Circular Letter 1858

The Corresponding Meeting of the Old School Baptists, held with the Church at Bethlehem, Prince William County, Virginia, August 12 and 14, 1858, to the Churches, Associations and other Meetings Corresponding with us, desire grace, mercy and peace.

Beloved Brethren: — We would in return for your epistles of love, write to you also concerning the common salvation. The particular point on which we would now address you, is the exhortation found in Heb. 12th, 28, “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.” In ver. 26 it is said, “Whose voice then shook the earth, but now he hath promised, saying yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.” The expression, Whose voice then shook the earth, refers to the giving of the law from Sinai, of which was spoken ver. 18-21. The promise, yet once more, I shake not the earth only but also heaven, is taken from Haggai 2d., 6. It was spoken by the Prophet in connection with the· promise that the desire of all nations, the Messiah, should come to that second temple which the Jews were then building, as is seen by the context.

Hence it is manifest, that this once more shaking not only the earth, but also heaven, refers to the shaking the Jews out from their good land, and also the removing or rolling up the legal dispensation by the coming of the Messiah. Hence in ver. 27 we are told, “And this word yet once more signifieth the removing of those things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.” The Sinai covenant was the heaven, which overshadowed and bedewed national Israel with those temporal blessings by which they were preserved as a distinct nation until Shiloh came. They were made, not created, but made of that which already existed, as the shadow is made by the pre-existing substance. When the purpose for which they were made was accomplished, they were removed. Those things which cannot be shaken are what relate directly to Christ, his body, and his salvation. They cannot be shaken; first, because the covenant in which Christ was set up and the whole salvation of his body secured was from everlasting, and not like things made in time and for a time purpose. Secondly, the declaration of these things was by the absolute promise of God who cannot lie. Hence, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after the promise made to Abraham could not disannul the promise. If the giving of the law could not make the promise of none effect, the removal of the legal dispensation could not shake it.

Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, &c. This is the gospel kingdom, the kingdom of heaven; it is established by a covenant ordered in all things and sure; a covenant established upon better promises than was the Sinai covenant, therefore it cannot be moved.

A kingdom signifies the dominion of a king, as well as the territories over which he reigns. As to its territories, it embraces the dominion and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heavens. Dan. 7th, 27. Its dominion is not an earthly reign; it is a heavenly kingdom and therefore a spiritual dominion. It is exercised all by and through Christ the Head and Husband of his church.

The heirs of this kingdom, by nature as the children of Adam, are born in bondage under the law and are under its curse as transgressors. But the Captain of their salvation, has by his death obtained for them a complete redemption, has taken the curse out of the way, and with it removed all evil as flowing from it. And the law itself is made to them a blessing in that by it, is the knowledge of sin, and by its application to them, their hearts are prepared to receive with joy the glad tidings of salvation.

Satan is said to be the prince of this world, and is an enemy; but he is conquered and his enmity made sub-servient to the people and church of Christ. As the shepherd makes use of dogs to collect the scattered sheep to keep them from wandering, to fold them, so the Lord makes Satan’s malice work for good. If Satan assaults with his temptations, if his minions watch for the haltings of the children of God, to reproach them or try to entrap them, or if his ministers annoy them with their false systems of religion, these all tend to drive the sheep of Christ back to their pastures and their folds; they make the preached gospel, the society of the brethren, the blood of Christ, the throne of grace, and the mercy and grace of God to appear more precious to them. The world is an enemy; but it is also overcome and made to work for the good of Zion and her children. Its snares, its afflictions, vexations and cares, as well as its flatteries, have a similar effect upon the subjects of grace, as had the oppressions of Pharoah upon Israel in Egypt. This made them willing to leave Egypt and go forth at God’s bidding. So the people of God are made willing by various trials here, to leave the world and go to be with Christ.

The flesh with its deformity is an enemy. But as the curse upon the ground is a blessing to man in his present state, his eating his bread in the sweat of his face makes his bread sweet and his sleep refreshing. So when we have been laboring and groaning under the burden of our corruptions, how sweet and refreshing it is to be enabled by faith to feed upon the shew bread of the gospel, the flesh and blood of Christ, and to rest upon his atonement. Israel loathed the manna in the wilderness; (Num. 21st, 5) they did not labor to produce it. So probably we should esteem the preached gospel insipid, if we were not from time to time, made to feel the grievous burden of our corruptions. In like manner, “All things are yours, and ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” (1 Cor. 3d, 21-23) “And all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” “We receiving a kingdom &c.” How do we receive it? Said our Lord to his disciples, “Fear not little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” We receive it then as a free gift from our heavenly Father. We do not receive it, as we do natural things so as to have the possession of it, made manifest to our natural senses.

