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Circular Letter: Of the Baltimore Old School Baptist Association to the churches of which she is composed.

Beloved Brethren: - As an expression of fellowship, we again address you in our Associational Circular. On this occasion we have selected as our subject the address to the Israel of God contained in Isaiah 48:17-19. “Thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am the Lord thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go. O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments,” &c. We understand spiritual Israel to be here particularly addressed. In the first verse of chapter 48 God addresses the house of Jacob, which art called by the name of Israel, &c., which swear by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth, nor in righteousness, &c., thus showing that national, and not the true Israel are there addressed. Hence their idolatry and obstinacy, &c., are spoken of.

In verse 12th, and onward, the Lord addresses Jacob and Israel His called. Paul says, “But unto them which are called both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” I Cor.1:24. So that being called is distinctive in believers or the true Israel. Hence these are the people we think are addressed in the verses we have selected as our subject. In directing your attention to this subject, we will notice.

First. The person speaking, who being Israel’s Redeemer, can be no other than the Messiah. Hence whilst He declares Himself to be the Lord, or Jehovah, their God {verse 17} as He is in truth the self-existing God, and whilst He claims the prerogatives of God, saying in verse 13, “Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens,” &c; He in verse 16 saith, “And now the Lord God and His Spirit hath sent me;” thus showing that whilst He is Jehovah, God, He also exists in a relation personally distinct from the Lord God and His Spirit; and is the Messenger of God.

Secondly. The characters under which He speaks. - 1st. The Lord thy Redeemer. He is the Jehovah, whilst He is also thy God, thy Near Kinsman, who stood of course in this relation to thee, before thy thralldom; whose right therefore it was to redeem thee and who was not like Ruth’s kinsman afraid of marrying His own inheritance in doing it; but who has accomplished thy redemption from all bondage and from all iniquity, by the sacrifice of Himself; and who is to thee, and for thee, all that righteousness which the law requires; who indeed gave Himself for thee, that He might in justice, be manifested as thy Lord and thy Husband. - 2nd. “The Holy One of Israel.” He is to His people all that holiness in which they will shine through eternity, was to them all that holiness in which they stood before God from before the foundation of the world, as His body, His bride; being loved in Him, and in Him predestinated to the adoption of children. His blood is their purification from all pollution, and He in them is the principle of personal holiness and of love to God.

Thirdly, What He says. 1st. He says, “I am the Lord thy God, which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way thou shouldest go.” - As before noticed, Christ is truly the self-existing God, whilst He is He who was sent of the Father; and being God in Christ, He is as such peculiarly the object of His people’s worship, trust, and love; is their God; whilst as such He is to all others the unknown God. As the Root and offspring of David, He was given a Leader and Commander to the people. As such He teaches His people to profit. He by implanting His spirit in them, gives them spiritual discernment, gives them ears to hear, and hearts to understand, and when He speaks the word, whether He speaks through others, through the written word, or in visions of the night, they know it, and rejoice in it as the truth, whilst all other teaching but deludes. All that He teaches is good, and He teaches them all that is good or profitable for them to know, whether in relation to doctrine or practice. Let us then beware of other teaching. Which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go. As the Leader of His people, He goeth before them, and draws them with cords of a man, with bands of love. John 10:4 & Hosea 11:4. When He thus draws, they willingly run after Him. He does not lead His people to places of worldly rest and ease, but to the experience of tribulations and trials, to temptations and darkness, and thereby to the knowledge of the plague of their own hearts. He does not lead them to partake much of the applause, honors, &c, of the world, but to receive its reproaches and persecutions. He leads them to know the law, but He also leads them out from it, to the enjoyment of the privilege of sons of God. He leads them to death, but He will also lead them to participate in the joys of the resurrection. He leads them about through the way of the wilderness, but it is by a right way that they might go to a city of habitation. Ex.13:18 & Ps.107:7. He has gone before leading them in the way of patience, meekness, uprightness, holiness and self-denial. Both by precept and example He leads them into the ordinances in which they should go, and out from the traditions, and commandments of men. Where the footsteps of Jesus are seen going before, there is the right way. Where they are not found, there let His people not go.

2nd. He says, “O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments,” &c. All our Lord’s instructions whether in relation to faith, or to acts of obedience, are with authority, hence they are here with propriety called commandments. So the Evangelist speaking of Christ’s instructions to His disciples as recorded in Matthew, Chapter 10, says, chapter 11:1 - “And it came to pass, when Jesus had made an end of commanding His disciples, He departed thence to teach, and to preach in their cities.” His instructions came to the Jews as the preaching of men does to the world, but to those to whom He has given ears to hear and hearts to understand, they come as commands. But it may be asked: Do any of the people of God neglect to hearken to the instructions of Christ after having once received His commands with joy? We answer, the church, the visible Israel of God, evidently has done it in two ways. First, she has neglected to adhere to the instructions received; and secondly, she has been much disposed, instead of hearkening to hear what He commands, to listen to the suggestions and commands of men. Thus, the churches of Galatia, instead of adhering to the gospel testimony, which they had no doubt once received with joy, proclaiming them justified from all things, from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses, were disposed again to return to the law. And so the church went on listening to the suggestions of reason, and the teachings of Satan’s ministers, until the man of sin came full robed into power; and the bride the Lamb’s wife had to retire from the pomp, the splendor and persecution of an established religion, to the wilderness, to find a lodging place. Still with all this evidence of the evil consequences of not hearkening to the commands of her Lord, the church has been too much disposed to hearken to the reasonings and commandments of men, even to this day. Hence instead of her peace flowing as a river, divisions and contentions prevail, instead of her true righteousness rolling on to view she is covering herself too much with linsey-woolsey or the flimsy stuff of human doings. We also think that individual believers have not as they ought, hearkened to the commands of the Lord, though times have been when His word was all precious to them, and they wanted nothing else for their comfort and directory. But enticers from without and from within have succeeded in turning away their ears from hearkening to His commands, and led them off from the simplicity of the word. Hence they have been bewildered and confused with the traditions and systems of men, have been contending for things that are not according to the word, or have found themselves walking in paths of disorder and disobedience, and to aggravate the wretchedness that has resulted, instead of the regular flow of peace and righteousness, Satan has charged these disorders home upon them, as evidences that they are not christians.

