the Good Shepherd’s hand of the bread of life, which came down from God; that giveth life to the church. They revive a little again.
Now if we have an evidence that we are sheep, let us endeavor to live as such; be always ready to give a reason of the hope that is in us; endeavoring to be like our blessed Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as much as we can; for we are a city set upon a hill that cannot be hid. Let us endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Let us always as much as in us lie abound in the work of the Lord, showing our faith by our works; and with the words of Paul we for the present leave you: and now Brethren we commend you to God, and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified. Amen.
Transcribed by Stanley Phillips – May 2009