TO THE SAINTS AND FAITHFUL BRETHREN SCATTERED ABROAD - MY DEAR BRETHREN AND SISTERS: - We have fallen upon strange times, both politically and religiously, and after many deep and solemn meditations upon the present state of Zion, I feel impressed to present to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, some of my contemplations on the present condition of the people of God.
Although we are not of the world, we are still in the world, subject to the vicissitudes that convulse it from time to time, and as the children of God have generally been the greatest sufferers where order is broken up and anarchy predominates in its stead, above all others we should tread with caution every step we take, and see that we contribute nothing to the overthrow of law and order - the downfall of a wholesome government. In common with my brethren and fellow-citizens I feel a deep solicitude for the perpetuity of our civil institutions, under which we have enjoyed so many signal blessings, and over which angry clouds are scowling, hanging impendent, lowering gloomily, big with fanaticism, strife, angry bickerings and cruel jealousies, which have been too successful in begetting in the hearts of our rulers, as well as in those of many of their constituents, a feeling of deadly hate and alienation; and which appears to be sweeping as with a besom of destruction from the hearts of the people inhabiting the contending sections of our country, the last vestiges of that fraternal sensation which alone can form and perpetuate a federal Union - a national reciprocity. Should this spirit of animosity be nurtured, and the interests and blessings of the two great sections of our country so richly dispensed among us by a munificent hand, so well calculated to unite us as one great nation, and which the God of battles has bequeathed to us for a time at the expense of the treasure, the extreme sufferings, the blood and the lives of devoted, sacrificing and sacrificed patriots; I repeat, should these interests and blessings be arrayed in hostile attitudes against each other, what better can we expect as a nation than that the God who has so liberally dispensed them, and for which we have been so ungrateful, should uncurb the frenzied and fretted passions so plentifully engendered and so continually caressed by those who are ruled by them, until the civil and ecclesiastical liberties of a hitherto blessed and prosperous, but now ungrateful people, shall be torn from us, until we shall be made to wail amid the agonizing throes of an expiring republic, the last pulsation of a dying nation's heart.
In view of these threatened calamities, let us, dear brethren, with one united voice send up from every quarter, to mingle at the throne of grace, our fervent and solemn petitions to the God of hosts to reach down and interpose his almighty arm, which alone can stay the maddened tempest that seems to be drifting us to ruin, to still the angry billows that surge so fearfully around us, ere we are thrown upon the breakers, ere we witness the appalling crash, feel the awful convulsions, and our ears be made to tingle with the death-knell of a submerged nation.
But I have wandered further in this horrid maze than was intended, and perhaps further than is commendable on this occasion. But allow me to say here, brethren, should the worst befall our guilty nation, let us kiss the rod that chastises us justly, and bow in humble submission to the righteous will of him who rules in the army of heaven and among the nations of the earth. Let us stand in our proper places, act properly in our respective spheres, and then all will be well with us.
"Though kingdoms, states and empires fall,
And dynasties decay,
Though cities crumble unto dust,
And nations die away,"
no material injury shall harm us while "the LORD GOD OMNIPOTENT reigneth." But are we standing and acting correctly as a church, consistently as the people of God? Here we approach the subject that more particularly engaged my attention in the outset.
This is a grave question; may we gravely consider it. I believe it has been made manifest in all ages that, as the church has retrograded, fanaticism has advanced in a proportionate ratio. If this be the case, it certainly behooves the church to stand forth at all times in her full strength, to present an unbroken phalanx in opposition to the wayward strides of fanatical assailants. A "crying sin" has been discovered within the last few years, and it is a little remarkable that this sin, as it is called, (slavery) should bear with the heaviest weight upon the consciences of those who have nothing to do with it, and therefore cannot be answerable for it. Is it not evident that from such a quarter have been heard the loudest wailings? And is it not as evident that it has been for political effect, and to attain the high places in office, and has it not been successful in an alarming degree in bringing upon us the present direful crisis?
