Circular Letter: The Corresponding Association held with the Mt. Pleasant Church, Fairfax County, Va., to all Old School brethren, churches, associations, corresponding and annual meetings, sendeth christian salutation:
Beloved Brethren: – “That which we have seen and heard, declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” I John 1:3. The Apostle in the above text seems to express a desire to cultivate christian fellowship with those to whom he is writing, and to this end declares unto them what he has seen and heard; and as ours is the same desire, we wish in the following address to confine ourselves to what we have seen and heard, believing as we do, that the believers in Christ, in every age and country, were all embraced in the same eternal purpose; were all interested in the same grace which was given them in Christ Jesus before the world began; are all watched over by the same kind Providence which brings them to, and preserves them in their natural existence; are all sanctified by the same God and Father, preserved in the same Christ Jesus; called with the same holy calling; the same pangs and sorrows bring them all into their spiritual existence; the same provision is the support of each, while on his pilgrimage; and the same heaven will be their home, when mortal scenes shall end. We can but believe also that the language of one who is in the light will be the language of all; and if we would all speak the same things, we must walk in the same light; and if we walk in the light, we have fellowship one with another. Here two questions arise for our consideration. 1st. What is light? And secondly, What is fellowship?
In answer to the first of these enquiries, it is not our purpose to enter into an illustration of the various significations with which the term light is used in the scriptures, nor to direct you to any new light which has sprung up in these modern times; but to ascertain if we can, what is the nature of that light in which the saints are called to walk. And 1st. It is not the light of human reason; for this is often at war with the whole government of God, instead of enjoying fellowship with Him. It is not the light of nature; for this is called in the scriptures a darkness, which will eventually lead those who follow it into interminable woe, unless God call them out if it into His marvelous light. It is no blazing comet beheld by the natural eye; for, “We walk by faith, and not by sight.” Nor is it the pillar of fire literally, that was the directory of national Israel through the wilderness into Canaan; but what this pillar of fire was to them figuratively the Lord Jesus Christ is to His church substantially; hence they are required to follow Him; to hear Him, &c. “In Him was life; and the life was the light of men.” God has given Him for a light of the Gentiles. Isa.42:6. Again, He is said to be the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world. John 1:9. And John 3:19, where it is said that men loved darkness rather than light; and concerning Christ it is said: “He was despised and rejected of men.” And Christ says of Himself, “I am the Light of the world; he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” John 8:12. Without multiplying quotations, we think the above sufficient to establish the fact that Christ is the light in which the saints are called to walk. But it may be asked, since Christ has ascended up on high, are we not each at liberty to walk according to our own sense of propriety, and to put our own construction upon His own word, and walk accordingly? We answer, No! There has been too much of this done, hence the lack of fellowship and union among us. This would be like departing from the Lord, and thinking to have peace by walking in the imagination of our own heart. Deut.29:19. What then are we to understand by following Christ, or walking in Him as our light? And where shall we find the substance of what was shadowed forth in the pillar of cloud by day, and of fire by night, that guided Israel after the flesh in their windings through the wilderness? The spiritual Israel experience, both darkness and day, and it is truly a wilderness through which they are called to pass. How important then that we should have a safe Directory, a bright and shining Light to conduct us on our pilgrimage. Well, our strong Deliverer has not left us to grope our way in the dark, but has afforded us a Light whereunto we do well that we take heed. “Is not my word like as a fire, saith the Lord?” Jer.23:29. And says the psalmist, “Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.” Psa.119:105. It is Christ Jesus who shines in this word, that makes it a fire and a light. And as this is evidently a night season with the church, how important that we should give the more earnest heed to this light, and have our eye steadily fixed on Him who is clothed with light, as with a garment. We know that there are many who profess to be the children of God, and profess to be governed by His word, and yet are pursuing different plans and schemes; but we are inclined to believe that by far the greatest part are following some fancy of their own, instead of waiting for the moving of this fiery pillar. The scriptures in themselves are but as a dark body, even to the children of God, only when Christ, who is our light and life shines therein. And whilst, dear brethren, we are wading through this dark night, anxiously watching for the morning, let us be still, like our ancient types, when the pillar of fire is not moving before us, that is, let our lips be sealed in silence, and our pens keep their places where nature grew them, rather than advance one sentiment, either in doctrine or practice, much less move therein, if we have not a thus saith the Lord for it. When there exists a diversity of opinion among brethren, touching any one point of doctrine, it is clear that they are not all following the light, in contending each for their peculiar sentiments; and as these things are confined chiefly to the ministry, it only goes to show that the cloudy pillar will not do to follow in the night; but when the morning shall again dawn upon the church; when “Zion’s watchmen shall see eye to eye;” when the ministers of the gospel who are also called clouds, shall be embodied as one pillar; then may Zion’s children follow on; then our peace shall be as a river; and then shall our fellowship be sweet. But to our second enquiry, what is christian fellowship?
