Circular Letter: The Baltimore Old School Baptist Association met with the Church at Black Rock, May 19th, 20th & 21st, 1858, to the Churches connected therewith.
Beloved Brethren: - Permit us to address you on this occasion on the Present State of the Church of Christ. That the Church is at this time surrounded with darkness in a peculiar manner, is generally admitted. It is like the plague of darkness of Egypt, a darkness that may be felt. It is a wintry state of the Church. The sun occasionally shines, but its shining has not that warming, enlivening and cheering influence upon the plants as at other times it has had, and it is soon obscured by cold bleak clouds. There are clouds rising from the mists of this world, from the various agitations in the world at this time, politically and otherwise, which much darken the hemisphere of the Church and saints, and produce a corresponding chilliness. There is not that liveliness in our love to the brethren, nor to the truth and ordinances of the Gospel, nor that engagedness in religious exercises, and in religious conversation, and meditations, as have at other times been felt. As in night and wintry seasons beasts of prey crowd round the settlements of men, to raven; so it is with the Church at this time. There are those around the saints and among them, that would persuade to scare the sheep from their fenced folds to ramble with them in the wild rages of human wisdom, and to repose with them with them in their dens that they may prey upon them, and no doubt they have bewitched some of the sheep. There are others again who would persuade the children of God, that they ought not to follow or receive the light which God has given to their continual guide - the Scriptures and blessed teachings of the Spirit - but to be guided in their belief and practice by the mixture of light and shade which is found in the writings of eminent men of past ages; and as these are various, so as they are followed they produce different views and dissensions among the saints. Again, Satan takes the advantage of this darkness, to assault the saints with temptations. It is an old complaint with the children of God that,
“Temptations every where annoy,
And sins and snares my peace destroy.”
How it may be with the brethren generally at this time we know not, but some are peculiarly tried with temptations. Satan so stirs up their passions, appetites, &c., that they think it is altogether themselves. And indeed it is their own vile nature that thus shows itself; and what is a worse annoyance to them, the old man when left to act itself loves as much as ever it did, the indulgence of itself in its corruptions, and hence under this wildness and darkness, or in other words not having the spiritual man in lively exercise, we are led on under the influence of our corruptions, till we are on the very brink of acting them out, and were it not for the faithfulness of God who has promised that with the temptations He will make a way for our escape, we should plunge into actual sin. Though the escape is brought about, we know that it is not of ourselves, but that the sin is ours, though we were not left to carry it out; then arises the trying doubts, whether, if we loved God and His cause and believed the declarations of His word, &c., we could be led on thus contrary to His word and to the exposing of His cause to reproach. We are sometimes thus tossed upon the billows of temptations, until like Jonah, we become exceedingly displeased, and angry, and pray the Lord to take away our life, thinking it better for us to die than to live; yea, with Job, our souls, those souls which others tell us are made heavenly in regeneration, choose strangling and death rather than life. Again, as in wintry seasons, clouds have heretofore at times gathered over the Church, but at this time they appear to be gathering thicker than ever, as though preparing to burst in a storm upon us. The Young Men’s Christian Associations which are organized in most of our towns, and united throughout the country in a general convention, appear as very innocent combinations at first sight; but when we consider that they are composed of persons of different denominations and likewise of those who are not professors, all united together for promoting religion, though they appear like the little cloud which Elijah’s servant saw rising out of the sea, yet there is evidently in them the elements of a great rain, tending as they are to promote a matured, combined and concentrated effort in their religious enterprise. Again, these union prayer meetings which are said to have originated from these young men’s associations, are tending still more fully to concentrate and combine all the sects of Protestantism in a grand effort to bring the country and the government under the control of their religious influence, and thus enable them to dictate to the government, and to silence opposition to their plans and measures. Indeed the unprecedented and wonderful effects of these union prayer meetings, in making converts, looks more like making fire come down from heaven in the sight of men, and of consummating the power of the Protestant Beast, than anything that has appeared yet. How soon it will be consummated is not our province to say.