Then had thy peace been as a river and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea. We do not, brethren, understand by this complaint, that God has been disappointed, or His purpose at all frustrated by the disobedience of His church and people. On the contrary this very oppression and diminishing of His church is abundantly pointed out in prophesy; and these very trials of His people, are fully anticipated in the Scriptures. But we understand that it was designed to set forth on the one hand, the direct tendency of a faithful hearkening to the commands of the Lord in all things pertaining to religion; namely, unity of faith and consequent peace. On the other hand, the evil consequences of seeking guidance and instruction in religion from any other source. Then had thy peace been as a river. A river flows on in a constant current, bearing down and overcoming every obstacle to its progress. Such would have been the peace of the church had they uniformly been disposed undeviatingly to have hearkened to the commands of the Lord, and suffered no opinions of men to usurp the place of His instructions. Not its external peace with the world, for in this sense Christ came not to send peace, but a sword, {Mt.10:34,} but peace within, a oneness of mind and heart. And thy righteousness as the waves of the sea. The sea is in constant motion, and its waves or swells are therefore constantly rolling on in regular succession. So would their righteousness have been constantly rolling on to view, that is, The Lord their righteousness, in all their preaching, in all their conversation, in all their approaches to God. Thy seed also had been as the sand and the offspring of thy bowels as the gravel thereof. Instead of multitudes of the children of God having been led off with the various sects that separated from the Apostles’ doctrine and order, and multitudes more being deterred from making a profession, by the divisions among the professed disciples of Christ, there would have been but one doctrine, one order, one professed church of Christ, and all the children of God should have been borne upon her sides, dandled upon her knees; and sucked and been satisfied with the breasts of her consolations. See Isa.66:11 & 12. And who will say that in that case her seed would not have been manifested to be numerous as the sand of the sea?

His name should not have been cut off, nor destroyed from before me. Instead of the expression as it stands in the text, should not have been cut off, &c., in the margins of some Bibles we read, Shall not be cut off, &c. This we think is the correct reading of the text because it corresponds with the declaration of our Lord - “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Mt.16:18. It also corresponds with what is said in the next verse, “Go ye forth of Babylon, flee ye from the Chaldeans, with a voice of singing declare ye, tell this, utter it even to the ends of the earth, say ye, The Lord hath redeemed His servant Jacob.” So that instead of Jacob or Israel’s being cut off for his rebellion, he is yet to be redeemed and come forth from Babylon, or from all the confusion occasioned by the man of sin. How rich and free the grace and mercy of our God!

Now, brethren, we see and we lament that there are discords among the O.S. Baptists. Whilst instead of hearkening to the Lord’s commandments, we say, I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas, and I of Christ, and suffer opinions, whether our own or of other men, to govern us, can we expect our peace to flow like a river? Opinions of men always have, and always will conflict one with another. If then we were to stop all means of public correspondence, whilst each is swayed by opinion, can we be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment? Methods were resorted to in the earlier ages of the church, for supplying the place of the remedy pointed out in our text, to produce unity of faith and practice in the church. Councils were called, Creeds and Confessions of Faith were formed, ceremonies and forms were agreed upon, and the observance of these was attempted to be enforced by laws and persecutions; but all would not do. Do you ask why? We answer, that all of the children of Zion are to some extent taught of the Lord, and are led more or less to wait on Him for further teaching, and so far as He reveals to their faith His doctrine or order, or any point thereof, all the fetters and chains which men may forge will not bind their consciences to prevent their testifying to that which they know is truth, nor against what they know is error. Could we give up all contending for opinions, if we have occasion to mention them, mention them only as opinions, as it is written, The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream, and contend only for what we have been taught of God to know is truth, then would contentions cease among us; for the Spirit of truth cannot give different views on the same subject to different persons; though He may give more extended views of scripture to one than another. It may be asked, How are we to distinguish what is taught us of the Lord, from what is merely made up opinion? We answer, there are certain things which every child of grace so knows to be the truth, that neither the sophistry, nor wrath of man can lead him to deny them. He knows that he did not attain this knowledge of them from men, nor from books, except, it may be, instrumentally, and that he did not reason himself into it. He was taught it internally; there was an enlightening of the mind to see, to taste and feel that it was truth and that the Scriptures bore testimony to it. And since the first revelation of Christ to him as the way, he has in like manner had his understanding enlarged in the knowledge of the Scriptures on particular points. There is an exercise of faith in the thing, a knowing that it is God’s truth. When he states these things and points to the Scriptures which he has seen as so clearly sustaining their truth, he does it with confidence, feeling that he is girt about with truth. But it is not enough to have an internal impression, there must be an opening of the Scriptures to view as sustaining it. If there were with us more of a waiting to hear what God the Lord will say, and of hearkening to His commandments, then might we look for unity and peace. It is not however probable, that we shall altogether be divested of our attachment to human opinions, whilst the church remains encompassed by Babylon. But if we cannot agree in opinions, let us try to love as brethren, to be courteous, and not to give place to anger and bitterness, nor to a wresting and distorting of each other’s views, that we may put down by prejudices what we cannot confute by argument. And let us remember for our comfort that amidst all the confusion, Jesus will in His own good time show Himself as walking upon the waves, and will hush all to peace.

S.TROTT. 1850.