To the churches that compose the Contentnea Baptist Association,
Being favored by Divine Providence, your messengers are now assembled in an association with the church at White Oak, Edgecombe County, N.C., and according to arrangement of our last annual meeting held with the church at Swift Creek, Craven county as appears upon the Minutes we again (by permission of Him who works all things after the counsel of His own will) send you this our epistle of love in which we desire to stir up your pure minds to a remembrance of those things that make for the peace and comfort of Zion and the glory of God.
This is our twenty-third Annual Meeting and we have great reason to be thankful to our God for His loving kindness to, and preserving care over us.
Our enemies have from time to time predicted our downfall; but the hand of God has sustained us, and some of our churches of late have had considerable additions to their membership, while the bounds of our associations have expanded over a more extensive territory; and the brethren and sisters seem to enjoy to a considerable extent the fruit of the Spirit by which they are enabled to live together in the unity of the Spirit and in the bond of peace.
In view of these things may we not say, that God Almighty has stood for us in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation? And seeing that He hath done so great things for us, what manner of persons ought we to be, in all holy conversation and godliness.
Beloved, we now desire to call your attention to the Christian faith, or to, The Faith that was once delivered to the saints; without which it is impossible to please God; for “he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him,” - Hebrews 11c, 6v. This is a subject that is much abused in this our day, and the term faith is perhaps as little understood, by the professing world as any other term found in the Bible. Notwithstanding, the apostle Paul has defined it to be “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The Christian faith, therefore, is based upon the force of testimony – the revelation of God – and cannot be the creature as many suppose. In a word, the Christian faith is nothing more or less than our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in whom dwell the fullness of the Godhead bodily. So it is written, “before faith came we were kept under the law; shut up unto the faith, which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ (or as it is in the Greek, “until Christ”) that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come we are no longer under a schoolmaster.” - Gal. 3c, 23-25verses. Here the apostle is speaking of the coming of faith evidently had reference to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Then “as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” This is the Christian faith and this faith is the gift of God. “For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works lest any man should boast.” - Eph. 2c, 8-9v. Again, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”- John 3c, 16v. The Son saith, “My sheep hear My voice and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish. And neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand. My Father which gave them Me is greater than all and none is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand.” - John 10c, 27-29v. So there is a twofold gift in the Christian faith. The Father gave us unto His Son, and His Son gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. Jesus Christ therefore is the foundation of the Christian faith. But if the foundation be removed, what shall the righteous do? But thanks be to God it can never be removed, “For the foundation of God standeth sure having this seal, the Lord knoweth them that are His.” - 2 Timothy 2c, 19v.
These things are true, and in the faith once delivered to the saints – faith in all ages of the world in the Son of God, has been that which moved men to action in holy things; and by faith offer up sacrifices that are pleasing in the sight of God. Witness the case of Cain and Abel – the two first born sons of Adam. Both of these brothers made offerings to the Lord God. However Cain’s offering was of that nature as to make manifest that he did not believe the record that God had given of His Son for in it there was no blood, and “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.” And in as much as without faith it is impossible to please God, God had not respect to Cain nor his offering. Again, Cain offering being without faith was dead being alone and God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.
Abel’s offering was of the firstlings of his flock, an offering that could not be made, but by the shedding of blood in which he manifested that he believed the record that God had given of His Son. Yea, his offering was a shadow of good things to come and pointed a way to the Lamb of God who was to be made a propitiatory sacrifice for sins upon the Roman cross. Abel’s offering being a lively figure of Him that was to come, was a living sacrifice; and as our God Beloved, is the God of the living, He had respect to Abel and to his offering. This was the effect of faith, and such will be its effects.
Faith in the Son of God has never led man to err in the system of salvation by grace, but is calculated to establish them upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone. But where faith in the Son of God is wanting, you see earthly sacrifices being made, men of corrupt minds, reprobates concerning the faith, going about to establish their own righteousness of their own, and not submitting themselves unto the righteousness of God. Woe unto them, for they have gone in the way of Cain; and Jesus says, “But in vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” - Matt. 15c, 9v. So then without faith it is impossible to please God. There is one God, and one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. 1 Tim. iic, 5v. All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. - John 1c, 3v. His power is such that He commanded, and they were created. - Psalm 148c, 5v. All His commandments are sure. Psalm 3c, 7v. He spake and it was done, He commanded and it stood fast. This God is our God, and we believe there is salvation in none other, for all power in heaven and earth is in Him and therefore He doeth His pleasure and it was according to the pleasure of the Father to send His Son into the world to make an atonement for sin. When therefore the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His own Son, made of woman, made under the law to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” - Gal. 4c, 4v. So Jesus came into the world to save sinners. He came unto His own and His own received Him not, but as many as received Him gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name; which were bone of His bone, and flesh of His flesh; which were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor the will of man, but of God. (John 1). Well “He is despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief, and we hid as it were our faces from Him; He was despised and we esteemed Him not. Surely (saith the prophet Isaiah) He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon Him and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” - Isaiah 53c. Here the prophet leads our minds to understand that seven hundred and twelve years before our Lord made His appearance unto the world actually, that He did virtually bear our griefs, and carried our sorrows &c., and that He was wounded for our transgressions, and that by His stripes we are healed. But now the Savior of sinners has come into the world, and is found actually bearing our sins in His own body upon the tree. Therefore He must die for Justice cries, “Awake O sword against My Shepherd, and against the man that is My fellow, saith the Lord of hosts; smite the Shepherd and the sheep shall be scattered and I will turn My hand upon the little ones.” Jesus the friend of sinners, dies upon the cross; Justice is satisfied and says, “I am well pleased for His righteousness sake;” Jesus is taken from the cross and buried and the third day arises again a triumphant Conqueror over death and all enemies, and ascends to the right hand of the Majesty on high where He ever lives to make intercession for the saints according to the will of God. But He will come again without sin unto salvation, and He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. - Matt. 24c, 31v.
