Dear Brother Beebe; Your excellent letter was received in due time, kindly inviting me to attend, if possible, your association this Spring. Nothing, I assure you, would give me more pleasure; but situated as I am, it seems out of the question. My family now consists of myself and wife, her mother, and our two youngest daughters; and our country is so dreadfully demoralized, so many murders and other depredations committed by poor ruined freedmen and others no better, that my small family is in dread when I am absent, [at night particularly] even to attend my regular meetings. It seems out of my power to attend the association.
I have concluded to offer a few thoughts on the subject of christian fellowship, I John 1:7. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”
Christian fellowship can be realized and enjoyed by none but such as are born of God and taught by revelation of the Holy Spirit to know the only true God, in the righteous demands of his law, and their utter inability to pay, in their depraved, ruined and helpless condition; and then by revelation of the same Spirit, taught to know something of the mercy and goodness of God in the forgiveness of their sins; for what Jesus Christ has done for them, by his life, death and resurrection. “All thy children shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of thy children.” These are truly the circumcision which worship God in the spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh, or in the salvation of sinners by the deeds of the law, or by works of righteousness which they have done, but, saved by grace, through faith, and that not of themselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast. Such as have been thus divinely taught, entertain the most exalted views of God, and of the scriptures of divine truth, searching them as for hidden treasures, more excellent than rubies or fine gold; and to this day they think of themselves as poor and unworthy, as Mephibosheth did when brought to the king’s table for Jonathan’s sake. II Sam.9:8. “What is thy servant, that thou shouldest look upon such a dead dog as I am.” And they have reason to pray, as long as they remain in this world, like the poor publican, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” And with Paul to say, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” When a company of sinners [two or three, or more] are thus brought to believe with the heart unto righteousness, and with the mouth make confession to each other unto salvation, or delivery in their feelings, and by taking up the cross and following Jesus, according to the New Testament rule, prove their allegiance to him, and their love to the truth of his word, being actuated from correct principles, devoted to God in sincerity, it will not do them to unite with a professed religious society, simply because it is called orthodox and seems popular and prosperous in the world, or that fleshly relatives are there, and going that way; no, they are not devoted to these things, but to God and his truth; and their prayer is, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” Or, like David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts, and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psa.139:23,24. With all such there is sweet fellowship with God their spiritual Father, and with Jesus Christ his Son, and with one another. Oneness of spirit, oneness of life, oneness of feeling, oneness of language, because God has turned to them a pure language; oneness of faith, or belief, oneness of hope, oneness of love, all children of the light, prepared by grace to walk in the light, as God their heavenly Father is in the light; not to be idle spectators, but to walk or move on in discharge of the duties the New Testament enjoins. Saints obtain fellowship with each other by making confession with their mouths, and maintain it by walking with their feet; and when this is done, they can consistently walk and commune together, for they are “agreed,” and without such agreement, to pretend to walk and commune together is mockery before God, and of course, without true religious enjoyment. The pilgrimage of the saint, if I understand it, is a mystery to himself; his depraved nature has its notions about light and darkness, which are always incorrect, because it takes light for darkness, and darkness for light. The light of divine grace makes manifest the depravity of the heart, its darkness, deceitfulness, ignorance, and in fact, its utter destitution of everything that is good, so that human boasting and glorying is cut off; while darkness prompts one to think highly of himself, to glory in his prosperity, wisdom, prudence, piety, [as Arminians call it] good feelings, &c. In this condition depraved nature in it’s darkness might say, “I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing,” and at the same time be “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” Rev.3:17.
If your readers could bear with such a being as I am, a little, it might do them no harm. After I had been ordained a number of years, and trying to serve churches, once I attended a three days meeting, and preached every day, with great liberty, and baptized several, and enjoyed the meeting finely. Traveling towards home on Monday, I was pleasantly reflecting about the meeting, and making large calculations for preaching more extensively than I had done, determined to turn over a new leaf [so to speak] in my religious life, preaching, &c. All was peace and pleasantness of mind, till I awoke on Tuesday morning with an aching heart, and I could not tell why, but it soon occurred to me forcibly that I was no christian, much less a preacher of the gospel. In my distress I wandered from place to place, trying to pray, that if I was deceived, the Lord would undeceive me. I could not pray with the least assurance of being heard by a holy God. Eventually it was deeply impressed on my mind that all pretensions to Christianity was mere humbuggery; and on Friday evening, while attempting to pray, it was suggested that it was foolishness, for there was no God. I took it for granted that no one could be a christian who doubted the existence of God; and a dreadful time I had that night, but determined to go to Lystra church that day, and act the part of the honorable man, - tell them I was no christian, and had imposed myself upon them as a preacher; and I intended never to attempt preaching any more. I also had determined to have my name erased from the church book at our next regular meeting. But when I commenced telling them at Lystra church; this text rushed into my mind: “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” I stood there and preached one hour and a half with as much liberty and pleasure as I ever had, and really would not have been deprived of the company of the saints, and religious privileges, for any consideration. Now I believe in the first place the pride of sinful nature in its darkness caused me to become exalted, and to conclude all was well, and truly I was devoted to God, and intended to be more so. In the last place, I hope and believe the light of divine grace taught me the truth, that I was, sure enough, wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked. Strange exercises God’s poor and afflicted people have; and equally strange, too, that they strengthen each other by exhibiting to each other their weakness, and their entire dependence upon the God of their salvation. Thus walking in the light, as he is in the light, they have fellowship one for another, and glory to God in the highest, “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”
My dear brother, I feel that I greatly desire the peace of Zion, let my case be as it may. Pray for me. May the Lord sustain you in the defense of the truth, all your appointed time upon earth.
Yours in love,
Oglethorpe County, Georgia, April 28, 1869.