If it is a fact that fanaticism advances as its opponent (the true church) retrogrades, and is thereby weakened, should we not look carefully and prayerfully to the position we occupy, to see that we contribute nothing, either directly or indirectly, to this alarming state of things? But is the church the advocate of order, in whom is found the quintessence of "subjection to the powers that be," standing in one unbroken phalanx, undivided, and with all her forces marshaled to resist the onward march of anti-christ in rearing up her anarchy? Now, brethren, are not the different branches and members of the church divided, and thereby weakened? And if so, what has led to those divisions? Let us look the matter full in the face, and should this be the case, inquire, "Is there not a cause?" There certainly is a cause; then let us try to search it out. I am persuaded that one great cause is to be found in the action of associations, or the manner in which such action of said bodies have been regarded by churches and members. I am aware that associations do not now assume the arrogance that they once did; still, they are regarded by some as advisory councils, and not as a high court of appeals, as formerly considered. I object to their being considered as advisory councils. A council, religiously considered, has been in all ages looked upon as a body of persons assembled to adjust matters of difficulty, or settle matters of controverted faith. Is there any authority under heaven given to any ecclesiastical organization to meddle with these matters, save the church! She is said to be the "highest ecclesiastical order on earth;" but I say she is the only one - none superior, none subordinate or "auxiliary" to her. In relation to the present state of the church, the writer has had many, very many, as well as solemn reflections. She does appear to be "a people scattered and pealed" in a considerable degree. And why is it? Those who have traveled among and otherwise corresponded with this people to any considerable extent, cannot fail to have observed that many of the children of God who give the most satisfactory evidence that the love of God has been shed abroad in their hearts, are so situated that the free intercourse, the social union and communion with their brethren, have been hindered, bars and obstructions have been laid up between them and their brethren by professed ecclesiastical organizations, which have sundered and divided them. The humble writer of this communication, in traveling among the churches of different associations which have dropped correspondence with each other, churches that stand firm on the apostolic platform, that perhaps have had little or nothing to do with the difficulties that have torn them from their brethren, except by the vote of their delegates, (I object to the term; see its definition) and sometimes not even that, has been forced to the conclusion that a large proportion of the circumstances which have led to their alienation from each other, have either originated or culminated in the mismanagement of those organizations. Now it is to me very pleasant to meet with an association of my brethren, it matters not how large, or whether those churches participating belong to this or that or no association; and where the object is simply to engage in and carry on the social worship of our God, without meddling in any case with matters touching fellowship, the adjudication of which belongs exclusively to the churches. But the question occurs to me, Have not these bodies ecclesiastic (?) assumed too much, in many instances, and thereby wielded an unjustifiable amount of influence? Or rather, have not the churches in many cases yielded too much to them, by suffering themselves to be "thrust with side and shoulder," until they have been pushed from the embrace of their brethren, and forced to live as aliens and as strangers to each other? What powers have the church to delegate to any ecclesiastical body, or what powers have those delegates to fix the limits for the fellowship of churches and brethren? Does she not stand proudly pre-eminent over every other professed religious combination? Did not her Head and King decree and declare that she should "be established in the TOP of the mountains, and exalted ABOVE the hills?" Are her mansions and her members to be disjointed, pushed asunder, and barriers thrown up between by an organization having no authority under heaven to touch or meddle with their fellowship in the smallest degree? But it maybe said that associations profess to have no authority to meddle with matters touching fellowship. But let us look at the consequences resulting from their action in many instances, their professions to the contrary notwithstanding. Differences and disputings have taken place between members (and it is to be feared, too often between preachers) belonging to different associations. The churches to which they respectively belonged may have taken up the matters and failed to adjust them. Then one of those churches is at fault, if not both of them. Now, let us make the worst of it, and say that the difficulty is such that these churches cannot fraternize each other. Well, suppose we let it rest there, provided the churches cannot, or will not, remove it. Then the matter lies between the contending parties only; and as they have originated it, let them eat all the fruits of it. There is no good reason upon earth that should urge it further, to impregnate with bitterness the cups of thousands. It is certainly good policy to confine difficulties