We have noticed that the kingdom is spiritual. Hence it is only by that faith which is the fruit of the spirit that we receive it. And it is only when faith is in exercise that we can realize the possession of it, and feel that we are made kings and priests unto our God. Hence says John, “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even your faith.” (John 5th, 4) Let us have grace. What is grace? It signifies the bestowing of favor freely; it is therefore opposed to works by which favor is earned. When spoken of in reference to God and his people, it relates to the everlasting love of God to them in Christ Jesus, which led him to provide salvation, and everything pertaining to it with eternal glory for them of his own good pleasure. It is frequently used to denote particular gifts, strength, consolation, light, &c., bestowed of God upon his people individually, in fitting them for particular stations, in guiding, upholding, comforting, and strengthening them, .&c.

When spoken of as relating to us, it must mean the same principle of free favor, or of action as flowing from love, in distinction from acting or doing for reward. It is action produced by the love of God shed abroad in our hearts. The expression, Let us have grace, does not imply that we can of our own selves be influenced in our actions by love to God, for “We love him because he first loved us;“ and it is only as he influences us by his love that we act from grace. Neither does it imply that we can command by prayer or otherwise the grace of God to be communicated to us at our pleasure. But if we are the subjects of God’s grace, we have the principle of grace or love in our hearts, while we have the principle of works in our old man. Hence the importance of the exhortation Let us have grace, that is, let us be actuated by the principle of grace; let us act from love and not from the idea of reward. In other words, let us walk after the spirit, and not after the flesh.

“Whereby we may serve God acceptably.” In vain would we expect to be accepted of God, if influenced in our religious service by an expectation of being rewarded for it. That service can alone be acceptable to God which proceeds from love to him; and which instead of being as something meriting reward is offered only in reliance on Christ’s blood for its acceptance. We having received a kingdom which cannot be moved, every ground is cut off for offering that selfish service which looks for reward, or for supposing that God needs any of our poor services to enable him to extend or establish his kingdom, when it is already given and fixed immovable. With reverence and godly fear. A proper reverence for God; for his greatness, his majesty and holiness, will lead us to desire to do those things which he has commanded in his word, and which he has made manifest to us as our duty and privilege to do, and will prevent us from offering to him any service, or performing any thing in his name, which he has not required us to do.

Godly fear will lead us in approaching God with any of our services to be jealous of ourselves, to feel our vileness in his sight, to mourn over the imperfection and polutions of all we do, and to ask acceptance for them alone through the blood and righteousness of Christ. If at any time we receive evidence of acceptance in our services, it will lead us to esteem it rich grace and to praise God for it. We will also notice the following verse in its connection with the above. “For our God is a consuming fire.” It has been supposed that this refers to God out of Christ. But however it may be with others, we worship not a God out of Christ. “He that is our God, is the God of salvation” (Psal. 13, 20) and therefore God in Christ. The fire that devoureth before him (Psal. 50, 3) but it consumed all the sacrifices offered on the altar of Israel, even consumed not only the sacrifices of Elijah, but the wood, the stones and the dust, and licked up the water. How then can any of our will-worship, any of our services not appointed of God, or not offered in Christ’s name, or accepted through him, escape being burned up? Nothing that is not of God and therefore nothing that is not of faith can stand the test of his fire. Let us, then brethren, have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.

The letters from the churches and from the associations, speak more encouragingly than they have been won’t to in years past, not that they speak of greater increase to their numbers, but they manifest a greater and more unshaken confidence in the Great Head of the church, in his power, wisdom, and faithfulness to sustain his churches and cause, and to control all the rage and arts of the enemies of truth, so as to make their devices all work for the good of his cause and people. We would feel grateful for the epistles of love received, and for the appointment of messengers, to visit us by the associations in correspondence with us. Though we much regret that so few of them attended our meeting. Those who did visit us, cheered our hearts by their preaching and kindly interviews with us. Our meeting was harmonious, the preaching was clear and faithful.

Our next meeting is appointed to be held with Mount Zion Church, Loudoun County, Virginia, to commence on the Thursday before the 3d Lord’s day in August, 1859. We entreat the associations and meetings in fellowship with us, to continue their expressions of love to us, by sending us their ministers and messengers, and we desire that the brethren appointed may be directed by the good providence of our God to meet with us.

S. Trott, Moderator
R. C. Leachman, Clerk
Signs of the Times – August 15, 1858

Republished:
Volume 127, No. 11
November 1959