This is the faith once delivered to the saints and by which we come to God, believing the record that He has given of His Son, and, believe we come leaning upon our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; believing that He is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and ending of our salvation, and that He is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth, for He bore our sins in His own body upon the cross that we might live through His righteousness. And by faith the Psalmist David could say, “I shall not die but live and declare the works of the Lord,” And we also believe that it is in Him we live and move and have our being - Acts 17c, 28v. And herein we come to God by faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for He is the way, the truth, and the life, and no man cometh unto the Father but by Him and He saith, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life, and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.” - John 3c, 36v. The difference is clearly set forth here, brethren, him that believeth and him that believeth not – the one has the promise of life, and the other the promise that he shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him. And this difference was fully manifested in the case above named in regard to the offering of Cain and Abel, and by reference to the Bible. You will find many similar cases through the dispensations of time, for all men have not faith, and without faith it is impossible to please God. So then they that come to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. Abel was rewarded, read his history and all the faithful in Christ have been rewarded and will yet be rewarded with glorious things, time would fail to enumerate circumstances. Search the Scriptures says Jesus, for in them you think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of Me. And it is the Scriptures that testify of the rewards and gifts of the Father to His children. The Scriptures also inform us that it was necessary under the law dispensation that offerings should be often made although they could not take away sin, for it is not possible, that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins; nevertheless the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. Wherefore when He cometh into the world, He saith, “Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldst not, but a body hast Thou prepared Me; in burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, lo, I come in the volume of the Book; it is written of Me to do Thy will, O God. He taketh away the first (that is, the covenant of works under the law which was only a shadow of good things to come) that He may establish the second, by the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all. And now therefore there is no more offering for sin, Jesus having consecrated for us a new and living way through His flesh.” Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith without wavering; for He is faithful that has promised, and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but let us exhort one another; and so much the more as ye see the day approaching. - Heb. 10c. For He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses (this you will observe, however, was only a temporal death, for the law could do no more than take the natural life of its subjects,) but the apostle says, of how much more punishment suppose ye? Shall he be thought worthy who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace – Here the Apostle brings us to understand that there is a much more punishment due to those who do despite &c., to the Spirit of grace than that of a temporal death which was inflicted under Moses law, and their punishment will be an everlasting punishment for Jesus hath said, “These shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.” – Matt. 25c, 41v.
And again, the apostle Paul under a full appearance of faith on the second coming of our Lord and of the blessed immortality of the righteous says, “The dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” - Thess 4c, 17-18v. To be able by grace to lay hold of such precious promises that we shall ever be with the Lord is sufficient for us in time a reward that should encourage us to go on our way rejoicing, looking unto Jesus who is the author and finisher of our faith, and as faithful children let us try as much as in us is to love in the full discharge of every known duty, and thereby honor our Father which art in heaven. For we are commanded to let our lights so shine before men that they may see our good works and glorify our Father which is in heaven.
Again, when we, dear brethren, are living in the discharge of our duties to God we acknowledge His Sovereignty, and receiving influences of His love over us, when we are in love and union among ourselves. Let us strive therefore to live in the unity of the Spirit and in the bond of peace. And we pray God to enable us all so to live, that we may be found coming to Him in all His appointed ways leaning only upon Jesus and finally we pray Him to receive us in His Kingdom above, when we shall ever be with the Lord and where parting scenes will be no more and all sorrows and sighings will flee away and where God shall wipe all tears from our eyes. Then, brethren, we shall be fully rewarded for all that we may have to encounter in this life. Press onward then to the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus knowing that we shall erelong receive a crown of righteousness that fadeth not away reserved for us in heaven where moth nor rust doth not corrupt, nor thieves break through nor steal.
Finally, brethren, those things which you have both learned and received and head and seen do; and the God of all peace shall be with you.