within the narrowest possible limits. But this will not suffice in all cases; it must go up to the associations, and there undergo a litigation, and finally the correspondence is dropped; and because these have dropped correspondence, others must drop with this one and that one. Now, there are at home, following their proper avocations, thousands perhaps of orderly, sound, consistent and inoffensive brethren who have had nothing to do with all this matter, but must necessarily be implicated in too many instances, and reap the bitter consequences. Let us pause and ask the question, Is there one solitary word in the scriptures to authorize or justify such a course? But what are some of the consequences resulting from such a course of things? Perhaps a minister sets out on a preaching tour, one who is called of God to minister to the saints. His route runs through the bounds of some of these associations that have closed their correspondence. He sends on his appointments to some of the churches; they reach their destination. A point of order is raised. "No," says a brother, perhaps a preacher, "it will never do; it is not order to open our door for that man to preach." But why? "The correspondence is dropped." But this is not all. There are perhaps hundreds of worthy brethren identified with these different associations who have lived for years in harmony, fraternized each other cordially, and enjoyed each other's fellowship with the sweetest reciprocity. They exchange friendly visits, talk of their trials and temptations, their joys and deliverances. They feel alike, tell over, as formerly, their doctrinal views, and on all fundamental points they see alike. Next, they go to church, and perhaps hear a good, old fashioned, sound sermon preached; under it they rejoice alike. Then, may be, the Lord's table is set, and then comes up the question of order again. Probably the case has been anticipated, and according to the decision had on it, "it won't do to invite that brother or sister to participate." Why not? "The correspondence has been dropped." They return, and are about to separate. Says brother A, "Well, brother B, I thank you kindly for your seasonable and very pleasant visit; have been much comforted and edified with your conversation." "I too," responds brother B, "have been highly gratified and much refreshed with your conversation, as well as with the excellent sermon we heard preached." "But," says brother A, "I feel sorry, very sorry, that we could not ask you to partake with us at the table, but hope you will not entertain hard thoughts toward me about it, as it is a matter of order." "Not at all, brother A, but have we any scripture to justify this kind of a course?" "As to that, brother B, I cannot say; but you know that it is an established custom among us, and we must be governed by it." And thus it goes; although their hearts were "knit together in love," on separating, their cups are dashed with vinegar. But the foregoing related case would be one of the most pleasant circumstances attending such divisions.
The great difficulty is, that thousands of otherwise sound and consistent Baptists get their prejudices enlisted against each other, and the mutual interchange of christian reciprocity and fellowship is almost as effectually cast off as if they were excluded. Now, although it is urged in behalf of associations that they profess not to settle matters of fellowship, I know of but two ways that they could lessen the evils consequent upon their action in the case of difficulties brought before them for their litigation. One would be, to assume the authority of the church at once, and exclude one or both of the contending parties, and let the matter rest there. Would not this be better than to take up and investigate those cases, when we profess not to have the authority to settle them, when the general tendency has been to give them a greater notoriety, a more wide-spread influence, involve hundreds of others in the controversies, raise jealousies, scatter firebrands broadcast among scores of brethren, blighting their comforts and alienating them in their affections? This, as the case is looked upon by many, amounts to little if anything less in effect than exclusion by wholesale, and that of many who have had as little to do with the subject in dispute as has "the man in the moon." But there is another way, and I think a far better one to lessen the evil, (as none of us will admit that an association should assume the authority to formally exclude a member,) and that is, when matters or questions of difficulty come before associations from the churches, simply to send them back to the proper tribunal, where a KING reigns in righteousness, and PRINCES rule in judgment, the only one on earth that the King has authorized to meddle with the fellowship and faith of God's elect. Judging from the foregoing remarks, some may suppose that the writer of this article is opposed to the holding of associations altogether. This, however, is not the case, provided they are properly conducted. He has realized many pleasant scenes at those interviews, as well as having seen others to deplore. He is aware, too, that they do not now assume the dictatorial attitude that they once did. And perhaps, too, more troubles and sad consequences resulting from the actions of associations are occasioned by the manner in which they are viewed by many, than otherwise. But as it is, "For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt," and would earnestly seek a remedy.
J. F. JOHNSON.
TO BE CONTINUED.