But, brethren, it is with the Church now as it was with Israel during the plague of darkness in Egypt. All the children of Israel had light in their dwellings. So we think the churches of the saints have at this time as clear light in the great truths of the Gospel as in any former period; and it is more distinguishable from every false system then formerly as it makes manifest the darkness without, by being so contrasted with it. The ministers of Christ, although frequently on account of the wintry darkness when going to their appointments, feel more as though they were on some worldly concern than to deliver a message of peace, yet are enabled generally to preach the gospel with much clearness, to feel while preaching the vast weight of their subject, the precious fulness and freeness of the gospel of salvation, and the importance of contending earnestly for the faith, and of preaching Christ as the only way of salvation. Private members are as well established in the truth, and have as clear a discerning spirit to distinguish between truth and error when preached, as at any former period; and whilst complaining of many doubts, fears and temptations, are as well established in the truth that their whole salvation is in Christ Jesus as in any former period, and manifest as much anxiety to know the Scriptures, and to be in all things conformed to them.
The enquiry is frequently made, What can be the reason of the Church’s being in this dark wintry state, and whether it is not owing to the unfaithfulness of the Church that this has come upon her? The inquiry is also made whether the Church cannot adopt some course, whether some measures cannot be taken to bring the Church back to more sunny seasons, and whether individuals by proper efforts, by prayer, &c., cannot deliver themselves from their coldness? Some few have urged the making certain exertions to relieve the Church and saints from this unpleasant situation. Brethren, does not the same God reign in the heavenly kingdom as in the earthly? Does He not reign as supremely in the one as in the other? Does not the declaration of the Lord, “I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create evil; I the Lord do all these things” apply as fully to the spiritual world and its government as to the natural? Try your powers, brethren, in mid winter to clear away the storm clouds, to avert the long, dark cold nights and to bring the sun back to its summer solstice, and if ye can do this, then may ye hope by your efforts to hasten on again the period when in reference to the Church ye may sing, “For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth, the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land,” and not till then. We know, brethren, that all this coldness and darkness and the corruptions, that cause us to doubt and fret, and are the materials for Satan’s temptations to act upon, are in us. We cannot say with our Lord, “The prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in me.” No, the evil is all in us, and when we rightly feel, we take all the shame and blame to ourselves. But can we shake off to overcome these evils of ourselves? No, the more we feel the evil of these corruptions and coldness, we feel the more our entire impotency to relieve ourselves from them, we cry for God to interpose His grace or we must fall under them. It is true, that amid the severest colds and storms of winter, if God in His providence provide us with shelter, with food and clothing we may keep from perishing, so under all these dark and wintry seasons spiritually, God’s grace will be sufficient for His people to secure that their faith fail not. He will keep them by His power through faith unto salvation, though He may leave them, for more humbling of themselves, and for the trying their faith, to fall into the mire.
The people of God, are likened to sheep. Sheep are feeble, defenseless creatures of themselves, very simple in providing for their defense against their enemies, or in providing for, and protecting themselves and their young from perishing in the wintry storms. They need the constant care of a shepherd to provide food and shelter for them, and to protect them by keeping them embosomed, or by watching over them, or they will wander off, get scattered and devoured. The people of God are equally as dependent upon the care of their Shepherd. But David personating Christ in His body, the Church, says, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me besides the still waters. He restoreth my soul, &c.” So that even the souls of the children, get off at times from the simplicity of gospel truth and order and need to be restored by the great Shepherd. This does not look like the souls of saints have been changed into heavenly souls.
As to the reason why the church is in this dark and wintry state; we would say, it is not that the Shepherd is unfaithful to His charge; not because He has not power to preserve His sheep in perfect peace, and to keep them in the constant enjoyment of light; nor because they are left to their own care; but because He has seen it best for the church to be in this state. In a word, because it is so written, and the Scriptures must be fulfilled. The present dark and cold state of the church, will no doubt be more for the glory of God, more for a manifestation of the power and exceeding riches of His grace; more fully to display to the admiration of saints and angels, the divine efficacy of the blood of Jesus to cleanse from all sin, and that perfect fulness there is in Him to present the vilest sinner without spot or blemish before the throne of God, than would the church’s being kept in the constant exercise of that faith and love and zeal such as characterized the lives of Peter, John and Paul. Because now it appears so manifest that it is all of grace that they are saved and kept, all of Christ in which they will appear with acceptance before God, and shine in glory.
Let us then, Brethren, amidst all the darkness around, rejoice in the power and faithful care of our Shepherd and may we be found walking as children of light.
S.TROTT - 1858.