This term, as used in the scriptures, and experienced by christians, means something more than formal friendship or kindness. This kind is experienced by the world, and by the various anti-christian societies that are in the world, consequently is nothing more than a fleshly feeling, while the saints are required to “know no man after the flesh,” all fleshly attachments and preferences should be laid aside; no creature fondness should be suffered to predominate over that fellowship which is of God. This term is not particularly defined in the scriptures of truth, but according to its application as there used, seems to be somewhat synonymous with love, and is an inevitable consequence of fellowship or communion with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ; “For if we love Him that begat, we love them also that are begotten of Him.” This fellowship with God is brought about alone by being born of God, having our souls washed in the blood of Jesus and made holy, otherwise there could be no communion with Him; for as soon might we expect that light and darkness might have fellowship one with the other, or righteousness and unrighteousness; but being purified we become experimentally connected with Christ, and in Him enjoy communion with God, as did Noah in the big ark, while it rode sturdily upon the bosom of the mighty deep. There is a fellowship that is merely nominal, but like that which exists merely in the flesh, it always fails to produce those delightful effects flowing from a fellowship of kindred spirits - this is to take an individual by the hand and call him brother, for whom we do not feel that endearing relationship, and to whom we are not bound by any fleshly ties. This kind is sometimes expressed towards those who have gone out from us, that it might be made manifest that they were not of us - contrary to the Apostle’s injunction, that we have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather to reprove them. Christian fellowship is a union of soul, and does not exist towards an individual because he is called an Old School Baptist, or because he professors to be a believer in Jesus; but because he gives evidence of being born of God, and manifests a conformity in his life to the precepts of the gospel; and in his conversation an unyielding attachment to the doctrine of Jesus, thus bearing His image; and the more christians discover of this in one another, the more closely will they be knit together in the bonds of christian love and union; and where this exists, instead of opposition and persecution from their many enemies, having a tendency to untwist the chains that bind them together, it will but rivet them more firmly; lead them to speak often one to another, and endeavor to comfort and console each other with the rich promises of the gospel; to administer to each other’s necessities; and to drive them often to a throne of grace, to tell God their sorrows.
Fellowship with God, and with one another, is what constitutes our happiness here below; but more particularly the former; for by it we have the promise made to us of a rich inheritance beyond the narrow bounds of time, when we shall be fully fitted to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; ‘twas this that burst off the prison bonds of Paul and Silas, and lightened up their dark abode; ‘twas this that made the burning furnace a pleasant palace for Shadrech, Meschech and Abednego; ‘twas this that buoys up our fainting spirits, in our lonely sojournings. But when we meet the children of God associated together for the worship of their Father, and enjoy the comfortable evidence that He is in the midst; we unite our melodies in praise to His name; we unite our supplications to a throne of grace; we are charmed alike with the gospel proclamation, and we are led to enquire, “From whence doth this union arise?” The answer can be found alone in Him who has made us one; and who has made it our desire to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of our lives; to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in His temple, Psa.27:4.
Our meeting has truly been a season of refreshing to our souls, having enjoyed, as we trust, the presence of our God, and the visits of a goodly number of our brethren. The letters from the churches express peace and love among themselves, and they seem to enjoy an unshaken confidence in God.
Finally, brethren, farewell. “Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.”
S. TROTT. Moderator. 1842.